Harding History Tour
First Ladies Garden
The First Ladies
Woodson Harding Armstrong
1924-1936 Wife of Harding’s first president, J.N. Armstrong
1936-1965 Wife of Harding’s second president, George S. Benson
1965-1987 Wife of Harding’s third president, Clifton L. Ganus Jr.
1987-2013, 2020-2022 Wife of Harding’s fourth president, David B. Burks
2013-2020 Wife of Harding’s fifth president, Bruce McLarty
2022-current Wife of Harding’s sixth president, Mike Williams
About The Garden
In 2013, the First Ladies Garden was approved by the Harding Board of Trustees as a tribute to Leah Burks and to the other four women who graciously served the University in the capacity of first lady. There are five distinctive gardens reflecting their favorite plants and their love for gardening.
In every family, there is a "first lady," a woman who sacrificed so her children could have a Christian education at Harding. This garden is full of tributes to mothers, grandmothers, mothers-in-law and Women for Harding.
Additionally, the Walls of Honor recognize parents, grandparents, grandchildren and graduates. You can add your loved one to the Walls of Honor while supporting Christian education at Harding. The garden provides a green space where people can reflect on the stories of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things to honor God and their families.
The Neale and Treva Pryor Legacy Walk, named for two of Harding’s most beloved icons, is a brick corridor connecting the front of campus to Legacy Park.
The second phase of the project brought the additions of an outdoor classroom, a secret garden and a courtyard with tables for chess and checkers. We invite you to relax, read the stories and enjoy the beauty of God's flowers in this peaceful setting.
Neale and Treva Pryor Legacy Walk
The love and legacy of Neale Pryor (’56) and Treva Terrell (’86) began when he preached for the Oak Grove congregation in northwest Tennessee.
An older friend from Mayfield, Kentucky, Neale’s hometown, who was visiting Oak Grove, noticed a very attractive young lady and asked the young preacher an important question, “Why don’t you date Treva?” Neale’s response was, “I don’t date girls where I preach.” His friend replied, “It would be easier to find another preaching place than to find another girl like her.” Neale soon reconsidered. Since Treva was then living in Fulton, Tennessee, he would pick her up on the way to church. In 1960, they were married and returned to Harding in 1962 for Neale to teach Bible.
The Pryors are well known for their service and dedication to Harding University and Harding Academy. Neale served the University for 45 years as a Bible teacher, chairman of the Bible department, director of the annual Lectureship and vice president for academic affairs. He received the Distinguished Teacher Award three times and preached approximately 500 gospel meetings in more than 40 states and several foreign countries.
He also officiated many marriage ceremonies and preached numerous funerals, including his son's, Alan Neale, who preceded him in death. He was blessed with the ability to remember everything he read and could make each person feel special by remembering his or her name. After raising their children, Alan (’84) and Lori (’86), Treva earned her bachelor’s degree and taught at Harding Academy for 17 years.
In 2002, Pryor Hall was dedicated to them for their commitment to Christian education. In 2003, they received the Distinguished Alumni Award. In their 51 years of marriage, Treva was always by Neale’s side, supporting, encouraging and caring for him until his death in 2011. She is an exemplary role model as a wife, mother, grandmother and teacher. The Pryors’ legacy continues in the lives of their family, a countless number of Harding students and alumni, and the body of Christ.
Learn more about Harding’s First Ladies
Woodson Harding Armstrong
Woodson Harding Armstrong was the daughter of James A. Harding and his second wife, Pattie Cobb Harding. In 1895, when she was sixteen, she took a Greek class with six boys at Nashville Bible College. She excelled in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Her professor was J. N. Armstrong who specialized in biblical languages. Three years later, they married. She was a tireless worker for Christian education, teaming with her husband during his presidencies at Cordell Christian College in Oklahoma and Harper College in Kansas.
