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(By Beverly Whisnant, retired SEBTS library)
I was an interested observer in 1991 when Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Vice President Paul Fletcher asked my young friend Doug Buttram to accept the task of doing whatever was necessary to restore the stone wall around the campus to its appearance when Tom Jeffries, its lone builder, completed it.
Doug was a part-time employee in the grounds department while he earned his Masters of Divinity degree. He accepted the assignment and began his lone experience rebuilding the wall.
Occasionally when Doug turned to move a stone in this dry-stacked wall, he would turn back to work and find in the dirt a surprise relic that had been hidden for years among the rocks.
Doug began to bring the relics to the Seminary library, where we placed them on a small unused desk in the corner of my office. His collection grew to include an assortment of coins, an inkwell, a joint of cow or deer bones still connected in its socket, marbles, a fork from a child’s tea set, and what we thought might be an ammunition ball.
He found not treasures of great value, but simple objects that had simply survived their isolation. Doctor Elmo Scoggin, SEBTS Hebrew professor and archaeologist, advised us not to wash the dirt away but to leave them in the state they were found.
Doug often worked in adverse weather conditions, either in the summer heat or winter cold. He was alone with his thoughts. Vice President Fletcher deemed him our modern-day Nehemiah, the biblical figure who rebuilt Jerusalem.
Doug’s spiritual life grew deeper.
He told me he often felt a Divine hand guiding him. On the day this photograph was made, Doug recalls feeling an unusual peace. Upon close examination of the image, there seems to be an aura of light around his head.
Doug treasures this photograph because he’s surrounded by large stones and dirt, evidence of his hard work, and the suggestion of an aura around his head represents God’s gifts of perseverance and a sense of peace and contentment.
Passersby on the street and students crossing campus watched with growing interest. After three years, the wall repair was finished and Vice President Fletcher had a plaque erected on the south side of the wall to correspond with the plaque commemorating wall-builder Tom Jeffries at the north side.
At a dedication ceremony to honor Doug’s work, Wake Forest College Birthplace Society President Susan Brinkley made appropriate remarks thanking Doug for his contribution toward preserving our beloved campus landmark.
At Susan Brinkley’s request, the wall relics went from obscurity on the corner desk in the SEBTS libary to the museum for safekeeping and display.
Even though Doug has said that he wasn’t sure his work deserved a plaque, I believe he does indeed deserve recognition for his commitment to completing this silent, daunting, and important task