OBU is rich with milestones throughout its history of preparing students to shape the future, and alumna Lou Thelen Kemp, ’57, was here for many of them.
Every university’s story is unique. They are written by the students, faculty and staff who shaped the culture and served as the beating heart of the community over the course of many years and decades throughout history.
And OBU’s story is as compelling as any.
Just ask Lou Thelen Kemp. A 1957 graduate, Kemp experienced the campus, community and culture at OBU during many of the institution’s pivotal moments and milestones, before moving ahead into a distinctive career as a teacher and family counselor.
It’s an experience she wouldn’t trade for anything.
A Different Era
For teenagers and prospective students today, learning about a college typically involves looking it up online and receiving slick promotional brochures and literature in the mail. This isn’t how it worked in the 1950s.
Kemp became familiar with OBU through a church revival.
“On weekends there would be these weekend revivals and OBU would send a preacher, a psalm leader, and a piano player to all these little churches who would call and ask for their services,” Kemp said. “That’s how I was first introduced to OBU. I was probably 12 at the time and three young men came from Shawnee and took over for the weekend at our little church.”
This was a fairly standard practice for most Christian colleges of the time, Kemp said, and it’s one her future husband – Robert, whom she met at OBU – took part in years later.
Her next step was attending OBU’s June Jamboree, an overnight campus visit that included free room and board, a campus tour, and introductions to students and faculty, as a way to offer a small taste of college life.
And with that, Kemp knew she had found her college home.
Kemp’s freshman year began with an event called Freshman Initiation, which was held during the first week and involved a range of “hijinks” coordinated by the upper-class students.
The activities were relatively tame – freshmen girls wore their blouses inside out, boys wore their jeans inside out; they followed the orders of juniors and seniors, competed in tug-of-war, were sprayed by the town’s firetrucks, and finished with a campus-wide picnic.
OBU decided to put an end to Freshman Initiation, and Kemp’s class was the last one to experience it.
“It was a great way to bond with all the other students,” she said. “You’d get a chance to meet with the older students and make friends with the fellow freshmen. That’s really where the bonding started.”
Anyone familiar with OBU understands the emphasis placed on personal relationships and providing a warm, supportive environment for students. As Kemp points out, that’s not a new thing, and a way female students were compelled to connect and form friendships was another policy that has since ceased to exist.
“Girls weren’t allowed to have cars on campus,” she said. “Only the male students could, because they were going out on weekends and doing the revivals. Unless there was an emergency, the girls stayed on campus for six weeks, and they did that because they wanted us to become very close to one another.”
Kemp also recalls some memorable “firsts” during her time at OBU, which even today she remembers fondly. During her junior year, OBU integrated its community and welcomed the first African-American student to campus, a girl named Violet Waters.
Administrators had asked a group of female upper-class students, including Kemp, to welcome the new student, spend time with her, and help her adjust to the OBU community. Waters roomed with one of Kemp’s friends, and during that year the group arranged a birthday party for her at the diner in town.
Another fellow student that year, Kemp said, was a girl from Hawaii who had never seen snow before. When the first snowfall arrived in Shawnee that winter, Kemp recalls her being beyond excited.
“We all went outside and showed her how to make snowballs,” she said. “Well, she was very excited about that. She got a container and put her snowballs in it and then took it back to her room and set it on her window sill right by the radiator. She was so disappointed when she came back and found they had all melted.”
A Career Changing Lives for the Better
During her time at OBU, Kemp was a secondary education major and planned on being a home economics teacher after she graduated. But, things didn’t quite turn out that way.
After graduating, she and her husband moved to Texas, where Robert finished seminary before becoming pastor at a church in Huntsville. From there, they moved to Missouri. In addition to her degree in secondary education from OBU, Kemp also earned certification in elementary education.
She applied for a position in their new hometown of Bolivar, Missouri, but soon discovered that positions as a home economics teacher were hard to come by.
“What I had found out was that most of the time the school’s home economics teacher was married to the vocational agriculture teacher in town, and they stayed there forever,” she said. “So there wasn’t a lot of turnover of home economics teachers.”
Instead, she was offered a job teaching kindergarten, which she accepted and continued doing for 26 years.
“Eventually I started teaching the kids of the kids I had when I just started out,” she said. “I had a father in one of my early kindergarten classes, and on the first day he came in with his beautiful little blonde-haired daughter and said ‘Now Mrs. Kemp, you just make her behave, I don’t want her causing any trouble.’ And I looked at him and said ‘Oh really? Would you like me to share some of my stories of you?’”
During her time as a teacher, many of the parents would come to her with problems and struggles they were experiencing, but legally she wasn’t able to offer them advice. Still, she felt called to help them, which led her to go back to school during the evenings to earn a master’s degree in clinical psychology in 1990.
She became a licensed marriage and family therapist and a registered play therapist. In 1998, she retired from teaching and took on a full-time career in counseling at the Family Institute of the Ozarks where she was the co-director/owner.
The Ronald N. and Lou T. Kemp Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic on the OBU campus bears her name along with the name of her later husband, Dr. Ronald Kemp.
A Credit to OBU
Through it all, Kemp credits OBU for much of the success and happiness she’s achieved throughout her life.
“The teachers were so supportive,” she said. “Even if you had a personal problem, they were there to listen and to encourage you. That, and the ways we developed friendships. It was a full, rich four years with a lot of different learning experiences.”