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History of Motlow

Our History

In every culture and every community there are important milestones of progress and planning that can point to a genesis moment, an iconic leader, or dedicated group of people who started something big enough and important enough for others to continue.

Motlow has all of that. Our story begins at a critical moment in Middle Tennessee history, led by a group partnered in a common cause who were enabled by an iconic personality. This coalesced to craft something wonderful that gives everyone here today a foundation upon which we continue to build.

The lives that have been changed, the careers that have been launched, and the economic impact that has reverberated throughout the communities we serve are worthy of pausing and reflecting upon whence we have come…


Since it opened in September 1969, Motlow has had one overriding goal – to change lives. It’s pursuit of partnerships has greatly enhanced the College’s ability to accomplish this goal. Whether it is the partnering of student and teacher or private industry and the College, or Motlow and other educational institutions, Motlow could never have become the powerhouse it has become without forming strong partnerships within the community and around the world.

Changing lives and forming partnerships. That’s what Motlow State is about. That is who we are.

The dream began in 1955 in the Legislative Council of the Tennessee General Assembly in Nashville with a study called, “Public Higher Education in Tennessee”. That study was concluded in 1957 but it was not acted on until 1963, when Governor Frank Clement determined the time was right. The legislature funded $100,000 annually to study the feasibility of establishing community colleges in our state.

In February 1965, the State Board of Education adopted a committee recommendation to establish two-year colleges in Tennessee. That same month, Tullahoma-Manchester Chamber of Commerce President Morris L. Simon brought the idea of a community college in the Tullahoma economic hub to the Chamber directors.

On a motion by A.H. Sanders and a second by Newell Comer, the Chamber voted unanimously to appoint a permanent committee to spearhead the project. Members of the committee were Simon, Clifton R. Lewis, W.H. Hawkersmith, L.B. Jennings, and Tullahoma Mayor Floyd Mitchell. The project grew into an area undertaking when officials of the Upper Duck River Development Association and the Elk River Development Association invited Simon to discuss the project with both groups. The result was adoption of a resolution to begin joint efforts for locating a community college in the area served by the two associations. Partnerships.


When a preliminary study revealed Moore County to be the center of the then seven-county region, a meeting in March 1965 produced a plan to notify state Board Of Education Commissioner J. Howard Warf of an official request to locate a community college approximately four miles from Tullahoma in Moore County. Among those chosen to serve on the joint committee were Simon, W.H. Hagan and David W. Shields of Coffee County; Harry Logue and Ervin Thomas of Bedford County; J.O. Barnes and Thomas B. Green of Marshall County; Malcolm Fults and Glenn Bonner of Grundy County; Paul Rose and J. D. Massey of Franklin County; Dan Masters and Don Bobo of Moore County, and E.C. Norman and J. C. King of Lincoln County.

The first concrete pledge of financial support came on June 3, 1965, when the Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen pledged $150,000. It was later determined that a total of $400,000 would be required – $250,000 plus a site for the college. Tullahoma agreed to give the $250,000. Later, Coffee County gave $25,000, Franklin County $10,000, Moore County $2,000, and the city of Normandy $500.


On Tuesday, June 13, 1967, Tullahoma Mayor Pro Temp O.B. Carroll, along with Simon, took a check for $250,000 to the State Board of Education meeting in Nashville. Included in the delegation were Nelson Forrester, Representative Pat Lynch, Senator Reagor Motlow and Senator Ernest Crouch. Joining Senator Motlow in the gift of land for the college site were his wife Jeannie; his brothers, Connor, Robert, and D.E. Motlow; his mother, Mrs. Lem Motlow; his sister, Mrs. James Boyd; and his uncle, Tom Motlow.

Because of the generous gift of 187 acres, and because of all of Senator Motlow’s contributions to education in Tennessee, Governor Buford Ellington and Commissioner Warf recommended the college be named Motlow State Community College. Senator Motlow argued against the action, claiming that was not why the family was donating the land, but the governor was insistent, and thus Motlow State Community College was born. Partnerships.


Groundbreaking ceremonies were held November 26, 1967, with Governor Ellington, Commissioner Warf, and approximately 250 persons from surrounding counties in attendance. Martindale Brothers, a Murfreesboro firm, was awarded the contract for construction of the original five buildings – almost 140,000 square feet to accommodate 1,200 students.

In December 1968, Dr. Sam H. Ingram, dean of the school of education at Middle Tennessee State University, was named president of Motlow effective Feb. 1, 1969. The College opened temporary offices at First Baptist Church in Tullahoma Feb. 3. On Sept. 22, 1969, after almost five years of planning and work by a group of dedicated citizens, Motlow opened its doors. More than 100 classes were offered during the day and 12 at night to 551 students. There were 18 full-time faculty members and seven adjunct faculty.

