Rev. Williams '43 provides seven decades of support to alma mater

Release Date: 10/15/2013

The Rev. Bruce H. Williams, a distinguished 1943 graduate, wants to help ensure that today's Ozarks students have the same opportunity that he had as a graduate of University of the Ozarks.

The  Rev. Bruce H. Williams and the  Rev. Tracy Julian Williams

The Rev. Bruce H. Williams, a 1943 graduate of Ozarks, and his second wife, the Rev. Tracy Julian Williams, recently established the Virginia Laster Williams and Bruce H, Williams Endowed Scholarship in memory of Williams' late wife.

Williams and his late wife Virginia Laster Williams '43 were long-time supporters of Ozarks, dating back to the 1950s. Virginia passed away in 2011 and in 2013 Bruce Williams established the Virginia Laster Williams and Bruce H. Williams Endowed Scholarship to help Ozarks students receive the same quality education that allowed him to accomplish so much.

Williams, who turned 93 in August, lives in West Columbia, Texas, with his second wife, the Rev. Tracy Julian Williams.

Originally from Sharon Hill, Penn., he left his home to attend what was then College of the Ozarks in the late 1930s. Even 70 years later, Williams fondly remembers arriving at Ozarks.

"When I came to school here, there were three of us young men who came from the Northeast," he said. "One of the other guys owned a Model T Ford Touring car, and we all drove down in that.  I was supposed to take turns driving, but I almost wrecked us and they didn't let me drive anymore after that. It was a long trip. We were three days late getting here, and there was some question about whether or not they would allow us to enroll. Thankfully, the college president, Dr. Wiley Lin Hurie, said yes."

Williams majored in English and minored in religion at Ozarks. He knew early on that he wanted to pursue a career in the ministry and spent some of his time at Ozarks working with local churches.

"There was a group here called the Christians Service Group," Williams explained. "I was a member, and we'd go out to different small towns and teach Bible classes to the local schools. I went to a little town called Montana. It was an old coal-mining town. I also went on Sunday to preach. I'd go out Saturday night and stay with some of the local families and preach on Sunday. I'd hitchhike there and hitchhike back."

During Williams' sophomore year in 1939, Europe entered into World War II. Two years later, when Williams was a senior, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, launching the country into the war.

"Before the war, I earned money to go to college by going to sea as an apprentice seaman during the summers. When the war came, I was naturally interested in the Navy. When the attack on Pearl Harbor came, a number of us went down to Russellville to enlist. I took the enlistment exam, but I couldn't pass the physical. I had to come back three months later and try again. That time I passed, but they wanted me to stay in college and become an officer when I graduated," Williams explained.

After graduating from Ozarks, Williams spent three years in the Navy, serving as an officer during World War II. He left the Navy to attend Princeton Seminary and was ordained in 1949. He was called to serve as a pastor for Buckingham Presbyterian Church in Berlin, Maryland. Founded in the 1680s, Buckingham is one of the original nine Presbyterian churches in America. Williams stayed at Buckingham for three years before returning to the Navy.

For the next 30 years, Williams served as a Navy chaplain. In addition to his time in World War II, Williams served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. He retired from the Navy as a commander in 1975. Afterward, he served as interim and pulpit supply in several churches in Texas as well as a chaplain in the Texas Department of Corrections facility at the Clemons Unit in Brazoria, Texas.

Williams knows what an impact an education can make in a person's life, especially to those who struggle to afford it.

"When I was student, Dr. Hurie heard of this young man in the hills who wanted to go college but didn't have any money. Dr. Hurie recruited this young man and brought him to Ozarks on scholarship," Williams said. "He would tell people that he came to school with 45 cents in his pocket. When he graduated, someone asked him how much money he had. He reached in his pocket and pulled out 45 cents. Ozarks gave him a complete college education, and he basically didn't have to spend a cent."

For that reason, Williams and his late wife, Virginia, made it a point to support their alma mater, even as they were starting their professional careers.

"Virginia and I decided early on that we would give something to Ozarks. In the beginning, it wasn't much. In fact, some of the high school students at the church where I was preaching were making more money than I was. There was not much that I could give, but we started out giving what we could," Williams said.

Sixty years later, Williams and his second wife Tracy want the scholarship they are establishing to serve as a testimony to the appreciation Bruce and Virginia Williams had for Ozarks and to help other students have access to the same opportunities Rev. Williams was afforded.

"When I began college, the Great Depression was still on. Ozarks gave me a chance to become what I always knew I wanted to be at a cost of about $400 over four years," Williams said.

As a member of the Class of 1943, Williams served as secretary of the class from 1978 to 2006 and was recognized in 1993 with the Distinguished Alumni Award.  Together, he and the late Virginia Williams received the 2006 Legacy Award from the Alumni Association.