William F. O'Donnell
At the suggestion of Richmond newspaper owner and Kentucky Governor Keen Johnson, William Francis O'Donnell, Richmond city school superintendent, was selected to replace Donovan as president. During World War II, the school experienced a significant decline in enrollment. Had there not been a sizable contingent of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps and an army specialized training unit on campus in 1943 and 1944, Eastern would have had to close.
After the war the return of the veterans brought stability and an increase in enrollment. As the war ended, the enrollment climbed from 270 in 1943 to 453 in September 1945, to 582 in January, to 767 in March. By October 1946, enrollment stood at 1095, or at 94 percent of the 1940 level. Of the 699 men, 555, or 80 percent, were veterans. The GI Bill of Rights was sending thousands of men returned from the war to college. Eastern had made arrangements for assembling war-surplus, prefabricated housing for veterans. "Veterans Village" became fixed as a campus landmark and served as Eastern's facility for married students until replaced by Brockton in the 1960s.
Eastern Kentucky State Teachers College
At that time the legislature granted Eastern authority to offer non-teaching degrees. O'Donnell successfully implemented integration of the campus, and in the summer of 1956, Andrew Miller of Richmond, became the first black to enroll. Coach Paul McBrayer's strictly disciplined basketball teams won a record 38 straight home games at Weaver Gymnasium. Formal student government came to campus in the 1950s.
Several major additions were made to the physical plant during Dr. O'Donnell's tenure. Included were lights for night games at Hanger Stadium, an addition to the Weaver Health Building, and the construction of Memorial Science Building, Foster Music Building, Keith Hall, and O'Donnell Hall.
At the time of his retirement, several new construction projects, including Mattox Hall, Case Hall, Brockton, an addition to the Fitzpatrick Building, and a new Model School, had been planned.
The years of fiscal conservatism ended when Dr. Robert R. Martin assumed the presidence on July 1, 1960.