Woodson became Harding’s first Dean of Women in 1924 and served Harding College as a speech and drama teacher for many years. She was known throughout the state as an exceptional speech instructor, and she influenced her students to articulate with eloquence. Bob Helsten, Clifton L. Ganus Jr., Louise Nicholas Ganus, Jim Bill McInteer, Virgil Lawyer, Fayetta Coleman Murray, George Tipps, Evan Ulrey and Esther Marie Clay Yingling were among her students. She spent most of her time working with female students, both as Dean of Women and as a social club sponsor. Because of her speech background, she also worked with young preachers to help them improve the delivery of their sermons. The first social club, Woodson Harding Comrades was named in her honor. She also directed many plays to provide entertainment for the students, faculty and staff. Surrounded by pioneers in Christian education for her entire life, she also made tremendous contributions to the spiritual mission of Harding College.
Founded in the late 1800’s, Woodson Chapel Church of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee, is named for her because her husband was deeply loved by their congregation. The Armstrongs had one daughter, Pattie Hathaway, who married L.C. Sears, Harding’s first dean of academic affairs. When J.N.’s brother passed away, they raised his two sons, Early and J.D.
Sally Hockaday Benson
A former student of Cordell Christian College, Sallie Hockaday attended the University of Oklahoma and earned a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1919. A successful teacher in the public schools of Oklahoma, she was employed in the fall of 1924 to teach math and Latin at Harding Academy, a school in Morrilton, Arkansas, that had just been chartered upon the merger of Harper College and Arkansas Christian College. George S. Benson was a senior in college, a teacher and principal at the Academy. Woodson Harding Armstrong invited Sallie Hockaday and George Benson to be cast as sweethearts in a play she was producing. A courtship ensued, and the Bensons were married on July 2, 1925. In August, they sailed for China as the first missionaries to China from the churches of Christ and served for 11 years. In 1928 Mrs. Benson wrote Chats about China, a book describing her impressions of China in the first years of their missionary endeavors.
Sallie assisted her husband in establishing the Canton Bible School where she served as a teacher of English. Their two daughters, Ruth Crowder and Lois McEuen were born in China.
In 1936, the Bensons returned to Searcy when her husband was called to be the second president of Harding College. She returned to the classroom and taught for many more years at Harding Academy. She loved playing Scrabble, horseback riding and doting on her nine grandchildren.
Sallie was a charter member of Associated Women for Harding. She had a deep interest in mission work around the world and was a source of encouragement to many missionary families.
Sallie and Pattie Hathaway Armstrong Sears sponsored the organization of Greenkeepers Garden Club on April 22, 1955.
Louise Nicholas Ganus
Originally from Strawberry, Arkansas, Louise Nicholas was a sixteen-year-old valedictorian of her graduating class who came to Harding on an academic scholarship. In 1939, as a sophomore, she was carrying brooms behind Godden Hall, when her future husband, Clifton L. Ganus Jr., arrived on campus as a freshman. Louise was the first person Cliff saw. Countless times, he has recalled, “I met my future wife within the first seconds of my arrival at Harding.” As a Harding student Louise was a member of Mrs. Armstrong’s Speech Choir and the social club Woodson Harding Comrades. With a degree in English and a minor in French, she taught in Wynne, Arkansas, for one year after graduation during Cliff’s senior year at Harding. Four years after their first encounter, Cliff graduated, and less than two hours later on May 27, 1943, he married Louise in Godden Hall.
Louise is known for her hospitality, love of gardening and willing spirit. She was instrumental in starting the first Girl Scout troop in Searcy in addition to the first PTA at Harding Academy and in the Searcy Public Schools. Cliff and Louise founded Associated Women for Harding in 1965, and she served as president of the Searcy chapter two times. She is a charter member of Greenkeepers Garden Club and served as president. Louise also sponsored Tri-Kappa women’s social club for more than 30 years. In 1978, she received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Harding and was the second woman to receive this honor in the 20-year history of the award. Associated Women for Harding named their endowment in her honor.
Harding graduates Clifton L. Ganus III (’66), Debbie (’72) Duke and Charles Ganus (’76) are their children.
