A Lasting Legacy
by Jerry Rashid • email@example.com
"Dr. DeCenzo is a man of integrity. I have known Dave for more than 20 years, and, time after time, he proves that he is the type of person who does the right thing, even when no one is watching. Dave will be remembered as the person who not only had the biggest impact on the long-term direction of CCU, both academically and athletically, but also as someone who led by example and led with courage. The primary consideration in every decision Dave ever made was the students and the cost of their education. It has been an honor serving with Dave! Stacy and I wish him well in retirement and the very best to him, his wife, Teri, and their entire family. No doubt he will be missed.
— D. Wyatt Henderson ’98 CCU trustee from 2009-2021
President Emeritus David A. DeCenzo led a remarkable transformation of the University
The introduction was simple yet powerful.
“David A. DeCenzo, the board of trustees has chosen you to serve as the second president of Coastal Carolina University. You will have the privilege and responsibility of leading the University to meet the many challenges of today and of the future. The board of trustees is fully confident that you possess the energy, vision, compassion, commitment, and determination for the many roles you will face as president.”
With that charge, Billy Alford ’77, then-chairman of the CCU board of trustees, officially turned the University’s leadership reins over to DeCenzo on Sept. 14, 2007.
While delivering his inauguration remarks in Wheelwright Auditorium that day, with the phrase “Dawning of a New Tomorrow” boldly displayed behind him, DeCenzo said: “One tradition that defines our identity has developed in connection with our unique mascot. Just like the Chanticleer from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, this University is clever and determined and should never be underestimated.”
He says looking back at that moment is always an interesting endeavor.
“But in doing so, I remember the three components of my inaugural speech –tradition, integrity, and excellence,” DeCenzo said. “All three were critically linked and instrumental as foundations for decisions I made during my presidency. Each one was reflective of the University and our actions—not just me as an individual.
David and Terri DeCenzo
“While I am pleased at what we accomplished, I would have to say that one aspect comes to mind. That was, my desire was to make a degree from CCU more valuable today than it was in 2007. I truly believe we delivered on that goal.”
DeCenzo grew up in Clinton, Md., near Washington, D.C. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Maryland at College Park and both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from West Virginia University.
Following a 16-year association with Towson University in Baltimore, DeCenzo’s tenure at CCU began on July 1, 2002, when he became dean of the E. Craig Wall Sr. College of Business Administration. Four years later, he was promoted to provost and was instrumental in the establishment of the MBA program.
During his nearly 14-year presidency, which culminated with his retirement in December 2020, DeCenzo masterfully orchestrated the transformation of a regional institution that is now nationally recognized both academically and athletically.
DeCenzo was inaugurated as CCU’s second president on Sept. 14, 2007.
Dr. DeCenzo's mark on CCU is one that will never be forgotten. He ushered the University through a time of tremendous growth and change, making it the nationally-recognized institution that it is today. What resonated the most with me was the way that he not only took time to get to know students, faculty, and staff, but also alumni. When he traveled out of town, he always made an effort to attend alumni events, such as one in the Washington, D.C., area where I had the opportunity to get to know him. He made me even more proud to be an alumna and strengthened my commitment to continue giving back to the institution that gives so much to its student and alumni communities. - Treda Smith Grayson ’99, Ph.D., CCU Alumni Association board member since 2014
DeCenzo worked collaboratively with faculty and staff to implement a strategic, comprehensive planning process, encouraged campus-wide assessment, and assured fiscal accountability through policy and practice. Through it all, a top priority of his administration was to be transparent and open. He said, “That was especially true with respect to the financial viability of the institution and my insistency that we have clean audits each year.”
Much was accomplished on DeCenzo’s watch. CCU’s enrollment eclipsed the 10,000-student mark, which reflected a more than 35% increase since he took office in 2007. Successful fundraising campaigns raised millions of dollars to support student scholarships and academic programs. And, as many Teal Nation alumni who return to their alma mater can attest, one of the most significant changes on campus is the campus itself. Under DeCenzo’s leadership, the University experienced a more than $300 million building campaign, the most ambitious construction development in school history.
