Gerald and I deserted other work and went to the 25th annual BSU Reunion wondering as probably many of us were if this would be the last one we would be able to attend. After visiting in the large lobby at Giant City State Park Lodge, we entered the reserved dining room and were greeted by attractive tables with theme related decorations and lovely program booklets with Ecclesiastes 3:1 on the cover: To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.
For younger readers and non-Baptist readers, I should explain that BSU stood for Baptist Student Union, and the BSU at Southern Illinois University Carbondale was very important to many students for decades. When Helen Green Gallaway was still alive and leading our reunion, she liked to tell of their BSU bus taking students to Ridgecrest, NC, and stopping for a motel. The owner there sniffed at the sign on their bus and declared those college kids did not even know how to spell “bus.”
I had already been blessed in the lobby by conversation with Pat Abney of Anchorage, Alaska, who was present with her brother Sam of Galatia. I remembered Pat's name from my last year at Johnson Hall, but I had not seen her since. As she answered questions about her life's work, she told us about 28 years teaching biology, her political activities, her 10 years operating a Bed and Breakfast, and on and on. Hearing her story, I was immediately inspired and very grateful I had come. What Pat did not tell me and I found by googling her was she had been named Outstanding Biology Teacher of Alaska, Alaska Woman of the Year, and other such honors.
When I opened my booklet to discover the evening's program, I found Galatians 6:9: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. As Gerld and I became acquainted with our table of eight, it seemed those people could have been an illustration for that verse. I have known Jane Walker Sims and her sister-in-law Beverly Walker for a long time, and knew they had served others well.
On the far side of the large table were Dr. Robert and Marilyn Parks of Mt, Vernon, who would have to exit early because the doctor would be leaving home at 6:30 the next morning on his rounds of 14 nursing homes. From the snatches of conversation I could hear in that noisy room filled with excited once-a-year visiting, I heard enough to know the Parks are using the very special buildings on their farm to serve special needs kids, senior citizens, and many others who come for events they host. If that was not enough activity, Marilyn rose to tell us of the college classes she and her brother, Dr. Curt Scarborough, want to have there on the farm. Most of us probably remembered Curt from our SIUC days, but few of us may have known that after 21 years as a pastor, he joined a non-profit called FreeWay Foundation in 1975 and became president in 1985 after establishing a college as part of their organization. Retiring after 41 years there, he still has the energy to want to establish CrossFire Christian College with his sister Marilyn on Crescent Lake Farm. You can google to find out more about opportunities there where it declares you can audit classes free if you are not studying for a diploma.
I was very fortunate to be seated next to Don Donley and wife Esther from Kankakee. Just like Pat Abney, they've had a full life and are still going strong. Don explained after SIU graduation, he first became a hospital administrator. Then because of talking with lawyers for the hospital, he studied law so he could speak their language. Later he used that law degree in a bank in downtown Chicago.
Because he wanted to do volunteer overseas mission work in retirement, he spent a year in seminary studies as required by the Southern Baptists at that time. Esther was not only a trained elementary teacher but also had studied and became a school librarian, so they had many talents between them to share. They actually ended up going to both Ghana and Kenya in association with the Wycliffe translation group but Don did not regret the seminary classes. First Esther worked in a school library, and then she was needed in another nation as a first grade teacher. Don worked in administration and at one school keeping 25 computers going and so forth. I loved best when they told of individual students they helped continue in school. In one country, local schools were sometimes staffed by teachers with high school diplomas and not much beyond that. (As sometimes used to be true here in our country a century ago.) So although the young woman was near the top of her class, she was ineligible for university work until she took remedial classes, which she did with the Donleys' encouragement. And another young woman was able to have a bedroom in their stateside home after Don helped her get a job in the bank to work her way through college. (And a car to get to that job.) I noted their three children are all involved in careers helping others. The daughter, Kathy Donley, and her husband, Jim Wilkerson, graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Kathy is now pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in the inner city—just one block from the Capitol in Albany,New York. Not only are the Donleys not growing weary doing good, but the next generation is doing good.
It would not be a BSU meeting without lots of group singing and musical presentations. Thanks to Doris McCoy, Ray Purnell, Charlene Purnell, Bob Barrow, Carol Smith, Charlie Baker, and Jim Cox, our master of ceremonies, we had both Friday night. Nor would it be reminiscent of our fun in BSU days to not have laughter, and that was provided by Bob and Oleta Barrow's enlisting Tom Gwalney, Sharon Reynolds, Barbara Highsmith, and Bill Sielschott to play the Liars Game.
Cal Reynolds ended the evening with the first of his very practical and encouraging messages on our theme of “Harvest in the Autumn of Life.” He started with “God's Care in the Springtime of Life...A Time of Preparation.”
