ACU Remembers: Kenneth L. Sinclair

Kenneth Sinclair by Tommy Chia 2015 600x450 96Family, students, colleagues and other friends stopped today to remember one of Abilene Christian University’s most beloved international ambassadors.

Kenneth Leroy Sinclair (’65) died unexpectedly Dec. 2, 2015, while traveling in Singapore at age 73. The former missionary-in-residence in ACU’s Halbert Institute for Missions was there to visit alumni and friends, encourage churches and officiate at a wedding, but fell ill and died a few days later of complications caused by the Dengue virus.

He was born Sept. 6, 1942, in Plainview, Texas.

Sinclair earned a B.A. in Bible and a Master of Missiology (1978) degree, both from ACU. He served as a missionary and church planter to various Church of Christ congregations in Malaysia, Singapore and the Republic of Indonesia; recruited and trained missions teams; and traveled extensively researching evangelism opportunities in countries such as Taiwan, Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. In the U.S. he was pulpit minister for congegations in Lake Jackson and Sonora, Texas.

From 1991-2004, he taught Bible classes at ACU to several thousand international students who came to know their “Uncle Ken” as a lifelong friend, mentor and spiritual father.

In Abilene he was a member of South 11th and Willis Church of Christ, where his service as outreach coordinator included pastoral teaching and counseling in the Taylor County Jail and several prisons in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system.

He was preceded in death by his parents, William H. and Myrtle (Sandefur) Sinclair; two sisters and a brother.

Among survivors are his wife, Estelle (White ’65) Sinclair; a son, David Sinclair (’96); a daughter, Kyna Sinclair (’99); and five grandchildren.


ACU Remembers: Dr. Ed Enzor Jr.

EnzorBD-001 200x250 96Dr. Edwin H. Enzor Jr. (’59 M.A.) died Nov. 30, 2015, in Abilene at age 80.

He was born Oct. 10, 1935, in Washington, D.C., graduating from Washington Lee High School in Arlington, Va., in 1955. He earned a B.A. in history from Lipscomb University in 1957, a master’s in communication from ACU and a doctorate in communication from Louisiana State University in 1964. He married Norma Anders (’61) on Aug. 30, 1956, and she died Nov. 13, 2014. He married Susan Purrington (’72) in 2015.

Enzor retired as professor emeritus of communication in 1998 after a 33-year career at ACU in which he served as assistant academic dean, chair of the Department of Communication and the Faculty Senate, and senior development officer. He preached full time for congregations in Texas, Virginia, Louisiana and Maryland. He served as vice president and president of Enzor Travel Service and president of Enzor Consulting Inc.

In retirement he was founder and board chair of Global Samaritan Resources. He received GSR’s inaugural Founders Award in 2012. He also served on the board of Jeremiah’s Hope and other nonprofit organizations.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Edwin Enzor Sr. and Marinette (Loflin) Enzor; Norma, his first wife of 58 years; and a sister, Mary (Enzor) Davis. Among survivors are Susan, his second wife; a son, Brett Enzor (’88); a daughter, Lara Enzor (’90); an adopted son, Tangent Lin (’98); a step-son, James Vickers Jr.; and three grandchildren.


Justice Boyd and the Supremes court campus

Justices _____ flash the W-C to the delight of the ACU audience gathered in the McCaleb Conference Center.

Justices (from left) John P. Devine, Debra H. Lehrmann, Don R. Willett, Paul W. Green, Nathan L. Hecht, Phil Johnson, Eva M. Guzman, Jeffrey S. Boyd and Jeff Brown flash the W-C to the delight of the ACU audience gathered in the McCaleb Conference Center.

About 500 attendees experienced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Nov. 13 to listen to two cases brought before the Texas Supreme Court – and see the justices collectively flash the W-C on Abilene Christian University’s campus.

Jeffrey S. Boyd (’__)

Boyd was proud for his alma mater to host his fellow justices from the Texas Supreme Court.

