On May 24th, 2012, Reverend William H. Hurdle, Wesleyan College’s campus chaplain and director of church relations, celebrated his eighty fifth birthday. Wesleyan celebrated the occasion, the man, and the spirit of pioneering represented by his well-lived life.
In Reverend Hurdle, Wesleyan has much; and his accomplishments are many. His tie to Wesleyan dates back to the mid-1980’s when he began serving on the Board of Trustees. As the Executive Director of the Georgia United Methodist Commission on Higher Education and Campus Ministry, he served on boards all over the state. Macon’s central Georgia location was attractive to his family and proved a logical place to settle. Logic, luck, or divine intervention, the relocation also put Wesleyan College in a central part of Reverend Hurdle’s life.
After serving on Wesleyan’s Board for nearly fifteen years, Reverend Hurdle was approached by then president Dr. Nora Kizer Bell about the position of a part-time chaplain with on-campus presence three days a week. Although a part-time work schedule was attractive, Reverend Hurdle was uncertain about two aspects of the position.
“I had never worked with a single sex group and I wasn’t sure how my age would come into play,” remembered Hurdle. But after one year, he and Dr. Bell met again and decided that having a visible on-campus chaplain had been positive for the students. He agreed to stay on another year.
Nearly thirteen years later, Reverend Hurdle spends five days a week, ten months of the year, on the Wesleyan campus. “I think students enjoy having a male figure around who doesn’t give them a test on Friday and they enjoy having a grandfather on campus,” said Hurdle.
Students like Micah Wilson agree. “Everyone thinks he is certainly a great influence on campus. I am not sure anyone could do a better job than Reverend Hurdle has done, and he is certainly one of a kind. He never forgets a face or a name… we love him simply because he is such a wonderful person,” she said.
In Dr. Bell’s 2001 state of the college address, she credited Hurdle with a goal that has since revitalized the Wesleyan campus in immeasurable ways: to reaffirm Wesleyan’s Methodist heritage and attend to the spiritual needs of all students. “The architect of our success in achieving this goal is our beloved chaplain. It would be hard to detail the many ways he embodies Christian values and serves as a positive role model for all our students, regardless of their religious faith,” Bell stated.
President Ruth Knox arrived at Wesleyan in 2002. At that time, Reverend Hurdle’s position was expanded to church relations and campus chaplain. During her inaugural address, Knox reminded the Wesleyan community of the spirit that connects the College to the Methodist church.
“We owe our very existence to the pioneering leadership of the Methodist church. Early in the life of Methodism, John Wesley’s brother Charles had the idea to unite religious studies with the traditional liberal arts. He said: ‘Unite the pair so long disjoined – knowledge and vital piety.’ This impulse was the beginning of Methodism’s commitment to higher education, which ultimately resulted in the establishment of Wesleyan in 1836 by founders who dared dream that women – even women – could benefit from a rigorous study of the liberal arts and deserved the same academic credentials as men,” she said.
Like those founders, Reverend Hurdle’s pioneering spirit has no boundaries. Wesleyan’s relationship with the Methodist church is a great treasure and holds a prominent place in the future of the College. One major initiative established by President Knox in 2003 for the church relations position was to increase Wesleyan’s contact with the church. To that end, Reverend Hurdle implemented the recognition of Wesleyan College Sunday in Methodist churches throughout the South Georgia Annual Conference. The event, celebrated on the second Sunday of November, increases awareness of Wesleyan’s historical connection to the church, highlights the purposeful vision and student outcomes of Wesleyan today, and raises funds for student scholarships.
“If we don’t ask for their help, they will think we don’t need it,” stated Hurdle. “We’re so thankful for the thousands of scholarship dollars contributed during Wesleyan College Sundays from churches all across the state.”
Reverend Hurdle established the Wesleyan Disciples program exemplifying his pioneering spirit like no other project. Inspired by a presentation in 2004 at a conference in Nashville, he was determined to develop a scholarship program based on faith and service. Although the Wesleyan experience was deeply rooted in the Methodist faith, scholarship opportunities valuing faith and service were lacking at the College. To meet the need, Wesleyan Disciples was tailored to be a Christian group over-arched by three characteristics: interdenominational, inter-racial, and international.
In 2005, six students were awarded $500 scholarships for participation in the Wesleyan Disciples program. They each signed a contract with the following four provisions: Spiritual Formation (participation in all Christian witness opportunities on campus), Intentional Study (weekly study with the chaplain of the Bible or specific Christian theological question), Servant Leadership (volunteer service with a United Methodist agency or through Wesleyan’s Lane Center for Community Engagement, and Health and Wellness (practice a healthy lifestyle).
“I think it's helped me grow in my faith. I've had opportunities to lead in chapel and do other special things. It's been a very positive experience and I'm proud to say that I was part of the original group,” said Melinda Fitzgerald.
Immediately successful, the program grew to fourteen students by its second year. Currently the group boasts twenty-four members and Hurdle’s successful fundraising efforts have allowed scholarships to double. This academic year, each of the twenty-four participants received a $1000 scholarship for their commitment to faith and service. The students lead on-campus worship services on Sunday evenings, plan family worship services during orientation and family weekends, and are adamant about the value of the Wesleyan Disciple experience.
“(Wesleyan Disciples) has brought a diverse group of Wesleyan women from different classes, majors, and denominations together and allowed us to get to know others that have the same values and beliefs. I have really enjoyed the group and I feel it has enhanced my Wesleyan experience overall,” remarked Micah Wilson. “It has allowed me to grow in my spiritual life and in my Wesleyan life within the community here by participating in events and service projects. Reverend Hurdle has a lot to do with its success.”
The love and admiration of students has earned Reverend Hurdle a sacred role on the Wesleyan campus. For, as he qualifies himself, an ole octogenarian with no experience in an all-girls environment, Reverend Hurdle was presented with a rare but distinguished honor in 2001 when the students named a newly renovated café the Hurdle Café.
“I guess that gave me the reassurance that I should stop worrying about whether or not I was relating to the students,” chuckled Reverend Hurdle.
Although inspired by the students, Hurdle exemplified the pioneering spirit long before he stepped foot on Wesleyan’s campus. He grew up in Montezuma, Georgia, and then attended Emory-at-Oxford College and Emory University where he earned a Master’s of divinity from the Candler School of Theology. Early in his career, he held pastorates in various middle and south Georgia churches then moved into leadership roles in the United Methodist South Georgia conference.
In 1984, he was appointed Executive Director of the Georgia United Methodist Commission on Higher Education and Campus Ministry and held the position for the next eleven years. During the spring of 1985, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of divinity degree by LaGrange College. For the next eleven years, Hurdle traveled all over the state acting as a representative for the Commission and a liaison to the Methodist colleges.
When he retired in 1995 after forty-two years in the ministry, he did anything but slow down. He assisted churches and colleges with fundraising efforts, preached in churches, and stayed active on various boards -- including Wesleyan’s. When approached by Wesleyan’s late president Dr. Bell in 1998 about the needs of a campus chaplain for the school, he retired from retirement.
Authentic passion fuels Hurdle’s leadership. As a result, he almost effortlessly garners support for his endeavors; he evaluates a situation and envisions a better scenario. His ability to weave pertinent topics of religious study into a format relevant and applicable to a group of busy, young women sixty years his junior is evidence of his timeless leadership.
“Reverend Hurdle is very in touch with what's going on with students today...starting with the fact that he answers his e-mail faster than many of my fellow classmates,” commented Melinda Fitzgerald. “We discuss current events and he also puts a lot of thought into worship planning and tries to plan a variety of speakers and groups that address issues and concerns we have…and he's always ready to try something new or different.”
If you ask Hurdle about his accomplishments, he will probably boast about hosting the annual Hurdle family beach trip with twenty-two family members in attendance. He and wife, Betty, have been married for nearly sixty years. They raised four children, two girls and two boys, and now relish in the joys of being grandparents and great-grandparents.
Jokingly, Reverend Hurdle comments that he’s probably the oldest campus chaplain in service. Yet, his youthful enthusiasm inspires thousands of students just entering adulthood. In 1999, the students presented him with a Staff of the Year award. This year two additional public honors add to the list of Hurdle’s credentials, a Presidential Staff Award and inclusion in the student’s 2007 pin-up Men of Wesleyan calendar. He’s a dashing Mr. November.
And well beyond the month of November, Reverend Hurdle is a man of faith, service, vision, and commitment. In the context that Wesleyan boasts on the attributes of the Wesleyan Woman, he is one of select few in the College’s 175 year history to claim the prestigious title: “A Man of Wesleyan.”