Sunday, May 21, 2017

May 21, 2017, column: 'Just call me Jerry'

AC's Bible Chair director to retire this month
By Mike Haynes
            Jerry Klein’s devout mother made sure he was raised in the church, but with a father who went to the mountains on Sundays, Klein was confused about religion when he enrolled at Cameron College in Lawton, Oklahoma, in 1965.
            The recent Walters High School graduate took an Old Testament class because his friends were taking it, and he soon tried out the Bible Chair at Cameron.
            “Going to campus ministry and being surrounded by college students who really wanted to be there – we weren’t there because mama made us go,” he said. “The sincere faith of so many of them was really what made the biggest difference in my life – just seeing that faith in action made me want to be a part of it.”
Jerry Klein teaches a class
at Amarillo College.
(Photo courtesy
The Ranger/Amarillo College)

            So much so that Klein, 69, is retiring this month as director of the Amarillo Bible Chair at Amarillo College, closing a long career bookended with college ministry.
            Another influence has been Gene Byrd, who taught that Cameron Old Testament class and many years later was Klein’s boss at AC as vice president and dean of instruction.
            “Sitting with him at the student union, he asked us all kinds of questions about ourselves, and he helped me believe I could get through college and become a college teacher and major in Bible and philosophy and could figure out what I believed and maybe figure out myself,” Klein recalled.
            After graduating from Cameron (then a junior college, now a university) in 1967, he completed a bachelor’s degree in Bible and philosophy at Oklahoma Christian University in 1969. He met his wife, Janie, there. “I graduated from Oklahoma Christian, but the best thing that happened to me there was finding her,” he said.
            The newlyweds moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where Jerry earned a master’s in theology in 1974 at the Harding University graduate school. His first job was as a Bible Chair director at Henderson State University in Arkansas, and since then he has been a preacher, a church staff member, a professor and that first love, a college ministry leader – including two stints at AC beginning in 1982.
            About preaching, he said, “That was not me.” He believes he was OK, but because of his student experience at Cameron, leading a Bible Chair “is all I really wanted to do.”
            Plenty of people think he made the right choice as he combined an intellectual mind with Christian compassion.
            “The first time I came across his name was in a footnote in a Greek grammar book,” said Jon Kohler, director since 2002 of AC’s other full-time ministry, the Bible Chair of the Southwest. “He had corrected the author. Then I came to AC, and there’s Jerry Klein.”
            In addition to leading student ministry, Klein has taught academic religion and philosophy classes and plans to continue some teaching.
            “He built the religion program at AC,” Kohler said. “His fingerprints are all over it. And he has a gentleness that invites you in.”
Jerry Klein (Photo courtesy
The Ranger/Amarillo College)
        Samantha Jewett, an AC counselor, has taken six religion courses under Klein. “Jerry is one of the most well-read and intelligent people I have ever met,” she said. “Yet he is so humble that this brilliant man tells his students, ‘Please just call me Jerry.’
            “He allows students to think for themselves. He inspires students to want to read and learn more. Through his teaching, he has brought me closer to God.”
            Such inspiration is not an overt part of Klein’s classes at the state-supported college. “I allow the students in my classes to express whatever point of view they want to express, and when I grade their papers, I tell them their conclusions never have to agree with mine, but their conclusions have to be reasonable,” he said. “That gives students from many different religious backgrounds an opportunity to hear other points of view.”
            Melodie Hefley, a recent Tascosa graduate and a religion major, took Klein’s Life of Christ class this spring. “He was very focused on teaching us material not just so we could pass the class but so we could get something out of it personally,” she said. “He said, ‘I’m not here to push my religion on you. I’m here to teach you so you can come to your own conclusions.’ He’s adamant about that.”
              Even at the church-supported Bible Chair across the street from campus, Klein’s approach is nurturing, not dogmatic. Painted on a wall and printed on his business card is the slogan, “A Place To Make Your Faith Your Own.”
            Through Christian club Kappa Chi, Klein has led students in meetings, devotionals, meals and retreats. “You can’t bless anybody if you can’t get them in your building,” he said, “if you can’t sit down with them in the College Union Building.” His wife Janie’s cookies have been one attraction, just one of her many support roles.
            Mural Worthey is coming from Virginia to take Klein’s Bible Chair position July 1. It will be a new era as Klein’s health issues pull him away from his dream job.
            “I’ve tried to be the best teacher I could be,” he said. “And I’ve tried to love the students, be there to encourage them and laugh with them and cry with them.
            “I found what I wanted to be, and I got to be it, and not many can look back on their life and say they did what they wanted to do right where they wanted to do it.”