After final chatter and visiting, some from far away stayed in the cabins at the park; others of us went home or elsewhere until the 9 am to reassemble on Friday morning. Jim Cox woke us up with some fun with his guitar followed by “Moment by Moment” sung by Bob Barrow and Charlie Baker accompanied by Carol Smith Then we were treated to another challenging sermon by Cal: “God's Care in Life's Summertime...A Time of Propagation.”
In past years, we have had a large choir under talented leaders in remembrance of Chapel Singers that so many BSU students sang in. As our numbers have gone down, this year we had a double quartet practice and sing for us. Thank you to Bob Barrow, Dee Gwaltney, Harlan Highsmaith, Becky Searle, Jim Cox, Nada Fuqua, Cal Reynolds, and Ginger Wells accompanied by Carol Smith for beautiful music. The traditional memorial service for those who died last year was provided by Carol Smith and Dee Gwaltney.
I was inspired next by Jim Cox's “Remembrance of a Friend” as he told the story of his pastor's part in persuading him to go to college. As the oldest of five kids in a family where no one had gone to college, he had not prepared to do so. His pastor urged that he try one semester and then took him to Carbondale, secured him a basement bedroom and a job, and Jim found out how well equipped he was for advanced education even though he had not taken college prep courses. He has blessed many with his radio career and his musical leadership. In his early career at Channel 3 in Harrisburg, I looked forward to his original program “The Hour” live each weekday. Jim and his interesting guests provided me, an isolated farm wife, with mental and social stimulation, and I also enjoyed when he once came to direct the choir in our village church during special services.
One of Jim's most valuable contributions in life may have been his friendship with Al Fasol and leading him to the Lord. Al returned this year to share with us from his book Humor with a Halo and was introduced by Jim. Al had a career as a seminary professor teaching effective sermon preparation. As we were discovering from Cal Reynolds' sermons, Al did a good job. I think our group gave both Al and his student Cal very high marks. Gerald got the publisher's name from Al to order this humor book of actual happenings. I decided to check it out on Amazon, and thus found Al's other more serious books. Partly because I have so many writers as friends, I have a difficult time not spending more than I probably should on books. But as a history buff, there was a book I knew I had to have: a book telling of significant Baptist preachers in the South from 1670 to 1975. A new volume was way too expensive for me, but I have a second-hand copy coming for less than $15--postage and all. I am very eager to start reading it!
The morning ended with a reminder that October 31 will be the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. After Carol Smith accompanied by Lora Blackwell-Kern led us in singing “A Mighty Fortress,” Carol shared a presentation with help from Dr. Fasol reading scriptures in German and Jerry Upchurch following in English. Carol will also give the presentation on this important historical event at her church.
Before the blessing on our lunch time out in the main dining room, Ken Cannon invited anyone who wants to help with next year's reunion to let the committee know. Reinforcing what Cal had told us, we read in our programs by unknown authors: (1) Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. (2) If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.
After lunch, we had more singing together, and Cal spoke on “God's Care in Autumn's Harvest: a time of Production and Consummation.” And we celebrated by singing “The King is Coming.” Before Marc McCoy led our benediction, we sang once more “Spirit of BSU' written by two men familiar to many of us—Bob Entrekin and Archie Moseley.
Cal's messages gave our age group some very good advice. He urged us to listen to our bodies but not to waste away too much time in our recliners listening to TV. We need to be willing to interact with others than our church family—the drug users, the prostitutes, the followers of Isis, and any others needing concern and love. Throughout his messages, he emphasized the importance of planting seeds with the young ones who will soon be replacing us. That is why his wife Sharon has to frequently answer their doorbell when a little kid asks: “Can Mr. Cal come out and play?” In a neighborhood where many parents are in military service, Mr. Cal can provide a listening ear, someone to pitch a ball to, and sometimes a parent substitute.
As good as Cal's encouragement to us was and as much as I enjoyed interacting with so many senior adults who had lived interesting and valuable lives, oddly it was sharing of problems that may have helped me most. I heard people speak of heart attacks, “he almost drove me nuts,” a friend whose daughter had to have heart surgery, a son in prison, a child whose life was destroyed by LSD, the death of a wife leaving three young sons, someone who was not there because of myesthenia gravis, and cancer, cancer, cancer. (As I read the letters from those who could not attend, I was saddened that Roger Deppe's wife who I so enjoyed meeting and visiting with last year could not come because of her cancer treatments.) The hardships reminded me of what I already knew: it is silly to ask why me when troubles come. Life on earth does not guarantee carefree retirements, and we should not expect that no matter how well we plan. Difficulties and challenges are to be expected during all phases of life, but the help of caring friends, the teachings of Jesus, the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and the promises of God can make life's challengs easier. Or as the unknown writer quoted at the end of our program booklet said: You're going into a season when you are about to experience breakthrough after breakthrough because what you went through didn't break you.
Thank you Ken and JoNell Cannon, Cal and Sharon Reynolds, Lora Blackwell-Kern, Bob and Oleta Barrow, and Marc and Doris McCoy for all the work you did preparing this gathering for us.