A few days ago, we were in Greenville, Illinois, celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of my graduation from Greenville College. In a real sense, it was Kay’s and my 60th — but that’s another story. Greenville is a small city of 7000 halfway down the State, and the college, established there in 1892, is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church.
It was 62 years ago that we arrived on campus from Canada — Kathleen and I, our nearly three-year-old daughter, Carolyn, and our soon-to-be-born son, Donald. I was there to finish two years of college leading to a B.A. in English literature.
GC is a small institution, measured against the huge universities across the land. It has an enrollment of 1200, but it functions as a rock solid institution of higher learning with active commitment to the Christian faith.
Our circumstances back then could not have been more limited. Arriving in a car we had bought in Detroit, we three landed with one suitcase and a bulging briefcase. We moved into the kitchen-less upstairs apartment I had engaged only weeks earlier.
Before leaving Canada we had shipped a second hand steamer trunk packed with wardrobe for colder weather, baby equipment, and other household necessities. But the trunk went to Pennsylvania by error and was not traced until the chill of winter was approaching. We lived out of that suitcase until the trunk arrived.
There had been a certain desperation in our move. We were 25 years old with a growing family. We knew that time was running out for me to finish the two years needed to make me eligible for graduate school.
Greenville College is vastly more developed today than it was in 1953. The campus is twice the size because of a recent gift of adjacent property plus added other contiguous lots. The library is much larger, the soccer and football fields to my knowledge didn’t exist 60 years ago, the Bock Collection of art is a treasure, and the music offerings are greatly broadened. Excellence in academics pursued under Christian auspices is still held as the standard.
For me, among the highlights of the Homecoming of 2013 were the college choir concert, the homecoming chapel on Friday morning and the Alumni Dinner on Saturday evening. At that chapel, three outstanding alumni were honored – Daniel Jensen, history professor for several decades; Gary Pierson, a young lawyer, recognized for outstanding achievement among alumni under 40; and Dennis Spencer, executive vice president of Lagardere Unlimited Media and Events, the organization that sponsors televised events like the tennis open, and the company that gave media oversight to the recent Boston Marathon.
During Spencer’s chapel address, he advised that when faced with a moral decision, we should “Do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reason.” Spelled out, it was a morally elevating challenge delivered into an age too much infected with relativism — the idea that morality is elastic and all individuals have the right to stretch or shrink it according to their own whims.
Every listener from the youngest freshman to the oldest alumnus must have been nudged to remember that Christians hold to a universal truth that life has a solid moral core of absolutes from which moral decisions are to be worked out.
Speaking into the narcissism of our times — though not mentioned by name — and its easy escape from personal responsibility, Spencer also emphasized that mature leadership requires us to own our mistakes as well as claiming our victories.
Later at a splendid alumni banquet Dr. Ivan Filby, newly elected Greenville College president, spoke extemporaneously of his vision for his presidency. At Greenville College’s core is to be the ongoing emphasis on academic excellence, charactered living, and breadth of vision for life, but above all he pledged his earnest commitment that all students will be called to a “life-changing encounter with the living Christ”.
The weekend gave ample opportunity for the members of my class present to mingle and recollect. Of the original 90 classmates who graduated in 1953, 18 had returned, counting some spouses.
Kathleen and I see now what we could not have seen with the same degree of clarity 60 years ago – that God governs and guides in the affairs of his children through all of life’s ups and downs. It’s called “providence” and we left campus full of gratitude for the guiding hand of God — first to Greenville College back then and from GC into a life of service for the Lord.