Leah Ann Gentry Burks
In 1961, Leah Gentry moved from Alhambra, Illinois, to Searcy to attend Harding College. She met her future husband, David Burks, while serving as queen for his social club, Beta Phi Kappa. Graduating in 1965 with a degree in English and art, she married David in August. The couple moved from Searcy for graduate school at the University of Texas, and David took a job with Exxon. In 1967, the Burkses returned for David to teach in the College of Business Administration. Leah taught art in Bradford, White County Central in Providence and Harding Academy for several years and later became a stay-at-home mother for their two sons, Bryan and Stephen. She served as president of Associated Women for Harding and is a member of Greenkeepers Garden Club. Leah was a Zeta Rho social club sponsor for more than 30 years. Always willing to help, her homes were part of the annual Tour of Homes to raise funds for scholarships.
Leah is known for her quiet strength, creative spirit and love for her family. She excels in cooking, entertaining and gardening. She enjoys working in her yard and has created a beautiful garden. Her favorite memories of being first lady were traveling and getting to know members of the Harding family throughout the world.
In 2013, the First Ladies Garden was approved by the Harding Board of Trustees as a tribute to Leah Burks and to the other first ladies who graciously served the University. Associated Women for Harding named the Power of Ten Scholarship in her honor.
“To most people at Harding, she will be remembered as a gracious and hospitable first lady for 26 years as the wife of President David Burks. For family and close personal friends, we are honored to know the delightful Christian woman behind the scenes. She loves God’s creation and especially her gardens. At their house they built in Harding Park, she created an oasis in her backyard garden. Growing up on a farm and driving a tractor, her parents, Milburn and Walsie Gentry, taught her the value of hard work which she, in turn, instilled in her children. She loves animals. This started with her pet pig on the farm, continued through all her children’s pets, and finally her dog that she has walked all over Harding’s campus. She loves people. She served as sponsor for the wonderful women of Zeta Rho for many years. She has graciously hosted countless events in her home, where she displays a flair of creativity that came from her days of teaching art. She loves to cook and has a marvelous reputation throughout Searcy and at every church potluck. She has a quick wit and sense of humor that is typically only enjoyed by family. She is a fighter against cancer. With prayers from around the world, God saved her twice from cancer. She is committed to family time. She has supported her husband, nurtured her children, treasured her daughters-in-law, Laura and Jeanne, and spoiled her grandchildren, Emily, Madison, Carter, Weston, Kaley and Caden. Most importantly, she is a committed Christian and a woman of noble character.”
“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her…” Proverbs 31:28.
—Bryan and Stephen Burks
Ann Hutson McLarty
In 1976, Ann Hutson from Ashland, Ohio, came to Harding seeking a nursing degree without ever having been to the campus, or even to the state of Arkansas, until move-in day. During her sophomore year, she met a senior named Bruce McLarty who was a member of her social club, OEGE’s, brother club, King’s Men. In the following months, they shared many meals together in the old Pattie Cobb cafeteria and began dating in December 1977. The next fall, Bruce began his studies at Harding School of Theology in Memphis as Ann started the final two years of Harding’s nursing program. Upon her graduation in 1980, the couple married and moved to their first home in Marks, Mississippi. There, Ann became a nursing supervisor at the Quitman County Hospital while Bruce preached for a small congregation. Their daughter Charity was born during their time in Marks, and their daughter Jessica was born two years later in Memphis. In January 1984, the McLartys moved to Kenya, East Africa, where they served for fifteen months as missionaries. Upon their return to the U.S., they lived in Cookeville, Tennessee, for six years before moving to Searcy in 1991.
While faithfully caring for her family and serving as a minister’s wife, Ann worked for 20 years as a nurse in Harding’s Student Health Center. She always found a special joy in working one-on-one with the students, staff and faculty of the University. In May 2015, she hung up her stethoscope because of the increasing demands of being Harding’s fifth first lady, a role she assumed on June 1, 2013. She hosted frequent Harding events in their home, traveled with her husband throughout the U.S. and around the world, and was involved with both Women for Harding and the Greenkeepers Garden Club. Because of the tremendous impact her grandmother had on her life, Ann finds deep purpose and takes tremendous delight in being “Mommo” to her grandchildren.
The Harding family is excited to celebrate Lisa Williams as Harding's sixth first lady and looks forward to working with her to cultivate plans for her section of the First Ladies Garden.
