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Birdwhistell brings life to religion at college

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Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 5:00 am

There is something magic about Georgetown College, or perhaps about the community that surrounds it.

Many folks come here to study or teach and never leave. Others take their bodies where life dictates, but their minds and souls belong to Scott County.

Such a person is my friend, Jack “Doc” Birdwhistell.

“I spent four of the best years of my life as a student at Georgetown College, 1964-1968,” Jack recalled. “Class of ‘68 had some great ‘townies’ -- Linda Moss Earhart, Petey Thompson, Milo Hassloch, Steve Price and others. I can’t imagine a class having more fun than we did. After seven years of study at Southern Seminary, I became a Baptist pastor in Drakesboro, Ky. -- one of my greatest blessings ever!”

But when the Campus Minister position opened at Georgetown College in 1979, Jack quickly applied. He interviewed with a committee which included Dr. Ben Elrod, Dr. Horace Hambrick and some students. After what he admitted felt like “a long wait,” the call came and Jack started work on Jan. 15, 1980.

As part of the position, Jack taught one or two courses a year. He also saw himself as “Coach of the Baptist Student Union,” along with other more chaplain-like duties. Unlike his predecessor, Dr. Thom Meigs, Jack said he was “a terrible counselor,” but pretty good at getting students involved in activities like weekly worship, Bible studies, campus lecture series, state BSU meetings, annual trips to Ridgecrest, N.C., and an occasional mission trip. A great blessing early on: Students had no idea what to call him, “Dr. Birdwhistell” being too long and “Jack” seeming too informal, so BSU President H K. Kingkade said, in a moment of inspiration, “Let’s just call you ‘Doc!’” And it’s been “Doc” ever since.

“We had lots of memorable speakers come to campus,” Jack said. “I recall I was so proud to introduce author Will Campbell to our students. I had asked him to tell of his days on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. He decided instead to read a long section from his new book. ‘Damn!’ I thought. The section he read included a reference to the ‘pubic hairs of angels.’ Most of the students were asleep or glazed over and didn’t hear it, some even snickered. I nearly fell out of my chair, as I did on the occasion when a well-known Kentucky pastor told one of the grossest jokes ever from the Hill Chapel pulpit.

 “In the summer of 1997, our enrollment spiked and the college needed a new Religion professor. In a totally unprecedented move, I was offered the position at the initiative of Dr. Paul Redditt, with Dr. Charle Boehms and Dr. Bill Crouch in agreement. It was the single most generous gesture I have ever received. So I have been teaching Gospels, Christian History, Baptist Studies, and occasionally other courses since August 1997. And I can truly say that my classes in this fall were as much fun as any I have ever had.”

The Religion prof found Georgetown a splendid place for his kids, daughter Cory and son Dan, to grow up. They started off in a little house on Rucker Avenue. Children’s Montessori School, Garth Elementary, Georgetown Middle and Scott County High provided Cory and Dan with their educations. First Baptist Church also played a key role in their upbringing. The kids enjoyed being part of George McGee’s annual production of “Scrooge,” which included assorted Dickinsons, Redditts and other local youngsters. George later hoodwinked Jack into playing Robert Johnson to his Elijah Craig at a local Bicentennial celebration. I remember it well!

 “We moved to East Main Street in 1988 and became part of what was still then a vibrant downtown (hardware store, furniture store, two drug stores, post office, library) and especially enjoyed the annual Festival of the Horse and the Christmas Parade. We also got into a zoning issue which led to the formation of the East Main Street Association, which was fun but had little impact after all.

“At some point in the 1980s, I became part of a weekly lunch group which, over time, included Dick Allison, Steve Cook, Wayne Moore, Dwight Moody, Greg Earwood, Ken Perkins, Jack Willett, Ken Holden, Richard Weekley, Tony Shouse, Eric Fruge, John Patton, Jeremy Colliver, Tim Schindler, Bob Fox and others. Since each of us had some ‘bumps in the road’ during those nearly 15 years of lunches, the group served as a ‘refuge from the storm’ as well as providing moments of great hilarity, especially in the stories told by Ken Holden and by GC grad and uber-missionary Ken Perkins.”

Jack moved back to his native Lawrenceburg in 2001, but the beginning of every school year finds him commuting to Georgetown to reintroduce himself to “the best and the brightest.”

“The good Lord has been much better to me than I deserve,” Jack said. Not a single one of his students or friends will ever believe it.

Byron Brewer is a former managing editor of the News-Graphic. He can be reached at b-rbrewer@hotmail.com.

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