Justice Jeffrey S. Boyd (’83) is officially the only Wildcat on the court, but the other eight justices showed their support as they for the first time sat in session at ACU in the Hunter Welcome Center. They also gamely displayed the Wildcat hand symbol during a break and a later photo session to the delight of attendees, who ranged from area legal professionals to grade-school students. Many in the ACU and Abilene communities also joined the justices at a reception Thursday night and a luncheon Friday.

“The justices were quite taken with the importance of their visiting a university – this university – among their two trips away from Austin each year,” said Dr. Neal Coates (’87), professor and chair of the university’s political science department. “They usually hold hearings at a law school in Texas, but they quickly concluded during their visit that ACU is a special place. As Texas Supreme Court justice Jeffrey Brown said, ‘ACU rolled out the purple carpet for the Texas Supreme Court.’ ”

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Justice Don R. Willett, a former deputy Texas attorney general, deputy U.S. assistant attorney general and special assistant to President George W. Bush, talks to ACU students gathered in the Hunter Welcome Center.

The honor of hosting allowed the university to tout its alumni ties, notably former Chief Justice Jack Pope (’34), the longest-serving Texas Supreme Court justice (38 years) in history and for whom the Jack Pope Fellows Program at ACU is named. Ties to the current court include Melanie (Booker ’06) Fry, who clerked for Texas Supreme Court justice Don R. Willett, and Connor Best (’12), who is currently clerking for Boyd.

The court heard oral arguments in two cases and afterward took questions from attendees, most of which related to how the court chooses cases to hear and how justices work separately and together to arrive at and deliver opinions on such cases. ACU students in select classes as well as Jack Pope Fellows were able to meet with the justices for smaller question and answer sessions. Display cases featuring memorabilia from Pope’s life and career were put on display for the occasion on the first floor of the Hunter Welcome Center and are now in the Brown Library.

For those who weren’t able to attend the session, video and audio of the oral arguments are available on the court’s website. (See cases 14-0362 and 14-0456.)

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Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and Justice Boyd visit with students in the Don Garrett Conference Room.

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Justice Phil Johnson makes a point during proceedings. 

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The McCaleb Conference Center was packed with ACU students during public sessions. 


ACU Remembers: Dr. Pauline Bjorem

Pauline Bjorem 200x300 96Abilene Christian University faculty member Dr. Pauline (Kung ’93) Bjorem died Nov. 15, 2015, in Dallas after a long battle with cancer. The associate professor of music was 45 years old.

She was born April 2, 1970, in Penang, Malaysia, and at age 14 became the first Malaysian to attend the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School of Music in England. As a piano, violin and flute prodigy, she received the prestigious Martin Musical Scholarship from the Philharmonia Orchestra in London.

She married Brent Bjorem (’94) on Feb. 26, 1996. After earning a bachelor’s degree in music performance from ACU, she received a master’s in music performance in 1996 from Hardin-Simmons University and a doctorate in piano performance and pedagogy in 2005 from the University of Oregon. She performed recitals and taught master classes around the world, and served on the music faculty of four colleges and universities.

Among survivors are Brent, her husband of 19 years; a daughter, Kiana; her parents, Chew Soon and Chew Sew Kung; and brothers Paulson Kung and Jason Kung.


Neece’s teammates rallied around him, family

Many of Neece's former teammates and coaches gathered for dinner with him April 15.

Many of Neece’s former teammates and coaches gathered for dinner with him April 15.

Former ACU football letterman Doug Neece (’93) of Albany, Texas, will be remembered Tuesday at a memorial service in Abilene. His Wildcat teammates were a part of his family, and they made sure they didn’t wait too late to remind him of it.

More than 30 of them gathered April 15 to celebrate their friendship with the 43-year old Neece, who has battled cancer since Oct. 1, 2014, and died last Friday, Nov. 13. He was presented with an ACU football helmet and a signed letter from his teammates. An excerpt:

Neece was recruited to play running back for the Wildcats after earning high school all-state honors in Edmond, Okla.

Neece was recruited to play running back for the Wildcats after earning high school all-state honors in Edmond, Okla.

