The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community

More reasons to give thanks

Amy WhiteWe first brought you the story of Amy Bannister White (’90) at Thanksgiving two years ago. In the true spirit of Pro Humanitate, 10 years ago White founded a faith-based organization, Community of Hope Ministries, to help those in need in her hometown of Garner, North Carolina.

For the last five years, Community of Hope has partnered with Butterball LLC to provide turkeys to more than 200 families in need at Thanksgiving. When I checked in with White last week, she was overflowing with enthusiasm and thankfulness.

Butterball, which is based in Garner, donated 225 turkeys this year. Highland Baptist Church in Garner donated another 40, and a real estate office donated 10. Several other North Carolina companies stepped up to help this year, too. “We worked hard to bring some additional partners to help Community of Hope provide not only the turkeys, but also the side dishes to go with them,” White told me.

Alco Custom Cabinets in Garner provided cranberry sauce and pumpkin pies. The Village of Aversboro, a retirement community, hosted a food drive to collect green beans and stuffing mix. Nash Produce, one of North Carolina’s largest sweet potato producers, donated more than 1,000 pounds of potatoes.

“I can’t imagine not doing this Thanksgiving outreach,” White told me. “I love the story of cooperation in the children’s story “Stone Soup” where hungry travelers make soup in the town square. The townspeople “donate” the ingredients to make a soup that is shared by all. Our take on that story is that we ask several partners to work together to make Thanksgiving dinner a joyful reality for all of those who would not otherwise have one.”

White is a former teacher who started Community of Hope to tutor some elementary-school kids struggling in reading and math. That led to one thing and then another. Today, Community of Hope serves about 200 families a month through an after-school enrichment program and a summer camp for at-risk youth; a home-repair service for seniors and the disabled; a benevolence ministry that provides monetary help for things like rent and transportation; and a food pantry that has provided 137,000 meals this year. The nonprofit is supported by First Baptist Church of Garner, other churches and individuals and businesses.

White had more good news to share as she told me about two new programs: a 16-week job readiness program to teach unemployed and underemployed individuals the skills necessary to find and keep a stable job, and a community garden to provide fresh vegetables for Community of Hope’s food pantry.

If you don’t believe that one person can change the world, White is the perfect example of one who’s made her little corner of the world a little better. Her husband, Kyle Alan White (’88, MAEd ’94), even put together a video set to Carrie Underwood’s “Change the World” that’s worth watching to drive home that point.

White shared one final message that we want to pass along to the loyal readers of Wake Forest Magazine: “Blessings to you for a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving.”

— Kerry M. King (’85)

Honoring Mr. Wake Forest



For those who are fans of Provost Emeritus Ed Wilson (’43) — and there are legions — you missed a happy gathering of Ed and friends a few weeks ago at the Porter Byrum Welcome Center on campus. You would have had to squeeze in for the event at which the North Carolina Humanities Council bestowed the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities on the man known as “Mr. Wake Forest.”

“The award recognizes Wilson for his lifelong achievements as an advocate for the public humanities across North Carolina,” according to the council. The Caldwell Award is the council’s highest honor. Wilson joins Caldwell Laureates who have included newsman Charles Kuralt, novelist Reynolds Price, historian John Hope Franklin and Wilson’s wife, poet and author Emily Herring Wilson (MA ’62). In greeting the audience Provost Rogan Kersh (’86)  lauded the council’s judges for their “impeccable” judgment and labeled the Wilsons “our nation’s ultimate humanities power couple.”

The State of North Carolina honored Professor and Provost Emeritus Edwin G. Wilson ('43) for his contributions to the humanities.

The State of North Carolina honored Professor and Provost Emeritus Edwin G. Wilson (’43) for his contributions to the humanities.

It was an evening at which Wilson, 91, praised school teachers from his North Carolina hometown by name —  from the one who “taught me to write cursively” to the high school teacher who read “line by line” Virgil’s “Aeneid” with Wilson and two other students that year. “Public school teachers are still at the beginnings of all of our various journeys in the humanities, and without them we might well not have come to our own love of literature and language and history,” Wilson said. “We should never fail to honor and reward them.”

