The University of the South has received a generous gift of $100,000 from Sissie and Fred Wile for the Beecken Center of the School of Theology. This gift supports Stronger Truer Sewanee—The Campaign for the University of the South’s plan to move the School of Theology back to central campus and into a new facility for both the seminary and the Beecken Center.
Karen Meridith, executive director of Education for Ministry and associate director of the Beecken Center, says, “The Wile gift will help make it possible for us to have up-to-date spaces intentionally built for the variety of training events and workshops offered by the Beecken Center, from small groups in circles, to certificate courses, to large international conferences meeting via Internet connection.”
Meridith notes that Sissie Wile herself has been a tremendous gift to the Beecken Center’s Education for Ministry program (EfM). The Wiles, who live in Meridian, Mississippi, established a steel foundry called Southern Cast Products in 1979. Not long after that, Sissie Wile, who serves as the company’s secretary and treasurer, enrolled in the EfM program.
After graduating, she became a mentor, then a trainer of mentors. After several years, she was invited to Sewanee to serve as a mentor-in-residence. She recalls her husband being supportive, even though it sometimes meant that they had to spend weeks apart. She volunteered her time for a year to support the program any way she could.
After a year as a full-time volunteer, Wile was offered a paid position as assistant director in charge of training. Later, she served as the interim director of EfM until Meridith’s arrival in January2010.
“Sissie draws from deep reflection on her own experience as a mentor as she worked with both new and experienced mentors,”Meridith says. “Evaluations from her trainees invariably praised her as gracious and generous. I experienced that generosity myself as I came to my position as the new director. Sissie graciously agreed to continue on for 18 months as assistant director for training, easing my transition in ways that made me profoundly grateful.
”Wile retired in 2011 in response to her husband’s health issues, but continues her work as an EfM trainer. In the last two years, she has been mentoring a group in Mississippi. Every few weeks, she travels back to Sewanee, where she serves as spiritual director for seminarians. She remains good friends with Meridith, who says, “I value Sissie’s counsel more than I can express.”
“EfM has been the heartbeat of my spiritual life,” Wile says. “It has opened the door to ways that I could bring all of me to my faith—all of my questions, all of my longing to be in fellowship with others. EfM provided that for me.”
Wile’s husband joins her in making this gift. “While he has not been personally involved with EfM, he has seen what it means to me. He has become attached to the Sewanee community. I give him all the credit for making this gift possible. ”
The Wiles hope their donation will encourage others in the EfM community to participate in the University’s capital campaign. Wile says, “I want to encourage the 80,000 people who have participated to make a gift of whatever size. The important thing is to give back to a program that has given so much to all of us and so enriched our lives. Without the University, EfM would not have thrived as it has. We have served one another in mutual harmony in ways that have made it good for all.”
If you are interested in a gift that goes beyond current-use dollars, named endowed internship funds begin at the $100,000 level. Named endowed scholarship funds begin at the $150,000 level for the College and $75,000 for the School of Theology.