Dr. Oswald Bronson dies

Led three HBCUS, including Bethune-Cookman

Dr. Bronson
Dr. Oswald P. Bronson, Sr.


PORT ORANGE ‒ Dr. Oswald P. Bronson, Sr., former president of Bethune-Cookman College (now University), died at age 91 at home on Feb 17.

Bronson led the institution for 29 years from 1975 until 2004 when he was named president emeritus. He was Bethune-Cookman’s fourth president.

A memorial service will be held on March 1 at 6:30 p.m. in the Heyn Memorial Chapel on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University. Homegoing services will be in B-CU’s Mary McLeod Bethune Performing Arts Center on March 2 at 11 a.m.

B-CC grad

Bronson graduated from Bethune-Cookman in 1950 and earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Gammon Theological Seminary.  He received a Ph.D. degree from Northwestern University in 1965. He became B-CC’s president in 1975 after serving as president of Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. After his tenure at BCU ended, he served as the president of Jacksonville’s Edward Waters College from 2004-2007 while EWC searched for a permanent leader.

An ordained United Methodist minister, Dr. Bronson pastored a number of churches over 16 years.

Impressive legacy

According to B-CU’s website, under Bronson’s leadership, major fields of study increased from 12 to 37. In addition, seven continuing education centers for students began operating throughout the state.

While maintaining accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC), Florida State Board of Education and the University Senate of the United Methodist Church Board of Higher Education, the college added new accreditations in the Nursing and the Teacher Education programs during Dr. Bronson’s tenure.

Student enrollment increased from 1,520 students in 1975 to 2,794 in 2003.  He also presided over strong growth of the institution’s physical plant, budget and endowment.

According to B-CU, 15 new buildings were constructed under his administration, most notably the 2,500 seat Mary McLeod Bethune Performing Arts Center. The institution’s annual budget grew from $6.2 million in 1975 to $51.4 million in 2003, and the endowment surged from $1.2 million to $26.5 million in the same time period.

Athletics expanded

Under Bronson, the Wildcat athletic programs moved up from Division II to Division I competition. The program also grew to 17 sports. He re-started women’s basketball and added women’s volleyball, softball, golf, track and bowling, and men’s and women’s golf, among other sports.

B-CU Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Lynn Thompson commented, “He modernized athletics at Bethune-Cookman along with former Athletic Director Tank Johnson. Under their vision, we grew and modernized. Dr. Bronson, just as Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and Dr. Richard V. Moore, thought that athletics and the (marching) band were the front door to the school because of the exposure that it brought with them representing the institution.”

‘Wisdom’ missed

His daughter, Josephine “Bunny” Bronson, told the Florida Courier: “His wisdom will be missed; he leaves that behind. He was a man that provided wisdom on the spot. His love, kindness, care for people, ability to strategize, his simplicity will all be missed.”

Andrew Tarver, a 1982 graduate who lives in Orlando, called Dr. Bronson “a father figure” and remained friends with the Bronsons after graduation.

“One of the major pillars I stood on in my development has now transitioned to his just reward. He influenced me the most in every aspect of my life,” Tarver told the Florida Courier.

‘Walks and talks’

Over time, Tarver said he would stop by Dr. Bronson’s office and he would have him wait and walk or ride with him to his appointments so they could have a chat.

“Those walks and talks were when I learned the most,” Tarver noted. “Doc made me believe I could do anything and at high levels. Nothing second class about ‘Mary’s children.’ He had a gift of bringing out talent and confidence in his students,” Tarver related.

Bronson is survived by his wife, Helen Williams Bronson; three children: Josephine “Bunny” Bronson, Flora Stitt and Oswald “Chip” Bronson, Jr.; his sister, Dr. Audrey F. Bronson; five grandsons, three great-grandchildren, and a host of relatives and friends.

Herbert Thompson Funeral Home, Daytona Beach, is in charge of arrangements.


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