Wayland alum pays it forward

February 20, 2013

PLAINVIEW — A goal 53 years in the making came to fruition for Wayland Baptist University alum Dr. Bob Frye and his wife, Alice, when the couple dedicated an endowed scholarship in honor of former Wayland professor Dr. Sherman Neff. The dedication was held Tuesday in the Harley Redin Hall of Honor at Hutcherson Center and allowed Frye to simultaneously recognize another one his mentors, Coach Redin.

Frye graduated from Wayland in 1961 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and then went on to Purdue University to get his master’s degree. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Tennessee and served for more than 30 years as a faculty member in the English Department at Texas Christian University, where he now is Professor Emeritus.

Dr. Estelle OwensWith that background, Wayland Director of Donor Relations Hope English addressed the Fryes’ decision to endow a scholarship at Wayland as she welcomed the crowd of friends to the dedication, pointing out that there was any number of other institutions that could have benefited from the couple’s generosity.

“For you to choose to do the scholarship where you started says so much about you,” she told Frye, adding, “It is the perfect example of the power of a mentor and then the gratitude of a mentee that has the opportunity to pay it forward someday.”

As Frye addressed the crowd he talked about mentors, citing two. One was Neff, for whom the scholarship was named. The other was longtime benefactor and retired coach Harley Redin. Frye explained that the two worked in concert to help a young man with no resources get an education.

As a young teenager, Frye was allowed by Redin to be a manager for the Wayland Pioneer basketball team. However, once he was out of high school, Frye said, he had no intention of going to college because he had no money. Redin sent then-head coach Ed Billings to offer the young man a basketball scholarship but problems arose when Frye told the coach that he was planning to marry his sweetheart, Alice Swanner.

“He frowned and said there was a rule against players being married but he would check with Coach Redin. He did, and Coach Redin, as athletic director, waived the rule,” Frye said, adding that he learned several years later that the Pioneers actually did not have any available scholarships. Redin had used a scholarship “left over” from the school’s women’s team, the Flying Queens.

“That momentous turning point . . . has transformed my life,” Frye said, because it led him to Neff.

“Dr. Neff invited me to enroll in his honors class of freshmen English and rather early in the semester asked me to come to his office. He told me he thought I ought to work toward a Ph.D. in English. I did not even know what a Ph.D. was, but I said, ‘Yes sir.’ ”

Neff came to Wayland after a long and distinguished career with the English department at the University of Utah, where he served as the department chair. He came to Wayland in 1955 and taught at the school until 1965. Neff received a master’s degree from Yale in 1909, a second master’s degree in 1911 from Harvard and a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1916.

In the inscription on the endowed scholarship plaque that will be on display at Wayland, Frye explained that “Dr. Neff was compassionately demanding, invariably supportive, always inspiring.”

Frye explained that Neff’s interest in and influence upon the young scholar went well beyond his years as a student at Wayland. In fact, he said, when the possibility arose that Frye’s three-year doctoral fellowship could expire before he completed his dissertation, Neff loaned his student sufficient money — interest free and with no firm repayment schedule — to complete the degree.

Frye said after he got his faculty position at TCU, “with degree in hand,” he focused on paying back Neff for his generous loan.

It was that kind of friendship and support that led the Fryes to commit to funding a scholarship in Neff’s name.

“We are pleased to have some part in honoring his memory,” said Frye, who in 1993 was named Wayland’s Distinguished Alumni..

As part of the dedication, Dr. Cindy Marlow McClenagan, dean of the School of Languages and Literature, addressed the Fryes and thanked them for their generosity, as did current English major and 2013 Miss Wayland Amanda Page. Page told of her grandfather facing the prospect of having to quit school to work during the Depression only to have a teacher step up and pay for him to continue.

“I think what you are doing is inspirational to someone like me,” she said.

McClenagan pointed out that the scholarship — and the story behind it — were not just an inspiration to the students but to the faculty, as well.

“I would like to very simply and very sincerely say on behalf of the School of Languages and Literature, the faculty of the School of Language and Literature, that we greatly, greatly appreciate your donation in honor of Dr. Neff. Not only have you created a scholarship that will help worthy students year after year after year, but you’ve done so in honor of a faculty member, in honor of an English professor. We can all hope that perhaps at some point in our careers we might somehow inspire students as Dr. Neff obviously inspired and assisted you,” she said.

The scholarship will benefit English majors and minors at Wayland.