Ga Tech BSU Alumni Gathering in Hiwassee

Tuesday evening, July 24, 2007

After spending most of the day at the lodge in conversation, about 20 of us drove through the pleasant mountain countryside to a restaurant for supper.

Even after a day and a half, the conversations were still going strong. Georg greets folks at the table at the restaurant. R.B. Coulter, Duncan Sinclair, Frank Gudger, Aubrey and Carol Bush continue their fellowship outside in the parking area after dinner.

As sunset faded over the mountains, we gathered in the meeting room and had a rendition of the "Great Pretender". Bill Nowell is the crooning "Great Pretender" and Leland Strange the insubordinate piano player. R.B. takes the ooo-ooo-ooo backup since the original, Rogers Redding, had already left. It ends with the anguished pretender's lament to the rebellious piano player "See there, now you've messed up the ending, the loveliest part in the whole piece!" Bill, Leland and Rogers had taken these Stan Freburg routines to church socials and other gatherings around the Atlanta area - they were great fun.

The informal fellowship continued, ranging from the serious to the hilarious. There's a lot to talk about when you haven't seen each other for years. Wynelle & Charlie Middlebrooks, Georg Boyens, Joe and Janice Lynch above. Charlie with Henry Fields left. Nancy & John Baxley, Betty Fields, Duncan Sinclair below.

At the dinner table, Leland and I had started a conversation about what was so unique about this group, that would bring them back together during a period of over fifty years! As things were kind of winding down for the evening, I felt strongly moved to initiate some kind of group discussion about these things, so I spoke to Leland as he was getting ready to leave.We agreed that we ought to launch it.

With some trepidation about interrupting the conversations that were going on, I stood up on the hearth and asked the group if we might join in on a discussion of what was so unique about this bond that would gather us over fifty years. I shared that I had come to Georgia Tech from Arkansas as a new Christian and that this community had been deeply meaningful to me. I also shared that the depth of this fellowship, as a valued "just and intimate community" had been formative for me, and that I have tried since then to build such a community in any group of which I am a part.

Leland, like myself, was obviously moved by this occasion and shared his gratitude for an accepting fellowship.

I am often amazed at what will arise from a Christian community, and this occasion was one of those times of amazement. In retrospect, I think of one of the settings in the movie "Flywheel" where one of the lines was "You just sit back now, and watch God work!", and that is what Leland and I did.

I was amazed to hear the heartfelt testimony of Georg Boyens that he and his wife had driven all the way from Many, Louisiana to see what God had done in the lives of these people. His words were heightened in their effect on me by the fact that I had had conversations with him about their motorcyde ministry into Mexico. I'm thinking we need to develop a story of the mission involvements of this group as they are going into retirement. We're becoming a mission corps!

Joe Lynch also spoke with similar conviction of the power of God in the kind of fellowship we had in the BSU. Again, his words reverberated more strongly in my heart because I had talked with him about his beach mission, and a mission trip to the New York area.

Henry Fields characterized what we were talking about as "family", with "Daddy" Warren a nd "Mama" Sue. Charlie Middlebrooks added comments of appreciation about Sue's involvement with us.

Gil Gibson shared his experiences with Tim Cole in Viet Nam, telling us that he had gone up to where Tim's unit was and spent the evening discussing the impact that the BSU had had on their lives. Gil and Tim had been close friends at Tech before going to Viet Nam. The next day Tim's medivac helicopter was shot down and he was killed.

Henry shared that he had been Tim's pastor and had encouraged him to come to Tech, and to be involved in the BSU. He had also had the heartbreaking duty of doing his funeral upon the return of his body to his home.

Throughout all these comments, and indeed in the very fact of this gathering, was a deep and abiding gratitude to Warren and Sue Woolf for investing their lives with us in an extraordinary way.

Warren shared with us some stories and reflections along the line of "It wasn't me, it was you.".

This session certainly struck deep chords in me, and I left that room deeply moved. I feel that in the honest sharing of human hearts we reveal part of the image of God within us.

But the session wasn't over! John Baxley reacted with an email a few days later, and that continued the sharing. Some of the email content is reproduced below. Further sharing, -- adding of thoughts, additions to the above comments -- will be welcomed. I'll be glad to post a continued discussion. And if you have been involved in some mission outreach write me with a description, and perhaps I can post an account of the mission engagements of this group.

  • From John Baxley
    Sat, 28 Jul 2007 2:23 pm
    Subject: Ga Tech BSU

    On Tuesday night at Hiawassee, there were some memorable comments made in the third floor "commons" room. Some of you were not at Hiawassee at all, and some of you who were there were, for various reasons, not present during the discussion.

