Claflin University President Henry Tisdale's connection with students extends beyond the Orangeburg campus to his home.
“Students walk through our backyard almost every day," Tisdale said recently. "We’re going to miss being a part of this family."
Tisdale retired June 30 after 25 years of building up the reputation of South Carolina's oldest historically black college as one of the nation's top ranked over the past two decades.
Claflin's new president, Dwaun Warmack, is the 42-year-old president of Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis.
Raised in Detroit by a single mother, Warmack said he’s been able to relate to first-generation students with low socioeconomic backgrounds, many of whom attend historically black colleges and universities, commonly referred to as HBCUs.
“Some folks didn’t think I was college material,” Warmack said. “I know the power of education.”
Warmack spent two decades working in student affairs at HBCUs across the South, including his alma mater, Delta State University in Mississippi. In Warmack’s five years at Harris-Stowe State, freshman enrollment doubled and majors were added in business, science and technology.
He was dubbed one of the "Ten Most Dominant HBCU Leaders of 2018" by the HBCU Campaign Fund, which raises money for scholarships and academic programs at the country's 101 black colleges.
While he and his wife thought about the decision to move to South Carolina, they toured Claflin anonymously and fasted for a week. They also realized their daughter has a childhood friend in Orangeburg.
“Ensuring that my family is happy makes a world of a difference,” Warmack said. "It confirmed to us that this is a place we can serve."
Claflin is in very different shape than the school Tisdale started to lead in 1994.
Claflin was in questionable shape three decades ago with low enrollment and buildings in desperate need of maintenance.
During Tisdale's run, the school added an honors college, scholarships, a molecular science research center, a health and wellness complex, and a new chapel. A planned $20 million fundraiser netted $30 million while a $90 million fundraiser collected $105 million.
Claflin also has an alumni donation rate of 52 percent, the highest for any HBCU in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Claflin is the nation's seventh-highest-ranked HBCU per U.S. News & World Report.
"We had to have a total transformation,” Tisdale said. “We invested in the restoration of almost every building on the campus."
Keeping up enrollment and funding are two challenges that Warmack faces.
“How do we continue to build resources?” he said.
Warmack said Tisdale offered some advice: Get to know the board of trustees, and pinpoint things that are going well and build on them.
Claflin board Chairman Jim Lehman said Warmack reminded campus leaders of a young Tisdale.
“I think the community will realize there are a lot of similarities between these two men," Lehman said.
Warmack says he'll miss the lunches with colleagues, friends and students at Pappy's Smokehouse near his St. Louis office.
“They say, ‘Dr. Warmack, you won’t be here to give me my degree?’ " Warmack said. "Sometimes it's not that, it's 'Dr. Warmack, we can't get Pappy's anymore?' "
Warmack starts at Claflin on Aug. 1.
Tisdale said he plans to travel, spend time with family and write a book about his time at Claflin.
He compared those 25 years to his early life in on a farm in Kingstree, where he spent each day doing chores.
“I begin with a commitment to doing all I can do in that day," Tisdale said. "And at the end of the day I’m convinced that Claflin has gotten my best.”