William Noble King, S.T.D.

 A Remembrance

                                    by       J. Prescott Johnson

In the fall of 1949, I moved with my family from Carl Junction, Missouri, where I was the pastor of the Church of the Nazarene, to assume my duties at Bethany-Peniel College as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy.  In addition to courses in philosophy, I taught classes in second year New Testament Greek and, occasionally, classes in psychology.

That same fall Dr. King came to the college to teach in the Department of Religion.  The circumstance that both of us were new members of the college faculty was a factor in bringing us close together.  At that time, I learned that while in California he had taken considerable work in philosophy, including study under B. A. G. Fuller, whose book in the history of philosophy was currently an important college text in philosophy.  We therefore shared theological and philosophical interests.

Dr. King was a bachelor, living in a small up-stairs apartment in Bethany.  It was a short distance from the college, making it possible to walk to the campus.  He did not own an automobile.  It was not long until Dr. King was virtually brought into the circle of our family, my wife, Mable, and our children who in 1949 were in their pre-school years.

Very often we had Dr. King in our home for supper.  We knew that he enjoyed this opportunity to have a home-cooked meal.  He was always so kind and considerate.  Our children responded to him and received him in their hearts as a good and respected friend.  One of the games that we played as a family was caroms.  Dr. King enjoyed playing this game.  I can still see him studiously aligning for a shot, striking the carom with his finger and thumping the target in the pocket--all of which was usually accompanied with a disquisition on the science of ballistics.

It was not long until I observed that, while Dr. King was devoted to the Church, he was nonetheless aware of its shortcomings, particularly with respect to some of the distance and abstractions of the governing general hierarchy.  His expression for them, and others in the nation of comparable disposition, was "the great ones of the earth."  How often have I heard him refer to people in using, with some disdain, this phrase!

In the spring of 1950, I decided to begin my work toward a doctorate in philosophy.  At that time, the University of Oklahoma offered only the M. A. in philosophy.  But I decided to take some graduate courses, which would transfer at another university toward the Ph. D.  I continued taking courses over the next two years.  The courses were usually seminars that met in the evenings.  Dr. King quite regularly went with me.  We would have supper together in a Norman restaurant, and he would either work in the university library or, quite frequently, sit in on the seminars as a guest.  He came to know the philosophy faculty at the university.

During the spring of 1950, I had made application to the Ph. D. programs in philosophy at two universities: the University of Illinois and Northwestern University.  My preference was Northwestern, since I wished to do my minor work at Garrett Theological Seminary in the philosophy of religion.  I was admitted to Illinois.  But I had not heard as yet from Northwestern.  However, I decided to come to Evanston on the hope that I would be admitted at Northwestern.  The day I left by bus for Chicago, my admittance to Northwestern came in the mail.  But it was not until I had met the chairman of the department that I found that I was to be included in the doctoral program at that institution.  Thus began what turned out to be a thoroughly fruitful relation with the department and the university.  And I began my work there with Dr. King's little portable typewriter that he loaned me, in exchange for my upright machine.

After I had completed some summer work at Northwestern, I would on occasion be invited to present a paper, or give a lecture, to the philosophy club at Oklahoma.  Dr. King always accompanied me.

I took graduate courses at Northwestern during the summers of 1950 and 1951.  My family and I were, of course, separated during those summers.  For the summer of 1952, I had arranged to come with my family.  We had secured an apartment near the university.  One afternoon, a few days before we were to leave for Evanston, I received a telegram (we had no home phone in those days) from the department chairman, inquiring if I would be able to accept a teaching fellowship and fulfill my residence requirements for the degree.  I went over to Dr. King's apartment with the news.  His immediate reply was, "You must take it, even if you have to relinquish your position here at the college.  It is your opportunity of a life-time."  So he and I immediately piled into my little, by then well-worn, 1938 Oldsmobile club coupe, and drove into Oklahoma City, where I telegraphed my affirmative reply.  Over the next few days, I made arrangements with the Bethany administration to take a leave of absence.  The administration was very helpful and cooperative in the matter.

My 1952-53 residence year at Northwestern was in all respects a wonderful year.  Our children were in one of the fine Evanston schools, and my wife had a fine position at a local insurance company.  With some help from Bethany and the stipend from the university, we made it through the year.  I had earlier passed my examination in classical Greek, given by the university's classical languages department.  During this academic year, I completed my residency requirements, passed the German examination, and passed the departmental preliminary examinations, taken over five days.  During the year, I corresponded regularly with Dr. King.  He was always interested in my work at the university.

In late August of 1953, we left Evanston and returned to Bethany.  I continued my teaching while working on my dissertation.  One of the pleasures of returning to Bethany was the opportunity to resume my relation with Dr. King.  His office was next to mine.  Very often, after supper, I would go to my office and work on my dissertation.  Dr. King was always in his office, pounding something out, via two index fingers furiously traversing space, on his typewriter.  At that time, as I recall, he was in the middle of Pope's theology, in connection with his lectures in advanced theology.  There were many evenings during which our work was laid aside, and we spent the time in intellectual conversation.  He was prominent among those at Bethany with whom one could engage in profitable and stimulating conversation.
We had a philosophy club at Bethany.  We met regularly.  Sometimes I would read a paper or lead a conversation.  At other times, one of the students would read a paper, written either in an advanced class or seminar.  Dr. King was a member of the group, and participated regularly.

During the years 1954-57, the period lasting until I resigned from Bethany, Dr. King was part of a small group that engaged in social and intellectual activities.  He accompanied Mable and me at the performances of the Oklahoma Symphony.  We had season tickets.  There were others, students and faculty, who also attended.  Dr. King enjoyed classical music.  The only drawback connected with his sitting with us at the performances was his habit of chewing the bows of his glasses.  But to have him with us was worth the little auditory inconvenience now and then.  After the symphony was over, we usually stopped on the way to Bethany at a little restaurant where we had hot apple pie and chocolate.

A few members of the faculty had a small "conversation society," which met in our homes.  Dr. King was a member, of course.  He often contributed to the sessions, either reading a paper or discussing some topic in which we were interested.

I remember some amusing incidents concerning Dr. King.  One of my students, I believe it was Tom Boyd, reported this one.  You may have heard it, but it bears retelling.  In one of his classes, Dr. King called the roll.  While the class was rather large, as was the roll he was calling, there were very few answers, "present."  After awhile it dawned on Dr. King that there was something amiss, but he wasn't able to figure it out.  So he kept on calling the roll, with quite unsatisfactory results.  Finally, one of the students worked up enough courage to set things right.  "You're calling the wrong roll," he said! 

Dr. King was a good, and also popular, teacher, and students flocked into his classes.  Don Conway, a philosophy major, was in one of his large classes.  Don could not believe that Dr. King read the entire test papers written by the students.  So in the middle of his answer to one of the questions, Don wrote: "Dr. King, if you read this, I'll buy you a coke."  In a day or so, Dr. King ran across Don, and said, with a somewhat mischievous smile, "Don, I'd like my coke now."

Dr. King was a remarkable man.  He was acutely intelligent.  He was also passionately committed to Christian grace and truth.  He was the friend of all who knew him, magnanimous in spirit, charitable to those whom he touched.  In his life of teaching, he gave freely of his thought and feeling, and contributed immeasurably to the generations of students who came under his wholesome influence.  He was, indeed, a scholar and a saint.  We are indebted to him and to the God who gave him to us.  Although he is no longer with us, his memory abides within our hearts, to strengthen our own continuing days.

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