Thanks to Bob and Oleta Barrow and their hard-working reunion committee, once again former college roommates, old friends, and new friends met up for the annual gathering of Baptist Student Union alumni from Southern Illinois University. And when I say “old friends,” those words are even more descriptive than in years past. After climbing the stairs to the fellowship room at Murdale Baptist Church in Carbondale, we were surrounded with huge bulletin boards illustrating the reunion theme “He’s God the Whole World in His Hands.” Globes centered each attractive table.
We had been invited to bring items to tell where we had been and what we had done in God’s world. A long row of tables against the wall showed the many places where members had served and their diverse activities. Cal and Sharon Reynold’s display truly took us around the world with their international mementoes. One favorite display for me was A.B. and Rosalea Plunkett’s with one of her beautiful paintings and with photo cubes of the many churches in Southern Illinois where they had served. There were beautiful quilts made by Beverly Walker and Jane Walker Sims, lovely art work by Betty Morgan Molen, Carol Smith’s music and her service related items, needle work by Oleta and wood work including a neck tie of wood by Richard Stewart. I’ve yet to read the handouts on the Global Day of Prayer that Alan and Evelyn Jones displayed, but I will. I did not know Dr. Bill Fulkerson, and I did not get to meet him and introduce myself. But I learned from his display that he cared about immigrants and their children, so I know I would like him. There were other displays I have forgotten, but not knowing Oleta would ask me to blog about the reunion, I failed to take notes.
It was so good to meet up with Johnson Hall friends--Nan Stephenson Stogsdill, Irma Richardson, Verona Withrow Highsmith, and Alice Ann Yewell Weeks. All are widows now, and I was inspired by how well they handle their loss and continue to serve. Nan gave me an update on her twin Ann and on her older sister Jo Pippa, whom I looked up to as a role model. Becky Ferris Searle was special to me also at Johnson Hall, and Gerald and I always enjoy visiting with her husband, Dr. Howard Searle, who has worked bringing hope and health in so many places in the world. Becky is still training a new generation of teachers in northern Illinois.
After the greetings and hugs, we quieted at the tables for Ken Cannon to welcome us. Cal Reynolds read John 10:27-29 in recognition of our theme. Pastor Paul Hicks also welcomed us and blessed our evening meal, and the men’s ensemble from Murdale blessed our ears with their singing. After dinner, Charlene Purnell reminded us again of our theme when she played a favorite of mine: “This Is My Father’s World.” Roger Deppe led us as we sang together, and then we were entertained by Jim Cox dressed in his cowboy boots and jeans. Jim has a great voice and great sense of humor, but the lovely music that came out of his guitar made me wish he’d also played a solo with it. Maybe next year!
Then we became serious and fought tears when Bob and Harlan Highsmith gave a patriotic salute for our wounded warriors.
Sharon Reynolds led us in table games and an opportunity to share memories of our BSU days. People like to recall the fun things and the pranks. This is the first time that I’ve attended that no one told the story of why there was a tiny window added to the prayer room. But A.B. and Rosa can tell you if you don’t know. Bill Hollada told the story of the Doyle Dorm guys who blasted Carbondale with lively music one night—not a hymn. I loved Carol Stickey’s story of how she met her husband who had climbed up into a tree and eerily called her name as she passed below. And loved hearing how someone ate in the cafeteria with girl friends but went for coffee afterwards to sit alone—knowing full well that the fellow interested in her would join her to get acquainted. They have been drinking coffee together ever since.
As we left for our local homes or hotels, some stayed behind to practice in the sanctuary under the direction of Murdale’s music director Steve Shirk.
On Friday morning we came together again for more visiting over coffee and yummy rolls and coffee cake before the first session started in the sanctuary at l0. Once more we sang together and then listened to Carol Smith’s powerful piano solo”To God Be the Glory.” Before Darrell Molen spoke remembering those who have died the past year, Ray and Charlene Purnell reminded us of Horatio Spafford’s response to loss and grief as they played “It is Well with My Soul.” Next we were rewarded with the beautiful medley of hymns that the choir prepared for us the night before.
