Family Legacy: Eugene Williams ’52
When Eugene Williams attended Southeastern in the early 1950s, it was a three-year Bible institute located at Lodwick Field military barracks, now known as Tiger Town. He was a part of the Class of 1952, the last class to graduate from that location. He recalls the hot days spent in the dorms that did not have air conditioning. After completing a theology degree at Southeastern, he attended Florida Southern College and graduated with a degree in English and education. Eugene met his wife of 64 years, Ruth, while attending Southeastern.
Prior to attending Southeastern, Eugene was drafted from 1943 to 1946 to serve in World War II. “I volunteered for the tank destroyer. It was not altogether pleasant but had advantages over the infantry. The only disadvantage is that we were a bigger target,” he said. He was wounded in action near the Rhine River in Germany around the age of 19 and received a Purple Heart for his service. His glass case of medals contains a medal with four bronze stars — each representing the four major battles he fought in. He was recently interviewed by the Library of Congress, during which he recounted his time during WWII.
Eugene not only served his country but also served as an educator and part-time missionary overseas in Africa. He and his family lived in Congo for two years and in Senegal for one year. He can still recount some French and Lingala, a Bantu language commonly spoken in Congo, and shares the memories he had experienced there. While in Congo, Eugene worked as the librarian at the American School of Kinshasa. In Senegal, he was the principal of Dakar Academy. He also spent some of his time overseas traveling from village to village and preaching the Gospel.
Eugene also spent many years in the education field. He taught in Columbus, Georgia, and at Southeastern as a professor of Greek and English. He also worked as a librarian in Steelman Library (Mary M. Stribling Library). He eventually went on to earn a master’s degree in administration and education from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama.
This past May, Eugene celebrated his 90th birthday with his family and loving wife by his side. All three of Eugene’s children attended Southeastern. His eldest son, Ken, attended Southeastern for some time and then went on to graduate from USF, the University of South Carolina and the University of Hartford. He currently works as a CPA in Connecticut. Ken has been married to his wife, Susan, for 28 years and has two children, James and Stephanie.Eugene and Ruth’s legacy lives on through their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Eugene’s daughter, Brenda “Faye” (Williams) Lenna (Class of ’75), and her husband, Joseph (Class of ’76), met at and graduated from Southeastern. They have been married for 42 years. Faye retired from 33 years of teaching but has continued to substitute teach. She served as an educator for 24 years at a Guilford County Title I elementary school and received four awards in teaching excellence. She also graduated with her master’s degree in reading from State University of New York at Albany. Joseph has worked as a faith-based prison chaplain for 23 years. Faye has also been involved with prison ministry for 16 years.
Eugene’s second son, Stephen, attended Southeastern from 1975 to 1976. For the past 34 years, he has worked as an air conditioning contractor. He started his own Lakeland-based air conditioning company, Enjoy Heating and Cooling. He and his wife, Lisa, have been married for 27 years. They volunteer with Believer’s Fellowship’s prison ministry. Stephen has been volunteering in jail ministry for the past 18 years. Stephen and his wife have also been on several mission trips to the Philippines and India.
William Williams, Eugene’s grandson, is working on his bachelor’s degree in human services at SEU and plans to graduate in 2018. He works full time as a maintenance technician at Southeastern, helping maintain Bethany Hall, Bauer Hall, the Smith Building and Tuscana Ristorante. “I love the aspect of getting to help students and being able to pray with them,” said William. He has worked at Southeastern since 2010. He and his wife, Brittany, have two children, Calin and Liam. Eugene and Ruth’s legacy lives on through their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.