Fifty-eight years after starting at SBU widowed businesswoman gets degree - Word&Way

Fifty-eight years after starting at SBU widowed businesswoman gets degree

By Jennifer Harris
Word&Way News Writer

A love of music led Berniece Hamilton to begin college in 1950. Passion for learning drove her to complete her college degree 58 years later through Southwest Baptist University’s Lebanon campus.

On May 17, Hamilton walked across the stage at SBU to receive her bachelor’s degree in applied science in Christian ministry.

“Wedding bells came before school bells,” Hamilton said at a recent SBU trustee meeting. She has been a trustee for four years.

After two semesters at what was then South­west Baptist College, she married her high school sweetheart and devoted herself to family life.

She used her background in organ and voice to direct music at Antioch Baptist Church in Lebanon.

The couple bought a farm southeast of Lebanon, which included land once owned by her great-grandfather, George Wood.

The Hamiltons began raising beef cattle. Her husband died in 1973, but she continues to operate the 600-acre farm with 100 head of cattle.

“Berniece Hamilton is a remarkable lady,” said SBU president C. Pat Taylor. “Not only does she own and operate a cow and calf operation, serve as a trustee and remain highly involved in her church and other numerous organizations, but she took the time to complete a degree, which is just amazing.”

Hamilton began taking classes again when SBU opened the Lebanon center in the 1980s. Once a week, professors would drive to Lebanon from the Bolivar campus. She took one three-hour class at a time, sometimes taking classes she didn’t need to help fulfill the 10-person minimum needed to keep a class.

“I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything,” she said. “I am grateful that SBU came to me. I never could have done this if I’d had to commute.”

“Berniece was a delightful student,” said Rodney Reeves, dean of the Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry at SBU.

“She loves to learn, thoroughly enjoys engaging new ideas and is a very committed student,” Reeves added. “As a matter of fact, Berniece enjoyed her studies so much, she constantly encouraged other students in the Lebanon area to attend classes with her.

“Indeed, due to Berniece’s enthusiasm and determination, SBU’s Lebanon center helped many students receive an education who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to study…. Oh that I would have two dozen Berniece Hamiltons in every classroom.”

Another of her professors, Bing Bayer, Old Testament and Hebrew, described Hamilton as “serious, committed to knowing the Scriptures accurately, teachable, fun, willing to follow God’s leading in her life.”

Hamilton is still actively involved at her church, where she plays piano, helps with church choirs and works with TeamKid. “God has been with me through all the ups and downs of life,” she said. “Trust the Lord.”