by Lauren Crane
On April 10, 1961, Evelyn Carter began her employment at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary on a "trial basis." Half a century later, her trial period is over, and she is still faithfully serving.
In the spring of 1961, Southeastern’s first president, Sydnor L. Stealey approached his friend Charles, Carter’s husband, to ask if his wife would be willing to come and work as a faculty secretary at the young school. With only six faculty members at the time and one student wife working for them, Stealey was looking for someone who would be a more enduring fixture at the seminary to serve the faculty. Neither he, nor Carter, had any idea how enduring her time at Southeastern would be. On April 12, 2011, Southeastern seminary will honor Carter for her year’s of service during a chapel service in Binkley Chapel on the Wake Forest, N.C., campus.
Fifty years ago, when Stealey approached Carter to ask her to consider becoming a faculty secretary, “I told him I needed to think about it,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m not qualified to work for people with Ph.Ds. Dr. Stealey told me you never know what you can do unless you try.” After continuing to discuss the idea of working at Southeastern, Carter decided she would work for two to three months on an experimental basis.
“I was willing to try, but I wanted to start on a trial basis to see if the people I work for were happy with my work,” Carter said. “In two months I worked every day, and every day I worked, I liked it more and more.”
By mid-summer of 1961, Carter was convinced she had found her calling in life – to serve and support the work of the young Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as a faculty secretary. “The professors were very nice. I never thought professors and people with more education than me could be so kind. They were like me. They were smarter than I was, but they never let me think they were smarter than I was. I told Dr. Stealey, ‘I think I have found my calling, and I am so happy. I’ll go full time, and if anything comes up to make you think I’m not qualified…we’ll work on it.’”
Over the next several years, Carter saw Stealey’s retirement and Olin Binkley’s succession as the second president of Southeastern. Throughout the eleven years of Binkley’s tenure as president, Carter worked faithfully alongside him and the other faculty members. Although it was a period of much change and growth for the seminary, Carter said she became increasingly close with the faculty and grew to love her job more and more. Following Binkley’s retirement in 1974, Carter remembers the beginning of William Randall Lolley’s fourteen-year presidential term at Southeastern.
“That was the year more professors started coming in. All of them were kind, and every one that came I loved them more. It was like a big, happy family,” Carter said. The family atmosphere led Carter to freely open up with the professors when she felt overwhelmed with work. “When I first started, I was young, and very careful with them. During Dr. Binkley’s and Dr. Lolley’s administrations, I got bolder. I had that privilege, and we got along great.”
As Lewis Drummond, Paige Patterson and Daniel Akin took over the presidency of Southeastern, Carter continued to work at the seminary in whatever office needed her. Although she never worked in Stephens-Mackie Hall, throughout her fifty years at Southeastern she has held offices in every other building on campus. “Evelyn Carter has served with grace and distinction every president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary,” Akin, president of Southeastern, said. Not only has she seen the presidents and the campus itself change and grow, she has also witnessed the evolution of technology used in the office.
“When I started, they didn’t know how to type. I started on a manual typewriter, then an electrical typewriter, then a word processor, then computers, and I got lost and have never caught up. I’ve survived through different times, different periods and different experiences.”
In the late 1980s, as Carter’s husband’s health was failing, she was given the ability to take time off to care for her husband and household. “The year my husband died, he had been sick and had to go to Duke for various things. We were in and out of the hospital for two years. I told Dr. Lolley, ‘I’m taking off, but I’m using my vacation time.’” Lolley told Carter not to use vacation time, but to care for her husband and let Southeastern care for her. One way they did this, Carter said, was by having professors come to their home to help pick butterbeans and plant corn in their garden – a task Carter was unable to do alone.
“Those years were the most special to me, and they are years I’ll never forget and professors I’ll never forget,” Carter said. Although she considered retiring shortly after her husband’s death in 1988, Carter said she realized serving Southeastern professors was a blessing to her. “I didn’t want to be at home, with nobody there but me. That wouldn’t be good for me. I wanted to be active.”
Carter’s active lifestyle led her to take a trip to Israel in 1996, something she and her husband had been planning to do together before his death. “We were going to travel some, and in 1996 Southeastern gave me financial help to go to Israel. That was the highlight of my years. I never thought I’d be able to do that, and to go with one of the professors I had worked with was wonderful.”
Carter, who does not have any definitive plans to retire from serving at Southeastern, said she appreciates and is so grateful for every president of the school. “They have served this great institution so well and allowed me the privilege of reaching a goal of fifty years at a place I love dearly. I will cherish the happy memories of every professor I have worked with during these years of service in the seminary and college. Their friendship, kindness and love will always have a special place in my heart.”
Akin said he is thankful for her fifty years of service to the college and seminary. “She has been a marvelous servant of King Jesus who brightens and encourages everyone she meets. What an incredible blessing she has been and continues to be. I love this sweet lady, my sister in the Lord.”
“The Lord Jesus Christ has blessed me in so many ways with his love, guidance, good health and strength to fulfill my goal and work for fifty years at Southeastern, a place that is dear to my heart,” Carter said. “To God be the glory, great things he has done!”
The mission of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Southeastern is an institution of higher learning and a Cooperate Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.