    The discussion was initiated by Rod and Leland, and was an outgrowth of a conversation they had at dinner on Tuesday. They had considered the fact that somehow something special about the Tech BSU in the fifties and sixties had made it happen that here, fifty years later, we experienced a bond that still brought us together. It seemed to them that this was a fairly rare phenomenon and they wanted input from the group on the question: just what was the key that led to this kind of loyalty?

    A lot of interesting things were said, some of which I want to review briefly. Henry Fields said the operative word was family and he said that a primary cause of our being family traced to "Daddy" Warren and "Mama" Sue. This conviction, I think, was widely approved by thegroup. R. B., who said nothing on this question to the group, leaned over to Nancy and said basically that the operative word was love, but that Tech clods were too modest and embarrassed to say so.

    Later Georg Boyens made an eloquent statement (I never realized all those years ago that Georg was so eloquent!). He said that he had driven the distance from Louisiana to see with his own eyes what God had done with and through us all during these years and that his expectation was confirmed that we were still God's agents. He added that he loved us all.

    Charlie Middlebrooks briefly added that Sue was important and that he still remembered vividly Sue coming to the BSU center in December to read Christmas stories to us.

    Gil Gibson, who entered Ga Tech in 1964 told a moving story about how he was in Vietnam with Tim Cole, another 1964 freshman, who flew medical rescue missions and that a night or two before Tim was killed in a rescue operation, Gil and Tim had spent the evening talking about how important the Tech BSU had been to them.

    Early in this discussion, shortly after Henry's comments, Warren rose to his feet as if compelled. Among other things he denied that he was the primary causeof the remarkable spirit of our BSU experience. His words (I will never forget the way he said it) were, "It wasn't me, it was you." He talked at length, using names to illustrate, about his admiration and respect for the quality and character of the students who came to BSU.

    Bill Nowell said nothing. He had already addressed the question at length from his 1963 perspective in his memoirs, and several paragraphs in his 2007 new foreword to the "second printing" are also relevant. I said nothing either; I was speechless because of what I was hearing and felt that I could add nothing that could rival what I was hearing. ButI have thought of very little else since Tuesday evening and I want to get in my 2 cents worth. I think Rod and Leland would also appreciate anyof you making further contributions to this discussion. Most of what Iwant to say is a commentary on "It wasn't me, it was you."

    I will never forget the experience of entering the BSU over and over in the fall of 1957. I was stunned by the upper class students who were there. They were remarkable role models. Never had I seen anything like it. Especially important to me that fall were Freddie Wood and Henry Fields. They talked about commitment, but what was so important was that constantly they lived that commitment. It did not seem possible that so many fellows hardly older than me had this kind of commitment. What really stunned me was that they were not superhuman. They were as ordinary as I was. That was crucial. It meant that there was an outside chance that I could be that way also.

    What was really going on here? After all these years I think I see. During these intervening years, I have come to be certain about less and less about God and Christianity and what faith is all about. But among the things I believe deeply is this: I believe in incarnation, I really do. And the reason is not that the Bible tells me so or that some people who have been dead for almost 2000 years believed that Jesus was the perfect Incarnation. The reason is that I have known so many lesser incarnations. The first one I knew was my father. But at the Tech BSU, I knew dozens more. I have come to think of this in terms of the sun and moons. It would be nice to have constant direct contact with God (the sun), but that hasnot been my experience. But it is enough to have a moon, a person who bears the image of God, who reflects the sun. Not only can I deduce the existence of the sun from looking at a moon, I also gain a somewhat distorted understanding of the sun. But from many moons, I can piece together a much more accurate understanding of the sun. So what happened at the Tech BSU all those years ago that still holds me so tight? Warren said, "It wasn't me, it was you." Positioned on a moon, you don't see that moon, you only see the others. So it is that none of us even realized we were moons, but we saw each other. Once in a while someone (maybe one of you) said something to me, or did something, which indicated that you thought I was a moon. My usual response, unspoken, was to know that you were mistaken, but to feel happy that you thought it. And, yes, Warren, you were also a moon, bigger and brighter than the rest of us.

    So at the Tech BSU, we had the fortunate experience of looking at one another and seeing the reflection of God's face. You want some Biblical texts about this? "I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (incarnation). And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the (see footnote in NRSV) faithfulness of the Son of God (Incarnation!) who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galations 3:20) Or this one: "All this is from God, who through Christ (Incarnation) reconciled the world to himself, and has now given us (incarnation) the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Cor. 5:18) Or yet again: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels (=flawed individuals), to show that the power belongs to God and not to us." (2 Cor. 5:7). One of the things I appreciate most about Bill Nowell's memoirs is that he had the courage to identify specific flaws in so many of us. I have always been impressed that the Biblical record does the same: the writers did not hide the great flaws even in King David. If three more of us had written memoirs of the same period, and if we had the courage to be as honest as Bill, our story would have been different in details, we would not have agreed with Bill's take on the specifics, but we too would have identified the flaws in each other. I bet our stories would have been even more inconsistent than the four gospels' take on the life of Jesus. The miracle is that, just as flawed Biblical characters were examples of incarnation, so were each of you. Those years at Tech were charmed, they were magic, for me. It was because I looked at you and saw the image of God. "It wasn't me, it was you!" Thank you very much and thanks also to God.


