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In Appreciation of Dr. Louise Bentley

I was richly blessed today attending the funeral of Dr.Louise Bentley, an amazing professor whom I was fortunate to have while I was a student at Union. Even her requests for how the funeral would be done reflected her deep desire to glorify God. Her children spoke of her love for God, them, words and the Psalms, reading her favorite Psalm (16) and her pastor preaching from her life verse (Psalm 34:3).

Below is a brief tribute to Dr. Bentley which I submitted to the local paper.

Dr. Louise Bentley, a Master Teacher

One of the great blessings of my life has been the privilege of having so many great teachers along the way. One of those great teachers was Dr. Louise Bentley who passed away this week at the age of 85. Dr. Bentley taught English and Humanities for 40 years, finishing her teaching career at Union University teaching there from 1981-1995. She is the only professor ever to be named Faculty of the Year twice, and in recognition of her service she was named Professor Emeritus in the Department of English at Union.

I first met Dr. Bentley when I walked into an Arts in Western Civilization class in the second semester of my freshman year at Union. I didn’t know what to expect. I had just signed up for a required class. And there was Dr. Bentley to greet us. I gathered quickly that Dr. Bentley expected us to work hard and also that she intended to work hard to help us. Her excitement about the class captivated me. I remember her telling us that she would do everything in her power to capture and hold our attention in this early morning class even if it meant swinging from the light fixtures! Though I didn’t know the terminology yet, it was in that class that the lights first came on for me concerning the concept of a Christian worldview. With her guidance I saw how the prevailing view of life and values shaped the art produced in various eras. In a class where I didn’t know what to expect- one of those core classes which are often overlooked- I was significantly shaped and molded because I was learning from a Master Teacher.

When I returned to Union to begin teaching, it was a delight to have opportunities to see the Bentleys, particularly when preaching in their church, and to express to her how she had blessed me. When they moved from their house, her husband, Dr. Blair Bentley, donated many of his books to the Union’s Ryan Center of Biblical Studies, which I direct, in order for those books to continue to be a blessing to others. More recently, Dr. Louise Bentley helped to organize worship services at the Jackson Meadow Retirement Residence where she was living and asked me to preach from time to time. It was always a blessing to gather with those people and to see Dr. Bentley still helping, guiding and encouraging.

As I have pursued my own teaching at Union for about 15 years now, I often find myself looking back to the example of Dr. Bentley. She was tough but fair. She cared deeply about her students- my friend Brian Denker recalls watching her tear up in class as she expressed how much her heart went out to her students during the difficult struggles of finals week. She is my go to example for the fact that lecture done well is still a powerful way to teach. Her passion for the subject matter was palpable and contagious. I don’t know how you could keep from getting caught up in her excitement, and that was as true when I visited her at Jackson Meadows as it was in that class in my freshman year.

Dr. Louise Bentley gives me a model of teaching to which I aspire. Many of us were blessed, helped, and shaped by her teaching and example. For her life and labors we give thanks to the God whom she loved so deeply and served so well.

[The Jackson Sun published this column Tuesday, June 16, 2015, Section A, page 7]

5 Comments

  1. Elle Straley says:

    I had not heard of Dr. Bentley’s home going and had often wondered if she and her husband were still teaching. I was privileged to know her at Bryan College for the four years I was there. It was Dr. Bentley who encouraged me to be an English major my freshman year and I have always been thankful for her advice. I just completed my 29th year of teaching English and serve as Department Chair. Dr. Bentley was the consummate teacher who loved the subject but more importantly, her students. At this year’s graduation, one of my students told me she wants to be a teacher just like me. After thanking her, I told her about Dr. Bentley’s influence on my life. I will look forward to meeting her one day in Heaven.

  2. Brent Sadler says:

    Ray,

    Thanks for acknowledging many of God’s gifts wrapped up to us in Louise Bentley. The Lord bless your ministry in classroom and out in Jackson and beyond. I was just chatting with someone from the church yesterday who agreed with your words about getting caught up in her excitement.

    Blessings.

    Brent Sadler
    Grace Presbyterian, Jackson, TN

  3. Ray says:

    Thank you, Terry and Ed for sharing your thoughts and how Dr. Bentley blessed you. I’d love to have many people comment here and share their stories of how much Dr. Bentley meant to them.

