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Friday, September 26, 2008

Grace P. Johnson Football Stadium dedicated at UNCP

On a sunny and warm September 6 afternoon, the Grace P. Johnson Football Stadium was dedicated at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Stadium dedication – Pictured from left are Cowan Johnson, Chancellor Meadors, Marvin and Robert Johnson

Stadium dedication – Pictured from left are Cowan Johnson, Chancellor Meadors, Marvin and Robert Johnson

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With Davidson College in the house and tropical storm Hanna out of the way, the University thanked the E. Marvin Johnson family from Rose Hill, N.C., for the largest gift in the history of its athletic programs.

The stadium is named after the late wife of the man who owns one of the nation’s largest turkey processing operations and is one of the greatest business success stories in America. Johnson owns eight turkey processing plants and supporting.  

UNCP’s football team did not disappoint, defeating Davidson College in the biggest win in its two-year history.

Marvin Johnson’s story is the stuff of legend, and his marriage to the former Grace Powell is woven into that legend.

“Everybody loved Grace,” Johnson said. “When we were married on New Year’s Eve in 1949, I borrowed a car from my sister for our honeymoon. We lived in a tenant house.”

Grace raised their four children, and Marvin carved out his success in agribusiness.

Marvin Johnson

Marvin Johnson

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 “My mother was very active in her church and community,” said Robert Johnson, Marvin’s son. “She loved athletics.

“She was a sports fan who loved attending football and golf tournaments,” Robert Johnson said. “Football is a great game and important to our family.”

The Johnsons pledged $1 million to the First and Ten Campaign for Football and Athletic Excellence at the University. The family has generously supported education in North Carolina at all levels.

On Saturday afternoon, the University unveiled a portrait and bronze plaque at a ceremony in the Dobbs Enterprise Lobby of the Jones Athletic Center. Before the kick-off, the scoreboard was unveiled bearing the new stadium name – Grace P. Johnson Stadium.

Twelve members of the Johnson family, representing four generations, were in attendance for the dedication service. As teenagers, Marvin Johnson and his brother sold turkeys on the streets of Rose Hill that were grown by their mother on the family property.

“People only wanted turkey during the holidays,” Marvin has said many times. “I needed to figure out a way to sell turkeys in January.”

He did. Under Johnson's leadership, House of Raeford became the first processor to run turkey operations year-round, extending sales beyond holiday dinner tables. He remains chairman of the board.

From the hatchery to the dinner table, Johnson expanded the company's product line to include more than 2,500 fresh and cooked items, helping turn House of Raeford into one of North Carolina's largest privately held companies.

Last year, Johnson was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the National Poultry & Food Distributors Association, joining other industry giants, including Frank Perdue and Col. Harland Sanders.

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson

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Grace Powell Johnson was born on August 26, 1929 and passed away in 1996. She and Marvin Johnson had four children: Edgar Johnson, who preceded her in death, Diane Beasley, Robert Johnson, and Mary Anna Johnson. They have 14 grandchildren, two of whom are deceased, and five great-grandchildren with the sixth on the way.

After cheering the scoreboard unveiling, Braves fans found a lot to cheer for in a 21-9 victory over the Wildcats of Davidson College. UNCP spotted its opponent a 9-0 lead and used an outstanding defense and a balanced offense to dominate the second half.

In his comments Marvin Johnson advised Coach Pete Shinnick to “win some games.”

Shinnick thanked Johnson for supporting Braves football.

“One of the things we try to do with our players is instill a sense of tradition,” he said. “I will be very proud to tell our team the story of Grace P. Johnson and her family.”

In his remarks, Robert Johnson said he was not fully aware of the impact UNCP has had in the region and across the U.S.

“When the press release announcing our gift came out, I got calls from employees, people I didn’t know were UNCP graduates and people from all over the nation to thank me,” he said.

“My mother was always full of enthusiasm for sports,” Robert Johnson said. “That was one of the reasons we called her ‘Amazing Grace.’  He added, “Each time the Braves take the field for a game, they will have an angel watching over them – my mother.”

“Our family feels truly blessed to be able to give back to the community,” he said. “This football program is a new beginning for UNCP, and we know you will uphold the dignity and honor of the name we are giving to your stadium.”

Chancellor Allen C. Meadors offered thanks to “an incredible family.”

“It is an honor to recognize this wonderful gift and to give our stadium the name of Grace P. Johnson,” Chancellor Meadors said. “We are a University of opportunity, and, Mr. Johnson, you are a symbol of what we strive for.

“We will always make sure this stadium represents your name with dignity and honor,” he said.

The stadium, which seats more than 4,000, is located in the Irwin Belk Athletic Complex.

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