He also made clear the heartbreaking absence of one of the devoted friends of the humanities in North Carolina and at Wake Forest: Penelope Niven (’62, D. Litt. ’92). She helped make the case for Wilson to receive the award. “(Her) sudden death almost two months ago leaves us still mourning,” Wilson said. “Penny was a biographer, and she had grace and charm of a rare quality.”

I would be remiss not to mention the stellar introduction of Wilson by his former student, Marybeth Sutton Wallace (’86), who works as special assistant to President Nathan O. Hatch. Her remarks were sharp, wise and funny. I asked her to give me a copy, and despite its length I include it here for posterity. I feel certain the legions of fans of Mr. Wake Forest will recognize themselves in her words and perhaps will share in the celebratory air of an autumn evening. Congratulations, Dr. Wilson.

Dr. Wilson and Marybeth Sutton Wallace, who presented her introduction of him at the Caldwell Award ceremony on Oct. 30. (Photo by Norma-May Isakow)

Dr. Wilson and Marybeth Sutton Wallace, who presented her introduction of him at the Caldwell Award ceremony on Oct. 30. (Photo by Norma-May Isakow)

Wallace: I once tried to explain to a friend why it was students at Wake Forest never wanted to miss one of Professor Edwin G. Wilson’s classes, why it was that at 2:45 pm on a Friday afternoon, a classroom in Tribble, 216-C, was filled from front to back with students thoroughly enchanted, and that except for one deep resonant voice reading “The Song of Wandering Aengus” or “Kubla Khan” not a sound or shuffle could be heard.

“You could have been on your way to the beach — or the mountains,” my friend exclaimed, “or throwing Frisbee on the Quad.”

But how could the beach or mountains compare with the dizzying lake country of Wordsworth’s boyhood, the lush green of Yeats’s Sligo, or the romance of Byron’s Italy, Greece and Spain?

“You just couldn’t skip Dr. Wilson’s class,” I protested, “because you couldn’t bear to disappoint him.”  And you couldn’t bear to disappoint yourself either. “Young and easy under the apple boughs,” we had that feeling that what we were learning was nourishing our souls and fortifying us for the years to come.

We left his classroom believing we could be better people. We left his classroom believing we could do something to make the world more beautiful. And we were merely one generation of students that Dr. Wilson touched in a teaching career that spanned more than a half-century.

When I was teaching high school English in Raleigh a fellow teacher at Enloe, Dr. Sally Humble, recalled that same feeling of being swept away by Dr. Wilson’s classes when she was a student at Wake Forest in the early sixties.  As she prepared her own lesson on Keats’s “The Eve of St. Agnes” she remembered Dr. Wilson’s riveting lecture, the brilliant imagery, the rich language. She said she must have taken ten pages of notes because the lesson made such a lasting impression.  When she gleefully retrieved the dusty notebook from a box buried in the attic, eager to devour her notes and impart this wealth of knowledge to her students, she was stunned to find one sentence under “The Eve of St. Agnes”: Spellbound, she had written simply, “Dr. Wilson read the poem.”

One of the first things Dr. Wilson would do in the course of a semester was to invite each of his students by for an individual conference — just to talk — about hometowns (He loves the names of hometowns), families, favorite books, recent movies, plays — on Broadway or at the Stevens Center — perhaps even ACC basketball or Eastern North Carolina barbecue.

What struck you most in these conferences is what an attentive and interested listener he was, and how he would remember these things about you which you told him, each time you saw him. Later in the semester you would be invited to his & Emily’s home on Timberlake Lane for supper, where surrounded by rows and walls of beloved books, you might look at slides from Ireland or take an oral part in Yeats’s “Cathleen ni Houlihan.”

