Sent: May 1, 2002
Subject: My Early College Years…and the “Key” to Faith I Discovered
Dear Ethan & Emily:
I thought of several additional details that I would like to add to the narrative about my college years. I am glad you enjoyed the devotion entitled “The Porter Who Takes No Tips!” and I have amplified that story with other details, including my later experiences working for The Southwestern Co. I am sharing these experiences with you in the hopes you will get to know more about me as a young person. If any of the things I have learned from life can help you…all the better!
Let me answer questions you might ask…
1. Why did you want to go to Baylor? Ever since I was a young boy, I had been interested in spiritual things. For me, the highlight of the year was going to Bible School each summer…maybe going to several (ours at the Baptist Church and sometimes the Methodist Church, too). There was always a poster contest announcing the upcoming Bible School, and I just loved thinking up creative ideas each year for making the poster. Additionally, there was a prize given to the person who would first memorize the Scriptural passage announced on the first day as the theme for that summer’s session. This was usually an entire chapter, and as I remember, I regularly won this contest. On the second day of Bible School, I always looked forward with great anticipation to being the first to stand to recite these verses.
I accepted the Lord as my Savior when I was seven years of age during a revival meeting, and for as long as I can remember, I have had a desire to serve the Lord. I attended church services not only on Sunday mornings but also on Sunday evenings and even Wednesdays for prayer meeting. Our local Baptist church was very small at the time and sometimes on Wednesday, there might have only been a dozen or less in attendance. Mother & Dad always attended on Sunday mornings but rarely on Sunday evenings or Wednesday, so I usually attended alone. In fact, I can still remember vividly during my teen years when I was able to drive myself…that on Sunday evenings, Daddy would barbecue on our grill and although it was tempting to stay home, I still would leave and drive into town for our evening service. Missions particularly interested me, and the only missionary I had any knowledge of was Lottie Moon for whom our Southern Baptist Christmas offering was named. (This is why I was so blessed when I began attending Grace Gospel in Huntington, WV, as I came “face to face” with so many “live” missionaries!). I have carried a love for foreign missions all through my life, and our experience in Estonia helping to build the Christian radio tower was a high point of my life!
That I would want to go to Baylor, the largest Southern Baptist University, just seemed “right” to me, but I did not pursue it after I was admitted to Duke. I did not have a scholarship to Baylor and the idea of going to a prestigious “ivy league” school was very appealing, especially since it was where everyone thought I should go. As you read in my earlier narrative, making decisions on other people’s expectations is not a wise thing to do, and God taught me valuable lessons about the perils of
prestige-seeking in the months to follow.
2. Why couldn’t you get a scholarship to Baylor? At that time, my daddy (your granddaddy) was a small businessman, and he was not financially able to help me with my college expenses. Because he owned his own business, I did not qualify for any grants or special scholarships. Baylor did not have many academic scholarships; most were based on financial need. To attend Duke, I had to achieve admission on my own merit, but once accepted, the Navy Scholarship I competed for…paid for everything plus a living stipend each month. It was quite a generous scholarship but the “catch” was that in return for accepting it, I had to be sworn into the Navy. I competed nationally for the few full Navy scholarships offered, and in addition to rigorous physical and mental exams I had to go before a board of Admirals for extensive interviews.
3. How did you do at Duke? Although my educational training was weak coming from a small south Texas High School, I did quite well my first semester at Duke. I was “out of my league” for sure, but what I lacked in knowledge I made up for it and more with “true grit” and determination. I remember so well my freshman “history” class which turned out to be a review of world history…not from a factual basis but from the standpoint of how historical events were related to the evolution of philosophical thought! My professor was French and an honor graduate of Princeton. Whereas most of the students in the class had had extensive history and philosophy classes, my background in history from high school was a class or two typically taught by the football coach or basketball coach who usually ended up with these “easier” teaching assignments. So, to get by…I literally lived in the library trying to catch up with the rest of my classmates. After attending the World Civilization class, for example, I would run to the library and get out the encyclopedias to better understand what had actually occurred in history…so I then could hope to better understand the development of philosophical ideas that were the main emphasis of the class.
