More than 70 years after attending Chapel services as a student at University of the Ozarks, the Rev. Bruce Williams is giving back to the spiritual heart of the campus.
Bruce, a 1943 graduate of Ozarks, and his wife, the Rev. Tracy Julian Williams, have recently established the Chapel Programming Endowment to “provide support to Chapel programming and spiritual life in keeping with the traditions of the Presbyterian Church (USA).”
Tracy is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Bay City, Texas, and Bruce served in the U.S. Navy for 33 years, 22 as a chaplain, before retiring as a commander in 1975. He later served as a prison chaplain in Texas.
The Williamses said their gift is intended to help the University’s ministerial program in Munger-Wilson Chapel in “reaching out to the campus community with the message of Christianity—hospitality, inclusion, and welcoming of all faiths.”
“This University and this Chapel set me on my way to a career in the ministry and we felt it was the right time to help current students have that same kind of Christian experience,” Bruce said. “Being a former Navy chaplain, we wanted to see a Chapel program that is modeled after the Navy’s program, one that is welcoming to all faiths and religions, but where people can still hold onto their individual beliefs. We believe that is happening here at Ozarks and we wanted to help that to continue.”
The Rev. Jeremy Wilhelmi, the University chaplain, said the endowment will allow more students to be reached through Christian programming.
“A gift like this lets the public know that this University not only cares about the academics but that we want to nurture the whole self,” Wilhelmi said. “It also eliminates some of the barriers on our dreams and goals for spiritual life on campus. We can think bigger and be more creative on how students experience God. More generosity allows us to share more ways for our students to connect to God. That’s important because we all connect differently.”
Tracy said she hopes the gift helps enhance God’s presence at Ozarks.
“At some universities you really have to search for the campus ministry, and that should not be the case,” she said. “God should be the center of our lives and this is our small way of helping to ensure that at Ozarks.”
Bruce said the couple established the endowment so that others might contribute to it.
“We consider ourselves the starters of this endowment, not the authors,” Bruce said. “We want others to contribute and grow this endowment so that we can reach more and more students and to show that God is at work in our midst.”
Bruce also emphasized that supporters of the University do not have to be wealthy.
“My first wife, Virginia, and I decided early on that we would give something to Ozarks each year,” Williams said. “In the beginning it wasn’t much. In fact, some of the high school students at the church where I was preaching were making more money than I was. There was not much that we could give, but we started out giving what we could.”
“I’ve been a nickel and dimer my entire life, and those nickels and dimes have added up. It just goes to show that evey gift counts and that it’s not about the amount but the consistency.”