As another academic year winds to a close, I’m torn between two subjects for this year’s last column. I’d like to say something to the graduating seniors. I want to thank you for choosing Harding. Your choice gives purpose to hundreds of people like me. Your presence pushes us all to work harder so that you will be better prepared for life and faith in an exciting world. Please stay in touch. You have no idea what it means to us to hear about your successes, and even your setbacks (which are often just successes-in-training). I’d like to say that it’s our honor to go with you on this journey, and our role as supporters doesn’t end when you frame your diploma.
But I’m torn because something should also be said about three dedicated Christian women who have meant so much to Harding and who left us last week within a few days of each other. Only a handful of current students will recognize their names, but each has made her mark — just as so many of you are leaving yours — on this campus and on this community. So I’d like to celebrate our seniors and your future by pointing to the past, to three sisters in Christ who have much to teach us.
Marilyn McCluggage Allen was the Petit Jean Queen of 1949 and a graduate in Elementary Education soon afterward. For 63 years, she was the devoted wife of one of our brotherhood’s most successful evangelists. As Jimmy Allen crisscrossed the country holding more than 4,000 gospel meetings, Marilyn supported him, sowing seeds of her own during 50 years as a Bible school teacher at the College Church of Christ. Her daughter Cindy recalled that week after week, her mother began on Monday to prepare for next Sunday’s class. Propping a flannel-board in front of the television, she used her own children as a “dress rehearsal” for each lesson, cleverly keeping them away from excessive TV at the same time.
If I volunteer to do something for an hour, I feel the need to put it on my resume, but Marilyn Allen volunteered for half a century to help children feel welcomed, valued and nurtured in church. All while doing the same thing for her own children at home, in order to enable her husband to fulfill his calling as a preacher. Jimmy Allen estimates that during his career, more than 50,000 people responded to God’s message, and at his wife’s funeral, he credited half of those responses to her.
When her father died at a young age, Stephanie Killgore Carr had to learn about dry-cleaning to help her mother keep the family business open during the Depression. But she began her professional life serving her country as a supervisor in the War Department, being among the first to work in the Pentagon when it opened in 1943. She was named the outstanding graduate of her class at Vanderbilt University in 1946, the same year she married Jimmy Carr. They lived for 25 years near the sports complex at Florida State University, where her husband worked. Stephanie was an avid sports fan but an even more avid reader, and she often lamented that she couldn’t raise her three boys closer to the university library. A lifelong learner, she kept a dictionary by her favorite chair, and sometimes read it for pleasure.
When Jimmy Carr — who famously coined the phrase “It’s Great to Be at Harding”—moved to Searcy in 1970, Stephanie plunged into community service. She sponsored Ju Go Ju social club, taught Sunday school at College Church and volunteered for many years at the White County Hospital. Her Christian worldview was unshakable. When a son came home from college, thinking he might shock his mother with what he had learned about existentialism, she calmly said, “That all sounds familiar” and opened her Bible to Ecclesiastes. In her 93 years she saw the world with gratitude. Asked late in life which was her favorite holiday, she answered wisely: “Every day is a holiday when you are 90. It’s a gift.”
At Harding we sometimes imply — unintentionally — that the primary ways for women to serve God are through marriage and motherhood. Please forgive us for that. Dee Bost lived all her life as a single woman and never stopped using her gifts for others. Dee was baptized at one of Jimmy Allen’s gospel meetings in Dallas in 1964, and after graduating from Harding in 1974 she taught for 14 years at the Sunshine School in Searcy, working with special needs students. As the house manager for the White County Group Home, she often spent her evenings driving the residents to the jobs where they worked — this after a long day of teaching.
Then for 20 years with Harding’s Advance program, Dee counseled students who started college with disadvantages, sometimes working with as many as 350 at any given time. She retired as Director of the Academic Resource Center (now the Center for Student Success), a program she guided through its accreditation. After retirement, she really got to work, conducting home Bible studies, traveling for disaster relief efforts and gospel campaigns, organizing a new outreach ministry for the College Church, and for the last 12 years working with female inmates at the White County Jail.
In my prayer journal, I have a page with names of people who have recently been baptized. The latest entry simply reads, “Six at the women’s prison.” Society might have given up on these women, but Dee did not. A quiet, humble servant, Dee’s sudden death from a massive stroke last week broke the hearts of everyone who knew, admired and loved her. But she lives on in the lives she changed.
For all of you who are graduating, your gifts will be different from those of Marilyn Allen, Stephanie Carr and Dee Bost. Or from Nicholas Smith or Kailey Massey or Ty Osman. But you have the power to make your life matter to other people by loving and serving them. I just hope your list of such people is long and grows every day. May God bless you all.