  • From: Robert Coulter
    Sent: Mon, 30 Jul 2007 6:32 pm
    Subject: More comments on Ga. Tech BSU

    Hello Everyone,

    I left Hiawassee last Wednesday and headed northwest to Kentucky and Tennessee to visit my family. I remember feeling very much like I did when I left Ridgecrest at Student Week many years ago. I really felt it was a wonderful and very meaningful time we had last week and since returning home and reading my e-mail yesterday and today, I think many of us share that feeling.

    Baxley, in his e-mail, really stirred up many of my feelings about both our days at Ga. Tech BSU and this last get together. I think I had a terrific Baptist heritage with ministers like Grady Cothen, Roy McClain, Tom Conley, etc. Many writers starting with C. S. Lewis and continuing with Marcus Borg and many others also have influenced me. I have also been blessed to have been guided, influenced and aided by many of you and certainly by Warren and Sue. All of these influences have certainly been the roots of my current theological thoughts and beliefs.

    I have thus found that I know far less about God than I did when I was 18. I have come to believe that I do not need a book to prove my faith. I have been blessed to see the blessings of God over the years and while I think I know less about God than I used to, I do believe that the teachings of Jesus are the most important concepts we need to believe in. So while Warren and Sue may not wish to take credit for what they did and I believe they are sincere in this, I would argue that it is exactly what they did that helped make our group of BSU'ers into what we are today. They, as Jesus teaches, loved and accepted us for what we were and what we are. For some folks this would take a great effort. I don't think it was for Warren and Sue, so they do not think they did that much. This ability was natural and ingrained in them. I do not know where it came from, but we have all seen it and know its true and have been blessed by their love and acceptance. So, Warren and Sue, many, many thanks for loving and accepting us.

    Nowell, recognized this in A Glimpse of the Tie, and says it all when he finishes his tome with the last verses of Blest Be the Tie That Binds:

    Blest be the tie that binds
    Our hearts in Christian love;
    The fellowship of kindred minds
    Is like to that above.

    Love, R. B.

  • From: Gilbert Gibson []
    Sent: Saturday, July 28, 2007 7:05 PM
    Subject: Re: Ga Tech BSU

    However, there is one thing that explains a lot: subsequent BSU Directors were competent, well-intentioned, and professional; Warren and Sue loved us.
    Gil Gibson

  • From: John Lowe
    Sent: Sat, 28 Jul 2007 8:15 pm
    Subject: RE: Ga Tech BSU

    Wow, Gil. I don't think I ever met you, but your last paragraph below qualifies you as an incredible observer, if not a sociologist.

    I was very moved by John Baxley's write up. I need to reflect a while before adding my thoughts, if there are any to be added. RB, I think that John Baxley is going to copy his CD for me, and I am looking forward to studying it.
    John Lowe

  • From: Warren Woolf
    Sent: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 12:01 pm
    Subject: Re: More comments on Ga. Tech BSU

    Sue and I have enjoyed reading the comments which came out of the Tuesday night discussion at Hiawassee. At one point, I wrote out a defense of the comments which I made, and even though I felt that I had made my point, I decided not to send it out. We do plead guilty of one "accusation": We definitely did (and do) love you guys!

    The discussion centered around what seemed to be a fact: No one could name another BSU where grads wanted to reach across the years and get together for continuing fellowship. I can identify one other such group. This group goes back even further that the Tech one. For the past five or six years, this group has met annually. For a couple of years, they met in the homes of grads, but then they decided to have the reunion each year back at the college campus. And a final confession: That group is the grads of Oklahoma University, and I'll let you guess who was the BSU Director during the time these grads were in school. Sue and I have been to three or four of the reunions, and we plan to be in Norman, OK, in October for the next one. This group has another point in common with Tech: One of the group has written a book (published this year) detailing some of the people and activities during those early years.


  • From: John Lowe


    I was about to point out the common link between to two groups - you and Sue. You were both a wonderful influence in our lives at Georgia Tech. We loved you then, although, as R.B. very accurately pointed out, wouldn't have ever said so at the time. We have loved you ever since, too. We don't plan to miss another Tech BSU reunion. If we're keeping the grandkids then, which is unlikely, we'll bring them along!


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