One of SMU’s oldest neighbors has given the University a lasting 100th birthday present.

A $1.5 million gift from Highland Park United Methodist Church (HPUMC) will endow the Umphrey Lee Professorship in Methodist History, as well as support the HPUMC Future Church Leaders Program, in SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. The announcement of the gift fell on the date of the SMU Centennial – Sept. 24, 2015 – allowing the University to celebrate its longstanding relationship with the church that held its first service on the SMU campus in 1916.

“Our church history dates back to the founding of SMU, but our relationship is more than just an overlapping of time and geography,” said Rev. Paul Rasmussen ’04, HPUMC senior pastor, during the University’s Centennial Convocation. “It is our privilege to endow this professorship and to support the growth of future church leaders as we prepare for future generations of congregants. The Perkins School of Theology is our partner in so many ways, and remains at the heart of the SMU tradition of outreach in the community and the world.”

The gift includes $1 million to establish the faculty position in the Perkins School of Theology, and $500,000 to support educational opportunities for individuals aspiring to serve in church leadership roles. Recipients of “future leaders” funding may include students enrolled in graduate, undergraduate, certificate or continuing education programs or courses across the University, with students identified and recommended by HPUMC.

“When it comes to Umphrey Lee, it’s hard to know where SMU ends and Highland Park United Methodist Church begins, because Rev. Lee served us both for so many years,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Our HPUMC neighbors are part of the SMU family and we feel a special sense of pride that this gift will support us in teaching the rich Methodist history that we share and help to prepare future church leaders.  It’s a wonderful way to celebrate our combined centennials.”

Lee arrived at SMU in 1915, the first year classes were held on the Hilltop, and was elected the first student body president. He received his master’s degree as a member of SMU’s first graduating class in 1916. He served as pastor of HPUMC for 13 years, as SMU’s fourth president for 15 years (including during the World War II years) and as its chancellor after he stepped down as president. Over his lifetime he wrote 10 scholarly books on topics including Methodist history, the relationship between church and state, and pacifism in the context of the historic church.

“Umphrey Lee was a scholar of Methodist history who believed that the liberal arts should make students think about their responsibilities in society, and that a successful experience at Southern Methodist University would help instill personal and social values,” said Perkins Dean William B. Lawrence. “This gift from the congregation that Rev. Lee loved to the University that he also loved is a wonderful tribute to a man whose influence on SMU was transformational.”

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