LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

150 Years of History: Provine perseveres

LaReeca Rucker
The Clarion-Ledger

In the 1950s, Tim Tarvin was a Clinton fixture. The 100-year-old was known as a joyful individual with an infectious personality and a sharp memory.

A century had passed since Tarvin's birth, but he was still clear and lucid when he agreed to pose as a model for newly hired art instructor Samuel Gore's Mississippi College class.

While seated, he shared stories from his youth, recalling the first time he heard the bell ring at Provine Chapel, a building that will be honored this year and next when Mississippi College leaders commemorate the 150th anniversary of its construction that began in 1859.

"He and his dad were south of the campus about a mile or so," said Gore, who today is an internationally celebrated artist and former MC art department chairman. "He heard some noise and said, 'Papa, what's that knocking sound?'

His father explained that it was the bell on the chapel. "The story he told about hearing it ring for the first time made it come alive for us. He must have been 5 or 6 years old when they finished the Old Chapel in the 1850s."

Mississippi's historic campus chapels tell a story about the state's history - from the former "Old Chapel" at the University of Mississippi that served as a hospital during the Civil War to Tougaloo College's Woodworth Chapel that was at the seat of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Provine Chapel was so special it attracted the attention of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who once traveled to Clinton to take a look at it.

"He said it was one of the finest pieces of antebellum architecture (still standing) in America," said chapel manager Lynda Street, who will help oversee the commemorative events for the oldest building on campus.

Street said the 150th anniversary theme is "O God, Our Help in Ages Past; Our Hope For Years to Come." Five events have been scheduled for this year and next. The first is an organ concert featuring Janette Fishell of the University of Indiana, who will perform at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15.

Provine Chapel was the first site of Clinton Baptist Church, the congregation now known as First Baptist Church of Clinton.

"The agreement was the church could use it when the college wasn't using it," Street said. The congregation later built another church. During the Civil War, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant used the downstairs area of the chapel to quarter his horses and the upstairs as a military hospital. In the early 1950s, the chapel began to deteriorate, and in 1960, campus leaders began renovating the building. Known as the "Old Chapel" for years, it was named Provine Chapel in 1969 after J.W. Provine, a former MC president.

"It has a special place in the hearts of Mississippi College alums," Street said.

The chapel seats 500 downstairs and still contains 14 of the original pews that are now in the balcony. Offices and classrooms for the MC department of Christian studies and philosophy are in the lower level, and the building is now used for weddings, concerts and special events.

Edward McMillan, an MC historian and retired vice president of graduate studies, said the bell Tarvin recalled hearing is still on campus, but not in the original belfry. It deteriorated and was removed in 1910.

"In 1923, a ground-based bell tower was built, which still exists between two of our campus buildings, and the old bell is still there," said McMillan, a member of the Mississippi Baptist Convention's Historical Commission who has conducted church-related building research statewide.

The chapel is special to MC alum Cliff Fortenberry, chairman of the college's communications department, whose parents and children attended MC. His daughter, Elizabeth, recently was married in Provine Chapel.

"It's a beautiful venue," he said, "and if you know where to look, you can find some of the bloodstains still left from the war between the states. You feel that some of the ghosts kind of wander in and out."

Kenneth Quinn, who has taught at MC the past 15 years, painted a portrait of the chapel that he describes as an "eternal icon." He also salvaged some of the chapel's deteriorating wood while repair work was being done and had a religious symbol crafted from it as a reminder of the chapel and his faith.

"They had to pull a few of the beams out of the chapel and replace them with new ones," Quinn said. "They threw (one) in the Dumpster. One of my students saw it and knew I loved using old wood for projects. I looked out the window and saw four or five boys dragging the wood on their shoulders across the campus."

Quinn took a piece of the wood to a craftsman who carved from it a 10-inch chalice.

"I asked him to put three little lines around the top of the chalice," Quinn said. "That's for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."


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