I remember many nights leaving my dorm room and going into one of the toilet stalls in the restroom down the hall and sitting there with my books for most of the night…studying! I lost some of my hair due to the stress, and to cope with all that was happening to me, I spent many long hours alone in the beautiful Duke gardens praying and seeking God’s will. Yes, these were very stressful times…but used by God to be so very important in the development of my spiritual character.
After I fully accepted the fact that I had not followed God’s leading in going to Baylor, I resolved that regardless of the consequences, I would follow the Lord in obedience and trust Him to provide the finances, as more than anything I wanted to serve Him. But I realized that if I did not make acceptable grades I would not even be able to transfer…so the pressure was on…big time! But God is so very gracious, and when we put Him first, nothing is impossible! In fact, I made all A’s, and I was told that I had one of the highest averages in the freshman class after that first semester (someone told me the 4th highest). The typical grade most expected was a “C” average…what they called the Duke “hook.” What a miracle for a small town south Texas boy from “Hicksville” High! It just goes to show you that with God, you can do anything that He so wills!
4. What was life like at Duke? What struck me the most was the lack of enthusiasm and optimism about life that I felt. Most of the people I associated with were very rich and very smart…or poorer like me but intelligent and attending Duke on scholarship. The overall attitude was rather blasé which was so different from the outgoing, upwardly mobile orientation I was used to. I distinctly remember talking with one of the Sophomores one afternoon who commented on my positive outlook on life saying: “Give yourself another year, and you will be like the rest of us.” Ugh…how sad I thought.
For the most part, many of my classmates had spent their high school years in private schools or military prep academies and although they had the best in academic preparation, they were lacking in faith or anything spiritual and tended to be cynical in their outlook on life. It was also at Duke that I first heard the expression “old man and old lady” when referring to one’s parents…terminology I just could not identify with, as I respected my parents and would never have referred to them in such a manner. All freshmen male students were assigned “big brothers” on campus and mine was a guy whose father owned controlling interest in Bethlehem Steel! Was I ashamed that my father owned just a small hardware store in south Texas? Absolutely not, but it was so humorous to hear my roommates observe that since my father’s store had quite a few ads in our local newspaper (which was sent to me from Boerne), they thought the store must have been a large and expansive operation!
One experience that sill “sticks” in my mind was an evening open house sponsored by the Student Government during the initial orientation week not long after I arrived on campus. Among other organizations, one that appealed to me was the one sponsored by the YMCA. Boerne was such a small town that we did not have a YMCA, and in fact, I did not know anything about it other than the title, Young Men’s Christian Organization, which seemed to indicate that it was a place where I could find some Christian friends and get “plugged” into the spiritual life at Duke. On the contrary, it was a purely social affair…in fact a cocktail party…and if the Lord’s name was mentioned at all, it probably was part of a slur or oath. What a disappointment, and I went back to my room much disturbed. I did become active in the Duke Men’s Chorus, and we sang for special church services in the Duke Chapel, one of the most beautiful gothic structures in the U.S. One interesting observation was the organist. Back home in Boerne, our organist was the very faithful Mrs. Radla, doing her best on a small Hammond organ. At Duke, the position of organist was a paid position, and I remember seeing our organist one night with a mink fur around her shoulders and a cigarette in her mouth as she played the massive pipe organ!
I identified most with the common people from Durham that worked in the Student Union snack shop, and I recall one of the clerks telling me they could always identify the students from Texas, as they were the most friendly…but unfortunately were the ones that usually transferred. At that time, Duke had one of the highest transfer rates of any major eastern ivy league school, and it was of such concern that several years after I left, I heard that they had implemented a major overhaul of their admission procedures to try to diversity the student body with a greater degree of social, economic, and cultural diversity.
I believe the campuses are combined now, but at the time I attended, the men lived on the main “gothic” campus, and the women lived on another campus several miles away. We attended classes on both campuses and rode buses between the two locations. One other observation was that usually the most attractive girls were from Texas! Most of the girls were more of the “slide rule” type…Ha!
