|E. Claude Gardner with David & Annette Kenney at the|
2017 FHU Bible Lectureship. He led the Prayer Session for the Lectures.
Be A Mentor – A Tribute to E. Claude Gardner
By David R. Kenney
“I spoke to President E. Claude Gardner, and I told him that you needed to come to Freed-Hardeman College but you did not think you could afford it” said my beloved dad back in February 1987. He continued, “President Gardner said ‘You tell David that we want him at Freed-Hardeman College, and we will make it financially feasible for him to attend. So he can come!’” Words comparable to the response Pharaoh gave to Moses came to my mind as I weighed my thoughts in response (cf. Exo 5:2). I do not mind admitting my life was floundering since I had graduated in 1985. I needed to change course, but I did not know what exactly to do. (I knew what my parents wanted me to do.) My parents replied to my objections: “We would love to have you stay with us forever, but that is not the natural course of life. Do you have any other alternative plan? We will support your efforts for what you decide, but you have to make a change.” I had no real alternative plans, so I enrolled for the Fall Semester of 1987.
That decision began a mentoring relationship between my father, E. Claude Gardner, Winford Claiborne, and I that has lasted until December 31, 2017 with the passing of President Gardner. Some mentors choose you. Some mentors you may be able to choose. Some mentors are chosen for you. I highly suspect the latter is the case with my father, and I have been blessed by this ever since.
E. Claude Gardner served Freed-Hardeman College (and helped make it a University) from 1949 until his death. He was President from 1969 until 1990, but he served the school many years prior to and since that time. His service has been so diligent and faithful, that I would not be surprised if they wanted to name the school F-H-G University!
Gardner pursued me for the School of Theology program. Yes, I mean “pursued!” I have the letters from E.C.G. and testimony from Director Mark Blackwelder: “David, brother Gardner really likes you, and he wants you in this program. He wants you to accept this scholarship. Would you give me an opportunity to reply to any objections…” I replied, “Sure, I certainly have NO objections to FHU. That would be fine.” I enrolled in the M. Div. program thanks to the kind generosity of E. Claude Gardner who had selected me to receive the E. Claude and Delorese Scholarship.
I think about the comments of brother Gardner being a Barnabas to many, and he certainly had done the work of a Barnabas! To me, I think of him as an encouraging mentor like Barnabas was to John Mark. John Mark seems to have lost his way and fell out of favor with the apostle Paul. Barnabas pled his case, but Paul would not budge (cf. Acts 15:39). So, Barnabas mentored John Mark further. In time, Paul would later write—“Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Tim 4:11 NKJV) There are others who contributed to my upbringing and training, and I would not want to detract from any of those. But, I can honestly say I am more useful for ministry today because of the efforts of E. Claude Gardner!
My father told me, as he was dying, that he would make every effort to attend the funerals of Winford Claiborne and E. Claude Gardner: “I think so much of those two men.” I agreed. So I went to Winford Claiborne’s funeral for both my father and I, as my father was unable to attend. Now, I make plans to attend the funeral of E. Claude Gardner. In fact, brother Gardner selected me to be one of his pallbearers. My dad would be honored to hear that! Brother Gardner has been a blessing to my parents, to my wife and I, and to our children. He will be greatly missed! Be a mentor! Help some young person find their way. We certainly know that there is no lack of people needing help through this world. Share with them the blessings of being a Christian both now and for eternity!
Some hesitate to bear the costs of Christian education. One needs to understand however that there is a difference between price and value. I met my beloved Annette at Freed-Hardeman College. People ask “How did you two meet?” All we have to say is “Freed-Hardeman.” I understand the costs are great and the debt will be a burden for some time; however, I still owe a debt to Freed-Hardeman University even though my student loans have been paid off years ago! I had before me two paths, and as the great poet Robert Frost stated: “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Originally appeared in the West Virginia Christian, Vol. 25, No. 2, Feb 2018, p. 8.