The Sarah Graham Kenan Memorial Auditorium opened in 1970 as a gift from the Sarah Graham Kenan Foundation, Inc. This 1000-plus seat performance venue has provided a space for the university to attract a wide variety of artists and speakers over the years.
The Kenan Family, immigrants from Ireland, arrived in colonial North Carolina in the 1730s, settling first in the Duplin County area and later coming to New Hanover County. Sarah Graham Kenan, a Wilmington native, lived in the family home at 202 S. 3rd Street. Her siblings included William Rand, Jessie Hargrove and Mary Lily Kenan, wife of railroad tycoon Henry Flagler. Sarah married her first cousin, Graham Kenan, a 1904 graduate of UNC and an attorney in New York. Upon his death in 1920, Sarah returned to Wilmington to be closer to sister Jessie Wise. The sisters frequently traveled to New York, Florida and Europe using Wilmington as a winter stopping point. The last ten years of her life she remained at her Market Street home year round. As benefactors of their sister Mary Flagler's estate, the remaining Kenan's created charitable foundations, which greatly benefited North Carolina academic institutes throughout the state. The trust set in Sarah's name upon her death in 1968 provided funding for construction of several structures at Wilmington College of which Kenan Auditorium is one. As a tribute to her influence to this campus, a portrait of Sarah Graham Kenan hangs in the lobby of this building.