The importance of a unifying tomato

From the President

When I tell people I am from Jacksonville, most assume I’m talking about the largest city by area in the contiguous United States, which is Jacksonville, Florida. Or they think North Carolina’s Jacksonville, a military city home to Camp Lejeune and one of Campbell’s extended campus programs. I have been in or near Jacksonvilles all of my life.

Right after graduating from college, I lived in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and yes, there was a Jacksonville less than an hour away, a city with a historic district that looks like a movie set in a Western. While I served at Samford University, there was Jacksonville, Alabama, less than an hour from Birmingham. I did a cursory survey of Jacksonvilles and found there are at least 20, and possibly more, in the United States. They are in Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia, Vermont, New Jersey, Illinois, to name a few. Some are bustling hubs of commerce at transportation crossroads. Others are virtually abandoned villages or now only tiny dots on the map.

Of course, the Jacksonville I’m most familiar with is my hometown of Jacksonville, Texas. Named after a doctor, William Jackson, who started a settlement on Gum Creek around 1850, the town officially incorporated in 1872 after it relocated two miles to the east to connect with a new railroad line. Located in Cherokee County in the rolling pine hills of East Texas, Jacksonville today has a population of nearly 15,000 people and is where my parents, Charles and Jeanette Creed, still call home since moving there in 1956. 

One iconic image sets my Jacksonville apart from the rest: the tomato. Jacksonville, Texas, is the undisputed “Tomato Capital of the World,” and the Tomato Fest every June attracts thousands of visitors. The Guinness Book of World Records lists Jacksonville as the home of the world’s largest bowl of salsa, 2,672 pounds to be exact, and the iconic high school football stadium constructed out of native red iron ore rock by the WPA in the 1930s is called the Tomato Bowl.

The tomato is the image associated with Jacksonville. The town is proudly branded on signs, stationery, banners and billboards with ripe, round, red tomatoes. Years ago, the Chamber of Commerce launched its concrete tomato project which enables citizens to display proudly brightly-painted, 665-pound tomato statues in their yards and places of business. The tagline for the Chamber of Commerce is “Grow Here.”

This year, Campbell University introduced a new icon, tagline and website, the products of a year-long brand and digital transformation led by our Office of Marketing and Communications. Each addition is designed to strengthen the Campbell name and to support one of my first-year initiatives to expand our University’s reach and extend our influence throughout North Carolina, the Southeast and the United States.

How is an icon vital to achieving this goal? Consider again the tomato. For too long, Campbell has sported a hodgepodge of images and icons. Each school and college had its own shield and mark. The only “unifying” image we’ve had over the years — aside from our running camel logo used in athletics — is the black and orange “CU” that towers over our campus. Literally, it’s emblazoned on the big water tower seen from miles away. Whereas Jacksonville, Texas, competes for name recognition in a country full of Jacksonvilles, our “CU” competes in an academic world full of “CU’s”: Colorado University, Clemson University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Creighton University, and there are more.

“Campbell” is our brand. It is the last name of our founder and two of our five presidents. We’re not the only CU around, but we are the only Campbell University, and no longer are we the best-kept secret in North Carolina. We’re a thriving university that in the last five years has added a medical school, an engineering school and a nursing program. We’re home to the only law school in North Carolina’s capital city. We’re the university of choice for more North Carolinians than any private higher education institution in the state.

All of our campuses, schools and programs were made possible when J.A. Campbell gathered 16 students into a small church on a cold January morning in 1887. And the image that would symbolize the motto Ad Astra Per Aspera (to the stars through difficulty) more than anything is the icon we proudly unveiled in January 2017. Kivett Hall was built in 1903 after a fire in December of 1900 destroyed the campus of Buies Creek Academy and nearly wiped out J.A. Campbell’s dream. The new icon does not replace the Presidential Seal, nor does it replace another unique image we love, the camel. It does represent a solid foundation built on faith, learning and service and kindles a shared memory for generations of Campbell graduates.

It represents a bright future as Campbell continues to educate students to overcome adversity and lead with purpose. Kivett is our tomato. And it’s a ripe time to be a part of Campbell.


J. Bradley Creed