Other Honored Women
Metta Bankes, the wife of Herbert Bankes of McConnelsville, Ohio, was the maternal grandmother of Harding First Lady Ann McLarty, the youngest of her eight grandchildren. Ann remembers her as a dear and joyous Christian woman who worked hard, served others, boldly shared her faith and tenderly cared for those in need. Though she never traveled to Arkansas and never visited this campus, she often said to her granddaughter, “Annie, I wish you could go down to that little Harding school in Arkansas.” In the fall of 1976, Ann entered Harding as a freshman, much to the joy of Mrs. Bankes. One year later, in October 1977, Ann was called home from Harding to attend the funeral of her beloved grandmother. The plaque stands in celebration of the tremendous Christian influence of grandmothers who pour out their love and prayers in the hope of leading their grandchildren to Jesus. Only God knows how many have influenced their children’s children to come to “that little Harding school in Arkansas.”
Hazel Barbara Snider Beene
The outdoor classroom is dedicated in honor of two magnolias: Hazel Barbara Snider Beene and Margaret Ann Dempsey Duke.
Hazel Barbara Snider Beene was born in Buckner, Arkansas, in 1917. She attended Magnolia A&M and graduated from the University of Arkansas with a bachelor’s degree in home economics in 1939. She was a home demonstration agent in Southwest Arkansas. She contributed a lifetime of service to her church where she taught Sunday school. She transported many children to church on Sunday mornings long before bus ministries became popular. Her children, Willis, Barbara Duke and Emmalee Gregory, were not allowed to go outside and play on Saturdays until they could recite their memory verses for Bible class. She admired God's beauty in flowers and was a member of the Magnolia Garden Club, often demonstrating her talents by creating and designing floral arrangements for weddings and other important life events for her friends and neighbors. Hazel's favorite flowers were camellias, magnolia blossoms azaleas and roses. Her husband, Dr. Herace Beene, was a member of the National Camellia Society and raised several varieties. One of her favorite scriptures was found in Proverbs 31. "Her children shall rise up and call her blessed: her husband also, and he praises her." She always sought to live a life that others could respect and admire; she wanted to be an inspiration to those God placed in her care.
Eva McGuffey Brackett
The Secret Garden is dedicated in honor of Eva McGuffey Brackett (1914-2007). She was born in Hal's Gap, Kentucky, and lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Vero Beach, Florida. Her life with her husband, Robert Austin "Bob" Brackett, was centered on raising five sons. In 1948, Bob and Eva founded the Vero Beach Church of Christ in their tiny living room. Because of their faith and God's blessings, the congregation continues to be a vibrant community that loves God, people and serving others. When Eva was 42, her life changed dramatically after her husband was killed in a train accident. Three of their sons were grown and serving in the U.S. Army, but she still had a five-year-old and a 13-year-old to raise at home. She had never worked outside of the home but took a job at a drugstore working behind the lunch counter, making sandwiches and operating the soda fountain. Her strong work ethic was noticed by a local banker, and she was hired as a teller at First Federal Savings and Loan. Her sons inherited her work ethic, sense of humor and faith. Living 51 years as a widow, Eva Brackett's legacy is an example of a faithful, loving wife and mother who overcame adversity. Her greatest accomplishments were her five sons who chose to live God-fearing lives as simple New Testament Christians. They became church leaders serving as elders, deacons, preachers, missionaries and Christian camp leaders. Though quiet and unassuming, her influence for good continues to permeate the lives of scores of descendants and extends into several states and foreign countries. The Secret Garden represents her love for God, nature, children and hope for future generations to know and follow Jesus.
Margaret Ann Dempsey Duke
The outdoor classroom is dedicated in honor of two magnolias: Hazel Barbara Snider Beene and Margaret Ann Dempsey Duke.
