Sunday, October 02, 2011

Fun and Fellowship at "The Nifty Fifties"--and Hope

Before I even drove home from our 19th Annual Baptist Student Union Reunion Friday afternoon, I felt I must drop by a young friend’s house to share the hope that Nate Adams had given us with his afternoon presentation. The personal story he told convinced me that five or six people praying could bring about important results.

Former Southern Illinois University classmates and other BSU alumni from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s had met Thursday evening for a bountiful supper in the fellowship hall of Lakeland Baptist Church in Carbondale to start our reunion. Hamburgers and hot dogs with all the fixings topped by banana splits as dessert were served by friendly Lakeland members. That menu and the colorful juke box decorations surrounding us made clear “The Nifty Fifties” theme.

So did being greeted by Jim Cox of midwest radio/television fame in his Rock and Roll T-shirt and our president Ginger Wells and husband Gene in their blue jeans. Another attendee had on 1950s style church-going outfit complete with cute hat atop her head. One bright red poodle skirt with multiple petticoats beneath it certainly caught my eye, and there were others brave enough or ambitious enough to rise to the challenge of dressing the way it was. Rosie Robinson registered us, and as usual George and Jerry Casey took our pictures—this year in a Route 66 automobile. We will be receiving those photos in the mail soon. Pastor Phil Nelson welcomed us, and Gerald and I were pleased to see this friend of our daughter Katherine from their 1970 BSU days together.

We moved from the fellowship hall across the driveway to Lakeland’s new worship center for an evening of fellowship, inspiration, and games led by Bob and Oleta Barrow. We liked hearing about the SIUC Campus Mission from Chase Abner again and also from two cute twins Ashley and Andrea Dimitroff, students from DuQuoin. You may want to check out the Campus Mission Facebook page to share with the young people in your church.

The former BSU quartet—Roger Deppe, Bill Eidson, Darrell and Harlan Highsmith--proved they can still sound good even after 50 years. Jo Nell Cannon was the best liar in the Liars Game, and she said the next day she had a lot of explaining to do to a fellow church member who showed up from Mt. Vernon and kept hearing people tell her what a good liar she was. The close harmony of Les Snyder and his sons Brent and Chris was beautiful and powerful. Then we finished the evening singing 1950s songs under the direction of four couples who got into the swing of things—especially Verona and Darrell Highsmith smooching behind their big hats.

For me, the best part of Thursday evening was people’s stories. Finding out that multi-talented Jim Cox had never expected to go to college and took vocational classes in high school not only surprised me but filled me with appreciation for his Johnston City pastor Bob Walker who took Jim to his mother’s home and arranged a free room for his first term to encourage Jim to try college and see how he could work his way through—which he did with a job at the Baptist Foundation.

Then there was George Casey telling us about growing up in Tunnel Hill, attending a one-room school with only three in his class. (All three of his rural classmates ended up with masters degrees, which says something good about one-room schools with the right teacher.) Turning down scholarship offers from McKendree and University of Illinois, George came to SIUC at age 15. He felt the support and fellowship of Christian students at Doyle Dorm not only helped him make the adjustment to university life but also convinced him he wanted to become a Christian, which he did during his junior year. He also gave us a quick history of student work at SIUC from Myron Dillow’s history book about Baptist life in Illinois. You can read George’s “BSU Story” on the website our president emeritus Helen Galloway created for us:

Helen too told about what BSU meant to her during 1945-49. When George earlier told about the BSU float winning in the 1948 Homecoming parade celebrating SIU’s progression from Southern Illinois Normal University, why did we figure that Helen was on the committee that used “We Ain’t Normal Anymore” for their theme? Kidding aside, however, as many wonderful laughs as Helen has provided for us these many years, her servant heart has always been in the right place and accomplished so much for our Illinois churches, her students during her guidance counselor career, and now in her home church and for our BSU reunion that grew from a garage-full of friends at a rummage sale to the large gathering we have now that inspires and blesses us, Helen already has the October newsletter up at and lots of updating already accomplished with the promise this year’s reunion pictures will be posted soon. Check it out at and drop Helen a note of appreciation.

Gerald and I had gotten up early Thursday to bid farewell to California friends who had been with us for a week and who left Carbondale when I drove them to the train station Thursday morning. So we were grateful we didn’t have to stay for the late night practice of the Reunion Choir under the direction of Barbara Eidson. However, the next day when I heard them sing, I was grateful that they had the energy and dedication to stay late and prepare the lovely songs we heard on Friday.

Coffee, fruit, and bite-size yummy pastries awaited us Friday morning in the fellowship hall and at ten o’clock we went back to the worship center for praise and worship under the direction of John Davis and Carol Smith. Darrell Highsmith led us in a thoughtful memorial service before the Reunion Choir sang, and Carol thrilled us with her piano tribute.

It was inspiring to hear Becky Searles, teacher and trainer of teachers, interview her husband Dr. Howard Searles about his years of work with Emmanuel Hospital Association in northern rural India. Becky is in her 45th year in education and now serving Trinity International University and Judson College. Howard is still recruiting for EHA and has seen seven hospitals grow to twenty-one and returns to help often even though he retired from medical practice seven years ago. For more about EHA’s work, visit

Lora Blackwell explained again the Fellowship of Baptist Educators program in which she participates and which not only provides teachers for other nations but also collects Bibles and books for overseas libraries with limited resources. See

Just back from weeks working in northern New York, Jack Shelby told us about our Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief Volunteer program and its 37 teams, who pay their own expenses and do everything from supplying hot meals and child care during disasters to having chainsaw crews ready to clear fallen trees and repair roofs. He told of cleaning up one little 90-year-old lady’s lawn covered with limbs as high as fence around the yard. When she thanked them, she explained when she looked out and saw the damage and mess outside her house, she knew she could not do anything about it. So she prayed the Lord would send angels to clean it up for her. She was delighted with the crew that came and she told them that she now knew that “Angels aren’t always pretty.” Another encouraging tidbit Jack shared was that at one table during one of the 19,000 volunteer days Illinois provided that year, they discovered that every man at the table had had open heart surgery. For more information, see

At our fantastic catered lunch, I met or should say re-met a neighbor I had not seen since her childhood. As she dipped my salad. she explained that she was Melody, the second daughter of Jay and Winnie Payne and she and her husband were the ones who had moved a mobile home to Jay and Winnie’s place. They sometimes bring Jay and Winnie fishing at our lake. Then I noticed her T-shirt and realized we were being catered by Marion’s Western Sizzling. Winnie is an outstanding cook, and so are her daughter and husband.

After lunch, Jim and Rosie Robinson led us in group singing. We listened to the men’s quartet again and heard Helen Galloway introduce special people—the missionaries in our midst. But I was most looking forward to her introduction of our Illinois Baptist State Association Executive Director, because she told me she had been working on that introduction for a week. She did not disappoint. She had us laughing, Nate blushing, and our hearts open to what he had to say.

He did not disappoint either. He is more than aware of the importance of trying to provide for our present young adults the kind of nurturing and educational opportunities that the adults in the Great Depression sacrificially created for our age group when we were young. With young adults of his own, he understands the need to tell the good news of Christ so that it will be understood by this generation and they too will enjoy community and relationships that will bless them throughout their life on this planet and beyond. The method needed? Prayer and caring people reaching out and sharing their journey and their struggles as they make the effort to follow the teachings of Jesus and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Knowing that many listening would do that filled me with hope as I left the reunion and headed home rejoicing.

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