GCU remembers a beloved Theology professor

Dr. Clark Youngblood saw many changes during his 31 years at Grand Canyon University. People who have been at the University for more than seven years will note the building and swimming pool on the left side of the photo — that's where the Student Advising Services and Student Life buildings now sit.

Dr. Clark Youngblood has a lofty place in the history of Grand Canyon University, and part of the reason might be that he never put himself on a pedestal.

College of Theology associate professor Anna Faith Smith remembers how Youngblood treated her after she was named his department chair, then assistant dean and associate dean.

“He always came to me with such respect and kindness, with no good reason,” she said. “I mean, I was a whippersnapper. I was a girl who didn’t have 20 years of Ph.D. teaching experience, and he treated me like I was a queen.

Anna Faith Smith

“I don’t know where that came from. But he always treated me like I was worth respecting, like I was worth honoring.”

That’s just one example of why Youngblood, who retired in 2013, is being mourned so deeply this week after word spread among longtime faculty members that he passed away Sunday.

“He was the most gentle, kind, thoughtful and quiet man,” Smith said. “He had a sharp, sharp mind, but he was just gentle in the way he presented himself. Endearing. He wasn’t a flashy man. You just respected him and felt like you were in the presence of someone worth knowing when you talked to him.”

Smith was one of several former colleagues who enjoyed semiannual dinners with Youngblood after his retirement. They were part of the “St. Martin Society,” a group who revere another Youngblood compatriot, Dr. D.C. Martin, to such a degree that they honor his February birthday and then gather again every August for good measure.

In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that Martin, Youngblood and Dr. Mike Baird, who retired in 2015 but still teaches as a professor emeritus, have a saintly place in GCU’s Christian culture.

Dr. Mike Baird

“I don’t want to say divine, but I DO want to say divine. They really were instrumental in shaping us,” said one of their peers, College of Arts and Media professor and former dean Claude Pensis.

Pensis and Youngblood both started at what was then Grand Canyon College in 1982, and they were tied for the longest tenured faculty members when Youngblood retired. Pensis celebrated his 40-year GCU anniversary last week.

“He was a lovely man — a man of God,” Pensis said.

Baird knew this “man of God” as well as anyone.

Their offices were right next to each other.

Their families traveled together around the back roads of Arizona in Youngblood’s four-wheeler.

They went to lunch once a week, often at Costco. “We liked it because it was cheap,” Baird said.

They supported each other “through thick and thin,” as Baird put it — most notably, GCU’s struggles to stay afloat in 2004.

Students loved Youngblood's kindness and sense of humor.

“He was a very faithful friend,” Baird said. “Actually, he was more than a faithful friend — he helped me more than I helped him.

“He was kind and helpful to students, not just me. I never saw him get angry. He was just always level-headed. God provided a really, really good friend for me.”

Ironically, Baird never saw Youngblood teach but knew that students loved his dry sense of humor.

Smith likened Youngblood’s personality to a quiet stream underneath a bridge.

“Clark was just the stillness. He kept things calm,” she said. “He was really bright, so that probably just fed into that. He always had a glint in his eye, like there was something going on beneath the surface.

“He was here during those tumultuous years when faculty members were here because they loved God and loved the students.”

They were years when the entire faculty could fit into Ethington Theatre for the annual meeting before the start of the academic year.

Claude Pensis

Pensis remembered how, when the meeting was over, they’d head to the grass field at 33rd Avenue and Camelback Road — now the site of the main parking garage — and gather under a large tree for a barbecue with Dr. Dave Brazell, for whom Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark is named, as pitmaster.

And right in the middle of it, as with so much else on the tiny campus, were the trio of Youngblood, Martin and Baird.

“They were, for many years, a powerhouse and an instrument for good in the best of ways,” Pensis said.

In the story announcing his retirement, Youngblood talked about why he stayed at GCU rather than seek more fame or fortune elsewhere. He remembered listening to the teachings of a Bible scholar who talked about how, when you are where God wants you, you have a sense of being “put.”

“I guess for me, God said, 'You’re put.’ Maybe that’s why I’ve been here 31 years.”

And that’s how you get put on a pedestal by everyone except yourself.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].

***

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