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story.lead_photo.caption Judy Gabbard, professor and chairwoman of the math and science department at Central Baptist College in Conway, was recognized for her 50-year tenure on campus. She has no immediate plans to retire. “This is my ministry,” she said. “I love, love, love students.” - Photo by William Harvey

CONWAY — Judy Gabbard is marking her 50th anniversary as a teacher at Central Baptist College in Conway; if it weren’t for buying a soda on campus, she might have become a doctor.

Gabbard, 71, is not retiring — she’s being recognized for her tenure by the college, where she is a professor and chairwoman of the math and science department.

Donations are being accepted for a scholarship endowment in her honor started in 2010 by her son, Rawn Gabbard of Vilonia, a Conway veterinarian.

She said the scholarship is meaningful because of its impact on students.

“I know how hard it was for me to come up with tuition money, and that’s when it was $64 a semester, and now it’s thousands a semester,” Judy Gabbard said. “To help somebody get a degree in science, to serve God in that capacity — I think that’s awesome.”

Gabbard, who was born in Waldo, moved to Texarkana when she was 5 and grew up on her parents’ dairy farm.

“We went at 4 o’clock in the morning to the barn, and my brother and I cleaned up while they were milking, and after school, we did it again,” she said.

She heard about CBC through her Texarkana church, Grace Temple Baptist. She earned a scholarship to attend the college.

“I wanted to be a doctor, but I met my husband, and I changed my career goal,” she said.

Gabbard, who now lives in the Holland community, said she met her husband, Jim, her first day on campus.

“He was in Old Main, and I was walking through Old Main. I wanted a Coke, and I knew there was a Coke machine there. I had $5, but I didn’t have change. It was like 11 cents.

“He walked by, whistling … and he said, ‘Do you need something?’”

She asked if he had change for $5.

“He said, ‘Nope, but I’ve got 11 cents.’”

The CBC campus was much different in the 1960s.

“There were no parking lots; no sidewalks — it was pretty much a bare campus with a lot of trees. It was a beautiful campus, there were only two students on campus who even had a car,” he said.

The campus had an enrollment of about 200 students then; it had 745 as of fall 2017.

Most of the buildings on campus have been built during Gabbard’s tenure.

She said Bruce Hall, the former girls dorm, is still on campus, as well as the gymnasium that was built soon after she arrived at the college.

In 2009, the CBC Board of Trustees voted unanimously to name the science center in honor of Gabbard, and in 2010, the Judy Gabbard Science Center was dedicated.

CBC was a two-year college when she attended, so Gabbard graduated in 1966 and went to the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, where she earned a double major in math and science.

Five years into teaching, she earned a master’s degree in biology.

“I like biology much better,” she said.

“Harold Cooper, my mentor, he wanted me to get all the math. He had his Ph.D. in genetics. … He wanted me to be able to do that, too.” Gabbard said he was “brilliant,” but he didn’t believe he had taken enough math classes for the statistics required to work in genetics. He didn’t want her to make the same mistake.

“I loved him and believed everything he said,” Gabbard said, laughing. Cooper was an academic dean at that time; later, he was CBC president.

Cooper came to her home and asked her to teach at the college. Her brother was living with her and her husband at the time while attending the University of Central Arkansas.

“I was so scared the night before I started to teach,” she said. “I was shaking so bad they wanted to carry me to the emergency room, but it was just nerves.

“I never wanted to teach; I said that all my life,” Gabbard said. It was standing in front of people that she dreaded.

“I wouldn’t be able to do it without God. If he wants you to do something, he’ll give you the ability to do it,” she said. “The students were about my age. It was very challenging. I had four different classes with labs.

“The first year I was here, I taught Calculus I, physical science, chemistry and physics.”

She said Cooper had a heart attack six weeks after she started teaching.

“I ended up taking on his biology and zoology classes as well,” she said.

Her former students have become doctors, pharmacists, nurses, dentists and other professionals in the science field.

Dr. Gary Bowman of Wooster, who practices at the Greenbrier Family Clinic, was one of those.

“Actually, I took chemistry, biology, zoology … all my basic sciences at CBC from her. She taught it all; she was the whole science department back then,” Bowman said.

“She encouraged me to do my best, and that’s the important thing. I was always one of those people who did just enough to slide by, and she knew that wasn’t going to be good enough,” he said.

Bowman said Gabbard has a knack for identifying personal qualities in students to highlight and bring out in them.

“She’s a precious lady and a good friend, and a patient,” which he said may be “the ultimate compliment.”

Gabbard also recalled another former student who has gone on to do well.

“One of my favorites … is Charlie Costa, our missionary to Lebanon. He was one of my students, and he was in chemistry. I honestly wanted to get rid of him because I thought he was obnoxious,” she said. “I wanted God to remove him from my class. One day God impressed me that ‘Hey, Charlie needs to be loved like everyone else.’ I said, ‘OK, God, you can love him through me.’ He didn’t bother me again.”

She found out Costa was from Lebanon and that he didn’t have a car.

“He ended up coming to my house a lot,” she said. They became friends. “Now every time he comes back from Lebanon, he comes back to visit me.”

CBC President Terry

Kimbrow said Gabbard was his physical-science teacher.

“She starts every class with a devotional every day,” he said. “I really remember her not only as a teacher, but as a professor now who just really impacts the lives of everybody she comes in contact with — she’s an encourager. I get frequent notes of encouragement from her. There’s just really nobody like her.”

Kimbrow said the Judy Gabbard scholarship fund has $7,000-plus in it, but the immediate goal is to get it to $10,000 to have the fund fully endowed.

He said that goal is easily attainable. “We’ve already gotten some contributions in her honor,” he said.

Today, Gabbard teaches botany, biology for general education and molecular/cellular biology for biology majors.

She doesn’t regret becoming a teacher instead of a doctor. Gabbard said the demands as a doctor would have made it harder to raise her three children: her son and two daughters, Sabrina Schreiber of Greenbrier, a dental hygienist for Dr. Spencer Gordy in Conway; and Brooke Gabbard of Holland, a physical therapist for Independent Living Services in Conway.

Kimbrow said Judy Gabbard’s experience is invaluable.

“I don’t want her to retire; I know that’s inevitable,” he said.

Retirement is not on Gabbard’s radar.

“Well, as long as I feel good, [I won’t retire]. I think, ‘What would I do?’ There are a lot of things I can do; I have a lot of hobbies. I’ve been sewing since I was 5,” she said, adding that she made her children’s clothes, including her daughters’ formals and wedding dresses.

She also has several show cocker spaniels. She raises the puppies, and a friend grooms and shows them, she said.

“I love to watch them win, of course. Our dogs have done very, very well,” she said.

But teaching is what fulfills her.

“This is my ministry. I believe this is where God wants me to be. I love, love, love students,” she said. “I love finding out what’s going on in their lives. With four-year degrees now, I get to see them longer.

I think it keeps you young.”

Gifts in honor of Judy

Gabbard can be made by debit or credit card online by going to cbc.edu/give. Under the “Choose a Fund” menu, select “other” and in the field below, type “Judy Gabbard Endowed Scholarship.” Mail payments by check made payable to Central Baptist College to 1501 College Ave., Conway, AR 72034; with “Judy Gabbard Endowed Scholarship” on the memo line. For more information, contact Sancy Faulk, vice president for advancement, at sfaulk@cbc.edu or (501) 205-8799.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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