By GWEN SWIGER
By GWEN SWIGER
There are stories to tell at Lee University, and Jack Higgins is telling them.
An accomplish photographer, Higgins is known for his landscapes of the Lee University campus. He shares those photos, accompanied by an inspirational verse with his colleagues and friends.
As you look around his workspace, hanging from the walls are photos, pieces of memorabilia, poems and words of inspiration as he chronicles the “faces and places of Lee University.” He reminds a person that “Today is tomorrow’s dreams and aspirations yesterday.”
Aesthetic pleasing architecture, stunning landscaping and an efficient campus plan make Lee University a handsome part of downtown Cleveland. Keeping the Lee campus in that condition is the function of the Physical Plant. Higgins holds the keys of responsibility for the Physical Plant.
Higgins, who will have served at Lee for 41 years in February, was “invited” to take a job in the Physical Plant as an electrician by the late Author G. Pressley. He has worked hard during the years to help maintain the campus.
As an accolade to his dedication to university’s upkeep, the Physical Plant building was renamed in May 2016 from the Pressley Building to the Higgins-Pressley Building.
Higgins said, “When Dr. (Paul) Conn came to the building one morning with coffee and donuts to tell me the news; all I could do was cry. … It is a day I will never forget.”
“I was so thankful,” he said.
In the 2016 Vindagua, Dr. Conn, who is president of Lee University, noted, “Jack Higgins is the living personification to me of the spirit of Lee University. If there is anyone in the world who loves this place as much as I do, it might be him.”
The wall over his desk holds a multiple of photos — all with a link to his family, the university, the Church of God or a mixture of all.
As Higgins points to the photos, he shares a little history. One photo with a line of people standing in front of the U.S. Capitol has a tall man in the middle. The faces are small so you have to concentrate to make out who they are.
Higgins said most people think the tall man in the middle is Paul Conn, but it is not. It is Estes Kefauver, a U.S. Congressman, then a senator from Tennessee and a presidential contender, who was welcoming a group of Lee staff to the Capitol.
He points to another photo. It is of his grandfather’s store in East Chattanooga. He notes his grandfather was born in Sylco community of Polk County. He moved to Chattanooga to open a store.
“The Church of God was in its infancy. They asked if they could put a tent up behind his store. And they had a tent revival. It was a huge success. So they started East Chattanooga Church of God. That’s the pastor; I believe his name was Simmons. That was the largest congregation in the Church of God at the time,” he said.
As he points to photos on the wall, you will see one of him and his wife, Abigail, at their wedding ceremony. They were the second couple to get married in the old South Cleveland Church of God Building on South Ocoee Street.
Not only does he fill his wall with his photos, but he has collected them into a spiral book offering “A Pictorial Look at Lee University through the Friendly Lens of Jack Higgins.” Inside the book are about 100 photos and poems and 19 stories narrated by his friends who have peopled Lee’s history. It starts with a breath-taking sun rising over Lee photo and concludes with the sun setting.
He points to a photo of Nora Chambers, who was the first professor at the old Bible Training School, which is now Lee. In the picture is his grandmother, who was graduating from Lee. “This is Dr. Conn’s daddy and mom. He (Dr. Conn) gave me the picture and it’s in the book.”
One story concerns letters written by Frances Iva Arant, Luther Walton and Avis Swiger. Arant had written to Bible Training School for advice on going to a Church of God despite her parent’s objections. Swiger wrote to tell her to “be obedient and respectful to them (parents) just letting them know how much you desired to attend your own church.” She also told her to pray because “God does hear and answer prayers.” It was at church Walton met Frances and they married. He wrote Swiger to let her know the outcome of her advice and how treasured the letter was.
Other stories are from or about teachers, preachers and students at Lee, including Dr. Hollis Gause, Betty Murphy, and more.
Higgins also has a couple of books about Ott, a lawnmower, who springs into action when needed. Andy Taylor illustrated it.
When did he start writing? His third-grade teacher inspired him.
“She had us all write a story. She came around and patted me on the shoulder and said it was good. That stuck in my head for 50 years,” Higgins said.
Higgins grew up on the edge of Polk and Bradley County. He attended Polk County Schools.
He has fond memories of growing up on the edge of Polk and Bradley Counties.
Higgins said, McCroy, who was extension agent for Polk County, “was my mentor.” It He took the CCC camp and leased it in 1962 for 99 years. Today the camp is used by Polk 4-H Clubs. It is also where the Ramp Tramp Festival is held
Higgins said, “We cleaned it up and the first camp was right out of high school.”
“I remember when I first came to work here. I was so excited,” Higgins said. He continues to get excited about the work, stories and photos at Lee.
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