The actual physical makeup of the men’s campus is frequently referred to as one of the most beautiful in the U.S. The Duke family who provided much of the founding grants even brought over from Italy, I was told, an entire city of workers to work with the special stone used on campus, and everything is in gothic style. The layout of the university is in the outline of a cross with the chapel at the top. Facing the chapel, to the left are the dorm rooms with mine near the clock tower arch. To the right were the library, classrooms, and Duke Hospital, famous for its medical care.
Among the many cultural differences I found, one of the most interesting was the difference between the emphasis on football vs basketball. In Texas the emphasis was on football, but at Duke, THE sport was basketball. I remember so well going to my first football game and finding it a rather dull affair. My first basketball game, on the other hand, was “wild” as rebounds and hoops made these rather reserved folks came “alive” BIG TIME!
5. What do you think is the “key” to experiencing the reality of faith? Without a doubt, I believe it is “desperation.” Up until this time in my life, things had been fairly “comfortable.” I certainly loved the Lord and claimed “faith” as a reality in my life, but to be true…I never had been in a situation where I didn’t always have a “safety net” to fall back on.
But here at Duke, with the prospect of giving up my full scholarship and the prestige that went with it and going back to Baylor where I had no assurance of any financial aid, my “safety nets” were yanked out from under me, and I had to decide whether to stay where I was or step out on faith and trust the Lord…fully and completely to provide the way for me. I was “desperate,” and it was the catalyst that caused me to find out the real meaning of faith. As I say it now, I crawled out on a limb, so to speak, and cut off the branch behind me. Falling, I had no one but God to “catch” me and take care of the consequences. He did…and my life has never been the same since!
6. How did you get discharged from the Navy? The answer to that question, I do not know. After the Secretary of the Navy relieved me from having to attend Naval Reserve drills, I would regularly receive the Navy Reservist magazine but I never attended any drills or summer training. And then after several years, without notice I received an honorable discharge certificate in the mail!
And strangely enough, after I later entered the Army during the Vietnam war years and was getting ready to graduate from Officer Candidate School at Ft. Sill, OK, I was asked during a pay orientation class as to whether I had ever received any military scholarships or had previous military duty. I had really put the Navy experience out of my mind, particularly since I never had any active reserve participation. But when I responded in the affirmative, I was told to visit the Army Finance Center when I arrived at my next duty station…which was Ft. Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, IN, for my Adjutant General training. There, after a review of my records I was credited for the time I had been classified as a member of the Navy, and my pay as a Second Lieutenant was increased to account for the time I had been a Naval Reservist! God does often work in strange and mysterious ways as He blesses us as we obey and serve Him!
7. When you worked for The Southwestern Co., how did you know where to go for the summer to do your selling? Each salesperson was assigned a Sales Manager in Nashville. Mine was Fred Landers, and I remember he was quite a guy with black, slicked back hair, and every time I was in his office, he was usually on the phone negotiating a deal or talking about oil wells and real estate. Obviously, he was making big money in the “book” business.
We had to find transportation from Baylor to Nashville at the beginning of each summer where we had a week of training and motivational sessions with everyone in attendance. At the end of the session, our Sales Managers assigned us to a particular part of the country and we were given our counties where we were to make our sales. For my first assignment in that summer of 1965, it was decided my “base” would be Wilmington, NC. I was also assigned several counties north and south of the city with the northern counties extending up toward the “Outer Banks.”
From Nashville, we again had to find our way to our assigned cities, and since I did not have a car for my first summer, I had to get to Wilmington any way I could. I shared rides with some other Southwestern guys going to other areas of North Carolina and for part of the way I had to hitch rides. Finally arriving in Wilmington, a city I had never seen before and having no place to stay, I found my way to the YMCA and for several dollars a night spent my first days along with other transients and those in need.
On Sunday I attended a local Baptist church and through the pastor and youth department was able to find a wonderful Christian lady from the church who allowed me to rent a room by the week. Some day I hope to travel back to South Carolina Ave. and try to pick out the house where I stayed for part of that eventful first summer. I don’t remember her name, I am sorry to say, but I remember her encouragement and the good times we shared. One night she went down to the coast and picked up a bucket of fresh shrimp and I recall a great evening meal sitting at the table, peeling, and eating this shrimp right out of the bucket with cocktail sauce. It was delicious and something I had never done before.