“Doug, I recently heard the true meaning of the word TEAM. The true meaning is FAMILY. It means brothers. It means sacrifice. It means laughter and it means pain. It means to lift when the other can’t. It means to kneel when the other needs the higher place. It means tears, it means prayer and it means memories – old and new. It means struggles and it means triumph. It means the arms to your left and the arms to your right. It means the steps taken before you and the feet behind you to catch you if you fall. It means a bond unbreakable, together forever and unconditional. Team means family. Team means love. Doug, we gathered here as a Team. Not just coaches, staff and players but as a real team, your team, members of a body so much stronger than most will ever know. We gathered for you as your family and we love you with all of our heart. We are here to lift and encourage, to laugh and to pray, to be there in your trials and to rejoice in your triumphs. Let this helmet remind you of all the battles your team fought with you and know there is never a war we won’t gladly fight again at your side.”

Neece played from 1989-92 for the Wildcats.

Neece played from 1989-92 for the Wildcats.

Those present included John Bunton (’94), Mike Chapman (’93), Tim Chapman (’93), Bryan Clark (’94), Joseph Crook (’93), Scott Dillon (’94), Chris Fanelli (’93), Mike Fuller (’92), Todd Hardy (’95), James Hunter (’98), Eric Herm (’96), Craig Jones (’93), Lance Landry (’94), Brian McCormick (’93), Dale McKinnon (’95), Robb McKinnon (’91), Matt McMillon (’92), Hurley Miller (’93), Joey Nanus (’90), Jason Patterson (’92), Oscar Shorten (’93) Cory Stovall (’94), Brian Thomas (’93), Rusty Whitt (’94), David Wright (’93), and former coaches Bob Shipley (’84), Jerry Wilson (’71) and Mark Wilson (’84).

Two of Neece’s sons play football for state-ranked Albany High School, which advanced to the Class 2A Division II state title game last year and is once more in the playoffs. The night his father died, Drew Neece, a quarterback, threw five scoring passes – and led his team to touchdowns on its first six possessions – in an emotional 54-17 win over Haskell. Dax Neece plays defense for the Lions, whose season continues Friday night against Van Horn in Midland.

Read Neece’s full obituary here. Survivors include his wife of 21 years, Kim (Bartee ’95); sons Drew, Dax, Brooks and Bennett Neece; his parents, Art and Jane (Berry ’65) Neece; and brothers Greg Neece and Brad Neece.

His memorial service will be 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17, at Beltway Park Church – North Campus (2850 Texas Highway 351, Abilene, TX 79601).


Perfect match: Alums form cancer-fighting duo

Students register for the Delete Blood cancer donor drive in McGlothlin Campus Center.

More than 600 registered this fall for the Delete Blood cancer donor drive in McGlothlin Campus Center and other locations in Abilene.

Earl Young (’62) doesn’t take no for an answer. Or at least not well.

Then again, when you’ve already twice beaten the odds I’m talking crazy odds, like being struck by lightning while winning the lottery you’re probably not quick to accept others’ ideas of what can and can’t be done.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

The man who won an Olympic gold medal at age 19 as a rising junior at Abilene Christian University also, thanks to a life-saving bone marrow transplant, beat leukemia more than half a century later. His chances of accomplishing each? One in 22 million. Young has been the catalyst behind the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ national swab drive to register marrow donors. It began Nov. 2 and continues through Nov. 13. ACU, as the instigating institution, got a head start with its campaign Oct. 29 Nov. 2.

If Young is the inspiration, the perspiration has come from Dr. Jan Meyer (87), ACU’s dean of leadership development. The CCCU initiative grew out of Young’s lap around an oval of Church of Christ-affiliated universities last school year when he engineered drives at Lipscomb University, Harding University, York College and Oklahoma Christian University, all culminating with an event at ACU in April.

But that barnstorming would never have happened without the brainstorming Young did with Meyer.

