Jean’s Story

Jean Christman’s Story

This story of Jean Christman is based on interviews done by Anne Phillips in 2008-2010. Anne’s interviews helped inspire this website.

Jean Carolyn Sholar was born August 4, 1926, in Cadiz, Kentucky, the daughter of Robert Euel Sholar and Emma Cox Sholar. She had four brothers – Lawrence, Clarence, Donald, and Ronald – and two sisters – Gwendolyn and Evelyn. The children grew up on a family farm that grew corn and tobacco.

Jean said her father was a gifted mechanic and builder, able to repair anything and self-taught about telephones. Mr. Sholar worked for the phone company to build networks in southwestern Kentucky. He was also a musician and had a band with his brothers. Mr. Sholar was respected in the community as a person who was fair to people of all races. Jean remembers a time as a child of 8 or 9, when a black couple with a sick baby came to their house looking for assistance. Mr. Sholar drove them to the doctor in his car.

Jean’s mother Emma Cox Sholar was a teacher and church organist. She also managed the farm while her husband was away working, so she was independent, learning to drive a car to Cadiz to get farm supplies. Emma’s father, Jean’s grandfather, John Chapel Cox was a blacksmith and community leader whose shop was used as the voting precinct. He had been excommunicated from the Baptist Church because he would not affirm that a loving God would create the everlasting fire of hell.

As a child, Jean remembers churning butter, making soap in a black kettle, having bananas and ice cream as treats, caring for chickens and other farm animals, including driving the cows home across the highway every night. The children played baseball, jump rope, marbles, and hop scotch in the dirt yard.

They attended the Oakwood School, which had one room for all eight grades. Each grade had its own row of seats, but they all learned from the older ones’ lessons. Every Friday there was a whole-school spelling bee. At night, Emma Scholar gathered her children in a half-circle and practiced their lessons.

Jean said later that all of the children in her family, boys and girls, were treated equally as far as education. This became a guiding principle in her own life. She said, “The women I knew, including my mother and aunts, were intelligent and interested in the same things that men were interested in, politics, sports and news. They deserved education and opportunity. My mother drove a car and, though she had limited formal education, studied to receive a teacher’s certificate from Kentucky State University.”

She continued, “In addition to my own mother, I married a man whose own mother also did things that were non-traditional for women. Mrs. Jo Christman drove a car, she went to college, and she worked as a corporate vice president at Monticello Drug company after starting there as a secretary.”

Jean’s family faced two heartbreaks during her childhood. The eldest son Lawrence died of pneumonia in the early 1930s. During the Great Depression, the family lost the farm and had to move 30 miles away to Hopkinsville. Jean was 11 at the time, and she remembers the sadness her mother playing the piano as the rest of the furniture was moved out of the house.

The silver lining of the move, however, was that it gave the Sholar children an opportunity to attend Hopkinsville School, through the high school grades at the Hopkinsville School. They were well prepared academically, and Jean and Evelyn were always the best two math students in their respective grades.

Jean in Hopkinsville, 1942

Jean in Hopkinsville, 1942

Jean flourished at high school, serving as co-editor of the year book, learning fencing and tennis, being chosen president of the honor society and Valedictorian. Inspired by her teachers, she decided to become a teacher herself.

The family followed politics, and Jean remembers the election of Truman in 1948, especially staying up late with her sisters and brothers to hear the results. Truman was a favorite. It was only when he, as President, signed up for Social Security that Mr. Sholar was willing to sign up himself.

Jean attended Bethel Women’s Junior College in Hopkinsville. She became a fencing champion, worked on the yearbook, and served as president of the honor society. Her teachers were excellent, especially Annie Catherine Parrish, who taught literature and current events, including The Nation and The New Republic periodicals. Jean and her fellow students also traveled to Baptist Student Union events at Ridgecrest, in NC, which was a chance to hear speakers and meet boys.

She planned to continue her education and was interested in attending a Baptist college, perhaps Baylor. A friend suggested Wake Forest College in NC. She knew nothing about it, but she applied, was accepted, and decided to attend. Jean’s sister Gwen and husband Bonner Blanchard drove her to Wake Forest College in Wake Forest NC, in 1949, where she began as a junior that fall.

