A Fond Farewell to the Kentucky Wesleyan College Professor Who Changed My Life
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to John Combs. If you know John , you don't need that introduction. Chances are you, like me, have already been profoundly impacted by this man and his wisdom. If you never got the chance to meet Dr. Combs, allow me the honors of sharing a story that will give you an idea of the way in which he helped shaped the futures of so many of his students. Students just like me.
I started my college career at Kentucky Wesleyan College in the Fall of 1989. I received scholarships to go there, so I did. I'll be honest. I had lots of interests and couldn't really decide on a major. I liked theatre. I liked political science. I toyed around with the idea of majoring in music. I thought about being a lawyer. I really enjoyed English and I absolutely loved to write. It's that love of writing, and the fact that Writing Workshop was required for KWC freshman, that ultimately led me to cross paths with Dr. Combs.
Now, it's not unusual for college professors to keep "office hours." Those are times they'll be in their offices in case you need to meet outside of class for some reason, or if you just need to stop by and ask a question, get clarification on an assignment, etc. Pretty much all college professors have such hours. Dr. Combs actually invited us to take advantage of his. I don't recall how many times I visited Dr. Combs in his office, but I loved doing it. Spending time in his office presented the opportunity to talk about things going on in class, but, even more importantly, much bigger things going on outside it.
I am a person who questions everything and, in Dr. Combs, I found a role model that did the same thing. He validated my skepticism with his own and let me know it was okay, and he reminded me of my duty to challenge, question, analyze and form my own conclusions. Dr. Combs was so smart and my time with him made me smarter too.
I remember going to Dr. Combs' office one day for a review of an assignment. I'll be honest. I don't remember exactly what the assignment was, but I know we had to record our voices on cassette for it, then sit down with Dr. Combs to chat about it. I will never forget the first thing he said after hitting play on my cassette. He said, "Chad, you should be on the radio."
In the summer of 2020, I was emceeing the virtual Rooster Booster Breakfast for the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce and was recording segments at Kentucky Wesleyan College, that month's sponsor. I was recounting that assignment as the camera rolled and couldn't stop myself from being overcome by the emotion of the moment. See, it was in that moment that I realized just how much of an impact Dr. Combs had on the trajectory of my life, though it didn't resonate immediately when it happened during my freshman year.
Fast forward to the 11:45 mark and you'll see what I am talking about.
Well, to that point, there in Dr. Combs' office, I had never even considered radio as a career. But I don't really have to explain what eventually happened, right? I have hosted the morning show at WBKR since 2004 and I am also Director of Content for Townsquare Media Evansville/Owensboro. I oversee programming and content for seven radio stations and their websites and social media platforms. I create and write on a daily basis. Literally, every single day of my professional life is a "writing workshop." While cassettes are gone, I am sharing my voice daily.
Dr. Combs, add me to the list of students forever indebted to you. I have that career in radio you suggested and that career has afforded me more opportunities than I ever envisioned. I have guest announced at the Grand Ole Opry over a half dozen times.
I have been nominated for an Academy of Country Music Award. I have interviewed endless stars of country music and entertainment. And my career has given me the opportunity to explore the world that you inspired me to appreciate and challenge at the same time.
YOU ignited that spark, Dr. Combs. And I am forever grateful for you, your friendship, your guidance and your wisdom. I am going to miss you and I know this "organic universe" will too.
The last time I saw Dr. Combs was at a memorial service last year for a college friend of mine who died from COVID-19 complications. Now, Dr. Combs is staring down the barrel of his own mortality. He has been battling cancer and the cancer, like it usually does, is winning. But John's at peace with it as I knew he would be. Many of our conversations in his office centered around thoughts about life and death, what happens when we die, what doesn't.
He shared this on Facebook over the weekend. "In a few days, I will go into hospice. My world is a friendly one. I have enjoyed over 92 years of a full, rich life. Thank all of my friends for being the most blessed part of it."
During the last few days, endless former students have been sharing with John the indelible impact he had on them. He's read them, heard them, felt them. He says, "As I near my sunset, all of your expressions will help me go peacefully. As my ashes join the organic universe, they will be happy ashes because you have let me know that I have at least accomplished a few worthwhile things with my life. Thanks to all of you."
No, Dr. Combs, thank YOU! And while your sun is setting, know this. There are a bunch of people just like me still carrying your sunlight with them.
With much love and admiration,
Chadwick Jerame Benefield