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Lighting the way: Faculty couple’s gift endows Oxford Studies Program

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Paul and Imogene Brewer are making Baptist history accesible to coming generations of Carson-Newman students through their endowment of a unique study opportunity.

(June 18, 2015)— Dr. Paul and Imogene Brewer know Carson-Newman University from every possible angle. They are alumni whose lives have been changed by it; both are retirees who helped shape thousands of student lives through tireless service, and they are parents of alumni who were edified by it.

And, as donors for well more than a half-century, they have been pouring oil in its lamps to light the way for others.

They say they are the ones blessed by getting to be a part of the University’s mission.

“When you are working at a place like Carson-Newman that you know affects the whole lives of the students, and not just their mental lives, then you want to participate in all aspects of it and do all you can to improve it,” noted Paul, a 1951 alumnus. “One of those things, of course, is sharing by giving to get things done that can’t ordinarily be done,”

The couple’s most recent gift, a six-figure endowment, ensures the future of Carson-Newman’s prestigious Oxford University study program, which Paul encouraged and supported from its establishment in the early 1990s.

“This is one of the imprimatur programs of our Religion Department,” said Chair Dr. David Crutchley. “This is a program that is now in perpetuity, thanks to the massive generosity of the Brewers.”

Offered in conjunction with Regent’s Park College of Oxford University, the term allows qualified students to conduct original research in The Angus Library and Archive, among the world’s most comprehensive repositories of Baptist history. Supervised by an Oxford professor, students can accomplish archival research experience at “the highest possible level for undergraduates,” according to Dr. Andrew Smith, assistant professor of Religion and the program’s director.

The study opportunity concludes with each student presenting copies of the final paper to his or her Oxford tutor and to Smith. Offered during Oxford’s Trinity Term, which runs from mid-April until mid-June, the library’s closure on weekends grants participants the prospect of travel in the United Kingdom or Europe.

Smith, a 2002 alumnus and Oxford Studies participant, credits the Brewers with transcending his highest hopes for the program’s future. “What this means is that the Oxford Studies Program is now permanent. We have funding to send students to Oxford annually, which means that when freshmen come in, I can tell them they will have an opportunity to apply for this program and the opportunity of a lifetime to study at Oxford University.”

The opportunity for future generations of Carson-Newman students at Oxford began when the Brewers returned to Carson-Newman in 1958. After completing two master’s degrees and a doctorate while serving as a pastor, Paul joined the faculty with a simple plan.

“I thought, well, I’ll go and teach for two or three or four years because I’ve got a lot of things I’d like to study, and I don’t have time to do that in the pastorate. And, when I’ve caught up on things I want to study, then we will go back to the pastorate somewhere. But I never did go. I stayed,” he said with a chuckle.

The “catching up” would become careers for both Imogene ‘52 and Paul, who invested a combined 65 years of service in Carson-Newman’s employ.

Early on, the pair agreed to make regular contributions from Paul’s salary to a retirement account. Multiplied by stock market growth over the intervening decades, the modest but steady investments ballooned to a more than $330,000 bequest that they decided to make as an estate gift. “But then Imogene suggested, ‘Why not give this gift before we pass away and get it fully funded,’” said Paul.

Such generosity was set into motion for Paul as high school senior who felt God’s call to ministry. Like many who had been raised during the Great Depression, he doubted being able to afford the education he needed.

Assistance came from a dedicated Christian lady in his home church who offered to pay his way to Carson-Newman. Long before it was called “paying it forward,” the patron told him he would not owe her, but that he should help others when the opportunity presented itself.

The opportunity might not have presented itself at all, were it not for Professor Janie Swann Huggins, a legendary English professor who was appalled when Paul opined that effort beyond that necessary to pass was wasted.

“Miss Janie then carefully explained that such thinking was now over and she meant it,” he recalled. “Her work with me changed my attitude; learning became a time of joy and not drudgery. Through the years I have greatly appreciated her instruction.”

He doubly appreciated returning to campus for his sophomore year when he met incoming freshman Imogene Baker, to whom he took an immediate liking. “My roommate introduced us. After our first date, I knew I wanted to marry her.  I saved money to buy her a diamond as a reminder of my love while she completed her senior year and I was away in graduate school.”

Beyond exceptional classroom teaching and dedicated administrative service during the course of his tenure, from 1958 to 1995, Paul was instrumental in creating several distinctive initiatives for the University. Those additions include the Honors Program, the Distinguished Faculty Award, and establishing a chapter of Phi Sigma Tau, the National Honor Society of Philosophy students.

He also helped establish the Baptist Steeple of Excellence and its Center for Baptist Studies. A unique service component to churches, the Center includes the Baptist Archives of Middle and East Tennessee and annual lectures to celebrate the lives and work of two noted Carson-Newman alumni, Carlyle Marney and T.B. Maston. The Oxford program was both a natural fit and extraordinary addition to the Center’s offerings.

Imogene began her fulltime Carson-Newman career in 1965, following a year of part-time library work and earning the MS in Library Science. As she moved from assistant to associate professor, she served as catalog librarian and transitioned the library’s catalog system from being card based to the advent of online data collection and retrieval. She retired in 1993, having invested 28 years in a career that she treated as ministry.

Benefits they have derived from their investments in students are pleasing to each of them.

“When you know that you’ve had one little thing to do with a good life for them it stays with you,” said Paul.

“It’s just been a joy and a privilege to be a part of the community and, in some small way, to get to serve,” assessed Imogene. “It’s been such a pleasure to see the students we’ve known to go on to successful careers, and to get to be a part of their communities and their Christian witness. We couldn’t ask for anything better.”

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