Jean loved college, taking math, history, English, religion and art courses. She took a job working in the cafeteria line, usually in salads. One day, though, filling in with beverages, she struggled to fill a cup of coffee for a young man she did not know, finally handing him a hot cup of coffee without a saucer. It was Ed Christman, who fell in love on the spot. It turned out that her roommate Wilhelmina Bracey knew both and formally introduced them. Ed always said he fell in love over a cup of coffee.

Ed used to come by Jean’s dormitory every morning and whistle at her second-floor window “Bob, Bob White” to let her know he was there. She would wave to him and then come down, whatever the weather. They began dating and married three years later. As she said later, “A test of love is when you can talk to people.”

During her first year at the college, Jean joined the Wake Forest Baptist Church, played intramural sports, and was a part of the Women’s Government Association. One of her cases involved the incident of a couple walking on the golf course and the young man had his arm around the young woman, which was a violation of the rules against public display of affection. Jean realized that the golf bag had been between them and refused to convict them of this honors violation. She was very fair!

Ed graduated in the summer of 1950, having finished college in three years and three summers. He started Wake Forest law school in the fall of 1950. Jean graduated in 1951, Magna Cum Laude, and she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Jean and Ed married on Dec 23, 1952, with sisters Gwen and Evelyn and youngest brother Ronald in attendance. Jean and Ed lived in army barracks housing near the campus, while Ed attended school and Jean taught mathematics at Spring Hope High School 1951-53. Both of them were expecting Ed to work as a lawyer after graduating, so Jean resigned her teaching position that spring. But while Jean was taking her students on a field trip to Washington DC, Ed made other plans. It was Religious Emphasis Week, and he heard a sermon that was a call to ministry. He decided on the spot to give up a legal career and instead to enroll at Southeastern Seminary on the WFC campus in the fall of 1953.

Jean and Ed, with school papers and seminary studies, early 1950s.  Photo by Wake Forest College photographer Irvin Grigg, also their lifelong friend!

Jean and Ed, with school papers and seminary studies, early 1950s. Photo by Wake Forest College photographer Irvin Grigg, also their lifelong friend!

Jean found a teaching job at Bunn High School for the next three years, 1953-56. The school had an excellent principal in Mr. Kelly and there was great respect among the faculty. Mr. Kelly gave Jean the most difficult homeroom of 10th grade boys, but she handled them well, and she kept that homeroom for all three years, finishing with a win in the magazine subscription contest and a senior class trip to New York City. When Jean later taught a semester at Wake Forest, she noted how much easier it was to teach college students than her high school group.

At Spring Hope, Bunn, and later for a time at Youngsville High School, Jean was a popular teacher. She took on many responsibilities outside the classroom, including as cheerleading coach, theater play director, Junior-Senior class advisor, and yearbook sponsor.

In 1956, Ed was offered a job as Wake Forest College Baptist Chaplain and BSU Director on the new campus in Winston-Salem. He had not quite finished Seminary, and Jean cried at having to leave Bunn High school, but they decided to move with the College. It was an excellent decision. Jean reflected later how fortunate they were to have experienced both campuses and especially to be part of the new Winston-Salem campus. Both Jean and Ed remembered the city’s warm welcome of Wake Forest staff and professors, including the formal welcome event and introduction of all faculty and staff. Each new family was invited to a dinner by the people of the city. Daughters Carolyn and Kim were born in 1957 and 1962 respectively.

Jean and Ed enjoyed regular visits to the old campus, this one in 2002

Jean and Ed enjoyed regular visits to the old campus, this one in 2002

The couple stayed in Winston-Salem 1956-59. They then returned to Southeastern Seminary on the former WF campus for Ed to complete his Seminary degree. After graduation, he received a scholarship for post-graduate study at Union Seminary in New York City 1960-61. The family moved to NYC and had a joyous year doing “everything” the City had to offer: Museums, Broadway shows, Metropolitan Opera, and Riverside Church. The best thing was sharing the magic of the city with many visitors, including Jean’s mother Emma Sholar, her sisters Gwen and Evelyn, and fellow Wake Foresters Seiki and Yanoko Kinjo, Jim and Dot Cansler, and many others. It was no accident that in later years, Ed and fellow chaplains took students on field trips to NYC.

