Benefactor and former state senator Irwin “Ike” Belk passed away on Feb. 24 at 95 years old.
Belk was an influential force for UNC Charlotte. His relationship with the school goes back to the 1960s, when he introduced and promoted a bill authorizing the state to convert the two-year Charlotte College into the four-year university it is today.
“We have lost a giant figure in the history of our University,” Chancellor Philip L. Dubois told Inside UNC Charlotte. “Ike Belk will be remembered for generations to come not only for his generosity and commitment to the growth and expanding service of UNC Charlotte, but as a hero at the pivotal moment at which we became the fourth member of the University of North Carolina System.”
After the university’s establishment, Belk served as an original member of the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees and as a member of the UNC Board of Governors. His influence is visible on campus through the donation of over 25 statues beautifying UNC Charlotte. He and his wife funded the Irwin Belk Track and Field Complex and commissioned four large bronze statues to stand at the entrance. They also funded an athletic complex at Johnson C. Smith University with an Olympic-sized track. Belk emphasized the role of physical health in one’s education and is the largest contributor to 49er athletics.
“Ike was one of the kindest and most generous individuals I have ever known,” Athletic Director Judy Rose told Inside UNC Charlotte. “His generosity can be seen throughout our campus. Many of our athletic facilities are a direct result of his interest and love for the university. I am grateful to have been the beneficiary of his loving friendship. His influence within our athletics program will last in perpetuity.”
Belk’s generosity spans areas far beyond UNC Charlotte. He served in the esteemed 8th Air Force during WWII and returned to be active in educational, political, and religious life, serving two terms as a United Nations delegate. In 1995, he and his wife donated $1 million to Discovery Place, the most generous donation the nonprofit had ever received. In 2007, he was honored by UNC Charlotte with the Distinguished Service Award for outstanding service and leadership to the Charlotte community and the advancement of UNC Charlotte.
Belk was the son of William Belk, founder of Belk department stores. Irwin Belk was preceded in death by his wife Carol Grotnes Belk, to whom he was married for 66 years. He had two daughters: Irene Belk Miltimore for whom Miltmore Hall is named, and Marilyn Belk Wallis for whom Wallis Hall bears the namesake. He is also survived by his two sons, William Belk and Carl Belk, who took his father’s place on the university’s Board of Trustees.
Irwin Belk once said, “My father always taught us that those who were fortunate enough to possess or earn wealth had a special responsibility to both use it wisely and to share it with those less fortunate. If you don’t take care of this generation, the next one won’t be worth shooting. My advice is to throw the roses where you can smell them. Don’t wait until you’re dead and gone. Do it now.”