Terry, William Holt: 1960-1969

William Holt Terry By the Decades

1950-19591960-1969, 1970-19791980-19891990-19992000-2015

The Interior of Acme Presbyterian Church, where Will first served as a pastor.

The Interior of Acme Presbyterian Church

Having completed his education for the time being, Rev. Will Terry presided over Acme Presbyterian Church in Riegelwood, North Carolina from 1958 to 1962. [1,2] In his last year at Acme, he received a visit from his Davidson friends, Missy and John Kuykendall, ’59. During their stay, Dr. Kuykendall explains,

“We . . . worshipped at Riegelwood Church on the Sunday we were on the road. We became reacquainted with Will very warmly and subsequent to that, as I was finishing up my internship year here, I was getting ready to go back to seminary. The president of the college, Grier Martin, asked me to come into his office one day, which was not a usual thing, but it was not unheard of. But he said, “Dr. Staples is leaving the college; he was the chaplain. We’ve got to find a new chaplain. Have you any suggestions?” And having worshipped in Will’s church less than a month before, I said, “You need to get Will Terry.” Now, I was certainly not the only one that did it and my word was not the law for the president to do what he did, but he did, in fact–the college did, in fact–invite Will to come back.” [1] 

Will accepted the offer made by President Sam Spencer, ‘40, and served as the chaplain of Davidson College from the fall of 1962 to the spring of 1966. [2] According to Dr. John Kuykendall, Will put his energy into providing spiritual guidance to students during “the whole societal change that took place in the ‘60s, with different orientation to the use of alcohol with increasing use of drugs among people in the larger society, sexual mores that were quite different from earlier, or at least were more overt if not different from earlier.” [1] This was a trying time to be leading and assisting young people, as social upheaval diminished some of the trust between youth and authority figures.

Will Terry’s role as a chaplain differed from his time as the Secretary of the Y in several important ways. Firstly, the position of chaplaincy was actually an offshoot of the secretaryship. [3] This position of the secretary had evolved over decades at Davidson, usually filled by recent Davidson graduates; Will himself was secretary when he was only 24 years old. The chaplaincy, however, tended to be held by older men who had already completed their time at seminary and could offer pastoral care.

Furthermore, as chaplain, Will was still focused on connecting with students, but in a different manner, since both the age gap and the power differential between he and his charges had increased. However, in this role as well as his earlier positions as a pastor and Secretary of the Y, he served as a confidante and as a person meant to bring everyone around him together. His good friend Dr. Leland Park, ‘63, who was also the Director of the E.H. Little Library from 1975 to 2006, felt that this was one of Will’s greatest gifts. [5] In Dr. Park’s view,

“He was inordinately thoughtful of people. Let me back up and say: I think you’ll find in talking to everybody that the secret about Will is that everybody felt like they had a very special relationship with him. Because of the position he was in, as well as if you’re a preacher and a counselor, you feel like tattooed on your forehead is ‘Tell me everything.’ And people did.” [5]

Though he had aged, he still maintained confidence and understanding with students. At the same time, in the ‘60s, students were learning to vocalize their discontent in new and louder ways. The Y, the organization to which Will devoted much energy as a student, had lost influence since the 1950s. To a certain extent, the Chaplain’s Office began to pick up the support of student spiritual life that the Y had formerly provided. This was one of many facets of the institution that Will Terry saw change, as a dominating force on campus become a less significant presence in student life.

A student recording the names of absent students during chapel, 1967.

A student recording the names of absent students during chapel.

Another school requirement students increasingly resisted was required vespers and chapel services. Dr. John Kuykendall describes these sessions during his time as a student:

“The word chapel . . . did not imply a worship service each day. In my generation, it was just three days a week, but, on some days, there were explicitly worship services and we were expected to be there. Or, if you chose not to go, there were a certain number of cuts you could take without being punished for it and if you went over a certain number of cuts, then you were disciplined for having done so . . . we all walked to the post office every morning before or after chapel. Or, the days we didn’t have chapel, you kind of wandered downtown for your mail . . . On Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday we had chapel services in the middle of the morning after the first two classes.” [1] 

Worship attendance record card

Worship Attendance Records

Chapel services shaped how students went about their week and how they socialized with one another, which came to be seen as more of an infringement than a blessing. By the end of his time as chaplain, Will himself felt moved to do away with the practice that students, broadly, no longer wanted to participate in. Dr. Kuykendall recalls, “he realized that, as you passed into a new generation, you couldn’t simply try to hold onto those old customs because they weren’t going to be adequate for what was needed.” [1]

The results of a student-wide survey administered by the Chaplain’s Office, 1965-1966.

The results of a student-wide survey administered by the Chaplain’s Office, 1965-1966.

One reason behind the change concerns the evolving demographics of the student body. Catholics, Episcopalians, non-denominational and interdenominational Christians, Moravians, Quakers, and “non-members” of the church were enrolling in increasing numbers. In fact, the 1964-1965 school year was the very first year at Davidson where less than half of the student body was Presbyterian. Even though only 55 students out of a total of 1,001 identified as non-Christian, there was still a large push against mandatory religious services, as a swelling number of Christian students felt unhappy about them.

As such, the compulsory attendance at vespers ended in 1966, and compulsory attendance at chapel ended in 1969. These decisions reflected Will’s changing attitude as much as it did that of students. The student body had grown more spiritually diverse since his time as an undergraduate. As the man who had published the report on the religious affiliation of students, he was aware of and recommended responding to these changed demographics.

Report of the Religious Life Committee

Report of the Religious Life Committee

Integration was another major shift at the institution that occurred during Will Terry’s chaplaincy. A quintessentially southern school, Davidson struggled with its history, surrounded as it was “by former plantations.” [8] In 1962, Davidson College accepted its first black students, two young Congolese men. [9] This was a humble start, but this was the first of many steps that the all-white institution took to become a predominantly white institution.

