Thank you, Dr. Wallace: On his college experience

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:

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