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(From an article by Lloyd Preslar, in a 1956 edition of the Old Gold & Black.)
When Wake Forest moves to Winston-Salem this spring, the College will leave behind many devoted friends and supporters. Among the group will be Dr. W. R. Cullom, who directed bible training here for more than 42-years.
Before his retirement from the faculty in 1938 at the age of 72, Dr. Cullom made his department the first School of Religion in the United States. Today, at 89, he still lives and works in Wake Forest–and with much of the vigor he possessed when he first came as a freshman in 1886.
He still travels about the state as a preacher and spends much of his indoor time writing for Baptist journals. And how does he account for his active life, even at 89?
“Once a man asked me that,” Dr. Cullom says, “and I decided to play the Pharisee. ‘I have never drunk liquor,’ I told him, ‘nor used tobacco. And I’ve always gotten plenty of good sleep.'”
Drank Every Day
“But the man told me that his father had taken a drink of liquor every day of his life, and the man’s father had died at the age of 87. I reckoned I’d better quit playing the Pharisee after that,” Dr. Cullom smiles. “I never told that story again.”
But the spry old professor does offer some explanation for his long and active life.
“There are four things I have always done,” he says, “that I can see now are as wise as if Solomon had ordered them. First, I’ve always kept my mouth shut. Second, I prayed. I always found praying helps whenever you are in trouble or need to make a decision. The third thing is that I always worked like a Trojan. And last, I waited. Everything seemed to always work out right.”
Born in Halifax
Dr. Cullom was born on a little farm in Halifax County on January 9, 1867. It was during the post-war Reconstruction days in the South, and his family often was the victim of financial hardships and carpetbaggers.
“If I had selected the worst time in history to begin life,” he believes, “I would have selected that time.”
His first job was as a farm boy for his father, and at ten-years of age, Dr. Cullom says, “I thought I could ‘side’ cotton as good as anybody.”
Willis Cullom was only 15 when he took his first job away from home. He was to operate a cotton gin at Warrenton. “You may be surprised at this,” he says. “My employer paid me $9 month the first fall I worked there.”
Two years later he became a store clerk for $15 monthly. “You see,” he smiles, “I was coming up.”
Begins Teaching Career
Dr. Cullom’s first teaching job came in 1885, when G. L. Finch asked him to go to Davie County and assist in conducting a small school there. Young Cullom had little education himself, but he took the job for one year, teaching the children in daytime and being taught himself under Finch in the evenings.
It was in 1885 also that Dr. Cullom decided he would enter the ministry. The next year he got his chance to come to Wake Forest and prepare himself for his profession.
He stayed here as a student for six years, leaving with a master of arts degree in 1892. But in ’96 after more study at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, Dr. Cullom was back in Wake Forest as a teacher.
Charles E. Taylor, then president of the College, had persuaded the trustees to create the position of Chair of the Bible, and Dr. Cullom had been chosen the first man to hold that position.
Was Also Dean
During 14 of the 42-years he was a professor at the College, Dr. Cullom served as chairman of the Board of Education of the Baptist State Convention. And for one school year he acted as dean of the entire College.
How does he feel now that the College to which he has given so much of his life is moving away?
“Things go on,” Dr. Cullom says. “Of course it hurts me to think that Wake Forest is leaving, but I think it’s the thing to do.”
When Dr. Cullom retired to become a professor emeritus almost 18-years ago, someone asked him if he were fundamentalist or modernist.
Conservative Facing Forward
“I am neither,” he replied. “I suppose I fall into the class of those who are conservative but who face forward.
“When I first came to Wake Forest as a student in ’86, I had never heard the word ‘evolution.’ It was just as if they were sweeping the Bible right out from under me.”
But one day, while talking to a student friend, Dr. Cullom found an answer which, to him, bridged the gap between his belief in the Bible story of the creation and in his college science instructor.
“It tells in Genesis,” he says, “about God making everything and the order in which he made it. But it doesn’t say how long there was between those days; it may have been ten thousand years.
“It’s really the way God does things. He doesn’t make men fully grown. He makes them as little babies. It’s the way God works.”