After joining forces with the Dallas office of Delete Blood Cancer, an international non-profit promoting marrow donor registration, Young made it his mission to grow the global database of willing donors from its total (at the time) of less than 25 million. The first target? His alma mater.

Young wanted to bring DBC to ACU for a swab drive marrow registration requires only a quick, Q-tip sampling of cells from the inside of the cheek and the sooner, the better. He approached me about the idea in the summer of 2014, stating his preference to have it that September. Seemed simple enough. But with a school calendar set months in advance and my hectic broadcast schedule conspiring against his desire to fast-track the plan, Young settled for April 2015.

But sprinters don’t sit back.

Getting wind from a friend that ACU and Meyer were hosting student development leaders from other Church of Christ-related schools in October, Young made a move. He asked me to connect him with Meyer, whom he hadn’t met, so he could request an audience with those university leaders. The two became fast friends and teammates.

In Meyer, Young found a fellow cancer survivor and a kindred spirited spirit. After months of tests for a variety of confusing symptoms, Meyer was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer in January 2000. Nine months, 20 chemotherapy sessions and one nearfatal infection later, she was still standing but in a different place.

“Our family knows cancer,” says Meyer, whose parents, brother and sister have all battled the disease. “We’ve lived it. We’re survivors. And when we look around and see people who don’t make it, we live with even more purpose and passion.”

Though the two-day conference schedule was already full, Meyer squeezed Young in. His message fell on fertile soil. Soon, many of those campuses began hosting swab drives with Young carrying the baton. It didn’t take long to produce results. Within two months of the drive at Lipscomb, three people who registered were identified as matches for cancer patients needing a marrow transplant.

The relay continued. Oklahoma Christian’s president emeritus Dr. Mike O’Neal suggested Young connect with CCCU, of which OCU and ACU and about 180 other universities worldwide are members. CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra, J.D., invited Young to share his vision with the council’s dean of students conference in June. With the endorsement and encouragement from ACU executive vice president Dr. Allison Garrett, CCCU agreed to have its member schools representing more than half a million students host drives during this 12-day period in partnership with Delete Blood Cancer and Young’s newly formed foundation known as Earl Young’s Team.

ACU’s drive, staged at the McGlothlin Campus Center, residence halls and the Oct. 31 home football game, crossed the finish line with 617 registrations. Added to the 599 who swabbed and signed up during the April event, ACU, led by Young and Meyer, has now been responsible for adding more than 1,200 to the international donor registry four of whom have already been contacted as matches.

When Meyer emailed the steering committee with the final tally, Young replied, “This is terrific. The largest percentage of any school we’ve worked with!”

Meyer answered, “We love you and want you to be proud of your alma mater.”

As you might guess by now, Young isn’t slowing down. He is now working with the Southland Conference to have its member schools host swab drives next semester and has his sights set on other conferences and the NCAA, itself, in addition to schools, churches and corporate America. And he’s using Meyer’s strategy for the ACU drives as the model.

Two ACU alums, diagnosed with a disease a decade apart, teaming up to help save others in the same situation.

“That’s why this is important to me in the same way it is to Earl,” Meyer says. “Paying it forward.”

“We’re kids of the King,” says Young. “That means we go big!”

Which means if he finds out you’ve read this story, there’s a reasonably good chance Young will ask you to host a drive at your place of work, worship or community. And the Olympic sprinter’s track record suggests he can run, and you can’t hide.


VIA News: The Quad named for McGlothlins

The ACU community has a new spot on campus to enjoy: The Quad.

Ray and Kay McGlothlin

The McGlothlinsThe ACU community has a new spot on campus to enjoy: The Quad.

The outdoor gathering space in front of the Onstead Science Center on the south end of campus was dedicated in a Nov. 6 ceremony in honor of Ray (’49) and Kay (Dollar ’49) McGlothlin, longtime supporters of ACU and members of Hillcrest Church of Christ in Abilene. Ray served on the university’s Board of Trustees for almost 40 years beginning in 1964; Kay was one of the founding members and longtime leaders of Women for ACU.