Initially, “black students campus-wide felt isolated and out of place in social situations.”10 According to Les Brown, one of Davidson’s first black students, “you’ll never get a Negro to come here and enjoy it.” [10] Soon, the Black Student Coalition of Davidson College (also known as the BSC) was founded in order to provide support for students of color, stay in tune with “the contributions the black students have made,” and create solidarity with “the black citizens in the town of Davidson.” [11] As chaplain, Will Terry counselled students through these changes, including the tremendous challenges faced by black students and the changes that made many white students feel threatened, angry, and uncertain.

Assembly Speakers List 1964

Assembly Speakers List 1964

In the meantime, Will Terry was busy with event-planning, hiring all sorts of artists and speakers to come to the college for students’ edification and entertainment. During the ‘60s, that included theologians, poets, politicians, sociologists, pianists, and athletes, such as NFL quarterback Johnny Unitas. In one case, the Chaplain’s Office invited Hodding Carter, an editor from Mississippi whom they advertised as “a liberal on the race question.” In 1965, it was quite a risky move to ask him to speak here. Yet, this could be seen as simply a continuation of Will’s former role in the YMCA, bringing in different viewpoints and a breadth of disciplines through a religious office.

After serving Davidson in this capacity for four years, Will Terry was invited to lead Davidson College Presbyterian Church (DCPC), which was composed of Presbyterians from the school and from town. So, from 1966 to 1970, in his mid-thirties, Will Terry served as the pastor of DCPC. [1, 5] Dr. Kuykendall describes this transition period:

“When Will was chaplain, I think faculty and others in the community kind of left him alone to do what he was going to do with students and some of the very closest personal relationships he had for the rest of his life were the relationships with students when he was a chaplain here. The interesting transition . . . when you get right down to it, is what happened when he was chosen to be the pastor of the local congregation . . . Most people in the congregation loved him and he was their pastor. But some people perceived him as a ‘boys will be boys’ kind of guy and they [his connections] put him in the pulpit in this church. He was no longer a student pastor–he was a pastor to a larger community and they didn’t think he could do it.”  [1]

Despite these challenges, Will settled into his new role and preached with enthusiasm, calling on the skills he had honed at Riegelwood. He also made a point of staying in touch with his Davidson friends and colleagues. On one memorable occasion, he convinced Leland Park, a recent graduate, to come back the college to work as a librarian in 1967.  [5] Will was still encouraging and giving guidance to the people he felt were his friends and charges, even once he was no longer their chaplain, and they were no longer students. It was, at that point, an incontrovertible part of his identity and his personality.

Another key aspect of Will’s personality was his strong will and his dedication to having his way when he was certain that his way was best for everyone. Dr. Kuykendall recounts one story that is proof of this:

“He also locked horns with some people in DCPC . . . There was one guy who was so low-church, he wanted no candles burning in the church anytime. So, he sang in the choir and he’d come in and he’d pinch the candles; if the candles were lit up on the communion table, he’d come and pinch them out and sit down. Will would come in with his match and get in the pulpit, then he’d light the candles again.” [1]

This interaction demonstrated Will’s patience with disagreement as well as his commitment to doing what he felt was right. At the end of the ‘60s, he was swiftly approaching midlife, and his professional persona began to calcify–one that was personable, but frank. According to his colleague and close friend Sue Ross,

“He didn’t suffer fools gladly and he was very critical and very sharp. He was also underneath it very tender and most people didn’t see that . . . He had several really close friends, but he was a very public figure.” [13]

As a well-known personage, he enjoyed his work and was famously dedicated to the college, but it is crucial to remember that he, like anyone, wanted and needed to spend time “just sitting on the porch and having a drink and talking and laughing and telling stories.” [13] It was at this point that he began his tradition of customarily hosting dinner parties, helping alumni network with one another, and summering abroad with friends.  [13, 14]


  1. Dr. Kuykendall’s interview.
  2. ACME Presbyterian Church. “About Us.” 23 July 2015. Web.
  3. Chaplaincy timeline.
  4. Beaty, Mary. A History of the Davidson College Presbyterian Church. Appendix I. 7 June 1987. Religion and Daivdson College (3) – Published Pamphlets. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.
  5. Leland Park’s interview.
  6. Martin, D.G. “Report of the Religious Life Committee to the Faculty: April 5, 1966.” Religion and Davidson College (3) – Published Pamphlets. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.
  7. “Church Affiliation of Students: 1965-66.” Religion and Davidson College (3) – Published Pamphlets. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.
  8. “Integration At Davidson.” 2001. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. 5 Aug. 2015. Web. (library.davidson.edu/archives/Eng101/Integration/integration_index.htm)
  9. College History Timeline. “1962: Davidson Becomes Integrated.” Encyclopedia. 2015. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. 26 July 2015. Web. (sites.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/college-history-timeline)
  10. “Black Student Response.” 2001. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. 5 Aug. 2015. Web. (http://library.davidson.edu/archives/Eng101/Integration/black_student_response.htm)
  11. Grimes, Casey. “Integration at Davidson College: The African-American Response to Integration.” Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC. Aug. 2015. Web. (library.davidson.edu/archives/acs/integration/caseys_page.htm)
  12. Wherever Desmond learned about Hodding Carter, etc.
  13. Sue Ross’ interview.
  14. T. Hartley Hall’s interview.


Author: Eleanor YarboroDate: 6 October 2015

Cite as: Yarboro Eleanor. “William Holt Terry, 1960-1969,” Davidson Encyclopedia, 6 October 2014 <https://digitalprojects.davidson.edu/omeka/s/college-archives-davidson-encyclopedia/page/terry-william-holt-1960-1969>

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