Theodore Sanders Stern, a beloved leader who was instrumental in shaping the College of Charleston and the city, died Friday in Charleston at age 100.
Stern transformed the college from a small private school into a nationally recognized institution of higher education. He played key roles in the development of Spoleto Festival USA, the South Carolina Aquarium, Charleston Place and the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina.
Under Stern’s leadership, the college acquired some 80 buildings and constructed many of its most important facilities, including the Robert Scott Small Building, Maybank Hall, Physicians Memorial Auditorium, Buist Rivers Residence Hall, Rita Liddy Hollings Science Center, Grice Marine Lab, the Stern Student Center and the Albert Simons Center for the Arts, according to the college.
During his tenure, the college’s footprint grew from essentially one square block to nine blocks that included a new library, new residence halls for men and women, a new science center, and a new student activity building named — at the behest of the student body — the Theodore S. Stern Student Center.
Stern helped launch the college’s first graduate programs and South Carolina’s Governor’s School. He was president of the college from 1968 to 1978. Under his leadership, it was transformed into a public institution with a sound financial future. The first black students were admitted. Enrollment grew steadily to more than 5,300 students and 181 faculty.
“Ted Stern’s legacy as a campus and community leader is difficult to overstate,” said George Benson, president of the college.
“We mourn Ted’s passing, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his family. We have lost a dear friend and a great human being.”
The Ted Stern Cup, also named in his honor, is awarded annually to a graduating senior who exemplifies the character of the college.
“For decades, Ted Stern has been a friend and mentor to the entire College of Charleston community,” said Greg Padgett, chairman of the college Board of Trustees. “We will continue to honor and celebrate Ted’s legacy in the days and weeks ahead.”
Stern was first president of the board for the Spoleto Festival USA, guiding it through its early years to become one of the nation’s premier arts festivals.
“He was one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known. We were so fortunate that he found his home here,” said Mayor Joe Riley.
Without Stern, there would be no Spoleto Festival USA, Riley said.
“He was the only person in Charleston that had the ability and credibility to lead Spoleto Festival,” Riley said.
Stern was a visionary who had the capacity to make change happen.
“And then he was such a warm, friendly, kind, generous person. People didn’t just respect him. They genuinely loved him, too,” Riley said.
Stern grew up in New York City. A 1934 graduate of Johns Hopkins University, he enlisted in the Navy after college. He was a World War II veteran and earned a Bronze Star.
He personally briefed President Dwight D. Eisenhower as chief of naval operations in charge of petroleum. He arrived in Charleston in 1965 as a 53-year-old Navy captain to head the Navy Supply Center.
“Ted was a figure larger-than-life because he gave more of himself than one could expect any single individual to give,” said House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
“Every job he held, every board he served on, every personal interaction he had over his 100 years, were all rooted in the philanthropic spirit that served as the inspirational foundation of his life,” he said.
Funeral arrangements will be announced later.