While DeCenzo is humbled by the many achievements he helped the University to achieve, he did manage to develop a list of what he considers to be his top eight accomplishments as president, seven of which are University-specific and one that is personal:
- No. 1 – Signing three of his four children’s diplomas as they graduated from CCU. He said, “That is such a rarity in higher education and something that I truly cherish.”
The other seven – in no particular order:
Having Col. Bill Baxley put the Presidential medallion on him during his inauguration.
Supporting his wife, Terri, in the establishment of Women in Philanthropy and Leadership (WIPL).
Establishing the LIFE (Learning is for Everyone) program, Chant411, and the first Ph.D. program (Marine Science: Coastal and Marine Systems Science).
Helping to change state law enabling the Horry County Penny Sales Tax initiative.
Witnessing the first ROTC commissioning, and the first Fulbright awarded to one of CCU’s graduates.
Being recognized as a Military-Friendly and Purple Heart University; And, “very importantly,” being recognized for years by
U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and Colleges of Distinction.
(Top) DeCenzo welcomed then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, who spoke on campus during his campaign tour in August 2007. (Bottom) In October 2019, CCU and the South Carolina Technical College System signed a partnership agreement designed to enhance the seamless transfer of students and graduates from the 16 technical colleges in South Carolina to the University. DeCenzo is joined by Marilyn Fore, Ed.D., president of Horry-Georgetown Technical College, and Tim Hardee ‘78, Ph.D., president of the SCTCS.
I had the pleasure of working with Dave DeCenzo during his positions as Wall College of Business dean and provost at Coastal before becoming our president. As chair of the Academic Affairs Committee, Dave and I were in regular contact during his tenure as provost. Looking back, there were a number of small "crises" that made their way to his desk and, eventually, to the committee during that period. I was struck by his total commitment to shared governance between the board and the administration. For me, it set the tone for our relationship and, ultimately, for his success as president." —Oran P. Smith CCU trustee since 1993
HGTC was proud to present Dr. David A. DeCenzo with the Distinguished Patron Award at the 2021 Commencement Ceremony in May. He has been instrumental in establishing seamless paths for students transferring from HGTC to CCU. As president of CCU, he awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships for HGTC graduates in the Early College High School program. He worked in unison with HGTC through a mutual aid compact agreement to share resources for students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the many years we served our colleges, we worked together in a phenomenal relationship to provide open access to our students all for their convenience and success. We were proud to have this unique model partnership for our state." —Marilyn Murphy Fore, Ed.D., president, Horry-Georgetown Technical College
DeCenzo ushered in a new era of Chanticleer Athletics when he announced the University would join the Sun Belt Conference in 2016. As a result, the football program now competes in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest level in intercollegiate athletics.
Dave did what he thought was right for the best interest of Coastal long-term, not what may have been easiest or quickest in the moment for him or Coastal. He also understood how important it was for the Universityís overall profile to have Chanticleer Athletics perform at a high level, bringing national exposure to the institution." —Eugene C. Spivey ’91 CCU trustee since 2002
As the University continued to evolve, DeCenzo was keenly aware of the impact a strong athletic program could have on campus, as well as the positive exposure it could bring to the University. On July 1, 2016, he oversaw Chanticleer Athletics’ transition from the Big South Conference to the Sun Belt Conference, which marked the University’s move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), the highest level in intercollegiate athletics. One day before that major conference shift, he witnessed Coach Gary Gilmore ’80 lead the baseball program to the 2016 College World Series title – the first national title in school history.
“Clearly, universities are about learning and academics,” DeCenzo said. “That is why we significantly grew our academic programs. That is the heart of why we exist. But one cannot overlook what athletics means to an institution. Our accomplishments in athletics have brought CCU media coverage that we simply would not have achieved elsewhere – or been able to afford even if we could.
