A tale of two grandmothers

Holland-Waller family inspired to honor women of faith

By Hailey Pruitt

A tear glistened in his eye as Rodney Waller (’71) recounted the stories of his family matriarchs who willingly sacrificed because they believed in the power of Christian education. His mother, Joella Yurcho Waller, spent years praying for her children to attend Harding. “Christian education was a key factor in her life,” Waller said.

Joella Yurcho Waller grew up in Horatio, Arkansas, the oldest of four siblings and valedictorian of her high school class. After graduation, she moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, to be a nanny for a family her parents knew. She later married and had a son, Larry Yurcho (’66). When he was only a year old, his father died, and the church became their family.

Joella later married Rolf Waller and had two more children, Rodney and Anita. Her ministry became the work of the whole family. “We all worked for the widows, visiting them every Sunday night,” Waller remembers. “At the time, I really didn’t understand why.” In hindsight, Waller realized his mother knew the trials the widows were facing, and she wanted to make their lives easier.

He remembers his mother had two top priorities: that her children would be faithful church-goers and that they would receive a Christian education. The Wallers even helped raise money for a Christian school in Shreveport, Louisiana. One of the board members acquired a house that was converted into a thrift store, which the Wallers ran as a fundraiser for Shreve Christian Schools.

Waller remembers his mother was “always working.” Her legacy is seen in the accomplishments of her extended family, but perhaps the greatest lesson they learned from her was the joy of generosity. “Daddy would bring his check home from the factory on Friday night, and Mother would calculate 10% of the gross and write out her check for church so it would be ready on Sunday morning,” Waller said.

Late in her life, Joella was living on a fixed income, yet she continued to send what little she had to every mail-order charity who requested donations. Her children called these the “Waller five-dollar checks.” When they encouraged her to stop because she had already given so much and was living with limited resources, she refused. “Why would I quit giving?” she asked. “The Lord hasn’t quit giving to me.”

Sue Locke and Wasson Holland, parents of Rodney Waller’s wife, Suzanne (’71), modeled what it means for a man to cherish his wife. “They never said, in our presence, an unkind word or a loud statement,” Rodney Waller said. “It was harmonious, and they sustained and supported each other.”

Sue Holland was beautiful and fun-loving. A middle school librarian, she was beloved by her students. Rodney Waller remembers one day when she took him aside. “You have to choose every day to be happy — sometimes every hour,” she advised.

When Sue was 10 years old, her sister tragically died from a ruptured appendix. For years, Sue remembered her sister’s screams and the pain she endured. Eventually, the grief and guilt created a breach in her parents’ relationship, and they divorced. Years later, when pregnant with her first child, Sue was told the child’s heart had stopped beating. She carried it for another month, knowing the baby would be stillborn. After receiving this insight from Sue, Rodney knew that despite the tragedies she had endured, she was choosing to be happy every day. Sue Holland sustained her family by continuing to be Christ-like and loving. Her steadfast faithfulness significantly influenced her family and the
entire church.

It is the examples of these humble grandmothers — and thousands like them who have sacrificed and prayed for their children and grandchildren — that Rodney and Suzanne Waller’s children want to honor with the new Holland-Waller Center on campus. “They were strong influences in our lives but were also very strong women,” Rodney Waller said. The family honors the examples of Christian women and the contributions they have made to the church, their families, Harding and their communities.

Dr. Lynsay Waller Brautnick (’00), an oncologist in Bentonville, Arkansas, spoke about her father’s vision to create a program that will highlight women of faith and encourage the women who are coming after them. “I have always been proud of my dad for his respect and acknowledgment of women’s contributions in society and the church,” Brautnick said. “He developed a deep respect for the unique hurdles women face as he watched my mother work as a CPA in the early 1970s when companies often would not allow a woman to participate in their audit despite the fact that this particular woman was more qualified and accomplished than many of her male peers. By the time my sister entered the public accounting field 30 years later, women were in the majority, but my father knew how hard her female predecessors worked to blaze that trail. Even with the passage of time, he saw the unnecessarily difficult path his daughters experienced professionally because of their gender. Dad equipped us with a Harding education, support and anything else we needed to succeed in life and the workplace. He expected us to use our talents and succeed, just as our mother wanted to do. He also was influenced heavily by watching the service of both my grandmothers. In many ways, they and their friends were the heart of the church as they cared for so many needs quietly and without fanfare.”

The building — which will replace the Ganus Building — will feature a collection of tributes to Women of Faith on the second floor. The first four recipients, who will be announced in Spring 2023, were chosen by the Waller family. Future honorees will be chosen by a 12-member advisory board chaired by Lisa Williams. This committee includes influential leaders from across the country to choose the annual honorees and determine how each will be recognized. Each board member will partner with a University staff member, and together they will plan events, presentations and conferences to inspire young women to believe in themselves and to leverage their talents to the glory of God.

The goal is to preserve historical contributions of women while preparing current and future students to maintain their dignity and commitment to faith when entering the workplace. Rodney Waller hopes this space will encourage current and future students to ask, “How can I use my gifts to glorify God?” Waller also wants to encourage engaged and married students to support each other in ministry, allowing each to develop individual gifts.

After seeing students studying outside Cone Chapel on the second floor of the David B. Burks American Heritage Building, Rodney Waller wanted to provide more optimal spaces on campus for students to study together. He requested a student lounge be added to the second floor of the new facility specifically for students to gather. There also will be a veranda on the second floor for outdoor study space as well as for musical performances and other campus activities.

As the building is constructed, there also are plans to “bathe it in scripture and prayer.” Romans 12:1-2 provides the theme for the project. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Students, faculty and alumni will be invited to write their favorite scriptures on the steel beams of the building and pray that the vision for the building will be achieved to the glory of God.

The Holland-Waller Center is scheduled to open in Spring 2024.

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