For the past six years, I’ve been renting a storage unit. It’s about two miles from my house, and it mostly contains artifacts I brought back from my parents’ place after I cleared it out. Some of it, like antique furniture and glassware, can go (and should have already done so). The bins of pictures, letters, and other memorabilia from them and their forebears, however, are priceless. A couple of days ago, I drove over there to bring home some things that came from Dad’s side of the family.
Today is the 90th anniversary of my father’s birth, and I’ve been thinking lately about how I wanted to mark the occasion. It took longer than I wanted, but late this morning it finally came together–an examination that stretches from the very end of his high school days to the moment where he finally settled on a career path.
I’ve found some things I wish I knew more about. For instance, I had no idea he landed the lead male role in his high school senior play, Peekaboo Penny, a ‘comedy in three acts,’ by the now forgotten Frank Spohn. It ran for two performances, both on a Friday a couple of weeks before his graduation. (His soon-to-be-famous classmate Mary Frances Penick served as an usherette, according to the program.)
I also found his valedictory address. He starts with a reference to the California Gold Rush (Dad was also a ’49er, yes?), but then he gets pretty heavy, acknowledging the possibility of another war and fears of a nuclear holocaust. And there’s this nugget: “Before we can ever attain lasting world peace, we must first learn that lesson of brotherly love…In order that other nations might trust us, we must first set a righteous example. We must not quarrel amongst ourselves, harbor minority discriminations, and set religious creeds against each other.” Go, Dad!
In the fall, he started at Transylvania. There, he was active in his fraternity (Pi Kappa Alpha), sang bass in the college chorale, and got to spend the first half of his junior year at American University in Washington, D.C, as part of an exchange program.
He double-majored in history and political science, and in 1953 was recognized as the top graduate in both programs.
By this point, Dad seemed to be pretty set on a career in ministry, so in the fall he moved to the other side of downtown Lexington to attend the College of the Bible (which was renamed Lexington Theological Seminary in the mid-1960s). Over the next three years, he took classes, interned with a local congregation, and preached occasionally at small churches around the region as needed. To fulfill the requirements for the Bachelor of Divinity degree, he wrote a thesis.
I’ve spent some time today reading through this (it’s only fair–Dad labored through my doctoral dissertation soon after I completed it). His previous studies in history and political science serve him well here, as he first sets the scene by identifying important elements of the political, social, economic, intellectual, and religious climates into which Jesus was born. I’ve still to read what he says about the way Jesus reacted to that environment, but already I have learned a decent amount, both historical and about my father’s theological perspective.
I believe the picture at the top was taken at the time of his graduation from the College of the Bible. I came across the hood this afternoon in one of the bins I’d retrieved.
Late that summer, he was ordained in the church he attended as a young boy.
But Dad didn’t look immediately for a pulpit; he’d decided he wasn’t quite done with that schooling thing. Over the next two years, he completed a Masters in Ancient Languages from the University of Kentucky. (I received occasional lessons on Greek and Latin etymology over the years.) He liked it, and did well, too. I think the great “What if?” of his life centered around wondering if he shouldn’t have gone on for a Ph.D.
I don’t know why, but his life took an odd turn after getting his Masters: he spent a year teaching math (of all things) at Dixie Heights, his old high school. His father was doing the same thing at that moment; I can only speculate that Dad wasn’t sure right then about his next step, and my grandfather knew of an opening at Dixie.
After that came the moment of decision. In 1959, my grandfather returned to his home county school system, to re-assume the role of superintendent he’d involuntarily left more than twenty years before. I found a letter from the head of the Department of Ancient Languages at UK dated July 1959, offering Dad a job as an instructor in Latin for the 1959-60 school year.
The paper trail becomes a bit cold, but I’m virtually certain it was at this point Dad chose the ministry. Bromley Christian Church, a small congregation almost on the Ohio River, came calling, and he accepted. The die over the direction of his life had been cast.
Two summers later, Dad’s physician Wilbur Houston drove his wife and middle daughter to visit Bromley Christian one Sunday, and they took Dad out to lunch afterward. There was enough interest between Dad and the young woman, who was home for the summer from her third-grade teaching position in Dayton, OH, that a date soon ensued. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Yesterday I drove up to Warsaw to place a bouquet on Dad’s grave–I may have talked to him a bit while I was there.
Afterward, I went walking around town a bit as I waited for my take-out order at a restaurant. As it happens, I wandered by the church where Dad was ordained.