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Gracious Greeter

February 29, 2008 : Mitzi Bible

Dave Campbell has an important job at Liberty University. He’s part museum host, part recruiter, part student mentor and part athletics booster.

Well, he doesn’t hold all those titles officially, but he does step into all those roles on a regular basis.

Campbell, an 83-year-old World War II veteran who was born and raised in Lynchburg, retired from banking after 41 years and worked in the hotel business 12 years after that. But when he learned the hotel where he was working was being sold and he would be without a job, he called one of his best friends –- the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. The two knew each other “from way back” through common business and community interests.

Shortly after their talk, Campbell said he received a call from Jerry Falwell Jr. who told him about the museum that was about to be presented to his Dad as a birthday gift. He wanted to know if Campbell could work at the museum. He agreed immediately and has remained museum host for four years. He works from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on weekdays and relies on his wife and his son for transportation every day.

“They know how important this is to me,” he said.

The Falwell Museum, located off the grand lobby of the DeMoss Learning Center, was suggested by Falwell Jr. as a gift to his dad on his 70th birthday on Aug. 11, 2003. It includes displays of the history of the Falwell family and the ministries’ growth through the years, a media room, equipment used for “The Old Time Gospel Hour” broadcasting and other historical documents chronicling each of the ministries. Paula Johnson spent the summer of 2003 working with Falwell Jr. and his wife, Becki, creating the museum and assembling the memorabilia that Falwell Jr. had collected over the years. Johnson now serves as curator and is still acquiring items for the museum. Wendy Kerstetter assists with the cataloging and creation of displays in the museum.

One of the biggest challenges was keeping Falwell Sr. out of the museum area while it was under construction, as he toured DeMoss almost daily.

“We finally had to board it up and tell him to stay out. He knew something was up, but not exactly what,” said Falwell Jr.

Although it took many hands to complete the project, Campbell, you can be sure, will be the first one to meet you at the door.

“My job here is to make sure that all the visitors that come into the museum are taken care of by making sure all questions are answered and they see all the good things that have been done and where the vision started and where it is going,” Campbell said.

And, in the months since his best friend’s passing, he has also had to lend a shoulder to cry on.

“I had three ladies come in here and all three were crying, ’cause they were so close to Dr. Falwell. They were from out of town,” Campbell said. “So I went up there and tried to console them. They walked all through the museum and one of them, she was still crying, so I just put my arm around her and said, ‘Ma’am, you just cry all you want, and I’ll cry with you because he was my best friend.’”

Campbell said the displays are so moving that visitors often comment on how nicely Dr. Falwell has been remembered.

“He touched so many people, all these people come in and they can’t think of him being gone. They say they think they ought to bump into him here and there. I think the same way. He was a fixture and he was a friend to everybody.”

Campbell said the best part of his job is meeting visitors from all over. In one day in December last year, he can remember people visiting from New York, Vermont, Montana, Florida and North Carolina.

“That’s just one day … and there’s lots of days like that,” he said. “We have them from everywhere –- Hawaii, Japan, Canada. Some are alumni, have been in the mission field, and are back for their first time in years. They [alumni] go in shock. They can’t understand all the things that have happened since they were here.”

On one day during the semester break, Campbell greeted a couple from New Mexico, who were there to tour Liberty for their teenage son. Instantly, Campbell took on the role of recruiter.

With all smiles and no hesitation, he told them: “Don’t send him anywhere else. This is where he needs to be –- morally and spiritually, the whole 9 yards. You’d feel safe with him here. … Bring that son in, I’d be glad to talk to him.”

It is obvious Campbell takes this role seriously.

“I have a lot of families that come in here and bring their children who are prospects for the school and I try to take it upon myself to really be a strong encourager for them to come to this school,” he said.

Campbell is there for the current students, too. He said they will sit beside him on a pew taken from the old Thomas Road Baptist Church and talk.

“I have a lot of students who will come by, and they’ll have things on their mind ... and we’ll sit here and try to iron them out,” he said. “I have met so many good people and students. They kid me and say ‘Dave’s got his own clan.’ They call it the ‘Campbell Clan.’”

Although Campbell spends a lot of time at LU now, it doesn’t compare with the time he spent here in the past.

“Before I had some physical problems, I never missed any of the sporting events. I helped start the Flames Club back when the school itself got started.”

He also served on the first sports advisory board for Liberty and on the nominating committee for hiring several coaches, “one of them being Coach [Carey] Green and that has worked out very well,” Campbell added.

Liberty’s women’s basketball team has won the Big South Tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament seven times with Green as head coach.

Campbell did not attend LU (he went to Lynchburg College to study sports management) nor is he a member of Thomas Road Baptist Church (he is a lifetime member of Euclid Christian Church). But he has many loyalties to Liberty Mountain.

“I call this my school, although I did not go here,” he said. “I was very fond of Jerry and all of his folks and I had friends that went here, too. I liked what they stood for.”

Campbell has an unwavering loyalty to his country, too. He served in World War II, stationed with the 15th Air Force in Italy where he was the head of squadron supply. He flew with the crew some and saw a little action, but the hardest job he had was “when we lost some of the fellas, we’d have to get their things together to send back home. So many had wives, girlfriends and we didn’t know what to do with what, so we just did the best we could.”

He said that era was “a trying time. ... It’s something I wouldn’t want to do [again], but I’m one of those guys who’s very patriotic and I will do what’s right for my country.”

Campbell also wants to do what’s right for his Lord.

“I guess I’m lucky to be 83 years old and been through World War II and the good Lord’s still looking out for me,” he said. “He’s got a reason for me to be here and hopefully the reason that he has is the same one I got — to be here at the museum.”