Inventing the perfect love

She was very devoted to the church, and he to her. Everything else seemed to follow naturally from those premises. The couple involved are Frank W. and Helen V. Sherman, who gave more than $12 million in support to the Candler School of Theology. Says Candler Dean R. Kevin LaGree, "By their faithful generosity, Frank and Helen Sherman accomplished one of their dearest goals--to improve the church by educating committed and caring clergy. The church and Candler are better off because we have known them, loved them, and been loved by them." The gratitude of the dean is echoed by the 540 Sherman Scholar-graduates of the school.

Interested in the "renewal and revitalization of the Methodist Church," and willing to put their substantial powers behind this idea, the Shermans became interested in Candler through the influence of Bishop Joel D. McDavid, Bishop Earl G. Hunt Jr., and then-dean of Candler Jim L. Waits. One of the most inspired courses toward this renewal, the Shermans felt, was to educate ministers in biblical preaching and pastoral leadership and to offer scholarships for students committed to such evangelical ministry.

The Sherman Scholarships were set up in 1984 as a matching-fund program that worked as follows: the Shermans offered each deserving student $1,500, which was in turn matched by like amounts from Candler, the student's local church, and the conference of that student's church. Sherman Scholarship endowments now top $16 million. With bequests from the Shermans' estate, Sherman Scholars soon will receive full tuition through the matching-fund program.

Emory entered into partnership with the Shermans more than fourteen years ago. The partnership Frank and Helen had with one another, however, was some sixty years in the making. Helen died this year at the age of eighty-nine, while Frank survived his wife by only eleven weeks, passing away at the age of ninety-eight.

For the young Frank Sherman, meeting Helen at a dance meant love at first sight. At that time, she was a student at Florida State University. Until his classic moment of tunnel vision, Frank had been remarkably clear-sighted, especially in his business endeavors.

While Frank was attending Sewanee Military School, his father died; and so, at fifteen, he left school to help support his mother. Within a few years, he was a messenger for Western Union and the business manager for a logging company near Perry, Florida. Then, at nineteen, he began his own cross-tie business, which supplied the railroads. Eventually, Frank went to work for Barnett Bank. After several successful years of learning the ropes, he spied an opportunity and-borrowing $1,400 from his father-in-law-started his own bank.

Helen worked in the bank as well, thus giving their partnership an added component. Frank influenced a good bit of the banking legislation passed in Florida during these years and was also a member of the National Banking Association. When Frank finally sold his interest in the bank, when he was eighty, his $1,400 investment yielded an $8 million profit.

A devoted member of Rotary International, Frank embraced their motto of "putting service above self." Proof that the Shermans did so extends far beyond Emory. Frank was a founding member of Memorial Hospital and the Wesley Manor Retirement Center, both in Jacksonville, and he served on the board of trustees of Jacksonville University. The Shermans also created the Florida Conference Preaching Institute, designed to help United Methodist ministers in Florida improve their ministry by coming to Leesburg, Florida, for an annual conference.

Other Sherman initiatives at Candler, apart from the scholarship program, include a gift of $1 million to support citizenship training for children in public schools. Plans are under way to use this money creatively, as are plans to make public speaking a part of the entire process for ministerial education in the United Methodist Church. Frank, who was deaf in his later years, could not abide fast-talking preachers.

In addition to his other facilities, Frank was an inventor who at one point tried to convince the NCR Corporation to use tape instead of punchcards. They refused to see the light. At Emory, Frank Sherman and his beloved wife Helen invented a legacy of unstinting generosity and creative involvement with Candler. As Bishop Hunt noted in the eulogy at Frank's funeral, "Frank is in heaven, and heaven is now a much busier place."--S.M.C.

Photo courtesy Sherman family

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