Margaret Ann Dempsey Duke was born in Waldo, Arkansas, in 1921. She was a homemaker, devoted wife, Christian and mother. She was dedicated to serving her church where she taught children's Bible classes and often made visits to the ill and shut-ins. She was a charter member of the Magnolia Associated Women for Harding. Her three sons, Tim, Steve and Jim attended Harding, and she and her husband, Albert, were original members of the President's Council. They were generous supporters of Christian education and the Southern Christian Children's Home, often hosting the children in their home during summer vacations. Margaret appreciated wild birds and flowers, especially red roses, for their beauty and simplicity. Her motto was "things will never make you happy.” She believed in the principles of Romans 8 that “all things work for the good of those who love God and have been called according to His purpose.”
Sue Locke Holland
Sue Holland (1921-2005) was a beloved member of the Holland and Waller families. Known as “G.G. Sue” by her great-grandchildren, her influence still resonates today through her many professional accomplishments and the impact she had on her loved ones.
Sue was always drawn to children and education. She began teaching in Arkansas when she was only 16. She went on to receive a master’s degree in library science at a time when women rarely participated in graduate-level educational programs. She retired from both the Arkansas and Texas public school systems. Her students were her Christian mission of influence. When it was time for her children to attend college, Sue and her husband, Wasson, sent their two daughters to Harding. Providing her children a Christian education was of paramount importance to her. This began a long tradition of involvement at Harding University. Along with their two daughters, their three grandchildren attended Harding. Her great-grandchildren have visited the campus several times and look forward to attending in the future.
Her professional accomplishments and convictions regarding Christian education only tell half of her story. Sue was a Christian woman who boldly shined her light for Jesus. Sue had a magnetic personality, a deep love and concern for others, and a happy demeanor despite several life-changing tragedies suffered throughout her lifetime. Sue was joyful in all things, quick to laugh and inclusive of others. She counted many people as family regardless of blood relation. She gave much of her resources and time to the Church and could usually be found planning or participating in various church activities and outreach ministries. She was a woman of faith who loved others more than herself.
Her grandchildren remember her as being the coolest grandmother. She was widely known for her impeccable sense of fashion and her passion for travel. She prided herself as having visited all 50 states and numerous countries. Sue was deeply devoted to her family. When her first grandchild was born, Sue paraded a poster-size photo of Hayley up and down the aisles at church; she had waited a long time. When Sue was battling cancer and knew the end of her life was near, she drew great comfort from the Scriptures on how our influence will live on through future generations. Indeed, her great-grandchildren are being brought up in the Christian faith. As her family looks back and remembers Sue’s joy and light, we reflect on a life well-lived.
“Her children arise and call her blessed” Proverbs 31:28.
Suzanne Holland (’71) Waller, Karen Holland (’73), David Waller (’96), Lynsay Waller (’00) Brautnick and Whitney Waller (’03) Bielefeld
Lou Dugger Lawyer
Originally from Hillsboro, Texas, Lou Dugger (1927-2015) arrived on the Harding campus as a freshman in 1944. She met and fell in love with Virgil Lawyer ('46), and after graduation they married in 1947. With great encouragement from George and Sallie Benson, the couple moved to Japan and served for five years as missionaries where they established Ibaraki Christian College and High School. In 1961, they returned to Searcy with three daughters, Lauren (’72) Reese, Andee (’76) Cone and Jan (’78) Underwood, and devoted their lives to serving others.
Lou taught fifth grade at Searcy Public Schools for 23 years. Her dry wit, sharp intelligence and huge heart made a lasting impact on her students, family and friends. Lou had a way of making people feel like it was a good thing they were born and their presence was the most important part of her day. She was noble, hospitable, godly, devoted, elegant and even a bit feisty. When she said Virgil's name, it was spoken with love and a southern accent that rolled into five syllables. She was a great example of a loving wife who cared for her husband throughout their 65 years of marriage. She deeply loved her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and made sure the in-laws knew they were loved, too. Every grandchild was made to feel like he or she was the most special, and the granddaughters-in-law and grandson-in-law were each made to feel like they were the most perfect catch. She never had a cell phone, computer, dishwasher, microwave or the internet and lived a happy life. Her greeting cards were legendary. Lou created a little heaven on Earth at 35 Harding Drive that included iced tea and delicious food. She loved God, her family and friends and knew that was all that really mattered.