Ed Southern (’94) wrote an article in his student days for the Old Gold & Black newspaper paying tribute to Ed Wilson when the Wilson Wing of Z. Smith Reynolds Library was named for him in 1992. He recalls professor Bynum Shaw, who had been on the Old Campus with Wilson, saying of his classmate: “the root of it all is his great humanity.”

Now Executive Director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, Southern says of his former teacher: “To connect so deeply with Wordsworth, Blake, Keats, or Yeats is rare. To connect so deeply with hundreds, thousands, of people, at Wake Forest and around the world, is rarer still. I don’t know anyone else who can do both. I’d be willing to bet serious money that he is the most humble, down-to-earth person ever to have a building named after him.”

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Dr. Wilson came to Wake Forest College at the age of 16 by way of Leaksville, North Carolina, the youngest of five children, a first-generation college student. He has referred to that time as “the start of a beautiful friendship,” echoing words from one of his all-time favorite films, “Casablanca.”  In 1943 he graduated summa cum laude and spent three years as a Naval officer on a destroyer escort in the Pacific.

“I’ve always been a Romantic, and I’ve always loved stories of the sea,” he told students in Jenny Puckett’s History of Wake Forest class. “I had never been in the ocean; I had never even been in a row boat, but the idea of going into the Navy had a romantic appeal to me.” Upon his return, he applied to graduate school, but while awaiting a response he got a fateful call from one of his much admired professors, Broadus Jones, asking him to teach freshman English for a year — and being a dutiful son of his alma mater, he agreed.

The next day he received his letter of acceptance from Columbia: Fortunately for Wake Forest and for his home state, he had already committed to teaching … and for the next six decades — with the exception of a few years at Harvard, earning his doctorate in English, he would be all ours.

In the early 1960s Dr. Wilson chaired the faculty committee that voted to end racial segregation at Wake Forest, and Ed Reynolds enrolled as the first black student in 1962. He helped establish the University’s first residential study-abroad programs in Venice and London. Always an admirer of Irish poetry and the Irish people, he helped to found the Wake Forest University Press in the mid-1970s, now the premier publisher of Irish poetry in North America. He shaped the academic curriculum, programs, and faculty at a critical time in Wake Forest’s history.

Ever gracious and generous, he never came back to the Provost’s Office on a Friday afternoon after class with an ice-cream cone in hand without insisting that all the rest of us working in the Provost’s Office have an ice-cream cone too … one of many “little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love.”

Dr. Wilson is married to Emily Herring Wilson, poet, author, and Caldwell Laureate herself.  They have three children: Ed, a superior court judge in Rockingham County; Sally, executive director of Project Access in Durham, which provides access to health care for low-income patients; and Julie, Director of the Writing Center at Warren Wilson college in Swannanoa, as well as four much-adored grandchildren:  Buddy, Harry, Maria, and Ellie.

His life has been anchored at Wake Forest but Ed Wilson’s life’s work has extended to every town across this state, every corner of the country, and beyond as his students everywhere, with the force of Shelley’s West Wind, carry forward that torch for the Humanities, that acknowledgment that we are more alike than we are different. He showed us that in the most difficult times in our lives, “all hatred driven hence, the soul recovers radical innocence … and that we can “though every face should scowl and every windy quarter howl, or every bellows burst, be happy still.”

I am deeply honored to present to you the 2014 Caldwell Award Laureate, my teacher, our teacher, a man who taught us to see the “world in a grain of sand,” Ed Wilson.

Our man in Bahrain

Roebuck-at-HearingAfter serving in some of the hottest spots in the world — Libya, Iraq, Syria and Israel — William Roebuck’s (’78, MA ’82) next posting might seem like a day at the beach for the career diplomat.

In July, President Obama nominated Roebuck as the next U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain, an archipelago in the Persian Gulf with about 1.3 million people. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Roebuck’s nomination last month, but he still awaits confirmation by the full Senate. (Bill Roebuck was confirmed by the Senate in November and began his posting in Bahrain on Jan. 8, 2015.)