The Quad is bordered by the Onstead Science Center, the Hardin Administration Building, Zellner Hall, the Phillips Education Building and the Halbert-Walling Research Center. An outgrowth of the Vision in Action initiative, it was created with students in mind as a gathering place to relax and find inspiration, president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) said at the dedication ceremony.

“I am so excited to help dedicate this beautiful space where students, faculty, staff and campus guests can fellowship for years to come,” Schubert said. “It couldn’t be named for two more deserving people.”

The Quad’s proximity to our state-of-the-art science facilities reflects on the McGlothlins’ years of connection with faculty and students in the sciences, Schubert said. One of the walkways has inlaid bronze notes from the first verse of ACU’s school song, a tribute to the couple’s well-known love of music. A student-designed sculpture for the space is still in the planning phase.

Schubert relayed stories shared by two of the McGlothlins’ daughters, Danna (McGlothlin ’80) Oliver and Nita (McGlothlin ’75) Rampey, about their parents’ involvement with students throughout the years, from their legendary “Sing Along with Ray and Eat Along with Kay” nights (which became known as “Song ’n Supper”) to the couple attending countless ACU women’s basketball games and Homecoming events.  

“Innovation, steadfastness, exceptional work and generosity – these are all values we admire and cultivate at ACU,” Schubert said. “Ray and Kay embody them so beautifully.”

Read more of the backstory in the upcoming Fall-Winter 2015 issue of ACU Today.

Danna (McGlothlin ’__) and Eric Oliver (’__) spoke at the dedication ceremony for The Quad. Danna is one of Ray and Kay's three daughters and Eric is her husband.

Danna (McGlothlin ’80) and Eric Oliver (’81) spoke at the dedication ceremony for The Quad. Danna is one of Ray and Kay’s three daughters and Eric is her husband.


The Bookcase: Along the Way

acupressbooks.com

With this post, we begin The Bookcase, an online series allowing readers of ACU Today a look at books authored, compiled, edited, illustrated or photographed by Abilene Christian University alumni, faculty, staff and students, as well as those produced by ACU Press and Leafwood Publishers, Abilene Christian’s two imprints. It expands on what we publish in each printed issue of the magazine.

We hope you enjoy the content and share it with others!

Conversations about children and faith draw us close to the heart of God. Among the people of God, these talks are justifiably nuanced and passionate. The authors of Along the Way lead everyone in the church – parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, ministers and leaders – in careful yet understandable dialogue about nurturing children spiritually. Along the way, we discover how the individuality of each child and the distinctiveness of their context call us to see each child’s walk with God as a unique journey of discovery. We also learn that sharing these paths with children changes and blesses us at least as much as it does them.

  • Dr. Ron Bruner (’10 D.Min.) is executive director of Westview Boys Home in Hollis, Okla. Decades of experience, scholarship, ministerial leadership, and life with his own children and grandchildren inform his understanding of children and faith. He has a B.S. in business from Oklahoma Christian University and an M.A. in ministry and D.Min. from ACU.
  • Dana (Kennamer ’81) Pemberton directs the nationally recognized teacher education program at ACU. While a passionate researcher on children’s spiritual development, she is “Teacher Dana” to the children (and young adults) at her home church. She has B.A. and M.Ed. degrees from ACU and a doctorate from The University of Texas at Austin.

ISBN 978-0-89112-460-3 • $19.99 • acupressbooks.com

ACU Press and Leafwood Publishers serve Abilene Christian University through publishing scholarly work, faith-building resources and regional books.

Learn more about books authored or edited by ACU alumni, faculty, staff and students in The Bookcase in ACU Today magazine’s latest issue:


Rare football game reboot set for Sunday

Wildcat rushing star Jimmy Hirth

Wildcat rushing star Jimmy Hirth

It takes a lot to postpone a scheduled college football game.

For the first time Saturday in 57 years, the Abilene Christian University Wildcats did not play as intended, with record-breaking rainfall and flood warnings as the culprits.

