Archive for Thursday, July 5, 2007

Doudna rolling lucky sevens

July 5, 2007

July 7, or 7/7/07, will hold significance beyond a calendar quirk for Charles Doudna of Baldwin City.

The former Baker University professor turns 100 on Saturday and the university will mark the special occasion with a public reception.

Doudna has spent more than half of those 100 years as a fixture of the Baldwin City community. He and Evelyn, his wife of 67 years, moved to Baldwin City in 1953.

He met Evelyn while serving as a pastor in western Pennsylvania during the 1930s. She was a member of his church, but he noticed she would never attend his church services each week. She would go home after teaching Sunday school classes before the service.

He approached Evelyn about her absences.

"I discovered she wasn't particularly interested in the sermons," he said.

But the two found they enjoyed each other's company and went on frequent bicycle rides. They married in 1939, the same year Doudna earned his doctorate in theology from Yale University.

During World War II, Doudna served as an Army chaplain in France and England. He recalled landing in Normandy 30 days after D-Day -- June 6, 1944 -- and moving eastward across Europe behind the American Army. He said he watched as the Army snuck past German soldiers guarding a bridge that crossed the border from the Netherlands into Germany.

When he came to Baker in 1953, he became a professor and chairman of the philosophy and religion department. He said it took great efforts to acquaint himself with the job.

"Boy, I had to burn the midnight oil," Doudna said.

He taught two courses that all Baker undergraduates were required to take: "The Life and Teachings of Jesus" and "The Philosophy of Life."

Walt Bailey, a recently retired Baker professor of art, knew Doudna as a colleague and took courses from him as an undergraduate at Baker in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

"In both places I found him to be a wonderful, stimulating, thoughtful individual who was challenging and supportive at the same time," Bailey said. "He's just a wonderful man."

Bailey, 66, remembered Doudna's involvement in an art film series at a Baldwin City movie house. He said Doudna would hold discussions with audiences after movie showings, concentrating on the messages and ideas within the films.

"It was a way he was looking to bridge the campus and the community, and to try to stimulate thinking outside the classroom," Bailey said.

Doudna also preached at Edgerton Presbyterian Church after he arrived in Kansas, "somewhat reluctantly," he said. The church lacked a minister, and he agreed to serve as a stopgap. It turned into a longer commitment, though.

"I said I'd preach for a few Sundays, and I ended up staying there for five years," he said.

In 1958, Doudna helped organize Baldwin City's first Maple Leaf Festival -- a big economic draw that continues to be held in October. He also helped found the Santa Fe Trail Historical Society.

He retired from Baker in 1975 but returned in 1977 to teach graduate students part-time for three years. In 1999, Baker inducted him into its Faculty Hall of Fame.

Jerry Weakley, Baker vice president for endowment and planned giving, said Doudna would be the first former Baker faculty member to reach 100 years of age during Weakley's 29 years at the university. Weakley said the university didn't think twice about holding a celebration.

"He's been one of those faculty members who came, they stayed and not only did their job but became part of the environment around them," Weakley said.

The reception, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Collins House on the Baker campus, is free and open to anyone from Baldwin City or Douglas County.

Charles and Evelyn, 95, have lived at Vintage Park in Baldwin City since 2003, after living for more than 50 years in a house that Charles built himself.

Bailey said his most recent conversations with Doudna have been as stimulating and interesting as ever.

"If I live to be 100, if I could only be as clear as he," Bailey said.

Doudna credits his mental clarity to his frequent habits of reading and filling out crossword puzzles. He also said his marriage has helped keep him and Evelyn happy.

"We've never taken anything for granted," he said.

- Intern Matt Erickson can be reached at 832-7221.

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