Jean, Ed, Carolyn, Kim on the campus 1962

Jean, Ed, Carolyn, Kim on the campus 1962

Jean, Carolyn, Kim in 1962

Jean, Carolyn, Kim in 1962

Jean and Ed returned to Winston-Salem in 1961, for Ed’s appointment as Assistant University Chaplain. They lived in the newly-built Faculty Apartments, a neighborhood next to the campus to serve the many young faculty families who were recruited for the new campus. Special friends were the Barnetts, Banks, Hamricks, Keetons, Fleers, Smiths, Mullens, Howrens, Vias and Roberts, plus older friends the Browns and the Hastys. They became close with other Wake Forest families, especially Irvin and Ruthanne Grigg. It was a vibrant time in the university community.

Jean joined the Faculty Wives Club and several other organizations. She also worked in many ways to support Ed’s work in Campus Ministry, as well as raising daughters Carolyn and Kim. Later, she returned to teaching as a TA at Hanes and Paisley middle schools. She also began working as a literacy tutor with a focus on helping Wake Forest staff members who wanted to improve their reading and academic skills. Decades later, when Ed had to visit the Baptist emergency room after a minor fall, his nurse said, “Oh, I know Mrs. Christman! She was the one who tutored me so that I could get into nursing school and here I am today.”

One great pleasure for Ed and Jean was to welcome international students including Seiki and Yanoko Kinjo from Japan, who became close friends. They also were very close with Edward Reynolds from Ghana, who integrated the Wake Forest College undergraduate school in 1962. Edward was a featured speaker at Ed’s retirement banquet in 2003, and he spoke of being pleased to be there, but how he would have rather been in Jean’s kitchen to taste some of her delicious cooking.

Jean and Ed had a return year in 1968-69 for another year of study at Union Seminary and life in New York City. Upon return to Wake Forest in 1969, he was promoted to University Chaplain, a position he held until 2003. The family returned to the Faculty Apartments and then moved to Royall Drive in 1972.

Jean’s life is often blended with that of her husband Ed, and for good reason. As Ed said often, Jean was his Co-Chaplain, the admiral of his fleet, and his soul-mate. She was also his primary chauffeur, his editor, his advisor, and his inspiration. They were inseparable and complimentary. Yet Jean had her own visions of improving the world and a deep commitment to social equality as well as education.

She was quite aware of the importance of equality for women from her upbringing, yet the disparity between men and women’s economic rights were apparent in her early years of teaching high school. She was the wage-earner while Ed was in graduate school. She realized that women teachers were paid less than men teachers, and they were also penalized by tax exemption rules. She recognized the impact on herself and others in the same position. Years later, she gave a guest lecture in Professor Mac Bryan’s class on Feminist Theology, saying: “You must never be guilty of denying the discrimination against women now. I am not talking about some distant past but of the second half of the 20th century!” She was similarly forward-thinking in her views of race and gender equality.

Jean and Ed enjoyed travelling with Kim and Stan

Jean and Ed enjoyed travelling with Kim and Stan

Grandma Jean and Francisco

Grandma Jean and Francisco

One of the things that Jean said she was most proud of was to have raised two daughters who were both teachers and feminists. She loved having two wonderful sons-in-law Ron Shehee and Stan Dotson.

Grandma Jean and Francisco

Grandma Jean and Francisco

And she was absolutely in heaven to become a grandmother to Francisco Christman Shehee in 2003. They were also a perfect pair.


Christmas in 2015

In retirement, Jean and Ed remained close with the WFU Baptist Student Union. They also took several trips with Kim and Stan, including to Baptist Peace Fellowship Events in a variety of cities. One highlight was travel to England, where they visited Coventry Cathedral.

In 2009, Jean and Ed moved from Royall Drive just up the road to Salemtowne, where they enjoyed being among lifelong friends from Wake Forest and making many new friends as well. Her life has indeed been rich and joyous, full of friendship, learning, and a broad community which she cherished and celebrated.