Posted by William Nunnelley on 2002-11-19

The chapel in Samford University's Beeson Divinity Hall has been a campus showplace since its dedication in the fall of 1995. With its majestic dome, spectacular organ, classic mural paintings and hand-carved pulpit, it evokes images of the world's great houses of worship.

Now, the structure will have something it has not had: a formal name.

The Samford Board of Trustees has voted to name the chapel for Andrew Gerow Hodges, the longtime trustee and former board chairman whose friendship with the Beeson family was so meaningful to Samford and the divinity school.

The naming of Andrew Gerow Hodges Chapel will be recognized in a special program Sunday, Nov. 24, at 3 p.m. The event is open to the public.

"It is not too much to say that the tremendous difference the Beeson family has made in Samford University never would have happened without Andrew Gerow Hodges," said Samford President Thomas E. Corts.

"Mr. Hodges has been a trustee of Samford for almost four decades. He was a friend of the Beeson family for more than half a century, was mentored by both Ralph and Dwight Beeson at Liberty National Life Insurance Company (later Torchmark), and was among those who first drew the Beesons' interest to Samford University."

Hodges "personally brought together" the Beesons and Samford's last two presidents, Leslie Wright and himself, Corts noted.

"Recognizing his role as close personal friend, charged by Ralph Beeson with 'looking after his investment in Samford,' the Board of Trustees felt it appropriate to honor Mr. Hodges in this manner," said Corts. "We believe it is much deserved."

The Beeson family gave more than $100 million to Samford during the lifetimes and in the estates of the brothers, Ralph and Dwight, and their wives, Orlean and Lucille. Among many gifts, Ralph Beeson funded and endowed the divinity school and its building and chapel.

The divinity school is named for Ralph Beeson, a frugal man who believed in giving his fortune back to the Lord's work, and his father, John Wesley Beeson, a Mississippi educator. A medallion near the pulpit of the chapel honors their memory.

Hodges, a 1942 Samford graduate, is a retired Birmingham business and civic leader. He worked with Liberty National from 1946 until retirement as executive vice president in 1984. Throughout his adult life, he also worked in behalf of numerous local charities. He has been honored with local and national awards from the Boy Scouts and others.

From Geneva, Ala., Hodges came to Samford to play football, but was forced to give up the sport due to a shoulder injury. Declared unfit for military service during World War II, he volunteered for the American Red Cross and was attached to the 94th Infantry Division in France.

In that role, he won the Bronze Star for negotiating freedom for 149 Allied prisoners of war in exchange for German POWs during late 1944. Last January, 12 of the former POWs held a reunion with Hodges in Birmingham. Most met him for the first time, but they had known his name for more than half a century.

"Thanks to Hodges, we survived," said one of the former captives, Wayne Stewart of Wenatchee, Wash.

Hodges has been a member of the Samford Board since 1962. He and his wife, the former Mary Louise Shirley, are parents of two sons, Dr. Andrew Gerow Hodges, Jr., a local psychiatrist, and Gregory, who operates an advertising and public relations firm. They have six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.