First Ladies Shape and Serve the JBU Community

By Tarah Thomas ’16
Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The “first lady” of John Brown University is not a formal office with a management guidebook. Yet, since 1919, JBU’s first ladies have worked to create lasting fellowship and community for the university. Each JBU first lady utilized her gifts in the roles of wife, mother, advocate, hostess, fundraiser and traveler to represent the university and further the mission of educating students to honor God and serve others. Even through the challenges that so often muddled the boundaries between public and private life, these women imprinted a legacy on the JBU community that students and alumni will benefit from forever.

Juanita Brown

Served 1919 – 1948 

Juanita Arrington Brown was the love of John E. Brown Sr.’s life and he described her as his “greatest of all earthly blessings.” They met at a church meeting in Oklahoma, later marrying in 1900.

Brown Sr. was a pioneer radio broadcaster, evangelist, educator and leader. But it was Juanita who supported him through the pursuit of his dream to establish a university on their 300-acre farm.

Juanita cared for their six children and created a stable home while Brown Sr. traveled often. In his absence, he wrote Juanita many letters updating her on all university matters, failures and successes.

“Brown’s letters to his family revealed something of the anguish it caused him to be away from Juanita and miss so much of his children’s lives. … He signed the letter, ‘How I miss you all, and how dearly I DO LOVE YOU ALL. Kisses, and prayers for every one of you, Daddy—devotedly,’” wrote Rick Ostrander in the JBU history book “Head, Heart, and Hand: JBU and Modern Evangelical Higher Education.”

Juanita served on the original board of trustees and championed the Cathedral of the Ozarks project from its conception in 1945 to its completion in 1957. 

Grandson John E. Brown III recalls that toward the end of Juanita’s life, she peered out of the window of their house to see her husband’s vision brought to life.

“My grandfather was an itinerant evangelist, traveling around the country, and then here’s his dream, the university, taking shape in the very Cathedral of the Ozarks,” said Brown III.

Caroline Brown

Served 1948 – 1979 

Caroline Brown was JBU’s first lady for 31 years when John Brown Jr. succeeded his father in 1948.

Caroline married Brown Jr. in 1941 and received her English degree from JBU in 1947. Together, they had five children. As first lady, she hosted many campus guests from a variety of backgrounds.

“She was your best friend even if you’d just met. She made you feel comfortable no matter who you were,” Brown III said.

Caroline served the community as a member of the Hospital Auxiliary, the Siloam Springs Memorial Hospital Foundation and the Siloam Springs Adult Development Center. She helped organize the local chapter of the Salvation Army and served as president of the local Philanthropic Educational Organization.

She was a nurse for 26 years at Siloam Springs Memorial Hospital until her retirement in 2000 and earned the Dr. Frist Humanitarian Award in 1986. The Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce awarded her the Pioneer Citizen Award in 2000.

Caroline died in January 2005 and her family and friends created an endowed scholarship fund in her honor.

Stephania Brown

Served 1979 - 1993

Brown III and Stephania became president and first lady of JBU in 1979.

The couple met in high school and married three and a half years later in December 1968. They had five children, with the youngest two being born during Stephania’s time as First Lady.

While Stephania’s priority was to stay at home to care for their young children, she also hosted many guests, from faculty to trustees to donors.

Her award-winning roses that lined the outside of the president’s house were the first thing to greet university guests.

“Stephania is lovely, congenial, friendly, beautiful, gracious and very poised. Everything a first lady would be,” said Alice McQuay, longtime family friend and former staff member.

As president and first lady, the couple served a community much larger than their immediate family.

“It’s like being in a ministry,” John Brown III said. “You have direct interaction with young people from all over the world and dedicated faculty and staff. Every day, you feel like you’re serving the Lord by serving JBU.”

Stephania served on the board for the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter from 1995 to 2008.

“What everyone loves about Stephania is just how genuine she is,” said Delia Haak, Brown III’s assistant from 1985-1988. “As a mom of young children it was difficult for her to attend activities of the university, and yet she was very gracious … They were a team in that. They still are.”

Mary Eva George

Served April to August 1994

Mary Eva was receiving treatment in South Carolina for lupus during the time her husband Bill George was interim JBU president in the summer of 1994. When President George Ford stepped down the board asked Bill, who served on the board under all six presidents, to fill the role.