Jim Cox gave a tribute to Helen Green Galloway, who was our reunion leader for so many years. He had been passing around his phone showing the flowers we had sent to her hospice room. It was appropriate that he again used humor because humor was something Helen was famous for. I have never known anyone as facile at repartee as Helen, and we are grateful for all the laughter she gave us. Her hospice room is constantly filled with family and friends enjoying her last days with her when she is not sleeping. There is a Facebook page devoted to messages if you want to have current news. Students at Johnston City High School called “her kids” are raising funds for a scholarship to be given in her name in appreciation for her many years of service as guidance counselor. If you should want to contribute, I would suggest you contact Holly Kee on Facebook. Never retiring from service to others even as she approached 90, she continued her many volunteer activities including flirting with the old men as she delivered Meals on Wheels, teaching her Sunday School class, and leaving laughter wherever she went.
Ginger Wells challenged us with her devotional “God Is Not Finished with Us Yet.” I find myself repeating this to myself. To challenge us further, Becky Searle led in a “Presentation of Nations” replete with facts and many nations’ flags. Nada Fuqua led us in the song all of us former G.A. members cherish: “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations.” The love and the teachings of Jesus are too important not to be shared.
We recessed and returned to the fellowship hall for the catered lunch that featured a lavish potato bar and a salad/fruit bar and even a table with more pie from the night before! After lunch, we were called to order a final time with Bob leading us in the joyful “Go Tell It on the Mountain” with Carol at the piano. Next was a wonderful treat by special guests, the Korean Musical Group.
Our final challenge was a message by Jerry Day, retired Illinois Baptist State Association regional mission strategist. Once more we heard the comforting knowledge that God has the whole world—all nations—in his hands. We were reminded that He has taught us to love and serve all people wherever we are in His world.
The hard working committee members who helped Bob and Oleta were Ken and Jo Nell Cannon, Roger and Audrey Deppe, Earl and Delores Dungey, Calvin and Sharon Reynolds, Carol Smith, Marc McCoy, and Gene and Ginger Wells. They began their planning the day after the last year’s reunion and prepared a program meant to encourage us to experience joyful service, inclusiveness, international concern, and especially loving one another as Jesus commanded.
They could not have known that the Pope, the leader of America’s largest Christian group, would be gathering great crowds as he also emphasized joyful service, inclusiveness, international concern, and loving one another.
I thank God that our American forefathers had the wisdom to give us religious liberty with a separation of church and state, which of course has allowed our churches to flourish. The teachings of Jesus shine through our culture when we work together to help the poor, the sick, the marginalized, long-time neighbors and new immigrants in our midst, We sometimes see the fearful and evil things and do not recognize the enormous good being accomplished in the world by God’s followers. People are longing for God’s warmth and wisdom, and we have the opportunity to shed God’s love knowing that in as much we have done good to one another, we have done it unto God.
Near the end of the reunion, I bumped into Lora Blackwell-Kern and she is still volunteering with the Fellowship of Baptist Educators, which she has promoted at previous reunions. Although I’d early seen Verona Highsmith, I had not really visited much with her. At the reunion’s close as Gerald was looking at the notebook with letters from those unable to attend, I saw Verona and hastened over. There I was surprised to meet her younger sister Valerie Withrow Cole. Someone else came up to visit with Verona, and I had the opportunity to hear about Valerie’s post SIU life when she and her husband lived in the Washington, D.C., area until their retirement near Branson in Missouri. She had worked on the staff of the First Baptist Church where Presidents Truman, Clinton, and Carter attended, where she was privileged to participate in many exciting things and to have Jimmy Carter as her Sunday School teacher. There is never enough time to see everyone or get acquainted with the ones we don’t know, but our lives are richer from the visits we made these two days.
Thus, we are grateful that although Bob and Oleta cannot continue leadership for another year, Ken and Jo Nell Cannon and Calvin and Sharon Reynolds are willing to coordinate a perhaps simpler version of the reunion possibly at Giant City State Park. I am sure they would welcome any help and suggestions you might give them.
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