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The Original Entrance to Harding University

A trip to Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, is always a bit nostalgic. For four years, this was my home, my community, and my church!  My parents dropped me off at Armstrong Hall in 1965, a couple of days before most freshmen would arrive, so there I was by myself except for the football players who had to report early.

My first class in college was Old Testament Survey under Neil Pryor. He was young, personable, funny, and never forgot your name! He later became the academic dean of the university and a classroom legend.  Dr. Pryor died this week, another saint on the other side.

My freshmen year was also Cliff Ganus’s first year as president of Harding. He inherited the presidency from George S. Benson, another legendary figure in churches of Christ. Dr. Benson had been one of our early missionaries to China, later came to Harding and took it to true collegiate status—then did the same for Oklahoma Christian University.  Dr. Benson stayed heavily involved in African missions, virtually until the day he died.  Cliff Ganus had large shoes to fill, but, in his quietly profound way, he became the heart and soul of Harding.

I saw Dr. Ganus last night at the Harding Lectureship. He and his wife Louise both will turn 90 years-old in the next few months, both still sharp and active. Dr. Ganus reminded me that he first came to Harding as a freshmen in 1939, so he has been a part of the Harding community for 71 years!!!

David Burks followed Dr. Ganus as president of Harding in 1987. His fingerprints are especially obvious on the campus, which has totally been transformed during his presidency. In 1969, the small campus was centered around the Lily Pond and in the years of Dr. Burk’s presidency, the old buildings have been reconstituted, and dozens of beautiful buildings have been built. The small college of my day has become a sprawling university on a beautiful campus.  And Dr. Burk’s is equally as loved by the students as his predecessors!

There are almost 7000 students attending Harding University this year! Sherrylee and I just laughed last night as we were walking out of the Benson Auditorium following the lectureship and award ceremony for Max and Opal Johnson, which I mentioned in the last posting.

In a small, dimly lit alcove near the auditorium, there were a couple of students, dressed in shorts and T-shirts, sitting legs crossed, facing each other.  It wasn’t until I noticed that he had a pen and had started to write on her leg that the couple even caught my attention.

My first thought was, oh boy, Dr. Benson would roll over in his grave if he saw this out in front of his auditorium! Things were very different then. No shorts, no PDA (public display of affection), and light bulbs in every dark corner of the campus!

But what made us laugh came next. Just as we got just even with this couple, we heard the girl say, “No, no, hesed  (which she said with an exaggerated guttural, clearing-her-throat sound) means “unconditional love.”

I don’t know what the context of this conversation was, but where on earth except at a Christian college like Harding would you hear a couple sitting in the dark late at night, discussing the meaning of a biblical Hebrew word?

No doubt, the role of Christian colleges in our fellowship is changing, but I’m very thankful for schools like Harding, where completely committed Christians still spend their entire lives filling up our children and grandchildren with the information about God’s world and faith in the Creator!

 

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