Exploring 150 Years of Freed-Hardeman University History
Freed-Hardeman University’s 16th president did not go looking for the job. The job came looking for him. When approached by FHU Board Chairman John Law, a doubtful David Shannon’s first reaction was, “I don’t think this is a good idea.” He went on to explain, “I mean this because I love Freed-Hardeman. I have no background in higher education. I don’t want to disrespect the faculty at a place I love.”
An alumnus of FHU, Shannon had built a successful career in ministry, the previous 18 years at Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. In addition, he was in demand for gospel meetings and youth rallies. Law, however, convinced him to interview for the job. In the ensuing months, he and his wife Tracie prayed for guidance. “We prayed over and over about this,” he said, “and never once did we pray for it.” Eventually, they began to believe God was providing an opportunity for a different kind of ministry.
The board’s rationale also became clearer. During former president Joe Wiley’s tenure, academic programs had been strengthened, campus appearance had been improved and the school’s financial position had been made stronger. Now, they thought, it was time for a president who could tell FHU’s story and reconnect with alumni and churches.
In Law’s announcement of Shannon’s appointment, he said, “The keys to success in a very challenging Christian higher education environment revolve more around relationship-building, fund raising, recruiting of new students and church relationships. All of those demands are higher than ever and David Shannon is the person the board believes can fulfill that role.”
In Shannon’s inauguration speech Oct. 19, 2017, he recounted struggles of the past, struggles the school had faced and survived, sometimes in what appeared to be against all odds. “It seems like God wants Freed-Hardeman to be here,” he said. Shannon wanted the students to be involved in his inauguration. So, the day also included a picnic on Bader Green, pumpkin carving and hayrides.
Shannon’s natural skills allowed him to connect with current students and re-connect with alumni. He also appeared to have boundless energy. He attended student events, he posed for selfies, he appeared in chapel, and he went on the road. He logged thousands of miles on the Presidential Trek, speaking at churches and serving bacon on a stick, Moon Pies and Coca-Cola in glass bottles from the MIC (Mobile Information Center), a converted mini-camper emblazoned with FHU branding. MIC also included a photo booth and folks who had their pictures made, soon received a postcard of themselves posing at the event.
Shannon’s first year as president also featured amazing athletic success for FHU teams. The softball team advanced to the NAIA World Series for the first time, the baseball team came within one game of winning their World Series, and the Lady Lion basketball team, after two decades of playing in the basketball tournament, brought home the national tournament championship trophy.
The third year of Shannon’s presidency was marked by the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic, an event that ended spring sports, cancelled Makin’ Music, forced a transition to online courses and delayed graduation.
Throughout its history, Freed-Hardeman has persevered and prevailed because its DNA is imprinted with the persistence and faith of A.G. Freed who often quoted, “To him who believeth all things are possible,” according to Greg Massey, author of the recently published history of the university.
Speaking about COVID-19 and the abrupt ending of campus life this spring from Chapel Hall in Old Main, current president Shannon pledged FHU’s unity in the face of adversity. “FHU will not go dark nor silent. We will use this challenge to God’s glory,” he said. Quoting the prophet Jeremiah, he said, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end…”
“So, here we are in Spring 2020 and we have the coronavirus,” Shannon said, “but God’s love is still steadfast—and Old Main is still standing.”
Information and quotations are taken from Dr. Greg Massey’s recently published “By the Grace of God: The Story of Freed-Hardeman University.” It is available for purchase for $30 plus tax in the FHU Office of Academics, which is located in Loyd 107.