A two-day downpour in Central Texas has dumped upwards of 20 inches of rain in places such as Corsicana. San Antonio – where ACU opponent University of the Incarnate Word is located – saw a one-day rainfall record of more than 3.53 inches with up to 3 more inches possible.

The deluge has thrown a Texas-sized wet blanket over UIW’s Homecoming weekend. It also was enough for the Alamo City to, well, close the Alamo – it is Founders Day today – as well as major tourist attractions Seaworld, Six Flags Fiesta Texas and the local zoo.

UIW postponed men’s and women’s soccer matches and the university – whose Benson Stadium for football sits, elevation-wise, well below its main campus – decided to throw in the towel and agree with ACU officials to try again tomorrow in what could be the first Wildcat football game to be played on a Sunday.

Kickoff tomorrow is set for 2 p.m., assuming the remnants of Hurricane Patricia don’t cause even more problems; forecasts call for up to another foot of precipitation for the region.

Even bone-dry Abilene has seen more than 5 inches of rain in the last two days.

The last time an ACU football game was cancelled by weather was Sept. 21, 1957, when Commerce was hit hard by a four-hour downpour just before game time. The contest between ACU and East Texas State (now known as Texas A&M-Commerce) was mutually agreed upon by Wildcat athletics director A.B. Morris and Lion head coach J.V. Sikes to be cancelled because of risks to the “health of the players” and “damage to stadium equipment,” according to Abilene Reporter-News sportswriter Fred Sanner. The game was not rescheduled.

“Saturday’s cancellation shouldn’t have happened to anyone,” wrote Sanner, “unless it was the four game officials who tucked away their checks and drove home to spend the evening in a dry living room.”

Even more unhappy than the wet writer were the two chartered busloads of alumni from Dallas arriving just before kickoff, “only to find that the game had been called off and that the ACC team had returned to Greenville,” reported Sanner, who also cited the misfortune of family members of a player who had drove from Wichita, Kan., to Commerce, only to be disappointed.

The 1957 Wildcats finished 5-3-1 for head coach N.L. “Nick” Nicholson, including a win over North Texas and losses to Florida State and Southern Mississippi. They were powered by Jimmy Hirth (’59), who was ACU’s second leading career rusher when he graduated – and was inducted in 2001 to his alma mater’s Sports Hall of Fame.

The most well-known rescheduled ACU football game was in 1963, when the Wildcats and Fresno State University Bulldogs postponed their Nov. 23 matchup because of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the day before in Dallas. The game was played instead on Nov. 30, with ACU winning 32-29.


10 Questions with Broadway actor Ben Jeffrey

Fred Berman as Timon and Ben Jeffrey as Pumbaa are as close off the Broadway stage as on it.

Fred Berman as Timon (left) and Ben Jeffrey as Pumbaa are nearly as close off the Broadway stage as on it in their performances in The Lion King.

One of Abilene Christian University’s most accomplished young graduates is Ben Jeffrey (’06), who has played Pumbaa in Broadway’s The Lion King since 2010. Jeffrey will be performing a one-man show, 1,700 Miles to Broadway, on Nov. 10, as the fall semester Lights Up! event to raise funds for the Department of Theatre.

Jeffrey has played Pumbaa in "The Lion King" since 2010.

Ben Jeffrey

What can someone in the audience expect from your one-man show at ACU?

First and foremost, I think they can expect a lot of fun. We love theatre because it’s many things; it teaches us, it moves us, it inspires us, but just as importantly, it’s fun! So I’m going to sing some of my favorite songs and tell some of my favorite stories about my experience on the great white way. Whether you’re a veteran theatre-goer or you’ve never seen a live show before, I think there’s going to be something there for everyone.

How did the idea for it – and the theme of 1,700 Miles to Broadway – get started?

