When John Montgomery Belk enrolled at Davidson College in 1939, he continued a family tradition that began with the earliest Belk family graduates in 1847. John Belk amassed a record of leadership and accomplishment at Davidson that foreshadowed his extraordinary career and commitment to service. An economics major, Belk was captain of the varsity basketball team and a leader in student government and campus organizations.
Following graduation, he joined the U.S. Army Infantry, serving for three years in World War II as a lieutenant and resuming active duty in the Korean War. After serving as an officer of the United Nations Civil Assistance Commission, Belk returned home to his family business in 1952. Under his guidance as Chairman of the Board of Belk, Inc., the business expanded into one of the nation's largest and most profitable retail organizations.
John Belk dedicated himself to his community, most notably as mayor of Charlotte for four terms, from 1969 to 1977. Belk helped forge the beneficial collaboration between business and government that continues today, positioning Charlotte for its role as the nation's second largest banking center and one of the country's fastest growing cities.
In the early 1990s, he established the John Montgomery Belk Scholarship at Davidson, and in 2000 made an historic gift to endow this flagship scholarship program. John Belk was deeply touched by the opportunity to help deserving young people attend his alma mater, and kept in contact with many of the Belk Scholars. He remained engaged with Davidson throughout his life.
John Belk died in 2007. His spouse, The Honorable Claudia Watkins Belk, passed away in 2017. Their family, including daughter, Mary Claudia Belk Pilon, Board Chair of the John M. Belk Endowment, and niece, Katie Belk Morris, Board Chair of the Belk Foundation, continue to be involved with the Belk Scholarship Program.