The Blessing of Two Unexpected Gifts

By Paul Eldridge J.D.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

As a development director, I have the privilege of visiting with many JBU alumni and friends and learning about their individual goals, accomplishments and ambitions. I truly love this part of my job – it has brought me close to some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Because of this privilege, I am often one of the first to know when a gift is being considered. However, I was caught by surprise this past year when two unexpected gifts came to JBU.


The first unexpected gift came in a way that broke my heart. Ida Jean Bryant was born Oct. 22, 1924, as the youngest of four. Ida Jean unexpectedly passed away in May of this year.


The Bryant siblings, Faye, Olen, Jack and Ida Jean, were known throughout the small Arkansas community of Highfill for their generosity. They were the family to call if the bridge flooded, or if a cow got loose, or if a cousin’s friend needed a loan for a vehicle. They were raised in a simpler time – when the word “family” was used in the broad sense. Over the years, the siblings grew old together in their family farmhouse in Highfill, never marrying or branching out to raise families of their own. Although the Bryant siblings never attended college, they all saw the importance of higher education. After Olen passed, Faye, Jack and Ida Jean decided to leave the majority of their estate to John Brown University. Eventually, each of Ida Jean’s siblings went to be with the Lord, leaving her to carry on the Bryant legacy.

Ida Jean BryantI was introduced to Ida Jean shortly after I started working at JBU. Over the years, I always enjoyed visiting her farmhouse, where she would be waiting with a big smile and a pitcher of the best iced tea in the world. I looked forward to each October when we would host a birthday party for Ida Jean. She loved making the trip to campus to meet the dozens of students her family supported through the Bryant Family Endowed Scholarship.


Ida Jean’s memorial service packed the small, white church around the corner from her Highfill home. Community members shared stories about the Bryant family, and of Ida Jean’s widespread generosity and love. Several attendees spoke highly of Ida Jean’s relationship with John Brown University, and I shared about how much she had personally touched my life. For those two hours, the Highfill community and the JBU Advancement staff shared in both the grieving of Ida Jean’s passing and the celebration of her life.


Ida Jean’s life was a true blessing to many, and today her legacy lives on through her family’s gifts to John Brown University. The Bryants left JBU more than $3 million in their estate plan. Included in the $3 million given was $1.5 million in life insurance policy proceeds that showed up in the mail on June 28, 2010 – that’s right, almost the very last day of the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Ida Jean had blessed JBU one last time. However, because of the Bryant Family Endowed Scholarship, her legacy will live on in perpetuity, supporting JBU students for years to come.


Another significant unexpected gift during the 2009-2010 fiscal year came from a providential meeting between a Little Rock real estate developer and JBU faculty members on a mission team in Guatemala two years ago.


I received an e-mail in March of this year from Dave Constien at Thomas F. James Realty Limited Partnership, LLLP (TFJ) in Little Rock. The email suggested that TFJ would be interested in donating a commercial building to JBU. I couldn’t find the phone fast enough. It turns out that Mr. Constien happened to meet JBU faculty members Dr. Joe Walenciak and Prof. John McCullough during a mission trip to Guatemala. Mr. Constien said he was greatly impressed by these individuals. So when TFJ Realty, which owned a 47,000-square-foot commercial building in Siloam Springs, thought about donating the asset, Mr. Constien suggested JBU. During further conversations with Mr. Constien and Judith James Scherer, it became apparent that TFJ wanted to further the mission of the university and to help empower young people to make a positive change in the world.


We closed on the gift in late May. The now-vacant building at 1600 W. U.S. Hwy. 412 appraised for $2 million and is currently on the market to be sold.
Every year, JBU receives gifts that seem to fall from God’s hands. There is no doubt that God was working through the Bryant family, and it was no accident when Dave Constien, with TFJ, happened to bump into JBU faculty in Guatemala. God’s work never ceases to amaze me, and I am so thankful to be a part of His blessings to John Brown University.



Paul Eldridge is Senior Director of
Development and Planned Giving