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Living Out A Legacy

March 5, 2009

Those who know him casually might never guess it, but one congenial, well-respected OBU alum, Dr. Charles Poor, has such a life story. The darkest hours of his story remarkably didn't defeat the man, but instead became the impetus of a legacy of care.

At the tender age of 7, the Oklahoma City native contracted polio. He joined a reported 1.1 million Americans alive today who survived the outbreaks of the 1940s and '50s, but not without a permanent effect: he became a paraplegic. However, he did not allow the disability to hamper his plans.

As a college freshman, he attended the University of Oklahoma, partly due to its wheelchair accessibility. Former classmates from Capitol Hill High School turned Poor's attention east toward Bison Hill.

During the summer, Jack James, Paul Heath and the late Dan Recer shared their excitement about OBU with Poor, trying to get him to transfer. From a practical standpoint, OBU was not wheelchair accessible. In the 1950s, Shawnee Hall - with its many flights of stairs - was the main classroom building. But Poor did not let the challenge block his way.

"It must have been a significant decision for the administration to admit a full-time wheelchair user," Poor said.

"Throughout the next three years, I can honestly tell you that every time I would find myself at the foot of the steps at Shawnee Hall, or the student union (at that time, Montgomery Hall), or around the campus, there were always friends - or even people I didn't know - who, without saying a word, would just swoop down on me and pick up the wheelchair and carry me as many floors as I needed to go up."

Knowing the good-natured humor of their classmate, Poor's friends even built a stunt around his wheelchair for their graduation in May 1958. Donning crutches, pseudo-bandages, and other props, they limped in to their graduation ceremony as characters from the 1957 movie, "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

Choosing to attend OBU, despite the obvious obstacles, was a life-changing experience for Poor.

"It was the greatest decision I ever made, not only as academic preparation, but also spiritually, and for establishing friendships that have become lifelong," Poor said.

He earned a master's degree in psychology at Oklahoma State University. He served as assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Baylor College of Medicine for 20 years. In 1983, he joined the staff of Houston's First Baptist Church, founding and directing a ground-breaking church-based counseling ministry.

Poor and his wife, Joanna, had two children, Philip and Julianna. Philip attended medical school and became a doctor. He now lives and works in Sacramento, Calif.

Their daughter, Julianna, chose to follow in her father's footsteps and attend OBU. As a sophomore, she chose to follow in her mother's footsteps and major in early childhood development. Joanna's career involves extensive work with preschoolers, including directing departments, writing curriculum and leading clinics.

"I think Julianna's admiration for her mother's passion for working in early childhood development naturally led to her academic interest and declaring a major in that subject," Poor said. "She practically started and managed such a program during the summer at First Presbyterian Church in Shawnee," Poor said.

At the time, she mildly complained about back pain. Though her parents wanted her to go home, she adamantly remained in Shawnee to fulfill her commitments. Only a few months after declaring her major and undertaking the summer daycare project, Julianna Poor died from cancer in April 1991.

Shortly after her death, Charles and Joanna Poor established the Julianna Poor Memorial Endowment Fund in Early Childhood Education at OBU. They made an initial financial contribution to begin the fund, then for many years they would give to it when they made a memorial gift for a death among family or friends.

Because the scholarship reflects Joanna's area of expertise, the Poors asked to know who received the scholarship each year. Not only do they know the recipients, but the Poors also continue to make recommendations for the scholarship.

After their son, Philip, graduated from medical school, the Poors established the Philip W. Poor, M.D., Endowment Scholarship Fund to help students who are interested in working in a health-related field. Now, when the Poors want to make a contribution in memory or honor of a family member or friend, they select which fund best reflects that individual.

"We tend to make a lot of small contributions as opposed to infrequent larger ones," he said. "We both are very pleased with having our kids' names attached to OBU's development causes.

"The longer we live, the more friends and acquaintances we can remember with a lasting contribution to these scholarship funds."

In addition to periodic contributions to the scholarships named for his children, Poor has been a proponent of OBU's gift annuity options, citing the opportunity to solve tax and gift concerns for the donor, while leaving a lasting legacy at the institution.

In 2004, OBU commended the outstanding graduate with an honorary doctor of divinity degree during morning worship services at First Baptist Church, Houston. The award caught Poor by surprise, and it has grown in personal significance to him through the years.

"The acceptance I felt at OBU - the older I've become and the more I have reflected on it, the more meaningful that imprint has become to me," he said. "Being in a wheelchair or being visually 'abnormal' for anybody in any generation can create a problem of feeling not accepted.

"But at OBU, the acceptance I received was so important, so heartfelt and so genuine that any degree of good adjustment I made to the world is largely attributable to my fellow students and the faculty, and everybody in the OBU family."

Today, Poor charges forward in his optimistic life of service, building on his life experiences to help others. He retired from his role with First Baptist's counseling center, renamed The Julianna Poor Memorial Counseling Center in July 1999. He serves as a psychologist with Questions and Answers, a consulting firm he owns and operates in Houston, Texas, which provides expert witnesses, mediation, organizational development and counselor supervision services. He is a nationally acclaimed expert on psychology and rehabilitation. As a psychologist, he has had more than 25,000 appointments with individuals and families.

That's a pretty good foundation for a legacy.