Educations Well Lived

John_3Monday’s celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day may be bittersweet for a special family in Coker College’s family.

For the six daughters of Thelma “Bonnie” and John Richardson, the national holiday would have marked the 70th wedding anniversary of their extraordinary parents, political forces each in their own rights, who passed away earlier this winter. Bonnie died Nov. 29, John died Dec. 26.

The teenaged daughters of Dr. Ben and Thelma Ingram, Bonnie and her sister Clara moved to Hartsville in 1941. Their father had received an appointment as a professor of religion at Coker College.

While the young women were growing up and learning about the world, he was helping to change the college, joining with his colleagues in a commitment to ensure that every Coker student would learn to recognize her (and soon his) responsibility to appreciate and serve that world.

Dr. Ingram helped create, and was one of the first to teach, the college’s beloved Civilization Curriculum. The program was described as “a survey of man’s culture and civilization from its beginning to contemporary times,” and it was intended to help students relate themselves “sympathetically and intelligently to the solutions of the problems of contemporary life.” The course was instituted in 1946 (the same year that Coker became a co-ed institution) and continues to influence the academic program today. In fact, the college’s current Trans4mations program–a four-year sequence of curricular and co-curricular experiences unique to Coker–builds from the solid foundation of the Civilization Curriculum.

After high school, Bonnie and Clara enrolled at Coker. Bonnie graduated from Coker in 1945, the same year that she married John. She continued on to earn a masters degree in counseling at George Washington University.

Clara graduated from Coker College in 1947, married Harold Gandy, and went on to earn a Ph.D., to teach at Coker, and, in 1983, to be honored with the academic rank of professor emerita of history and social studies.

A paratrooper in World War II and a Harvard-trained attorney, John’s early career was based in Wall Street, first as a lawyer and later as and investment banker. Over the years, as his career took a number of fascinating turns, the couple stayed together, raised a large family, and created an adventure that would involve world travel and the skillful application of transformative talents of every sort: creativity, sophistication, cultural awareness, diplomacy, perseverance, bravery, and, perhaps most importantly, an open mind and a willingness to get involved.

The Richardson’s stories are now published widely – from the this week’s obituary in the Washington Post and the tribute on the web site of Youth For Understanding to numerous papers around the nation, and the timing seems exquisite.

On Monday, we honor Dr. King, whom Bonnie helped during the game-changing effort at the Bronxville (NY) Hospital that began 50 years ago this month and ended 55 days later with a legislature that was persuaded to enact change. In Dr. King, as in the Richardson’s and the Ingram’s and Coker College and in every individual who commits to understanding the world more fully, hope for compassion and reconciliation is manifest.

To celebrate the sweetness of difference and alliance, I’ve made Lime Cooler Cookies – fabulous butter cookies glazed with bold, Southern tang.

Come and get ’em!
Happy Friday.

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P.S. Some of the details of this piece were drawn from “In Quest of Excellence: A History of Coker College on its Centennial,” by Provost Emeritus Malcolm C. Doubles, who served as dean of the faculty and provost from 1976 to 1997 and was named a distinguished professor of Biblical and international studies. I think I have related the events correctly but, if not, where I’ve stumbled, I hope he and others will assist. I’m eager to learn more about our stories. They fascinate me.

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