Charlotte Dykes Pigg
The Serendipity Garden is dedicated in honor of Charlotte Dykes Pigg (1933-2008). A dedicated Bible scholar committed to Christian education, Charlotte devoted her life to teaching women of all ages about Christ. She is best known for her gentle wisdom, humility and keen insight delivered with humor and generosity so that it could be readily received and taken to heart. She loved the definition of serendipity and embraced the act of finding something valuable or delightful when one is not looking for it.
As a young girl, Charlotte always wanted to attend Harding and become an educator, walking in her parents' footsteps. Harding was not in her early future, but she earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in English from Rice University, a master’s degree in English from Oklahoma State University, and a doctorate in English literature from the University of Houston. A member of Delta Kappa Gamma, Charlotte taught English at Oklahoma State University, University of New Mexico, San Jacinto Junior College and the University of Houston.
A life-long learner and artist, her true passion was service through teaching and creating. Whether it was quilting, literature or biblical texts, she helped her students stretch and grow, delighting when they opened new doors of self-discovery. To Charlotte, every moment was teachable.
She prepared many young minds to receive a Christian education and worked diligently to ensure that her three children and three grandchildren were afforded the opportunity to attend Harding. Later in life she was able to move to Searcy and become a part of the Harding community, where she founded the quilting group PINS to support Women for Harding in providing Christian education opportunities for new generations.
Charlotte was married to Orvis Pigg for 51 years, and together they raised three very grateful little Piggs in a loving environment full of song, laughter and learning. She was an accomplished singer, writer and designer of beautiful clothing, stained glass pieces and quilts.
If she had one word of advice to offer, it would be to read and live Romans 12. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." Romans 12: 1-2
Patricia Fillingim Bell Schang
Beloved mother of Matt Bell (’87), David Bell (’92) and Lee Bell (’91).
As a young single mother, Patricia devoted her life to the Lord and to her sons. She believed in the importance of putting God first. As a role model, she practiced a strong work ethic and taught her sons to strive for excellence in whatever they were doing. A Christian education at Harding was very important to her. Pat worked hard and made sacrifices so her boys could have more opportunities. Her greatest achievement is her Christian legacy through her sons who are all Harding graduates.
Mary Cecil Stout Shores
Cecil was the eighth of nine children born to Donald Creath and Melinda Elizabeth Stout, homesteaders in western Oklahoma. She met Carl Shores at church, and they were united in marriage on February 14, 1930.
Carl and Cecil Shores ran a hardware business together while raising two sons, Don and Eddy. Cecil was a homemaker and an elder’s wife. She taught Bible classes and kept their home open and welcoming to everyone at all times. The description of a worthy woman in Proverbs 31 describes her well. Cecil was compassionate, encouraging and cheerful, an energetic servant of God who put others first.
One of her favorite verses was I Thessalonians 4:11-12, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
Cecil had a special love for her flowers, her vegetable garden and being outdoors. In her lifetime she planted many seeds, but the greatest seeds she planted were the seeds of the word of God which are still blooming in her children, her five grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and 15 great-great-grandchildren. Carl and Cecil Shores tragically died together in a car accident on September 18, 1971. Cecil is now enjoying one of her favorite songs, “Where the Roses Never Fade.”
Bessie May Quarles Smelser
One fall morning in 1943, a young coed boarded a train in Nashville, Tennessee, and settled in for a life-changing trip to a school she had only heard about — Harding College. President George Benson arranged for a car to meet her in Kensett, and minutes later she arrived on campus to begin what she fondly referred to as “the best years of her life.” Working her way through school as Harding’s telephone switchboard operator, Bessie May was never homesick until she left her beloved alma mater. From then on, the Christian college near the foothills of the Ozarks held her heartstrings.
Bessie May (1923-2013) was born in Nashville, Tennessee, where she earned an associate degree at Lipscomb College in 1943 before going on to Harding College, were she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1945, graduating magna cum laude. She married O'Neal Smelser in 1947. The couple made their home in Florence, Alabama, where they raised six children. If any of those children ever asked if they had to go to church, Bessie May would always reply: “You do not have to go to church; you get to go.” She consistently reached out to those in need, whether it was the child she adopted, a visitor who needed a place to stay or a stray cat that wandered her way.
