Dr. E. Claude Gardner, 13th president of Freed-Hardeman University, died Sunday afternoon, Dec. 31, 2017, in Jackson, Tennessee. He would have celebrated his 93rd birthday Jan. 16, 2018.
Current FHU President David Shannon said, “Dr. Gardner left an indelible mark on this institution. He led with strong authority while embodying compassion. His wisdom and success were bathed in godliness and faithfulness. For many of us, his blessings were not only institutional, but also personal. He knew our names and followed us beyond graduation. I am deeply grateful for his personal invitation to attend FHU in the ‘80s and will never find words to express what it meant to be welcomed back by him last year.”
A mainstay of the university and of Henderson and Chester County for half a century, Gardner had lived and worked in Henderson since 1949 when he joined the faculty as chairman of the Department of Education and Psychology and as a Bible teacher. In the ensuing years, he became the registrar, dean, vice president, president, chancellor and president emeritus. He retired as chancellor in 1992.
During Gardner’s tenure as president, the college went from junior college to university status and began offering master’s degrees. The school experienced remarkable growth in enrollment and more than a dozen key buildings were added to the campus.
He was also very active in Henderson and Chester County civic affairs. He was a founder of the Chester County Senior Citizens, Chester County Chamber of Commerce and Chester County Crime Stoppers. He also served as a director of Chester County Bank.
Dr. Milton Sewell, who followed Gardner as president of FHU, said, “I have known Bro. Gardner for more than 60 years. He was an outstanding Christian gentleman and a visionary. He was committed to God and His church, his family, Freed-Hardeman and the Henderson community. As president, he was committed to excellence and what was best for students. He will be missed by so many of us who loved and appreciated him.”
Former FHU President Joe Wiley said. “The depth and breadth of Dr. Gardner’s knowledge of Freed-Hardeman were extraordinary, beginning with his time here as a student in the 1940s and continuing into the 1990s. He led the university through a period of considerable growth in all areas.”
Gardner was also a gospel preacher for most of his life. He preached his first sermon at age 15. Throughout his life, he preached at many congregations in this country as well as abroad. He conducted more than 375 gospel meetings. He was also a frequent contributor to various periodicals associated with churches of Christ, writing approximately 500 articles and eight books.
Gardner was preceded in death by his wife Delorese Tatum Gardner who died in 2001 after more than 50 years of marriage and by his second wife Glenda Jacobs Gardner who died in 2016, his brothers: Stanley, Don and Albert, and sister Ethel Jordan.
He is survived by four children: Phyllis (Sam) Hester, Becky (Larry) Cyr, Claudia Goodson, and David (Pat) Gardner; six grandchildren: Kristen Hester (Jeremy) Hicks; Beth Cyr (Julio) Rivas and Adam (Tosha) Cyr; and Nick (Cait), Bennett (fiancé Julie) and Madison Gardner; and three great-grandchildren, Tessa Beth Moore, Tucker Cyr and Breanne Gardner.
Funeral services will be conducted Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, at 2 p.m. in Loyd Auditorium on the FHU campus. Visitation will be Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, 4-9 p.m. at the Henderson Church of Christ and Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in Loyd Auditorium. Memorials may be made to the E. Claude and Delorese Gardner Scholarship at FHU.
158 East Main Street
Henderson, TN 38340
FHU / Dickson
FHU / Memphis
5565 Shelby Oaks Drive
Memphis, TN 38134
855 Highway 46 South
Dickson, TN 37055
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