JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Former President George H.W. Bush helped Union University stage the most successful scholarship banquet in the event’s eight-year history Sept. 22.
Donors gave $500,000 to Union’s scholarship fund, and 2,200 people packed the Carl Perkins Civic Center to hear the nation’s 41st President speak of his faith and his experiences in office. Last year’s event with former New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani raised just more than $400,000.
“It was a great night for Union University and for the students who will benefit from the generosity of so many,” said Union University President David S. Dockery, who hosted the event and led a question-and-answer session with Bush near the conclusion of the program.
Guests pledged between $1,000 and $15,000 for a record 135 tables. Table and balcony seats were sold out in early September, despite the fact that 21 tables (170 place settings) were added from last year’s floor plan.
“On a scale of one to 10, it was an 11,” said Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., near Memphis. “The president was so warm and folksy. I believe this program will insure to the welfare of the university in many ways well beyond the $500,000 raised.”
Bush, who celebrated his 80th birthday in June by parachuting from an airplane in Texas, told the audience he does not feel entitled to any special privileges as a former president. He urged younger people in the audience to serve their communities.
Kristen Ulmer, the Student Government Association president, said she felt motivated by Bush’s remarks.
“It was a great chance to hear and see an example of servant leadership,” Ulmer said. “He really stressed that service doesn’t need to be in politics, and if it is in politics, it doesn’t have to be at the national level. There are opportunities for service anywhere, whether it is in your school or local community. To hear that from someone of his stature is such an encouragement to students.”
Bush described his own childhood, which he said was rooted in strong moral instruction.
“In my own life, my own parents helped shape my life. This university helps do that for the kids here,” Bush said. “I was privileged in the values I learned from my family — the same values that helped me when I was president.”
Bush also discussed his Christian faith, and that of his son, President George W. Bush.
“Today the president is much more open with his faith,” Bush said. “It is real. It is not posturing.”
“I really enjoyed all of his comments, especially about faith and values,” said Gary Taylor of Jackson, Tenn. “I appreciate his transparency in letting us look inside his life from a non-political platform.”
The former president’s speech earned strong reviews from Union University faculty and staff, who also helped contribute to the record fundraising total.
“He was very personable, and I think we got to see the core of a man who loves his family, loves his country and loves his God,” said Charles Baldwin, the Evalyn Hammons University Professor of Pre-Medical Studies. “There was nothing pretentious about him.”
With reporting by Tabitha Frizzell and Kathie Chute.