Bessie May long taught international students through the World Bible School curriculum and taught Sunday school classes until a few weeks before her death at age 90. She and her husband truly agreed with Alexander Campbell that schools and churches “go hand in hand in the progress of Christian civilization.” Sacrificial living enabled the Smelsers to pay tuition at Christian schools for a total of 105 student years, and as a result of their godly influence, their descendants have participated in mission efforts in 25 countries and helped establish Tanzania Christian Academy.
Reflecting on her formative time at Harding College, Bessie May wrote: “I hated to leave! Time moves us on.” Though time does move us on, the impact of lives like Bessie May’s is eternal.
Linda Byrd Smith
We honor the life and example of a magnificent nana, mother, mother-in-law, wife, sister, friend, seeker, and above all, Christian. Linda Byrd Smith has lovingly inspired many through her profound stories of the everyday lives of others. She has been a zealously nurturing mentor for those young and old, rich and poor, and those navigating all walks of life. Linda has created beautiful rich memories that leave lasting impressions on all those she encounters. Bestowing blessings mark her legacy as she has connected many souls through HIStory.
The Linda Byrd Smith Museum of Biblical Archaeology is located on the first floor of the McInteer Center for Bible and World Missions on Harding’s campus. With more than 100 artifacts displayed, the museum can be used as a resource for students to provide context and help them better understand their biblical studies. The museum showcases items such as storage jars, perfume bottles, coins, weapons, wineskins, excavation tools, explanations of ceramic typology and carbon dating, and a timeline from 2000 B.C. to 700 A.D. Her passion for history and Christian education made these resources accessible to the Harding family.
Linda has been joyful in marriage to her forever companion, joyfully devoted to her children and grandchildren, a joyful and tireless teacher, and a joyful servant of Jesus Christ.
“Pursue the joy of living in constant awareness of God’s presence,
see others with His eyes, see Him in others,
love others with His love, serve those in need
by reflecting His love for all and reflecting His love in all you do.”
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him…” Romans 15:13
Joella Yurcho Waller
Joella Waller (1914-1997) is one of the thousands of mothers who devoted their lives and sacrificed to benefit their children. She found herself a widow with a young child far away from family. The church became her family, and she later remarried and had two more children.
Although her family had limited resources, Joella was generous with her time and resources. She always bought merchandise from young men selling door-to-door because other mothers had bought from her sons when they needed to make money for school. Later, when she was living on a fixed income, she was urged by her family to limit her contributions to the numerous mail solicitations from charity groups. Her response was, “Why should I stop giving to others? The Lord has not stopped giving to me.”
She knew that being a disciple of Christ and education were the keys to a better life, so she made sure that the church was central to her family’s daily lives and involved herself in her children’s schools to ensure that they received the best education. When it concerned the church or her children, Joella was the first to volunteer. She is probably best remembered for her fantastic cooking and her incessant working for others and volunteering her husband, Rolf, to help. Even in her later years, she was constantly checking on and helping care for her neighbors who were no longer in a position to take care of themselves. She would simply see the need and step in to fulfill it, often taking on responsibilities that others were not willing to do. She was always working with a heart of service to the Lord. She simply did not know how to be still when there was a need waiting to be filled.
Christian education became her focus when a Christian school opened in Shreveport, Louisiana, where she lived. She sponsored fundraising activities throughout the year and worked closely with the school. Harding was the culmination of her desire that her children receive an education grounded in Christian values. Two of her children and four of her grandchildren graduated from Harding, and the first of her great-grandchildren is now enrolled. Her legacy of humble service and generosity to the Lord and others lives in the lives of her children and future generations.
“For He has looked with favor on the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed.” Luke 1:48.
— Larry Yurcho (’66), Rodney Waller (’71), Betsy Yurcho (’93) McKinlay, David Waller (’96), Lynsay Waller (’00) Brautnick, Whitney Waller (’03) Bielefeld and Trent Yurcho (’17)