The Rev. Bill Hurdle retired in 1995.
At least, he thought he had retired.
When you spend 42 years of your life in the ministry, what’s 16 more?
There are no real plans to retire now, either, even though he will turn 87 years old three weeks from today.
For Hurdle, the beloved chaplain at Wesleyan College since 1998, it has never been how old he is, but how he is old.
“Age is not slowing him down, it’s only making him that much sweeter,’’ said Jennifer Eadie, a senior history major at Wesleyan.
On May 14, Wesleyan President Ruth Knox and the college’s board of trustees will honor Hurdle with a recognition dinner at Candler Alumnae Center on campus.
Hurdle will remain as chaplain until the school’s Pierce Chapel is completed in February 2015, so there will be no roasting or toasting at the dinner.
“It is most definitely not a retirement party,’’ Knox said. “Bill Hurdle will be Wesleyan’s chaplain when Pierce Chapel is dedicated, and he always will be a Wesleyan treasure.’’
Wesleyan has been the only one of the eight Methodist colleges in the state that doesn’t have a freestanding chapel on campus. (There was a chapel at the downtown campus of the old Wesleyan Conservatory, which burned in 1963.)
The new $6 million facility, named after the college’s first president, George Foster Pierce, will have a worship center, a performance venue and offices for the campus chaplain and student religious organizations.
“I have no doubt that his office in Pierce Chapel will be the most popular spot on campus,’’ Knox said.
Sunday night chapel services are now held at Candler in the Benson Room, which is named after Catherine Elizabeth Brewer Benson, who in 1840 became the first woman to receive a degree from the first college to grant degrees to women in the world.
Hurdle has worn many hats in his 16 years as chaplain. He has performed the wedding ceremonies for 37 young women who attended Wesleyan. He started a group called Wesleyan Disciples.
“It is interdenominational, interracial and international,’’ he said. Seven students are now in full-time ministry, including a missionary in Uganda, a youth minister in Colorado and three seminary students.
He is a great-grandfatherly figure on campus. A self-professed “people person,’’ his role is not only to serve as a minister but also as an encourager. He always has the student with long face in the dining room on his radar screen. Or the young lady who is having boyfriend problems or dealing with family struggles. Sometimes he prays with them. And he follows up to make sure they are doing OK.
“I have often said that he is Wesleyan’s MVP, and he is.’’ said Knox. “Everyone at Wesleyan loves him, and he is the reason that our campus ministry programs are stronger and more enriching than ever before. He is wise, warm, caring, thoughtful, funny,and incredibly cool.’’
Eadie said she met Hurdle four years ago on her 18th birthday. She was interviewing for a position to be his student worker.
“During my interview he said to me, ‘Jennifer, I’m not expecting perfection, because I have yet to achieve it myself,’ ’’ she said. “That day, I knew that he was one of the most sincerest people I have ever met. I have worked with him all four years, and not a day goes by that he doesn’t say something inspiring. Just the other day he told me, ‘Life is great, isn’t it? Yeah, there are hard times and sad times. But I think all the good times outweigh all those others. The way I see it, life is good!’ ”
Eadie said members of the Wesleyan Disciples wear “Team Hurdle” T-shirts with one of his sayings: “Love for the sheer joy of loving.”
“I admire the way he respects people’s opinions in both Bible study and in chapel, and he encourages us to be more open to other faith ideas,’’ she said. “It amazes me how many friends he has of different denominations, and how he is so humble when it comes to his many blessings. I honestly aspire to be as faithful, as open to others, and as loving as he is one day.’’
Hurdle grew up in Montezuma, the oldest of four children. He graduated from Montezuma High School 70 years ago and enlisted in the Navy. He spent two years in the Pacific on the USS Bottineau, a troop transport ship.
He returned to Montezuma after the war, and worked for an electric company. He also got involved with his church, Montezuma United Methodist Church, under the guidance of its new minister, John Lough. Hurdle worked with the youth in a nearby mill village and began holding services in the mill chapel on Sunday nights.
He attended Emory at Oxford on the G.I. Bill, then went on to the Candler School of Theology at Emory. He was ordained in 1953. That was also the year he married his wife, Betty. They met when he was preaching a revival at her home church, Pleasant Valley Methodist in Lilly.
“It was only 17 miles from where I grew up, but I didn’t know where it was,’’ he said. “She was living in Atlanta and working at Lockheed and just happened to be home for the weekend.’’
They will celebrate their 61st anniversary in August. They have four children.
Like most Methodist ministers, he skipped like a stone across a south Georgia pond. He was pastor at churches in Waynesboro, Wrens, Ocilla, Hazlehurst, Cordele and Moultrie before becoming minister at Mulberry United Methodist in Macon from 1976-82.
He served as a Methodist district superintendent in Waycross for three years, before returning to Macon in the position of executive director of higher education. He was responsible for fundraising, recruiting and the campus ministries for all eight Methodist colleges in Georgia -- Wesleyan, Emory, LaGrange, Young Harris, Reinhardt, Payne, Clark and Andrew.
When he retired in 1995, he expressed a strong desire to stay active in some way, to still be on call for his life’s calling. He has continued as a member at Mulberry United Methodist, where he is the senior pastor emeritus.
Former Wesleyan President Nora Kizer Bell asked him to serve in the role as interim chaplain for a year. Then she asked him to stay another year. By the time Knox was named president in 2003, Hurdle might as well have added some extra glue on the pew. He wasn’t going anywhere.
“When I first took over, I was a little concerned about my age, but it has worked out better than I thought,’’ he said. “It didn’t seem to matter to them.’’
Hurdle did give the students and faculty at Wesleyan a scare in December 2011 when he fell on campus. He broke his hip and smashed his shoulder.
Doctors also put in a stint and a pacemaker, after it was determined he had blocked heart arteries. Yes, a lifetime of eating fried chicken and potato salad at church picnics will eventually catch up with you.
He said his favorite scripture is the Beatitudes, from the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
“So many people use the Sermon on the Mount as a guide for Christian living,’’ he said.
His favorite hymn?
“This is the way these young women have influenced me,’’ he said, laughing. “They like the contemporary songs, and I go along with that. But I tell them we have to sing at least one hymn at chapel every Sunday night. I tell them I’m not going to let them graduate without knowing ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus.’ ’’
Reach Ed Grisamore at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org