HEROES – A TRIBUTE TO ARTIE COLLINS
David R. Kenney
Just received word that Artie Collins, gospel preacher and treasured family friend, passed away this morning on September 3, 2020. His dear wife, Marie, passed away nearly seven years prior on September 30, 2013. Thinking about her death, I recall mom and dad making the journey across states to comfort Artie during this time. It was a tribute that was felt by the three of them. One just never knows how life is going to go. During those intervening seven years, my father died of brain cancer in 2015 and mother of MS in 2020. I would talk to Artie by phone occasionally over those years. I believe the last time I spoke to him was to let him know of mom’s death. All four of them are now gone, and I feel profound loss.
The friendship goes back to July 1969 during a funeral in Lynnville, TN. Artie had graduated from the Nashville School of Preaching in 1968, and dad would be starting his final year at that summer’s conclusion from the school too. Artie had worked for the congregation at Lynnville and was called back to do the funeral for a member there. Dad was the current preacher, and the occasion was the beginning of a long-lasting friendship. They loved telling people they had the same birthday, July 11th; but Artie’s was in 1927 and dad’s in 1944.
It was Artie who suggested to dad that they attend the Freed-Hardeman College Lectureship, and they did so together for many years until circumstances prohibited such. They would come back and regale us with stories from the lectures or some humorous adventure they had along the way. As a young boy, I soaked it all up! I would hear about men who I would grow up and read about with admiration. Some of them I was able to meet in person, but others only through the printed page and stories. When my father was contemplating his Will several years prior to his illness, he asked me what books from his library I would want to keep. I told him I was unsure, but I knew I wanted to keep all the Freed-Hardeman College Lectureship books. Life changes. Freed-Hardeman College would go onto to become a University. I was a student when the announcement and change was made to University by President E. Claude Gardner. My parents wanted me to go to a Christian College. I was less than enthusiastic about college at the time. They wanted me to go so bad that they said they would send me to any Christian College and “it does not have to be Freed-Hardeman if you would rather go somewhere else.” There was no other Christian college I would have ever contemplated. Not because of the other schools, but there is no other place I would rather go than Freed-Hardeman College. Why? Artie Collins and my dad. I wanted the same for our children, and Annette and I have worked diligently to give them the same opportunity.
My father and Artie, together, have been heroes of mine since I was two years old. There would be other men whom I would look up to, but these two were the first in my life. Artie’s nickname for me was “groundhog” because we spotted a groundhog, so we started looking for others along the way. To a young boy’s imagination, every rock and tree stump prompted the exclamation “Groundhog!"
I try to impress on parents the importance of using their influence to guide their children in the selection of their heroes. My parents surrounded us with gospel preachers, and many of these would become our heroes. How much better would our children’s lives be if they were guided to admire godly people? How much would our society improve if children were given godly heroes to admire as they grew up? In my estimation, tremendously. Oh, they could admire presidents, wealthy people, sports figures, and others. Some of these may be suitable heroes, but we need to place a premium on godly heroes. Heroes for us to watch their steps and seek to follow. Where are your children’s heroes going to lead them? If it is not heaven, then you should give that some thought!
Artie Collins sent me an autographed copy of his memoirs called Ramblings of an Old Preacher. Among other things he wrote: “I love you, David, mainly, because your dad was my best friend. Secondly, because you are a fine Christian man and preacher.” Because of the first reason, I want to be better in the second. They had made a pact years ago to do one another’s funeral. They were young men then, but time had taken its toll on their health. Dad and Artie spoke about dad’s funeral over the phone since they were several states apart. Artie’s health was such that they both agreed other arrangements should be made. Artie and Dad agreed, and the last recorded words were “I will see you in heaven.” Where do you think my sights are set? Heroes!