“I will never forget the excitement and community spirit we saw around our 2016 College World Series national championship; the national exposure we received from ESPN-televised football games and the hosting of ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ on our campus; nor our first-ever FBS bowl game. Seeing Coastal Carolina University being successful in athletics meant a lot to me as it was one pillar of success to make CCU better known – and attract students to our campus.”
In all, DeCenzo dedicated nearly 20 years of service to Coastal Carolina University, and his legacy is undeniable. For him, as well as for the University, saying farewell will certainly take some time.
DeCenzo celebrates with students in Brooks Stadium.
“I simply want to say thank you – to the University’s board of trustees for giving me this opportunity to lead CCU for so many years; to the faculty and staff who bought into the vision of what we could become and for making it happen; to state and local leaders who provided us the pathways to move the institution forward; to the broad community and donors who supported us; and the students and their families who recognized what CCU had to offer. Being president of CCU was a dream come true for me and something I will cherish the rest of my life.”
I have had the good fortune to know Dr. DeCenzo on a personal and professional level for many years. Not only did he recognize that the University had the potential for growth in all areas, but he also realized the importance of building strong relationships with the communities around the University as well as with Horry-Georgetown Technical College. Coastal Carolina University will be forever blessed by Dr. DeCenzoís legacy." —Brenda Bethune mayor, City of Myrtle Beach
Dr. Dave DeCenzo's entrance in the Conway community was not to be an ordinary event. As president, he is to be honored for sculpting a credible university the world now knows well.
Even the casual observer knows of CCU's massive growth in student population, expansive educational opportunities including doctoral programs, and athletic performance (that has put Conway on the map) under Dr. DeCenzo's leadership. No longer does the history of the Chanticleer have to be told.
Because of Dr. Dave DeCenzo's role at CCU, in Conway, and beyond, we are better, and we are stronger. Thank you, Dave. You will not be forgotten!"—Barbara Blain-Bellamy mayor, City of Conway
by Jerry Rashid • firstname.lastname@example.org
Former CCU first lady Terri DeCenzo champions philanthropy and leadership
With grace and warm-heartedness, Theresa “Terri” DeCenzo became genuinely involved with the ethos of Coastal Carolina University. The former first lady took an active role in issues relating to student government, leadership, intercollegiate athletics, and Greek life, among others. She was instrumental in bringing highly successful women leaders in business, politics, and education to campus to speak and inspire women both within the University and the community.
Her greatest impact on students and the University undoubtedly came through her tireless efforts as the founder and executive director of Women in Philanthropy and Leadership (WIPL). She joined what was then called Women in Philanthropy in 2007, the same year her husband, David A. DeCenzo, Ph.D., became the second president of the University. Shortly thereafter, with input from faculty, staff, students, and community members, she expanded the organization’s mission to include a leadership component and established WIPL. In 2011, the inaugural Celebration of Inspiring Women and Women’s Leadership Conference was held. The daylong conference featured guest speakers from around the country and grew to attract more than 800 attendees each year.
“I have always been passionate about building others up and recognizing that we often push each other down out of fear or jealousy or some sort of belief that we are not responsible or accountable to our sisters,” DeCenzo said. “WIPL was really a movement in this belief – that if we join together in the commonalities we share, the differences become an asset rather than a detriment; they enrich rather than divide.
In February 2020, DeCenzo and award recipients celebrated the 10-year anniversary of Women in Philanthropy and Leadership’s Celebration of Inspiring Women.
It was a passion of mine to bring together like-minded women of diverse backgrounds to share their stories, their hopes, and their dreams. These women shared relevant and important life lessons to inspire and empower others on their journey. It was always striking and humbling for me to see and hear the ordinary struggles we share with extraordinarily successful women." —Terri DeCenzo
“It was a passion of mine to bring together like-minded women of diverse backgrounds to share their stories, their hopes, and their dreams. These women shared relevant and important life lessons to inspire and empower others on their journey. It was always striking and humbling for me to see and hear the ordinary struggles we share with extraordinarily successful women.”