8. Why did you have to deliver the books and Bibles you sold? This was company policy and I’m sure The Southwestern Co. had learned from experience that their sales were better when deliveries were made in person rather than through the mail. In any case, I sold around 500 books my first summer in several counties all over eastern NC, extending from Harker’s Island up on the outer banks, back inland into “tobacco country,” and then down to Wrightsville Beach south of Wilmington.
I’ve always had a good sense of direction and it helped me here, as I had to personally deliver every book I had taken an order on. And when I made the sale, it was necessary that I get as big a deposit as I could for two reasons: first, the bigger the deposit, the greater the likelihood the customer would pay the balance and accept the book when delivered at the end of the summer…and second, this money was all I had to eat and live on! So, no deposits…no food and no money to pay the rent!
At the end of the summer, a truck would deliver all the Bibles and books to a location I had designated. From there I had to get every book delivered in a very short span of time, as we were all up against college and university Fall semester schedules and deadlines. I really had no idea as to how much money I was making that first summer. All I concentrated on was getting up each morning and knocking on as many doors as I could to sell as much as I could during daylight hours. Some of the guys had to sell into the night but my “closing” ratio was high, and I did not have to sell as late as some did. I was told I had an “honest face,” so I guess that helped!
The second summer I had a VW “beetle” and this was a big help to me in getting my work done…but also a temptation to drive around more and waste time! The first summer I did all my selling from a $5 “stripped-to-the-bone” bicycle that was purchased from a second-hand store. It brought new meaning to the word “basic” and consisted only of tires, seat, and frame…and did not even have a mudguard or front and back fenders! But, just as the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years without their clothes and shoes wearing out, so this faithful bike lasted me throughout that first summer, traveling hundreds and hundreds of miles over expressways and back roads (many of them dirt or gravel). It was not until the day before I had planned to stop selling and begin delivering that I picked up a tack in my front tire, and my bike “gave up the ghost.” It was like losing a dear friend who had been so very faithful. I really wish I had that bicycle as a remembrance today.
9. Where did you sell your second summer? The second summer I was assigned to Winter Haven, Florida and surrounding counties. With my trusty little VW “beetle,” getting around was easier than with the bike, and I again had a profitable summer…this time as “crew” leader with several guys under my supervision.
I remember one particularly great week when I had the highest sales of my career in the small phosphate-mining town of Mulberry, FL. Almost everyone in town worked in the phosphate mines, and as a lot, they were wonderful Christian people. Believe it or not, I sold almost everyone in town some type of Bible, Bible dictionary, or children’s Bible storybook. Our best selling item was a large Family Bible that we sold for $29.95. For all the books we sold, we had samples (thinner versions) that we carried in a small case that I hung over my bicycle handlebars.
10. Why did you have so much money at one time in the small suitcase you carried? Well, since I often started knocking on doors as early as 8:00 each morning (especially out in the countryside) and worked into the early evening away from stores and banks, I was not often able to get to the bank to make deposits. Obviously, what I did was not safe and a dumb thing to do…but at the time I was so intent on selling that I often let this slide and the money added up to quite a pile at times. I remember going into the bank with “wads” of checks and cash and just praying that none of the checks would “bounce.”
11. Why was it so special for you to have your Dad hug you? Well, my mother and daddy were wonderful parents, but we just did not often touch each other physically as emotional expressions. I really don’t know why, but that is why I have tried to hug each of you often…and why those “sugar” kisses were so special I used to give and get from you when you were kids! I’m sure there were other hugs, but I just don’t remember them…except for that homecoming hug that Daddy gave me in the garage after I showed him my check for that first summer. I’m sure Mother hugged me, too, but the firm and manly hug from Daddy was a remembrance I have never forgotten. When you are parents, do hug your children often, as there are few things can do that will equal it’s impact and important in expressing your love and acceptance of them.
God has allowed me to have many interesting experiences, and I am thankful for all of them, as I know He has used them for my good (Romans 8:28). We have a wonderful Lord. Put Him first, and He will bless you and take care of you in every way!
All my love,