I’ve actually been wanting to return to ACU for quite some time. My wife has never been, and so much has changed since I was there. However, while it’s possible to get time away from The Lion King, it’s not always easy, and the timing has never worked out. But this summer I went to see After Zoey, which was written by professor of theatre Adam Hester (’77) – it was divine – and while I was catching up with him, I told him I’d love to come back to ACU sometime soon. A few weeks later, Dawne (Swearingen ’95) Meeks called me because they were looking for a way to kick-start this semester’s Lights Up! fundraiser for ACU Theatre. The Lion King let me off for a few days, and we started planning a cabaret show.

The title and theme actually came about while I was making travel plans. On a whim, I Googled the distance from ACU to New York City (1,730 miles) and it got me thinking about how far I’ve traveled – geographically, intellectually, spiritually – since I was a freshman theatre major. That journey was facilitated in no small part by the education and support I received at ACU.

Now, I get to make the 1,700-mile trip back, and hopefully bring some of my favorite things about Broadway to the university and department that gave me so much, and that still hold a very dear place in my heart.

After five-and-a-half years of performances as Pumbaa, how do you look at the role compared to when you first began playing it in 2010?

It’s so strange, because we learn all these skills to bring a character and story to life, and they’re invaluable. And when I first started in the role, that process was exhilarating. Discovering who Pumbaa is, what drives him, what matters to him, why he has a good story to tell – that was thrilling. After more than 2,000 performances, the goal is the same: to keep re-creating that first time energy and feeling, as though I’m still telling the story for the first time. The process is a little different, because I know the show so intimately now. So instead of figuring out the show (like we did when we were first learning it), now we are constantly looking for new ways to keep the show fresh, alive and true to the story we’re telling. One of the reasons it’s lasted so long on Broadway (it’ll be 18 years on Nov. 17) is that it has a creative team and cast who refuse to become sedentary and succumb to mediocrity.

At 45 pounds, Pumbaa’s costume is reportedly the heaviest in The Lion King. How have you adapted to wearing it?

It’s no secret that Pumbaa likes to break actors. He even broke me in my first year, and I was out of the show for three months getting knee surgery. I’m actually grateful to Pumbaa and the surgery, because they forced me to take charge of my health. I lost weight to take the pressure off my knees, and have made the gym part of my job. Now, I still get sore and tired from time to time, but I’m able to lead a pretty active lifestyle in addition to the show.

Does Pumbaa’s onstage friendship with Timon (played by Fred Berman) translate to an off-stage one as well? 

If Fred ever reads this, he’ll probably make fun of me, because I’ll get all sappy about him. I hope everyone is lucky enough to work with and share a dressing room (or office or cubicle or whatever) with someone like Fred Berman. We joined the cast together, so we’ve been sharing a dressing room for five-and-a-half years. While it’s true we often fight like an old married couple, I consider myself very lucky to say that Fred is indeed one of my closest friends. He also is hilarious, and is a large part of the reason the show never gets boring for me.

Are you successful at leaving Pumbaa’s makeup and costume at the Minskoff Theatre at the end of the day, or does your wife, Christina, think you take any part of the character home with you?

Christina often tells me that I “Have a little Pumbaa” behind my ear. I think I’m pretty good at leaving work at work, but work, in the form of grease paint, doesn’t always return the favor.

You have performed as Babkak in Aladdin, another Disney stage musical on Broadway. How did that opportunity come along and what was it like?

That was a crazy experience, and I haven’t had that much fun in a long time! The usual Babkak was injured, and the guys who cover his role were already needed to cover other roles. I’d done some of the first readings of Aladdin when they were workshopping it to figure out if they would bring it to Broadway. They called me on a Tuesday and told me they wanted me to learn the show in a week and then go into performance! I buckled down and worked as hard as I could, and the cast and crew were more supportive than I could have asked for. In fact, when I had my “put-in rehearsal” (where I do the show in full costume, makeup, and sets, etc., but the rest of the cast doesn’t have to wear full costumes), the cast all made The Lion King costumes to welcome me into Aladdin. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time there because, fortunately, the fellow who played Babkak was able to heal quickly and return to work. Perhaps I’ll go back one day, but for now, I’m just grateful I got to perform in the show and meet that wonderful group of people.

