Campus News 2006

For Immediate Release
July 10, 2006

A Journey Of Service To Others

Bob and Carole CarlsonBob and Carole Carlson, from Beavercreek, Ohio, just celebrated their 40th anniversary, and talking with them you get the strong impression that their whole life has been a celebration. Both were raised in religious families but, Carole smiles, “Our denominational backgrounds couldn’t have been more different, so we knew that we had to find a church that could be home for both of us. After visiting a number of different denominations we found that we were strongly drawn to Presbyterianism, which has been our inspiration throughout our life together.”

The first twenty years of their marriage was spent in the U.S. Air Force where Bob’s education as an aeronautical engineer led him to manage a number of development programs at Wright-Patterson air force base in Ohio and elsewhere. Meanwhile, Carole began her career as an elementary school teacher, while taking time off to raise the couple’s two sons. She also, tutored learning-disabled children, and served as secretary to two churches.      

After Bob’s retirement from the Air Force in 1984, he spent over a decade working as a software engineer for Computer Sciences Corp., a company that does Department of Defense contract work. After leaving there in 1997 he worked briefly for a software consulting company. Both positions required that he travel extensively and while both Carlson’s had a lust to see the world Carole wasn’t able to accompany Bob on these business trips. This meant that their travel together was limited to recreational vehicle camping throughout the Midwest on weekends – although on vacations they were able to visit both Hawaii and Alaska.

And here the plot thickens. Bob and Carole fell in love with Alaska. “We knew right away that this was a place we wanted to spend a lot of time,” Bob remembers. “It wasn’t just the spectacular scenery – it was mostly the people and the strong sense of community we found in every town we visited.”

Once back in Ohio, they spent lots of time together trying to figure out how they could have more of the experiences they had been so drawn to. “We knew we didn’t want to move to Alaska,” Carole emphasizes, “because our family and friends are all in Ohio. And we knew that we didn’t want to be just tourists. But we’ve always found that if we stay open to new possibilities, things have a way of working out, and that’s just what happened.” Bob and Carole had recently joined Memorial United Presbyterian Church in Xenia, Ohio, and were in the process of getting to know a whole new group of fellow worshipers, when they ran across a couple who were involved with the Presbyterian Church USA Mission Volunteer program and were about to go on assignment to … Alaska.

This couple was going to spend two years volunteering at a small Presbyterian-affiliated school in Sitka called Sheldon Jackson College – named after a famous Presbyterian educator who founded many schools and churches in the American West and in Alaska. “We had never heard of the mission volunteer program before, even after spending our adult lives in the church, so naturally we immediately began finding out everything we could,” Bob said. Carole added “the program seemed to fit what we wanted perfectly – the chance to go places we wanted to experience in-depth, but limited to a few months commitment, so that we wouldn’t lose touch with our families and friends.”

Bob and Carole soon found themselves at Sheldon Jackson — Bob using his computer skills to build a badly-needed business management system, and Carole helping the school administration become more efficient in a wide range of functions. They spent 6 months at the college in 2001 and went back for a four-month stay in 2002. “We lived on campus and paid all of our own expenses except room and board,” Bob remembers, “ and there were about 25 other single people and couples doing the same thing, so we were collectively able to make a tremendous contribution to this small but exciting school.”

Since their Alaska experience, Bob and Carole have also served as volunteers at Menaul School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as well as Montreat Conference Center and Montreat College in North Carolina, all of which offered a unique experience for these two volunteers. “We loved our work at all these places,” Bob recalls, “but I was getting a bit frustrated, because it was difficult to find assignments through the mission volunteer program where I could actually put my technical skills to good use.” Finally Bob, with the help of the mission leadership, put together a list of schools served by the program that he thought could fully utilize his abilities, and then made contact with those schools, among them Schreiner University.

“Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas responded almost immediately with a specific set of things that they needed to have done – things that were right up my alley,” Bob smiles, “ so we packed our bags and here we are, happy as can be.”

Bob is designing needed inventory and workflow management systems for Schreiner University, systems that will conserve funds and increase efficiency, while Carole is putting her people skills and management experience to good use in the University’s Office of Advancement. “Schreiner is an excellent example of a school that has actually organized itself to take full advantage of what people like Carole and I have a lot to offer,” Bob said. “As the ‘Baby-Boomer’ generation begins retiring and huge numbers of talented people become available as volunteers, every small school with limited funds is going to have to take a systematic approach to using volunteers or they are going to lose out on a great opportunity.” Carole adds, “It’s terrific that Schreiner actually has a grant-funded position for a volunteer coordinator to work with people like us. They do a great job of making sure that all our needs are met so that we can concentrate on what we’re here to do, which is to dedicate ourselves to the betterment of this school.”

Bob and Carole aren’t sure where they’ll be going on their next assignment. “Maybe back here to Schreiner, or maybe on to someplace new,” Carole emphasizes, “but we do know that we’re going to keep at this as long as we can. It’s so sad to go home to Ohio and see older friends who say, ‘I wish I had done something like that when I was younger’.”

Bob and Carole hope that their experiences will inspire other Presbyterians to participate in the Mission Volunteer Program and to contribute their skills and life experience to Presbyterian colleges and universities around the country in the same way they have done. Bob notes, “It’s a great way to see new places, meet new people, really experience a community in ways that would be impossible as a tourist, and get the satisfaction of knowing that you really have made a difference in the lives of others.” Carole smiles, “And we’re able to do all this while not losing touch with our family and friends back home because our volunteer work takes only a few months at a time – although I have to admit that after being back home for a while, we begin asking ourselves – where next?”

For more information on the Presbyterian USA Mission Volunteer Program go to http://www.pcusa.org/nvo/missionvolunteers/missionvolunteers.htm. For more information on Schreiner University go to www.schreiner.edu.  

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