When two Bible salesmen visited Huntington, W.Va., during the summer of 1949, they had no idea their efforts would come full circle 60 years later.
The two young men, Richard “Dick” Smith (’50) and Keith Thompson (’50), were students at Harding College, and they used the opportunity to recruit students for the school.
Bill Fulks was one of the local youth who met Smith and Thompson. Although some peers decided to attend the Harding that term, Fulks did not. At that point in his life, he was not yet a Christian and, he explains, certainly not ready to give up his job and car to enroll in college.
Through the influence of friends, he began attending church that fall, studying the Bible, and, soon after, became a Christian. A few months later, he found himself in Searcy, Ark., studying to become a preacher.
While there, he met Doris Harmon, a native Chicagoan whose father had insisted she attend the College for its academic excellence and Christian atmosphere.
She remembers studying both the Old and New Testaments for a year each during her freshman and sophomore years. She relished the time spent delving into the Bible and examining Scripture. As a result of this influence, she became a Christian the fall of her junior year. The two new believers married soon after.
Because both Bill and Doris came to know Christ in early adulthood, they were all too aware of how easily biblical truth can be diluted, misinterpreted or altered to fit man’s preferences and comfort zones.
“Too many [young people] in the church today don’t have that strong a knowledge of the Bible,” says Doris.
This understanding, along with a desire to help young men and women be discerning when confronted with different worldviews, motivated the Fulks to take action. Thus in 2008, they initiated the William and Doris Fulks Distinguished Chair of the College of Bible and Religion at Harding University.
The chairs’s purpose is to enhance the level of teaching and learning from the biblical perspective of world religions and cults — for the College of Bible and Religion as well as the University as a whole.
After graduating in 1953, the Fulks, who now live in Apopka, Fla., had little contact with the University until their grandchildren became students. But, at Doris’ insistence, they attended their 50th class reunion in 2003, which reconnected them to their alma mater. They enjoyed the reunion so much they helped set in motion the 55th class reunions, now celebrated each fall with the 50th and 60th reunions.
This rekindled relationship came at a time when the Fulks wanted to support an organization through giving and help strengthen young Christians entering adulthood. And they knew they wanted to be closely involved in the process.
They spoke with representatives of Harding’s Advancement Office expressing their desire to give to the University.
“We visited several times, and received information about what we could do,” says Bill. “We weren’t even thinking about a Bible chair then.”
Over the course of the next five years, the Fulks spent more time with Harding staff members preparing their trust.
The chair developed when the Fulks realized they could give to a specific college or department. Both Bill and Doris believed that ministry majors would benefit from an emphasis on world religions as they prepared for ministry. They also felt strongly that all students should be equipped with knowledge of different belief systems to be prepared for encounters after graduation.
The endowed chair is a full-time faculty position backed by adequate financial resources to ensure its continuance indefinitely. The position is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on a faculty member. Once the chair is fully funded,
the dean of the College of Bible and Religion, will choose a search committee to select the recipient, who will hold the chair for five years. The president will approve the final selection.
Funds will allow for special seminars and conferences, publications and publishing, and support for visiting professors and lecturers, as well as routine expenses related to the chair’s area of interest.
The first contributions were made toward the fund last fall, and the Fulks hope others will soon join in their desire to see the chair come to fruition. But, more importantly, they want others to see two things: First, anyone — from any income level — can make a difference. Second, donors can take an active role in their giving and choose to support specific causes that are close to their heart.
Ultimately, the Fulks are most excited about helping strengthen the next generation of believers.
“The main purpose is to teach students about different religions,” says Bill.
Adds Doris, “We want students to know the Bible.”