Do you see yourself doing musical theatre for a career or exploring other forms of acting?

I love theatre and musical theatre, and they’ll always be my first love, but there’s a whole different kind of fun (and a slightly different set of tools) to use when you’re acting for the camera. I will be grateful to have a career acting in any medium.

Jeffrey portrayed Horton the Elephant in Seussical, the 2005 Homecoming Musical during ACU's Centennial Celebration year.

Jeffrey portrayed Horton the Elephant in Seussical, the 2005 Homecoming Musical performed during ACU’s Centennial Celebration year.

What did you learn during your time in ACU’s Department of Theatre that still resonates each day?

There’s a very long list, but here a few highlights.

If had to pick one central theme I picked up from ACU, it would be that theatre is an act of service. It’s not about showboating. It’s not about getting famous or rich. It’s not a highlight of the self; in fact, it is a letting go, a giving away, of self. In a way unique among the fine arts, we make the word flesh with our whole selves, our bodies, our minds, our voices, our spirit. As soon as you take that gift, that service, and make it about yourself, you’re missing the whole point of what good theater is. When people come to see a performance, whether it be The Lion King or 1,700 Miles to Broadway, my hope is that they leave with something they didn’t have before; and a part of that something will be a little piece of me.

I also learned, just as importantly, that you should be nice to everyone, all the time. There’s no reason to not be nice, ever. It’s easy. Just be polite. They call that being a grown up in the world. The stage hands, the dressers, the musicians, the ushers, the stage managers, the porters, all of them enable you to do what you do as an actor. So be grateful. They work just as hard (often much harder) than you do, and nobody is clapping for them at the end of their workday.

But most of all, I learned from my instructors by watching how they lived their faith as opposed to talking about their faith. What I’ve found in my career (and life) is that people don’t need me to tell them about Jesus very often. They don’t need to hear about how they’re sinning, or why what they believe doesn’t make as much sense as what I do, or even about how Jesus loves them no matter what they do or who they are or where they come from. They don’t need me to talk about that stuff. They probably need me to live it. They need me to be supportive when they’re hurting. They need to know I can be loyal and kind and trustworthy, regardless of what they do. That beautiful group of teachers at the ACU Department of Theatre almost never talked about that. They were too busy showing it to me by living it.

What’s your “elevator speech” to someone who asks about the ups and downs of your professional career since marrying and moving to New York City?  

After ACU, I went to Rutgers University in New Jersey (at the time, it was one of the top five schools in the country for a master’s degree in acting). I graduated from Rutgers in May 2009. I married in October 2009, and Christina and I moved to New York that November.

[ As a side note, I tell people it’s not a good idea to get married and move across the country to a horrible apartment in Brooklyn with no money, no jobs and no friends nearby. That’s a very bad idea. ]

When I got to New York, I had seven years of higher education in acting and almost no skills in any other job. I ended up working at Starbucks, which is a great company, but it’s a horrendously tough job in New York, and the cost of living is so high that a paycheck at Starbucks just doesn’t cut it to live. But it was all I had. I worked there for four months. Three months in, I called my dad because I was so depressed I couldn’t see straight. I said, “Dad, I have a master’s degree, and I’m making yuppies their lattes. I’m supposed to be more than this.”

And he said, “Well, Ben, I agree, you’re supposed to be more than some guy who makes lattes. The thing is, you already are. Working at Starbucks (or anywhere else) doesn’t give you your identity. You know where your identity comes from. And you can be everything you were ever meant to be, and still work at Starbucks. I don’t think you’ll stay there for long, though.”

What my dad was getting at was that I identify myself as one of God’s kids. If I really believe that, then I believe that being God’s kid is enough. I can work at Starbucks, as a garbage man, as a Broadway performer or as a contractor, and none of them would tell me who I am. You can’t identify yourself by your art. You are much bigger than what you do.

The rest of the story is that about three weeks after I talked to my Dad, I booked two television shows. A week later, I booked The Lion King.

Read the profile of Ben in ACU Today magazine’s Spring 2011 issue: