I am a terrible salesperson. Once, against the better judgment of everyone who knew me, I took a sales job that paid straight commission. If it weren’t for Ramen noodles I probably would have starved that month. I have only been good at two sales jobs: Selling Girl Scout cookies and convincing people to take a look at Ouachita Baptist University. Why? Because they’re both so good they just sell themselves.
It was my senior year of high school and I had been accepted to Samford University in Alabama, but my parents had a friend who had attended Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. For some reason unknown to me, Doug was certain my life would be incomplete unless I made a visit to OBU. He was sure if I just gave Ouachita a chance, I’d fall head over heels in love. He was so obnoxiously convinced, in fact, I finally made plans to visit this little school near Lake DeGray so he’d stop talking to me about OBU.
I hadn’t lived in Louisiana long and I knew even less about Arkansas. I felt pretty sure there would be banjos and bare feet and possibly toothpicks. My plan was to check out the school so I could get Doug off my case and then I would move ahead with my life as planned.
I had no idea my weekend in Arkansas would completely change my plans.
I can’t tell you the one thing that made me fall in love with Ouachita that weekend. I’m sure it was a combination of people and events. But when I got back home from Arkansas, I told my parents I knew without a shadow of a doubt that Ouachita was where I wanted to spend the next four years of my life.
It sounds like I was talking about choosing the man of my dreams rather than my selection of a higher education institution. But in a way, finding Ouachita was a little like meeting Mr. Right. My four years there changed my life. OBU wasn’t just the place I went to school, it became my home away from home.
My professors knew me by name and cared about what was happening in my life. During my sophomore year, I was going through a tough time that I hadn’t talked about with any of my friends.I thought I was doing a pretty good job of keeping it together on the outside although I felt like I was falling apart on the inside. I was walking to class one day and saw Mr. Lavell Cole sitting on the steps outside the history building that used to be between Flippen-Perrin and Francis Crawford dorms. I didn’t have a class with Mr. Cole at the time, which was unusual because I tried to schedule at least one class with Mr. Cole per semester. His history lectures were legendary. I tried to get in his Tuesday-Thursday classes because he was the only professor who could make an hour and fifteen minutes feel like half an hour.
“Ables! Come here a minute.” (He always called me by my last name which I enjoyed because it made me feel like the athlete I wasn’t.)
I walked over to where he was sitting and he said, “You don’t have to tell me what’s going on, but you just don’t seem like yourself these days. I just wanted you to know I’d noticed and if you need to borrow my office to throw some books around or talk it out, you’re always welcome.”
I think I thanked him, at least I hoped I did, but I was just so blown away that he’d noticed and that he cared. I never took him up on his offer….at least not that semester. I think just knowing I had that option was therapy enough.
The professors were amazing. And although I probably couldn’t pass Dr. Auffenberg’s geography test today or properly complete one of Dr. Wink’s grammar tree diagrams or pass a single one of Dr. Wight’s pop quizzes, I still remember a good deal of what they taught me. Most of what I remember is what they taught me about life and how to be a good student and steward of it.
It wasn’t just the professors I loved, as wonderful as they were, it was also the friendships I made. It was standing in line to be at the grand opening of the Taco Bell. It was late night cookie runs to Subway. It was piling as many people as would fit in a car to go look for the mysterious light on the railroad tracks in Gurdon. It was speeding back from Hot Springs to make it to the dorms before curfew our freshman year. It was sharing makeup for first dates….and offering a Kleenex to wipe away mascara-stained tears after last dates.
It was a mission trip to South Africa that forever changed the way I looked at the world and watched the news.
It was buildings like Berry Chapel and “Walt’s” Cafeteria and the Evans Student Center. It was hours spent in psychology classes in McClellan Hall.
It was out-of-town trips to watch the boys’ tennis team play. It was Saturday night trips to the Arlington in Hot Springs to listen to the house jazz band play “Watermelon Man.” It was a Tri Chi retreat to a house in the woods. It was classes planned around fun-time at Lake DeGray.
They say you never forget your first love. I think I’m just as in love with Ouachita Baptist University as I was my freshman year. Maybe in about eight years, a young man, in an attempt to get his mom off his case, will take a little weekend visit to her alma mater. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll realize OBU is even better than a Samoa or a Tag-A-Long and he’ll fall head-over-heels in love. You just never know…
Thanks, Lori, for coaxing me out of my blog hiatus long enough to participate in this “blog-about” in commemoration of OBU’s Founders Day. OBU, you’re 124? You don’t look a day over 21. Check out the OBU BlogAbout page to read more OBU love letters from fellow bloggers.