"UT BSU director balances family role, student work"
Bob Hall stands on a wooded bank, dressed in denim overalls and white sneakers, and grasps a thick vine that trails from a tall tree. With a running start, he swings out high over the damp leaves covering the bank that slopes down to his house below."What a charge!" he exclaims upon landing. "Your turn, Zach." Hall's 9-year-old son takes his swing, his usually straight blond-streaked hair ruffling in the wind.
"We've being doing this all day," Hall admits with an impish grin. "We love it!"
Aside from his role as playmate/father for Zach, 4-year-old son Ethan, and 11-year-old daughter Carey, Hall is director of the Baptist Student Union at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
As many as 1,000 different students participate in the various BSU activities at UT. As director, Hall is responsible administrative duties, the budget, the facilities, and the overall program of the group. He also plans the annual spring SPOTS mission trips for the group.
He does much of his work from his office in the Baptist Student Center. The location of the center, between the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house and the Catholic Student Center on Old Fraternity Row, is somewhat symbolic of Hall's position.
"I have to interface with the administration of a secular institution, communicate with students and communicate religious concerns," says Hall. "I have to be able to speak the language of the church and of academia."
Hall acquired his "academic vocabulary" with his master's and doctoral degrees in administration and supervision, and during his term as associate director of international education, all at UT.
He accepted the position of associate BSU director in 1976, and became director a year later. He was dissatisfied with his previous responsibilities, as he explains, because, although they were necessary, they "didn't help students." Hall prefers his present role in campus ministry explaining "I am in position to help people unconditionally."
Kent Spann, college and career minister at Calvary Baptist Church in Knoxville, attests to Hall's success as a mediator.
"I've never heard a critical word about him," says Spann, noting Hall's compassion for students and a genuine concern for their problems. "And he's well-liked by the students."
"It's exciting to watch students 'begin to breathe,'" says Hall. "By that I mean, to begin to grow and see the world and their religious faith in a new and perhaps more mature way."
Hall encourages that growth when he can.
"He's good at spotting new people and making them feel at home," says graduate student Roger Hale.
BSU Campus Minister Bill Choate, who joined the staff in 1983, says Hall is "an outgoing, positive-thinking person who cares about people. He's also a good sport."
Along with Hall's high regard for people is a staunch refusal to take them too seriously.
"Bob has a habit of bringing up embarrassing things about you in front of as many people as possible," says Hale.
"I think he does it because he knows everybody really likes the attention, deep down, even though it's embarrassing," responds Choate.
Much of Hall's infectious zest for life comes from the two years he and his wife spent as Southern Baptist missionary journeymen in Africa from 1972-74. Hall was headmaster for an educational complex in Nairobi, Kenya. The two also worked to provide famine relief for a nomadic tribe there.
"I remember waking up at 6 a.m. to find little boys going through our garbage outside, looking for food," he reflects. "Dark, brooding images of hunger like this affect you--change you. The whole experience helped me to feel life like I never had before."
Of all the people in Hall's life, "his family comes first," declares BSU secretary Ruth Adams. "Absolutely, no question."
For Hall, it is a matter of priorities. "One of the greatest gifts God gives is our family. It is important to set special moments away for my responsibilities as a father and husband," he says.
Another "labor of love" Hall enjoys is working on his house. He and his wife built it seven years ago out of cut logs using materials they salvaged from various places and restored. The improvements he continues to add to his home provide him both physical activity and a sense of what he calls "closure," which he says is a rare feeling in student ministry because people are "never quite finished."
"With students it's very painful because you have to say goodbye. That's built into the system," Hall comments.
Despite the drawbacks, Hall finds deep fulfillment in his profession.
"I think life grows as we spend it, as we give it away," he says. "It's so amazing to be a Christian and realize how sinful I am and how humble I ought to be compared to God. But it's so paradoxical because the God of the universe loves me, and at the same time I feel terribly humble and unworthy, I also feel incredibly special and gifted and unique."
As daylight slowly fades, Bob Hall gives a nod and a wave in the growing shadows of the trees surrounding his front yard. Then, with a few quick steps and a hop, he plunks a basketball through the net on a pole beside his gravel driveway.
Editor's note: Mark Hall, a student at UT, is not related to Bob Hall.