Thank you, Dr. Wallace: On his college experiences

November 21, 2014 | Leave a Comment

In the second part of a series of interviews, Campbell President Jerry Wallace talks about his own experiences in college and seminary -- and why he quit the East Carolina football team after only two weeks.

Campbell University President Jerry M. Wallace announced last April that he will step down from the presidency on June 30, 2015, after serving in the role for 12 years and after working at Campbell for 45 years. Over the course of the academic year, will post a series of interviews with President Wallace, as well as other content, to commemorate his service to the university. The other content includes the photo gallery below to coincide with the following series of interviews:

  • Part 1: On finishing well
  • Part 2: On his college experiences
  • Part 3: On being a preacher and teacher
  • Part 4: On the move to academia leadership
  • Part 5: On his time as president
  • Part 6: On saying good-bye


Photo gallery: President Wallace through the years

President Wallace as a baby with his brothers Bill and Mitchell
At age 12
In his school football jersey in the early 1950s
His high school reunion
At graduation from East Carolina University in 1956
At his seminary graduation with his father, William M. Wallace Sr., and his brothers, William M. Wallace Jr. and Mitchell W. Wallace
With his favorite professor at Southeastern Seminary
As a student pastor in Morven


Part 2: On his college experiences

After graduating from Rockingham High School in 1952, President Wallace enrolled in East Carolina University and attended Southeastern Seminary to become a pastor. In the section below, he talks about his time at East Carolina, how he ended up in seminary, and what he learned from both experiences.

What was your childhood like, and how did it influence who were to become?

It starts with godly parents, challenging and successful brothers, and a very religious family. Also football, inspiring teachers, a lot of luck, marrying well, a good education, and a lot of help.

You mentioned football. What role did that play in your life?

I love football, and I thought that would be my life. I went to East Carolina University on a football scholarship. But I also beginning to think, “What am I going to do with my life?”

There was a person I respected highly in my home county [Richmond County]: Congressman C.B Deane. He spoke in chapel when I was in high school, and I thought, “If I could be like him and do things like him, that’s what I’d like to do.” He was a lawyer. When I went to East Carolina and saw the football culture, I knew that it would take all my time and I would probably have an academic major that would not lend itself to being a lawyer. I also met three guys bigger and better than me. I saw that football was a hard way of life.

It was a combination of all those circumstances that led me to walk away from the team after just two weeks.

Do you ever look back on that decision and wonder what if?

It was a huge challenge and decision because I was dependent on those resources to provide the money for my education. It was the hardest thing I had done to that point, but no doubt it was the right thing.

I became an English and government major and planned to go to law school. But when I was admitted to law school, the desire began to wane and I had to face the reality of what had been in my heart since I was 12 years old: that I was to be a preacher.

What happened that led you to face that reality?

It was a gradual process. I knew if went to law school, I wouldn’t be a preacher, though I felt in my heart that’s what I should do. I needed to change my direction. It was not a huge revelation, but it was a growing awareness that I was being tapped on the shoulder for something else. I went to seminary instead.

What was your seminary experience like?

I was a student pastor while I was at the Southeastern Seminary in a town called Morven. It was a grand experience. The little town had a Baptist church, a Methodist church, and a Presbyterian church; and we were very close to each other. I learned about Methodists and Presbyterians and came to love and respect them. My belief in ecumenical Christianity is largely due not to what I learned in seminary but what I learned in those faith communities that I was exposed to. It taught me a lot of tolerance.

While I was in my first year at seminary, I married my East Carolina sweetheart [Betty Blanchard Wallace] whose love and support has been the background of me and my family, then and now. After serving as a student pastor, we went to the Elizabethtown Baptist Church, then a county-seat Baptist church.

What did you learn during your time at ECU and in seminary that has stayed with you and that you hope students today would learn during their time at Campbell?

That most things are possible with vision and hard work. I would hope that they also learn the lessons in two books that have meant probably more to me than anything I have ever read. I have read them many, many times and have given them as graduation gifts: C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” and Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends & Influence People.”

There are lessons from those books like learn to smile, say thank you, and find something you can be excited about. Those are the keys to success.

What excites you?

Campbell excites me. In my 45 years of being at Campbell, I could probably count on my hands and toes the number of times I didn’t want to come to work. It’s a joy to come to work at Campbell.

I love seeing the students. I enjoy my colleagues, and it’s great to have something to work for and to be part of a team with a common goal. I’m not on a football team, but I’m on the Campbell team.

Read the first part of the series: On finishing well

Interviews conducted by and edited by Cherry Crayton, senior staff writer

Pictured above: President Wallace with his wife, Betty Blanchard Wallace, at his graduation from Southeastern Seminary in 1961.

Jim Ellerbe

My Wallace memories

Jim Ellerbe, the former superintendent of the Johnston County Schools and former vice president for business and treasurer at Campbell University, talks about his lifelong friendship with his college roommate -- Campbell President Jerry Wallace. The following as-told-to is edited from an interview with Ellerbe, who lives in Clayton.

Jerry and I grew up in Rockingham. We went to separate elementary schools but we both wound up at Rockingham High School. He played football, and I played basketball. It was natural for us to become friends. We weren’t the very best friends in high school, but we became closer in college when we became roommates.

There were nine of us boys who rented the second floor of a house. Like most at that time, we didn’t have money that amounted to much of anything. We pulled together our resources to have enough to eat and to do what we needed to do. We had a lot of late night dinners. We would go out to restaurants and have breakfast at 10 o’clock at night after studying.

Jerry was a jokester and a trickster. He pulled little pranks on me from time to time. At night, he would slip out the window in his room and slip through the window in my room and frighten me while I was sleeping.

Today, Jerry has got a little less hair and more gray than he used to have; but as far as his character and personality and those really important features, he’s changed very little. He’s only changed in the way he has matured to apply those things. He has become a stronger leader year by year. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve known.

He was the vice president for academic affairs and provost when I started working at Campbell. I had gotten to know [former Campbell President Norman Wiggins] when I served on committee for the N.C. Baptist State Convention. I retired from the Johnston County Schools, but Dr. Wiggins said I was too young to retire. So I said, “What if I came to work at Campbell?” I started in purchasing, and within a year or so I became vice president for business.

I planned to retire at the same time as Dr. Wiggins, but when Jerry became president, he asked me to stay on for a while. I’ll said, “I’ll help you out in any way I can.”

He has done an excellent job communicating his vision with trustees and the people on staff. He generally involves a number of people to make hard decisions, and he always watches how the dollars are spent. That has been a real blessing for the university so it can pay for all the things going on. And, frankly, what’s happening now is what he was thinking Campbell could be all those years ago when he first started at the university.

He has been at Campbell for 40 years, so I guess all his strengths and weaknesses have been exposed by now. But one thing people may not know is that when he is your friend, he is your friend forever.

Previous memories

“Every morning when he comes in the office, we always ask each other, ‘How are you doing?’ He always answers, ‘I’m blessed.’” Read more »

Judy Robbins,
assistant to President Wallace

Share your memories, thanks

Here’s how you can say thanks:

  • Post a message (and any photos with him) on your Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or Instagram accounts, and tag #ThanksDrWallace.
  • Post a comment using the comments section below.
  • Mail a note to Campbell Magazine, P.O. Box 567, Buies Creek, NC 27506.

#ThanksDrWallace via Storify