Wake Forest graduates endow Divinity School scholarship

By Jacob McConnico
December 2, 2005

David N. Gill and Diane P. Gill of Knoxville, Tenn., have established the Rev. Sumner H. Gill and Mrs. Lois C. Gill Scholarship in the Wake Forest University Divinity School. The scholarship, which has been created to honor the life ministry of Sumner and Lois Gill, will cover full tuition for one Divinity School student each year.

David and Diane Gill, both 1977 graduates of Wake Forest, said they chose to honor his parents Sumner and Lois Gill in this way because the Rev. Gill, who served as a congregational pastor for almost 40 years had often expressed an interest in helping support young ministerial school students.

"My father always regretted that his minister's salary did not allow him the financial ability to help support young ministerial school students in a more substantial way," said David Gill. "Nothing would please us more than to know that this gift will help develop many fine ministers over the years who promise to have the impact of my father as they minister to others."

The Rev. Gill led a remarkable life defined by hard work, dedication and purpose, according to David Gill.

A native of northern California and the son of a congregational minister, the Rev. Gill studied history and was an accomplished pole vaulter at Stanford University, paying tuition with an athletic scholarship and earnings from several part-time jobs.

After graduation from Stanford, the Rev. Gill hitchhiked from California to Boston to enroll at Harvard Divinity School in the fall of 1938. When he arrived he had only 30 cents in his pocket, enough to buy a loaf of bread and a quart of milk, which had to last him a week until his first paycheck from a part-time job. After a year at Harvard, the Rev. Gill transferred to Andover Newton Theological Seminary where he completed his ministry studies as valedictorian of the class of 1941.

The Rev. Gill served as a minister in four Congregational parishes over 38 years, as well as serving four years as a U.S. Army chaplain in the Philippines during World War II. He married his wife, Lois, during his final year at seminary.

David Gill said Lois Gill was a woman whose own ministry, love and example complemented his father's throughout the years. She served as the director of religious education for the last nine years of the Rev. Gill's ministry.

Sumner and Lois Gill's last parish was the First Congregational Church of River Edge, N.J., where they served from 1954 to 1981. The church has sent several students to school at Wake Forest.

David Gill said his father was best known for his humility and his genuine interest in the spiritual development of his parishioners, one of whom referred to the Rev. Gill as a "true physician of the soul."

Bill J. Leonard, dean of the Wake Forest Divinity School, said the scholarship will be given to students who profess a desire to enter parish ministry.

"This scholarship is an affirmation of our students, helping anchor the Divinity School as a continuing presence in the university and offers students the opportunity to receive theological education for years to come," Leonard said.

The Wake Forest Divinity School, which opened in 1999 and graduated its first class in 2002, offers the three-year master of divinity degree in an ecumenical, full-time program. The school's graduates have gone on to serve in a variety of fields including the ministry and in the nonprofit sector.

The divinity program at Wake Forest offers a curriculum that includes instruction in traditional seminary subjects like biblical studies, church history, theology, homiletics (the art of preaching), spirituality and pastoral care taught by full-time Divinity School faculty.