When he called Mary Eva from Arkansas after the meeting, she told Bill he had a responsibility to the institution, even though it meant living in different cities. It was a sacrifice she was willing to make for the university they loved so much.

Before the presidency, Mary Eva and Bill lived in California where Bill was in charge of JBU endowment operations — two military academies, a girl’s school, a day school, the nation’s top listener Christian radio station and a senior housing complex — whose operations provided funding for JBU.

The Georges spoke with donors that had never been to Siloam Springs but gave millions to support the university.

“What we did, we did as a team,” Mary Eva said.

John E. Brown III recounted the many years of service that Mary Eva gave. “They served wherever my grandfather, my father or I asked them to serve,” he said.

Mary Eva and Bill were married for 56 years before his passing in 2008.

In 2010, JBU named the new arena Bill George Arena and asked Mary Eva to speak at the first commencement held in the facility, a day she calls a true honor.

“JBU has been good to us,” Mary Eva said. “One of the biggest things it gave us was a purpose because we both felt that what the university had to offer was so important, and we wanted the students that came to JBU to have the opportunity to make a difference in the world.”

Alice Balzer

Served 1994 – 2004

Alice and Lee Balzer came to JBU in 1994 from Tabor College in Kansas.

“When we first came, I didn’t realize what a special place JBU is; what special faculty and staff we have and the fantastic students that come,” Alice said.

Alice grew up on a small farm in western Kansas, the fifth of six children. She met Lee her sophomore year of high school, and they married in college.

As first lady, Alice created an atmosphere of fellowship for the faculty and staff and their spouses. Women’s organizations, board members, chapel speakers, parents and students were just a few of the many people Alice hosted to encourage the familiar feeling of family at JBU. 

“One of my passions is having fellowship with my fellow human beings,” Alice said. “I think it makes such a big difference if people live a life with Christ as an example and model.”

Alice also enjoyed travelling with Lee to alumni meetings and often collaborated with his secretary in his scheduling.

“They were always willing to go anywhere and meet anybody,” McQuay, who worked in the presidential suite during Lee’s presidency, said. “Alice was 100 percent willing to help any way she could.”

Alice’s passion for family and the church has guided her to spread the love of Christ in all aspects of her life, particularly in her marriage.

“Somewhere down the line someone taught us to respect people — not just our parents and teachers but each other,” said Alice. “A marriage does not work if there is not respect for each other.”

Investing in the lives of people is something that Alice still does today, in part through the Balzer Family Endowed Scholarship.

Balzer Technology Center, a 40,000 square-foot facility housing the engineering and construction management programs, was named in honor of the Balzers.

Carey Pollard

2004 - present

Carey Pollard is said to be everything a first lady should be according to Alice Balzer and Mary Eva George.

Raised in Wheaton, Illinois, Carey met Chip Pollard in junior high. They started dating their sophomore year of high school, and married Christmas of their junior year at Wheaton College in 1983.

Together the Pollards have lived around the world: from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Oxford, England to Grand Rapids, Michigan, before making their home in Siloam Springs at JBU in 2004.

“We’ve done it together. It’s been more of an adventure for me,” Carey said. “At some point, one spouse’s career has to take priority. For us, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and I was blessed to be able to do that for most of our marriage. It made me flexible to encourage his professional pursuits, even if it meant moving to go to grad school or to take a job.”

As first lady of JBU, Carey often attends university events. She opens her home to host over 50 events per year for groups ranging from 10 to 400, including a BBQ for the entire freshman class.

Senior Shelby Lawson, a resident assistant (RA) in Hutcheson Hall, said students are appreciative of how active Carey is in the every day lives of students.

“Every spring we host an event for Hutch residents where the RA’s make and serve pancakes. This year Mrs. Pollard was there getting to know the students. The residents were delighted to hang out and eat pancakes with the First Lady.”

Each day is unique, requiring the first lady to be flexible.

“Coming into this role, I felt like I needed to do everything and be somebody else,” Carey said. “I finally learned that God’s gifted me in a way to do this that works with my skills and not to try to use somebody else’s skills.”

Carey also serves in the community as a board member for the Manna Center and on the Christian education committee at First Presbyterian Church.

“JBU is full of wonderful people. To get to know the faculty and staff families is a blessing and a great thing,” Carey said.  n 

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