  4. Ed Sanford says:

    Ray,

    Thank you for sharing this memory and celebration of a wonderful teacher and human being. Dr. Bentley was a great example of how we should approach each day with excitement, joy and abandonment of conventions that bridle our enthusiasm for this thing called Life.

    I, too, enjoyed her Appreciation of Arts class. I was as excited about taking this class as I was about having a root canal done. But Louise Bentley changed all that!! She brought the works to life for me and opened the eyes to an old country boy from Humboldt, TN.

    I want to share a story that happened to me a number of years ago. This is a story that I wish I could have shared with Dr. Bentley because I know she would have popped one of her ear to ear smiles that became so infectious to her students.

    I was traveling to England for a business trip with a co-worker and we were going to have a 5 hour layover in Chicago. This lady was a wonderful lady but mistook my very Southern accent for uneducated, etc. She suggested that we take a train to the Art Institute because the Degas Collection was being exhibited there. I agreed and we set off on our little adventure. Once we arrived, we saw many wonderful works by Monet, Degas, Pollock, etc. Near the end of our visit, she remarked that she had no idea that I know so much about Art. With a bit of sarcasm and in my most country Southern accent, I told her that I had this professor in college who taught this class, Appreciation of Art, named Dr. Bentley. She knew I couldn’t read too well but I sure liked looking at all the “purdy” pictures in that big ‘ol book. Needless to say, she felt a bit embarrassed by her presumptuous attitude and quickly apologized. I thought it was hilarious but, more importantly, Dr. Bentley had made an impression in my heart and mind. I have been fortunate to see many of the great works of art and I am forever grateful to Dr. Bentley for really opening my eyes to the world of Art.

    I agree with you. She is a wonderful example of how one can reach and teach. Grateful to have known her!! Thank you again for sharing.

    Ed Sanford
    UU, Class of 1983

  5. Terry Lewis says:

    I had not heard of Dr. Bentley’s homegoing. She was truly an inspiration to me while I was a student at Union. While the university had no shortage of excellent professors during my time there, I made it a point to take every single class I could get under her… and the fact that I’m not a fan of English classes is testimony to the impact she made on me! She’s the only professor I ever had who could wake me up at 7:30 in the morning and make me enjoy an obscure piece of literature. To this day, I drill into my daughters that they should never, EVER, start a sentence with “There are…”!

    I too had her for “Arts in Western Civ”. I can’t imagine taking that class under anyone else. She was nearing 60 years old at that time, yet she danced and “swooped” (her word) across the stage like the members of the chorus in a Greek play with so much enthusiasm that you couldn’t help being caught up in the moment with her.

    As a Computer Science major who worked as a lab technician, I had the privilege of being her in-class assistant during several of the classes she held in the PC lab. I considered it the highest honor that she specifically requested me for that role. During those classes, I had a chance to observe her interacting with her students while not actually *being* a student. I was continually impressed at the heart that she had for the young men and women she taught. You see, she didn’t just teach English or “Arts”… she taught STUDENTS! She never lost sight of the fact that the educator’s primary mission is not just to stand and lecture, but to actually impart knowledge, and perhaps a bit of wisdom. The students were, to her, the most important feature of any class, and she was never ashamed to let them know that she cared about them.

    But what impressed me most was not her ability to “swoop”, or excite a classroom, or to remember what seemed like a million lines of poetry and prose, but her commitment to our Lord and her relationship with Him. I remember that even then, when many would be thinking about slowing down, she was excited about her efforts to memorize the entire book of Psalms! I was gone from Union before she accomplished that goal, but I have no doubt that she achieved it. She believed that she really could “do all things through Christ”, and she believed that of her students as well.

    She was far more than just a professor… she was a friend, a role-model of the highest quality, a cheerleader, and sometimes an ear to listen or a shoulder to weep on. I learned from her to honor and cherish the past… literature, art, tradition, history and all it can teach us, but also to never lose sight of the future to which all of those things are, albeit somewhat metaphorically, addressed.

    And somehow, for Dr. Bentley, “rest in peace” just doesn’t seem appropriate. I can’t imagine her being still enough to rest for very long! While I am deeply saddened to learn of her passing, I can imagine her in Heaven, showing the angels just how those Greek choruses used to “swoop”! And even in that land where there there is no night, I’m certain she’ll find a way to share a “quote of the day” with those around her!

    Terry L. Lewis
    UU, Class of 1990

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