Formal dedication ceremonies were held April 19, 1970. In his dedicatory address, Commissioner Warf termed the occasion “only the end of the beginning” and dedicated the College to a “life-long career of service to those who dared to dream a dream.” 


Motlow’s first graduating class was presented at commencement ceremonies June 4, 1971, as 79 students were granted associate degrees. A milestone came in December 1971 when Motlow received full accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

In the 50 years since that first graduating class, Motlow State has grown at a phenomenal rate, surpassing the 1,800-enrollment mark in 1976, the 2,300 mark in 1978, and by 1999 enrollment was 3,300.


We have grown from five buildings on a single site in Moore County to 16 buildings at four different locations. Partnerships are being formed. Lives are being changed.

Motlow is a story of the power of public-private partnerships. The pattern of public-private partnerships is the common thread that weaves through the history of this college. Public-private partnerships that have begun in living rooms, over lunch, at the lake, and on the golf course. Public-private partnerships between philanthropists, business owners, community leaders, elected officials and entrepreneurial educators. Public-private partnerships that started small, built steam, swung for the fence, and scored the winning run. Partnerships that invested in doing the right thing at the right time.


As a College, we say thank you to the presidents of Motlow, including Dr. Sam Ingram, Dr. Harry Wagner, Dr. A. Frank Glass, Dr. Arthur Walker, Dr. MaryLou Apple, Dr. Anthony Kinkel and our current president, Dr. Michael Torrence. Thank you to our interim presidents Dr. Don England, Dr. Wade Powers and Hilda Tunstill.

We especially thank the families of those early pioneers with the big dreams who pushed the envelope relentlessly to secure a community college in southern middle Tennessee, including Mr. Morris Simon, Claire Eoff, G. Nelson Forrester, Mr. Hubert Crouch, Doc and Mo Nisbett, Mr. A. H. Sanders, Mr. A.C. Jennings, Mr. L.B. Jennings, Floyd Mitchell, O.B. Carroll, Senator Ernest Crouch, and of course Senator Reagor Motlow and the Motlow family. 



The original central campus of Motlow State is located on 187 acres of beautifully wooded land in Moore County. It is approximately five miles from Tullahoma via State Route 55 or State Route 130, about eight miles from Lynchburg via State Route 55, and about 12 miles from Shelbyville via State Route 130. Other locations include:


A new 14,000-square-foot instructional facility opened for classes in the Fall of 1992. Located on a beautiful 20-acre site 2.5 miles east of downtown Fayetteville, the facility concluded an initiative undertaken by Fayetteville-Lincoln County residents in 1988. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) approved Center status for the Fayetteville Site in July 1997. The Don Sundquist Center of Advanced Technologies, completed in August 2001, is adjacent to the Fayetteville Center.


Motlow completed the construction of a 14,000-square-foot instructional facility in McMinnville in the Fall of 1988 and an expanded day and evening program at the facility in 1988–89. An additional 2,992 square feet was completed in the Spring of 1996 to expand the instructional program. THEC approved Center status for the McMinnville campus in 1990.


Motlow began offering evening classes at Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro in 1998 in a continuing effort to fulfill its mission statement. The College expanded its Rutherford County options to include day and evening classes by partnering with the Tennessee Army National Guard and offering all courses at their facility in Smyrna in 2000. The College moved into a new 17,500-square-foot facility at its current location in Fall 2006. Motlow added a 35,000-square-foot addition in 2011. The College opened a third Smyrna building in December of 2019. The 82,000-square-foot facility houses general classrooms, chemistry and biology labs, medical labs, staff and faculty offices, and a 300-seat multi-purpose facility.


Motlow’s Sparta site opened in Fall 2007 as a partnership between the City of Sparta, White County, the White County Board of Education, and Motlow. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) approved the Sparta site to offer 100 percent of degree programs in Fall 2018, opening the door for Sparta to increase its course offerings. An advisory board was created to explore expansion options for Motlow in Sparta and White County.

The Presidential Legacy

  • Dr. Michael Torrence / 2018–present
  • Ms. Hilda Tunstill / 2017–18 (interim)
  • Dr. Anthony G. Kinkel / 2015–17
  • Dr. MaryLou Apple / 2006–15
  • Dr. Arthur L. Walker, Jr. / 2003–06
  • Dr. A. Frank Glass / 1987–2003
  • Dr. Wade Powers / 1986–87 (interim)
  • Dr. Harry Wagner / 1975–86
  • Dr. Sam H. Ingram / 1969–75
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