Published on October 12, 2005 by Mary Wimberley  

Samford University thanked its generous donors Oct. 6 at the annual Philanthropy Dinner, which featured a few exciting surprise announcements. Guests of honor were saluted for their significant financial support during the 2004-05 academic and fiscal year, which ended May 31. Special honorees included members of Samford's four lifetime giving societies, which recognize cumulative contributions of $100,000 or more to the University.

"The Promise for All Generations" was the theme of the event, held at HealthSouth Conference Center in Birmingham. Robert Holmes of Birmingham, chair of the board of trustees' University Relations committee, presided. Student and faculty perspectives were presented by senior Zachary Harter and Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing dean Nena Sanders. Harter, an accounting major from Acworth, Ga., expressed appreciation to the donors for the investment they have made in his life. They would never know, he said, the extent of the contributions they have made. "You've invested in more than stocks and bonds. It is remarkable to see how people have taken what God has given them and invested in our lives," said Harter.

Sanders, noting the rich legacy the nursing school has celebrated for 83 years, cited the lives of two remarkable women, Ida V. Moffett and Lucille Beeson. A unique synergy resulted, she said, when the lives of the nursing educator and the Birmingham philanthropist crossed. "They had much to give, although in very different ways," she said. "What would the Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing be if there had not been an Ida V. Moffett or a Lucille Beeson, or you, who have given so much? Your gifts allow us to continue to dream dreams, and I believe the world will be a better place for it," said Sanders.

"The Promise" was celebrated musically by the A Cappella Choir, which performed F. Melius Christiansen's "Offer unto God the Sacrifice of Thanksgiving" and the spirited "Go! Tell It!," arranged by alumnus Ken Berg. Conducting duties were shared by Samford School of Performing Arts Dean Milburn Price, who retires this year, and music professor Timothy P. Banks, a Samford graduate.

Commenting on the "Promise for All Generations" initiative, Holmes noted that while Samford is a blessed institution, its story has not been without hardships. "Our present is built upon yesterday's promise, no matter the odds, to endure and to flourish for future generations. Through the years, this legacy has been developed by leaps of faith taken by alumni, friends and supporters, who put their shoulders to the wheel," he said. His remarks resonated with the more than 350 dinner attendees, all of whom share his views on the importance of the University. Since he became a trustee in 2000, he said, "This institution has moved me in a way I can't express in words."

Holmes, senior vice president-Ethics and Business Practices at Alabama Power Company and chair of the Alabama Power Foundation, noted the commitment he and his wife, Camelia, have made to Samford, and urged others to "get on board" with them. "What we're doing here is something that will leave a legacy," said Holmes. "Look at me as someone who wants to do something, to leave Samford better than we found it."

Holmes and Vice President for University Relations Michael D. Morgan recognized donors who have contributed at various giving levels. Morgan shared the happy news that three donors have qualified as Sherman Society members just days before the dinner and will be inducted next year. The Sherman Society, named for Samuel Sterling Sherman, founding president of the college, is the highest lifetime giving recognition at Samford.

Boyd and Sara Christenberry of Montgomery, Ala., were recognized for their recent major gift commitment to "The Promise," which resulted in the Oct. 8 dedication of the Christenberry Planetarium in Samford's Sciencenter. Christenberry is a life trustee.

Joseph and Jenna Cassese of Birmingham were acknowledged for their generous funding of the instrumental rehearsal hall in the new music building that is under construction on campus. Mrs. Cassese is a Samford trustee.

Bonnie Bolding Swearingen of Chicago, Ill., was thanked for her commitment of a major gift to benefit the Samford theatre department. A Samford alumna, former Hollywood actress and retired stockbroker, she is a member of Samford's board of overseers.

Montague Society presentations, honoring others who give generously in support of Samford's distinctive mission, went to Frances M. Brown and the former Ruhama Baptist Church. The A. P. Montague Society is named for the man who was president from 1902-1912, and who emphasized the distinctiveness of a school unafraid to address the improvement of the whole person--mind, body and spirit.

Mrs. Brown, widow of the late Ben Brown who was trustee chair 1973-1985, holds life membership in the Samford Auxiliary and "is an advocate for the University in many ways," noted Morgan in making the presentation. She established the Frances Horner Brown Scholarship and also has supported performing arts, athletics, the Children's Learning Center, the general endowment and other scholarship funds.

Ruhama Baptist Church was located across the street from Samford's East Lake campus and served as the site of many school programs. Several years ago, members of the church decided to sell their property and become part of other congregations.

"But, the spirit of Ruhama lives on," said Morgan. "Former Ruhama members have provided endowment funds for Davis Library and scholarships for the Samford Auxiliary and the music division."

"Most significantly," he announced, "is the recent major gift to fund the Ruhama Baptist Church Instrumental Practice Center, which will be the entire third floor of the new music building." Ruth and Homer Floyd represented the Ruhama Baptist transition group at the dinner.

The elite Circle of Progress societies also includes the Harwell G. Davis Society, named for the president who led the college during one of the most critical periods in its history--through the aftermath of the Great Depression and the effects of World War II, and the relocation from East Lake to Shades Valley. This year, the Davis Society includes three new members: Nancy and James Davis, the Woman's Missionary Union, and the Woman's Missionary Union Foundation.

The Davises, of Birmingham, have supported many projects, including the annual Samford Fund, student organizations, athletics, scholarships, the Samford Auxiliary, the Speakers Series, the Centennial Walk project and Davis Library. WMU, an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention, has been instrumental in funding Samford's Christian Women's Leadership Center.

"This unique partnership ensures that women have opportunities to express their faith and calling as part of their academic preparation," noted Morgan.

The WMU was represented at the dinner by its executive director, Dr. Wanda Lee, and her husband, Larry, both Samford graduates. The WMU Foundation also has provided significant funding for the CWLC and has supported a scholarship honoring longtime WMU executive June Whitlow. Foundation president David George, accompanied by his wife, Allyson, represented the Foundation. Both are Samford graduates.

Samford President Thomas E. Corts offered concluding remarks and expressed appreciation for choices that Samford friends and supporters have made in the school's behalf.

"Life is about choices that shape our lives and destinies. We shape ourselves by the choices we make," said Corts, noting that choices are made by individuals. "The legacy is the promises we've been able to keep.

"This is a cause that is worthy," he said of the Samford mission. "Thank you." The A Cappella Choir offered its signature piece, an arrangement of the hymn "Beautiful Savior," as a choral benediction and invited all to join in singing the Samford Alma Mater as a finale. Each guest received as mementoes a coaster imprinted with the University's seal and the pendulum that hangs in the Samford Sciencenter.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.