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Endowment honors more than years of service, it honors family.

Family. It seemed to be the theme of the night as Rev. Dr. Sam Roberts and his wife, Rev. Stella Roberts, were presented with a well-deserved early Christmas present.

Dr. Roberts returned to Tennessee Wesleyan on Friday, December 8, 2017, as the speaker for the winter commencement ceremony. Prior to the event, former students, colleagues and parishioners gathered for a small, surprise dinner to honor “Doc” (Sam) and “Preacher” (Stella) by presenting them with The Samuel R. and Stella M. Roberts Chair of Philosophy and Religion endowment.

“I don’t know what to say, for the first time ever,” commented Roberts. The surprise was successful as the room filled with laughter and grateful applause.

One thing seemed clear as conversations turned to tributes. These two had impacted more than just the students they taught. President Harley Knowles commented, “because of the difference you’ve made and the ways you’ve enriched so many parishioners, students and colleagues – to all of us – we are grateful and eager to do this for you”.

Each tribute was filled with gratitude, admiration, laughter and a few joyful tears. It was obvious that these two were so much more than professors or pastors. They were, indeed, family.

Earlier in 2017 conversations between Randy Nelson, vice president for advancement, and faculty members in the philosophy and religion department began, and the idea for the endowment was created. The endowed chair will be awarded to a faculty member in the philosophy and religion department that demonstrates qualities set by the example of Roberts’ service and leadership. It is meant to further the department and the development of future students at TWU.

More than 30 people have contributed gifts to establish the fund, including a matching challenge from Dr. Lynn and Cindy Massingale. Gifts can still be made, ensuring the endowment will grow and continue to impact faculty and students at Tennessee Wesleyan.

Dr. Knowles publically presented the endowment resolution to the influential couple at the 2017 Winter Commencement – an appropriate venue as Rev. Dr. Roberts mentioned that he sat through some 30 commencements in his life. He, then, continued to use this opportunity to do what he has always done, tell stories and encourage TWU students to live a fulfilled life.

Sam Roberts taught for 30 years at TWU. His first years of service saw him wearing multiple hats, as he virtually served as a one-man department and the chaplain of the university (then college). After relinquishing the chaplain’s role to William McDonald in 1997, Sam spent the next fifteen years teaching philosophy and religion courses, as well as serving as the department chair.

Stella M. Roberts taught for eleven years as an adjunct instructor at TWU. She also served as the associate pastor and senior pastor at Keith Memorial United Methodist Church in Athens, Tenn. She then went on to serve for four years as the superintendent of the Knoxville District, seven years as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge, Tenn. and three years as the director of the Holston Conference Connectional Ministries.

After full careers, both Sam and Stella retired in 2016. They agree that the communities of Tennessee Wesleyan and Athens are, and always will be, part of their family.

Gifts may be made to the Samuel and Stella Roberts Endowed Chair of Philosophy and Religion in honor of Sam and Stella online at or by calling the Tennessee Wesleyan Advancement Office at (423) 746-5330.

For media information, contact
Katherine L. Davis

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