During a surprise announcement at WIPL’s 10th annual Celebration of Inspiring Women on Feb. 10, 2020, it was revealed that the Inspiring Woman Award – regularly presented at the event – was renamed the Theresa M. DeCenzo Inspiring Woman Award. Since its inception, the Celebration of Inspiring Women has honored 47 exceptional women whose lives have made a significant impact in South Carolina, the nation, and beyond.
WIPL also is credited with awarding more than 400 students in excess of $420,000 in financial support through annual awards and a fully endowed scholarship.
The DeCenzo family: (front row, from left) Mark ’08, Terri, and Gabriella ’14; (back row, from left) David, Meredith ’12, and Natalie.
One of my fondest memories would have to be the graduation of my children from CCU ñ two as undergraduates and one as a graduate student. Seeing their dad give them their degrees is something I will forever cherish. I also remember with great fondness every commencement the culmination of a studentís purpose. It was a great reminder of our reason for being there." —Terri DeCenzo
DeCenzo is flanked by Barbara Pierce Bush (left) and Jenna Bush Hager, who were keynote speakers at WIPL’s 2018 Women’s Leadership Conference.
“I feel extremely grateful that I was placed in a university setting where I could see the need and be a small part of the solution,” she said. “I remain grateful for the board of trustees who supported the programs; the administration, including my husband, who was a great adviser and listener; the staff, who picked up the program and ran with it – if not for them, my vision would have remained a dream. Mostly, I’m amazed and grateful for the generosity of women who care. Their collective impact has changed many lives and created opportunity for students in need.”
Her tireless and impressive work at the University did not go unnoticed. In February 2016, DeCenzo was presented with the Order of the Silver Crescent by then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. The award, one of the state’s highest honors, is given to individuals for significant contributions, leadership, volunteerism, and lifelong influence within a region or community of South Carolina.
In recognition of the DeCenzos’ impact on CCU, the board of trustees approved naming one of the University’s newer residential facilities the David A. and Theresa M. DeCenzo Hall.
DeCenzo says her single most poignant memory as a member of the CCU community was being a part of her husband’s inauguration: “It allowed for all of the other wonderful memories that followed that day. But mostly, it was the culmination of one of his dreams, and to see that come to fruition is indescribable.”
DeCenzo also took great pride in witnessing Chanticleer Athletics “become a powerhouse.” Key moments included cheering on the football team during its Dec. 7, 2013, upset victory at the University of Montana, dubbed as one of the coldest (-5 degrees at kickoff) FCS playoff football games in NCAA history; watching the baseball team capture the 2016 College World Series national championship; and welcoming ESPN’s “College GameDay” to campus in Fall 2020. “All of these will be fond and great memories to share with our grandchildren.”
The DeCenzos are the proud parents of four children: Mark ’08 (wife Jen), Meredith ’12 (husband Ryan), Gabriella ’14 (husband Jonah), and Natalie (husband Scott); and have five grandchildren: Mason, Luke, Emmy, Henry, and Ellie.
“One of my fondest memories would have to be the graduation of my children from CCU – two as undergraduates and one as a graduate student,” said DeCenzo, a graduate of St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing and Towson University, who spent most of her professional career as a critical care nurse. “Seeing their dad give them their degrees is something I will forever cherish. I also remember with great fondness every commencement – the culmination of a student’s purpose. It was a great reminder of our reason for being there.”
While David and Terri DeCenzo’s tenure in office has concluded, they will always be members of Teal Nation. The former first lady reflects on that chapter with great pride and gratitude.
“Once you start to place your thoughts on paper, you realize with great emotion that one of the most wonderful times of your life has ended,” she said. “As I reflect on my shared journey at CCU, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of gratefulness for the richness of the memories; the people, the experiences, the friendships, and the love that took place on this campus and so in our lives. We’ve chosen this community to link arms with forever.”