By Kathy Dillion
Several years back we, as faculty, began to hear that students today seek to know their professors in a way previous generations did not. While there may be some truth to this in the number of students who do so, it is certainly not new at Harding. I was reminded of this recently as I stood at the bedside of a professor who would leave this world less than a day after my visit.
Jan. 14, 2023, I stood at the bedside of Fred Jewell, a man who had been my professor, my elder, my colleague and my friend, and I thought of the decades in which I had known and loved him. In the same hospital room stood his wife, Alice, who had been my World Literature I teacher, and Winfred Wright, who had been my second-year French teacher. I thought back to how I had come to Harding in the 1970s as a first-generation student who knew little about college life. A friend once asked me about my GPA, and I responded with, “What is a GPA?”
Though I may have been little prepared for college life, these professors both expected much from me and helped me to achieve it. Fred and Alice invited me to their home for a meal, and I was intimidated but went anyway. I have been in their home countless times since then, as they have become so dear to me. They taught at Harding University in England (HUE), along with the Wrights, and my daughter came back as a student from that program announcing to me that she would become an English major. She did so influenced by their high standards of scholarship and went on to become the HUE program director and now teaches English at Pepperdine University. The Jewells have had a far-reaching effect on my life as well as on the lives of my children. My daughter’s students will be blessed for generations to come, as well, because of the deep and beautiful influence these two professors had on me as a student so long ago.
While I was intimidated by Jewell as I sat in his Modern European History class so many years ago, I could never have imagined in 2023 holding his hand as he smiled meekly at me through his oxygen mask — faithful to the end as one who cared deeply about the ones who came through his classroom. I don’t know if I will hold the hand of a student as I lie on my deathbed, but the thought is not sad to me. With his last energies, Fred extended his hand in friendship. I have taught many students through the years who still stay in touch with me and have maintained a close relationship through the years, and those relationships give me hope for a future that sometimes looks bleak. Though having a Ph.D. and teaching at Harding would have been unimaginable to that young student who didn’t know what a GPA was in 1974, the reality today has been possible because teachers nurtured me.
My story is just one of many, since the Jewells and other professors have extended their love and hospitality to so many. So when I hear that young people today seek to have relationships with their professors, I don’t question it, but I know that at Harding this is not new. Maybe the rest of the world is beginning to catch up to what the Jewells knew so many decades ago — that investing in students will pay great spiritual dividends, and their influence will reach so many, enriching the world and blessing the lives of people they never even met.