“Once upon a time, I got off the train from Jacksonville in Wake Forest with a wardrobe trunk, a suitcase and boundless expectations.” Ed Christman
In 1947, Edgar Christman enrolled as a freshman at Wake Forest College in Wake Forest, NC. He came to the campus sight-unseen, having chosen it for its location near his father’s relatives in North Carolina. He had applied to UNC but was not accepted; Wake Forest was his destiny.
Ed planned to major in history and become an attorney. He said, “I always thought I’d be a lawyer. I always wanted to help people through the power of speech, the way a surgeon helps people through the power of his hands.”
Right off the train, Ed made his way to the chapel basement. He had been assigned to live there with 70 other freshmen, including many veterans of World War II. The space was so crowded that one bed was set up in the rafters! After three days, he went to the Housing office to ask for better accommodations. While pleading his case, a young man came in asking if anyone was looking for a room, and Ed said, “Yes!”
Ed then moved into a barracks apartment behind the gym with nine other students, at the rate of $10.50/week and an option for the Delta Sig fraternity meal plan. One of his roommates in the barracks was Bill McIlwain who later became a reporter for the Winston-Salem Sentinel, Newsday, and the New York Times.
Meals were available at the fraternity houses, and he ended up joining Lambda Chi Alpha. Sometimes nicknamed “Skinny,” he was also now called “Ed,” not Edgar. About this he said, “It was a great day when people started calling me Ed, not Edgar.”
Some say Skinny Ed was the model for the Demon Deacon, as portrayed on this cover of The Student magazine in 1950.
Ed was on the debate team, and he also participated in the student legislature, and served on the honor council. He became a member of the Baptist Student Union and served on the NC BSU Council as Vice President. He also ran for student body president. At the time, the fraternities controlled campus politics because they voted as a block. Ed, though a Lambda Chi, ran as an independent. He did not win, but his willingness to stick his neck out ended up breaking the fraternity system. He did later reconcile with his frat brothers and remains a loyal brother.
Ed became a member of the Wake Forest Baptist Church and was baptized by immersion by Pastor J. Glenn Blackburn. Dr. Blackburn was the pastor of the church and also the college chaplain. A compelling preacher with red hair, he was probably the single most influential person in Ed’s sacred journey.
Blackburn recruited Ed as an undergraduate assistant to assist with the college’s chapel services, then twice a week, and work with the Baptist Student Union (BSU). This provided Ed with an entry into preaching and chaplaincy, and it was the foundation for Ed’s call to ministry.
The other highlight of Ed’s undergraduate years started with a routine dinner at the college cafeteria with his friend Henry Miller. Ed went to get coffee and found no one was there to serve him. Then a beautiful, smiling young woman — a new transfer student — saw him waiting and came over to help, handing him a hot cup with no saucer. Ed went back to his table and told Henry that he was going to meet that girl. Turned out, she was Jean Sholar, a roommate of their friend Wilhelmina Bracey. It was Wilhelmina who later introduced Ed to Jean.
And by the way, Ed finished his undergraduate work in three years plus three summers, graduating in 1950 Cum Laude with a BA in History. He then applied to the Wake Forest Law School and was admitted.
At this time, the future of Wake Forest was also unfolding. Plans were being made for Wake Forest College to move from the Wake Forest North Carolina campus to the “Reynolda Campus” in Winston-Salem.
Groundbreaking was held in 1951. Ed and Jean were among the 14 bus loads of students to attend, and he served as one of the ushers. US President Harry Truman attended, turning the first spade of ground and delivering a major policy speech. Ed later reflected on this momentous step taken by Wake Forest College. He said, “By the grace of God, we had as president Harold Tribble — a man who was fearless, who saw the future, who saw us becoming a university. We had the right man for the job in spite of incredible resistance. And he was right.” (Interview with Ellen Dockham, 2003.)
Wake Forest School of Law and Beyond
In the fall of 1950 Ed began law school, rooming with his friend Lonnie B. Williams. In the meantime, his sweetheart Jean Sholar graduated BA Magna Cum Laude in June 1951. They married in December 1952 at the Wake Forest Baptist Church.
Ed loved law school and served as president of the student bar association. He finished third in his class of 1953. He remembered that it was fun to learn the material and to feel challenged — without the high-pressure environment that today’s students encounter.
On the edge of a legal career, however he got a call to a different path, the ministry. In the spring of 1953, Dr. Robert J. McCracken, the pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in New York City, spoke at Religious Emphasis Week at Wake Forest College. During this week, Ed experienced a clear call to the ministry and to attend seminary. He applied to Southeastern Seminary, on the Wake Forest campus, and began in the fall of 1953.
Not one to leave a loose end, Ed took the N.C. bar exam and interviewed for two jobs. This all he needed to do in order to admit to himself that the door to a legal career was now closed. On the third try, he did pass the bar exam and was licensed as an attorney in Wake County, NC, on August 6, 1955, by Dr. I. Beverly Lake.
By this time, he was well into his studies at Southeastern and already working at Wake Forest College part-time as the Baptist Campus Ministry.
Throughout these school years and also at Southeastern, Ed was an excellent student despite his limited vision. He wore heavy, thick reading glasses — but even these were not enough when he began to study Hebrew and Greek during Seminary. He went to an eye doctor in Durham who gave him some glasses with heavy telescopic lens. These glasses were so heavy that he had to use folded Kleenex as pads on his ears to cushion the weight. The skeptical doctor scoffed at Ed’s ambitions given his extremely limited eyesight, and wouldn’t believe he has accomplished his studies without a reader to help him.
Ed commented later, “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it. If you’ve been limited in vision all along, you don’t have anything to feel badly about; it’s your frame of reference. I could have had poor hearing; I could have had one foot. Growing up, I still got to do everything.”
Jean’s Work as a Teacher
Jean taught high school after graduating from Wake Forest. She began with two years at Spring Hope High School. Then she taught for three years at Bunn High School for Principal W.H. Kelly. Principal Kelly recognized Jean’s talents and skills and gave her many responsibilities. For example, she was assigned to work with the cheerleaders, recruiting some of the Wake Forest cheerleaders to help. She was the faculty adviser to the year book and also directed the student plays.
When Ed finished law school and was interviewing for jobs, Jean resigned from her position. When he decided to go to Southeastern instead of getting a job in law, she got a job at Youngsville High School. She found the large classes to be challenging but was gratified by being able to do a good job. Jean remembers the satisfactions of teaching, with many moments of students coming back to say hello.”It was things like this that made me love teaching.”
From 1954 to 1956, Jean attended summer school Duke University and earned an M.A.T. Her roommate and best friend was Mary Partin from Edenton, and they became lifelong soulmates.
Mary Partin: I always admired Jean — she was smart as she could be. We met at Duke in the MAT program. Duke required a lot of studying, but there was also a lot of fun. We were among a group of friends, studying in our carrels all day and then coming out for the dinner break at 5:00. A friendship developed between Jean and me, and we have stayed in touch through the years. I have enjoyed it so much.
Other friends at this time were Lonnie and Janice Williams, who settled in Wilmington, and Irving and Ruth Ann Grigg. The Griggs had a photo studio on the campus. When Wake Forest moved, the Grigg Studio also moved and found a home on the new campus.
After moving to Winston-Salem, Jean would work as a teaching assistant in math at Hanes Junior High and other schools in Winston-Salem. She also was a literacy tutor for many years, often working with adult learners including Wake Forest staff and families.
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