Testifying before the foreign relations committee, Roebeck summed up his impressive 20-year career: “I have spent most of my career posted in the Middle East … fostering political dialogue, providing support for elections, helping governments address the threats posed by terrorism and violent extremism, promoting and protecting human rights, and encouraging regional security efforts between neighbors.”

Roebuck follows in the footsteps of at least two other alumni. Jeannette Wallace Hyde (’58) was ambassador to Barbados and areas of the West Indies from 1994 to 1997. The late Graham Martin (’32) was a career diplomat who served as ambassador to Thailand and Italy and was the last U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam before the country’s fall to North Vietnam in 1975.

“Bill” Roebuck, 58, grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and received a George Foster Hankins Scholarship to Wake Forest. He wrote for the Old Gold & Black and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in English literature.

As reported on the news site,, and in his State Department biography, Roebuck served in Côte D’Ivoire during a stint with the Peace Corps and taught English in Saudi Arabia. After earning a law degree from the University of Georgia, he joined the Foreign Service in 1992. In the two decades since, he’s become a well-traveled and respected diplomat.

He was a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv for several years before moving to Damascus, Syria, where he served as acting deputy chief of mission. After a short stint in Washington, he went back to the Middle East as deputy political counselor at the embassy in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010.

Roebuck was sent to Tripoli, Libya, in early 2013 as chargé d’affaires — the top U.S. diplomat in the country in the absence of an ambassador — several months after Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Most recently, he was deputy assistant secretary of state of Egypt and Maghreb Affairs, based in Washington.

While Bahrain doesn’t attract the headlines of its Middle East neighbors, Roebuck isn’t likely to have much time to spend at the beach. He’s sure to be tested as he and the U.S. government push back against the Bahrain government’s human-rights record and targeting of opposition groups.

Fitting for one who spent his college days studying literature, Roebuck occasionally writes poetry for the Foreign Service Journal. Bahrain’s leading English newspaper, the Daily Tribune, even described the “new amby” as a poet. Roebuck once penned a moving tribute to his late friend, Chris Stevens, which reads, in part:

“I think back to that long night last September: the frantic phone calls,
 The unreliable shards of information, the series of urgent plans drawn up and discarded, The crushing news, And no time to mourn, then or later.”

— Kerry M. King (’85)

TIME for the paperless classroom?

If you’re thumbing through the Oct. 20 issue of TIME Magazine you might recognize a fellow Deacon on Page 36. That’s alumnus Matthew Gudenius (’00) with his Calistoga, California, elementary school students. Theirs is not just any classroom — it’s a paperless classroom, and the article is about how this innovative young teacher is using technology.

Matthew Gudenius ('00) oversees his students in their California classroom. (Photo TIME Magazine)

Matthew Gudenius (’00) oversees his students in their California classroom. (Photo TIME Magazine)

Gudenius, who double-majored in computer science and communication, began his career as a software engineer, developing websites for Hallmark, a European travel portal and an Italian bank. In 2002 he decided to pursue something more socially meaningful and recognized that education — especially in K-12 schools — was an area “behind the times” when it came to purposeful development and integration of technology.

“I became a teacher, figuring the best way to learn the needs of classroom teaching is to experience it firsthand. I came to love the human interaction and the impact I could make as a teacher, and have been continuing in that profession ever since,” said Gudenius, who was in the first freshman class to receive ThinkPads and also participated in technology integration through the RTA (Resident Technology Advisor) and STARs (Student Technology Advisors) programs.

Now that he’s teaching he has not given up programming. The thesis for his master’s degree in educational technology involved development of speech-recognition enabled e-book reading software for primary students, and he is developing an all-in-one classroom management tool incorporating gradebooks, rubrics and behavior management into Google Drive / Google Apps for Education.

“My degrees in computer science and communication have both been invaluable for these endeavors, as well as the model WFU set in its early adoption of technology for education,” he said.

— By Cherin C. Poovey (P ’08)