By David Halbrook. Pictures by Art Cox.
Patrick Henry College
A full audience in the Barbara Hodel Student Life Center awaits the start of the dedication ceremony
As the United States Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps marched out of the gymnasium to rousing applause, PHC President Dr. Graham Walker stood at the podium, officially launching the dedication of the new Barbara Hodel Center. “Welcome in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ to one of the most significant events in the history of this College,” he began. “Barbara Hodel’s faith and courage in Christ our Lord has made this day possible.”
With Barbara Hodel sitting in the front row with her husband, Don, what followed was a glowing, one-and-a-half-hour tribute to the woman whose early, ardent support helped sustain the College through its first decade. Having cut the ribbon to officially dedicate PHC nearly ten years earlier at the College’s founding in 2000, Mrs. Hodel watched Saturday’s proceedings from her wheelchair, two years after a fall at her Colorado home left her mostly paralyzed. Yet the strong spirit of a woman Dr. Farris described as “spunky and delightful, with a twinkle in her eye and a song in her heart,” dominated an afternoon given over, in dramatic fashion, to music and prayer and testimonies of God’s faithfulness.
On hand to celebrate Mrs. Hodel and the completion of the $33 million Center bearing her name were some 1,000 students, alumni, families, guests and assorted dignitaries, gathered to bear witness to a life filled with faith, service, and courage.
College founder and Chancellor Dr. Michael Farris reminisced on his first impressions of Mrs. Hodel, joking that “to know Don is to love Barbara,” and citing her “wealth of experience in leadership positions” working alongside Don in countless government and ministry posts as integral to the College’s early success.
Don Hodel helps wife Barbara as the two sing a hymn to God
“The reason this building is named after Barbara is because of what I saw that day,” Dr. Farris recalled. “She had a breathing tube, and yet there was joy radiating from her countenance. She could not move, yet her contentment was palpable. Because of her breathing tube she couldn’t talk audibly, but she still mouthed words, and her sense of humor was as lively and as spunky as ever. I knew right there that I was in the presence of a spiritual giant. If ever I felt as if I was standing on sacred ground, it was that day in that hospital room in Denver.
“I hope her spirit will speak to our students in the years to come,” he added, “to love God, to have faith in God, when the storms of life come. Barbara, it is our privilege to share this day with you.”
Introducing Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, Dr. Farris credited the keynote speaker’s early books and radio broadcasts with spurring his decision, with wife Vickie, to pursue homeschooling in 1982. He also credited Dr. Dobson, indirectly, with heralding the need and early vision for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which advocates nationally on behalf of homeschool families.
Observed Dr. Farris: “Dr. Dobson told America that God has something to say in every part of our lives.”
In a winsome, relaxed 30-minute address, Dr. Dobson spun tales and shared anecdotes both hilarious and somber, recounting his childhood, life and ministry, and taking time to acknowledge the many of the heroes of his faith. Among these were his father, James, a noted preacher in his own right, and Don and Barbara Hodel. He recalled how he and Don, who served as Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan, shared a love of basketball and played pick-up games in the basement gym of the Interior Department prior to Don coming to Focus in 2003 to serve as an unpaid President and CEO.
Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and keynote speaker for the dedication of the Hodel Center
Addressing the Hodels directly, he said, “Barbara, I love you more than you can possibly know. I’ve watched the two of you and your love for each other from a distance. Through the hardships, you’ve not yielded to despair but hung on to each other through the hard times.” The crowd rose in a standing ovation.
Segueing into comical anecdotes about his own wife Shirley’s challenges with technology, he shared one side-splitting episode about her futile attempts to find a “ringing cell phone in a crowded movie theater.” It was an analogy Dobson used to speak pointedly to PHC students and alumni about God’s call on their lives.
“Who will answer the call?” he asked, recounting his own father’s turbulent youth, when, as a talented and aspiring young artist his dad initially resisted God’s explicit call to ministry. Whereas his father later answered that call, following a hard season of defiance, and embarked on a flourishing ministry, Dobson reflected on the tragedy of those who turn deaf ears to the “cell phone ring” of God’s call on their own lives. Had his father persisted, he said, he would have missed the privilege of winning “tens of thousands of people to the Lord,” as he did in years to come.
Sharing his reflections following the death of friend, evangelist, and mega-church pastor D. James Kennedy, Dobson asked who among today’s youth would step up to fill the shoes of a passing generation of spiritual leaders like Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Adrian Rogers, Billy Graham, and Pat Robertson.
Calling a New Generation
“The question is will the younger generation heed the call?” he asked. “Who in the next generation will be willing to take the heat, when it’s so much safer and more comfortable to avoid controversial subjects? Who is going to defend traditional morality in a culture sliding into moral decline? Who will call sin by its name and lead the nation to holiness?
“I pray that the Lord will anoint a new generation, some of the best and the brightest of whom are in this room – a new generation of Jim Kennedy’s, courageous men and women who will not waver an inch in the defense of truth. I believe we’re going to see these leaders emerge in the next few years and that the mantle handed down from my respected and beloved friend and others, will be received and cherished by those who are willing to die if necessary for what they believe.
Barbara Hodel cuts the ribbon of the Barbara Hodel Student Life Center, with help of husband Don (L), as (from L to R) PHC President Dr. Graham Walker, Dr. James Dobson, and PHC Chancellor Dr. Michael Farris look on
As Dr. Dobson stepped away, Don and Barbara Hodel went before the crowd and shared how Barbara, upon touring the new Center, kept repeating, “Gosh, I can’t believe it. It’s so beautiful.”
Don beckoned Shirley Dobson forward, where, together with a dozen or so friends, trustees, and guests, they laid hands on and prayed for Barbara. Dr. Farris concluded the ceremony in prayer: “We dedicate not only this building but also ourselves to Your service, Lord, and we ask You to raise up those who will conquer the giants in the land and answer the call for Christ and for liberty.”
The audience filed out of the full gymnasium for a final ribbon-cutting ceremony that saw Barbara, with husband Don’s assistance, once again taking up scissors to officially christen the new campus life center. In the end there lingered, among some present, a reassuring sense that a mantle had indeed been passed from one generation to the next, calling forth a courageous new leadership. It may have felt to others as if a new era had dawned at Patrick Henry College, a day borne of God’s faithfulness and mirrored in a stunning, classically-styled, 106,000 square-foot campus life center raised to serve these “new numbers for Christ,” and honoring the remarkable life of a beloved friend.