One of the strange things about having a long-standing but not continuous family attachment to a place is that isn’t always clear what is genuinely one’s own feelings and what is derived from my loved ones’ relationships with the community.
As some of you know, my family goes a ways back at Sewanee and on the plateau, but not nearly so far as many of you. Both my grandfather and father were both deeply devoted to and touched by this community. I had a childhood experience here, then a long time away, then a return about five years ago. My mother is here now. Caring for her is part of my life in this place, much as she once cared for me here.
So how, then, do I belong here? I have to say that the South Cumberland Community Fund, in whose launch I was not involved, but on whose voyage I sail along, has been one of the defining networks through which I have found purpose and connections of my own. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to invest myself in the Fund, and I am proud, as chair of the board, to speak to the purpose of our gathering here today.
The Community Fund is four and a half years old. (Half years are important only in defining the age of children, and we are still very young. Not being so young myself, I find in my association with the Fund a way to recapture the inexhaustible joy and immeasurable anxieties of being a child again!!) We are here to celebrate, as exuberantly as possible, the blessing of creating and sustaining the Community Fund and bearing witness to its good works.
In deciding to make a public occasion of this celebration, we were challenged to reflect on origins and energies that have defined the Fund and acknowledge the “but for them, we would be naught” status of the prime benefactors of our burgeoning institution. Today we honor two families who knew, loved, led, and built this community before the Community Fund was a gleam in anyone’s eye.
These two families, as a pair, are bookends, champions and legends in the northeast and the southwest borders of the plateau.
Bob Ayers, unquestionably, restored the University during his term as Vice Chancellor, often working against the grain of tradition that protected the core mission of teaching and learning, but neglected the necessary labor of sustaining the buildings (and salaries) that enabled the pursuit of that mission. It is no stretch of the truth to say that Sewanee would not now be able or inclined to engage the larger community if its own foundations had not been shored up and built upon by both Bob and Pat. As we at the Community Fund have learned, raising money for the places and enterprises you love is not always a lovely enterprise itself. It’s darn hard work, and we look to the Ayers family for inspiration, just as we thank them for the truly extraordinary financial investments of their own in the Community Fund.
Howell and Madeline Adams, working without an institutional base, with no model other than what came from their own fertile imaginations, literally founded, through their generosity, a tradition of patient philanthropy where it was so greatly needed. Their philanthropy spread beyond the Adams home community in Beersheba (and Lord knows how many Adams homes there ARE in Beersheba) to the highland region that had, for generations of their family, served as the secret, sacred place of family reunion. It thereby served as a model for thinking about home and place when the South Cumberland Community Fund was being conceived, so we look to the Adams family, no less than the Ayers family, for inspiration and guidance, just as we thank them for the truly extraordinary financial investments of their own in this new enterprise.
Let me conclude with this story. I am told that these two families had never met until a couple of years ago—and that it was the Community Fund that provided the nexus that drew them together in mutual appreciation of work well done on this mountain, work that demanded love in equal measure to sweat. Today we are honored to bring them back together, noting that their stories illustrate how even broadly engaged public figures can be shaped by the traditions of isolation that has long characterized our communities. Through their meeting, we remind ourselves how vital it is that the Community Fund focus on and help create the UNITY in COMMUNITY.
I call upon you folks to do a public hugging to lift our spirits and allow us to say to you, as one, THANK YOU, AND MAY BLESSINGS ALWAYS BE UPON YOUR HEADS.
And may there be an unending flow of benefactors, gifted with your genius and generosity, to invest in the South Cumberland Community Fund.