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University Baptist Church Presented with Themis Award at Symphony Performance

Fri, 02/23/2024 - 09:47am | By: Mike Lopinto

University Baptist

Pictured left to right: University Baptist Church Senior Pastor Jennifer Brown and Dick Conville. (Photo by Paul Lijewski)

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Symphony has presented the 2024 Themis Award to University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg for its dedication and support of the orchestra’s students.

An introduction by Symphony Music Director Dr. Michael Miles during the orchestra’s performance on Thursday, Feb. 22 included stories and examples of the church’s years of dedicated service to the music community. The Themis Award plaque was presented to Senior Pastor Jennifer Brown and Dick Conville.

The award is presented annually to an outstanding Southern Miss administrator, professor, staff member, or other individual who has contributed to the success of the orchestra and its members. Each inductee receives a plaque, and their name is added to a permanent installation in the Symphony suite in the Fine Arts Building. Breaking with tradition, this year, Miles noted that this long overdue recognition was appropriate for University Baptist Church’s extraordinary kindness.

“A lot of people look at our orchestra and see this talented body of diverse students and appreciate the value of what they do, but few people understand that our international students arrive here with nothing more than what they can fit into a suitcase,” Miles noted. “They literally have nothing and very little means to acquire just the basic necessities we all take for granted.

Added Miles, “University Baptist Church has stepped into this enormous void and put their collective arms around these students, and said ‘we are your family, and you are now our family.’ Through this process, the members of the church have come to appreciate the determination it takes for these young people to leave their homes and families to pursue their dreams and education.”

Under the guidance of former pastor, Katryn Kimmell, University Baptist Church began a series of activities to assist the international students who were members of the USM Symphony Orchestra. It began with a regular Wednesday evening pot-luck dinner that was open to all students. That pot-luck dinner continues today.

Through the years that followed, and changes in leadership, the church has continued to show compassion to USM students.

The church holds regular book reading classes, led by David Walker, for international students to practice English; provides rides to the grocery store, to pick up and deliver furniture, and even to New Orleans and Atlanta to U.S. Embassies for visa appointments; provides sponsorships for study abroad; provide long-term baby-sitting so students can attend music festivals to enhance their education; donates furniture, kitchen items and beds for student apartments; and are constantly there for any student needs.

“They have even provided free housing for our students in their homes while they were transitioning as new students, between apartments, and over holiday breaks when they couldn’t go home to see their families,” said Miles. “I know of one student who has moved on to a great job in music education in Annapolis, Maryland who is still driving Dick Conville’s mother’s car. If not for his generosity, she could not have traveled to Annapolis to take that job.”

Each summer the church prepares a free trip somewhere in the United States so the students can learn more about this country.

“The generosity and kindness of the UBC congregation truly knows no bounds,” Miles continued.

The award is named after Themis the Greek goddess of divine law and order; she was the Titan who assured that things were done in an honorable way. She presided over the most ancient oracles, and first instructed mankind in the laws of justice, morality, and good governance. She was the first counselor to Zeus, sat enthroned beside him, and advised him on the precepts of divine law and the rules of fate. She is the personification of the order of things established by divine law, custom, oracle, equity, and divine decree. 

Previous Themis Award-winners include Dr. Harold Luce, Dean of the College of the Arts 1987- 1996; Dr. Peter Ciurczak, Director of the School of Music, 1988 – 1998; Dr. Aubrey K. Lucas, University President, 1975-1995; Sidney J. Gonsoulin, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs; Dr. Susan L. Steen, Director of International Education; Mr. Jerry Wren, Utility Crew Chief, USM Physical Plant; Mr. Tom Dungan, USM Symphony Orchestra Event and Logistics Coordinator; Dr. Mike Lopinto, Assistant to the Dean for Arts Administration and PR/Marketing and Event Coordinator for the School of Music; Mr. David Williamson, Director of Financial Aid; Dr. Stanley Hauer, Professor Emeritus; Rusty Rolison, Manager of Performing Facilities, Dr. Christopher Crenshaw, Senior Associate Vice President for Facilities Planning and Management; Lonnie Young, School of Music Piano Technician, and Belinda Taft, School of Music Financial Manager.

Learn more about the School of Music.