Find Your Program


trojan watermark.jpg


trojan watermark.jpg

The Gilreath Family: The Joy of One Family's Legacy

The Gilreath Family: The Joy of One Family's Legacy

Introducing the Col. and Mrs. Ronald L. Gilreath Shade Tree Endowed Scholarship

In the fall of 2023, Anderson University hosted one of its ongoing banquets in support of the Christian Ministry Foundation. The invited speaker was Dr. Dennis Swanberg.

Many know the much-loved former pastor and popular Christian comedian for his impersonations and family humor. However, if you listen closely, there’s always a nugget of spiritual truth that hits home before the evening is through.

At this particular banquet, Dr. Swanberg told the story of his great-grandfather, who immigrated from Sweden in the 1880s. Once in America, he planted shade trees on his Texas farm. But Dr. Swanberg’s great-grandfather, who died at an early age, never saw them grow to maturity.

Decades later, the Swanbergs enjoyed the shade from those mature trees that the man who planted them never could. In a spiritual sense, they also rested under the shade of the spiritual legacy the family patriarch left as an ordained minister.

Building on that metaphor and his own family legacy,

Dr. Swanberg challenged those present to plant “spiritual shade trees” for generations to come and, in particular, for the students who benefit from the Christian Ministry Foundation scholarships at Anderson University.

Endowed in 2017, the CMF provides scholarships to students pursuing a call to full-time Christian service following their graduation from Anderson University, regardless of their academic major. Since its inception, more than $1 million has been raised, including several subsidiary scholarships that individuals and families have established to support AU students.

The family of Ron and JoAnne Gilreath is the latest CMF scholarship, established by their family in honor of their 60th wedding anniversary and announced at a celebration on the Anderson University campus last December.

The reception’s location was fitting. After all, Ron and JoAnne’s love story began on this very campus back in 1959.

Since Anderson was a smaller school at the time, it was easy for students to get to know other members of the entire student body. And Ron Gilreath had heard the name JoAnne Woodham many times during the chapel roll call in Merritt Auditorium. But it would be later the next semester before he had an opportunity to meet the love of his life.

The scene unfolded in the college library, which during those years was located in the Johnston Building (currently home of the College of Education and the School of Interior Design.) Ron and JoAnne were reading the local paper and noticed the same story was presented differently in each other’s paper. Ron cracked the first of a lifetime of jokes to JoAnne about the titles. And so began 60 years, a lifetime of laughter.

After graduation, Ron and JoAnne both pursued advanced degrees and, later, teaching careers in the Anderson area—Ron’s hometown. In fact, he noted that he was destined to be an Anderson alum; he was born on Gossett Street. He remembers seeing his father graduate from high school and Anderson after he returned from World War II on the GI Bill.

After enrolling in the National Guard before his graduation from Anderson, Ron later served at the Pentagon with the Secretary of the Army. He retired from military service in 1994. JoAnne remained in Anderson and raised the family while working with the local hospital.

Today, they remain active in their local community and church. Ron delivers meals (and jokes) for Meals on Wheels and provides a monthly meal for the local American Legion. JoAnne serves with the Anderson County Woman’s Club. They are active with their farm and are thrilled that all their family live close by.

When they reflect back on their college years, they feel closest to Anderson. “Coming from a small town to Anderson, it opened up a whole new world for me. I still cherish the friendships I made here, especially my husband, Ron,” JoAnne said.

And Ron’s feelings about his first alma mater? “At Anderson I was somebody, not a number, but a name. With my education and experience here, I felt like I could go on to accomplish great things. I am so excited to see all that is happening these days,” he said.

Based on their life of service to others and after hearing Dr. Swanberg’s message that night back in September, Jennifer Gilreath Wilson, daughter of Ron and JoAnne, was moved to establish the Col. and Mrs. Ronald L. Gilreath Shade Tree Endowed Scholarship. She and her brothers and extended family knew how meaningful it would be—not just in honor of their parents’ story, but in recognition of their legacy and involvement with the University even today. Jennifer’s husband, Dodd, is an alumnus. So are their two children. Her brothers, Lee and Michael Gilreath, have done a lot of contract work with the University over the years, including groundwork for AU’s Spero Financial Field at Melvin and Dollie Younts Stadium and its newly constructed facilities. Even Ron and JoAnne’s pastor was (and is) an AU alumnus.

“Our family loves what Anderson stands for, especially the focus on biblical standards and its strong stance for the faith,” Wilson said. “We are happy to support the work here and the kingdom work that will be accomplished by these CMF/Gilreath Scholarship recipients for many years to come.”

If you are interested in leaving a legacy at Anderson University, please reach out to Johnna Shirley in the Development Office for more information, or visit


Written by Beth Friend