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Soli Deo Gloria: The Legacy of Dwight Gustafson (1930-2014)

Dwight Gustafson

The Love of Christ and the Glory of God

If there were one passage of Scripture to sum up the life of Dwight L. Gustafson —“Gus” or “Dr. Gus,” as he was affectionately called by colleagues and students—it might be Philippians 1:9-11.

And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.

The love of Christ and the glory of God—those formed the impetus for Dr. Gus’s life. And those frame the memories his family and friends now cherish.

Yet it was not always so, for Dr. Gus. He could not have always said that his life was Christ’s and Christ’s alone.

Something Different

Growing up, young Dwight took piano and violin lessons. He sang in a men’s quartet in high school. But art was his passion, not music.

As a child he sketched as he listened to the radio. The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, football games—all took shape on his paper. In high school he took every art class that was offered, and eventually became the artist for his school newspaper—no small accomplishment in a high school of a thousand students.

He dreamed of someday becoming an animator for Walt Disney. Yet he could not rid himself of the nagging feeling that perhaps God wanted something different of him.

“A lot of Christian young people go through a rebellious time, whether it shows on the outside or not,” Dwight explained in a 2002 interview. “I went to more campfire services than the ordinary teenager did. But when the mission conference came, I would always sit in the back row … because I was afraid God was going to send me to the mission field.”

“I told the Lord, you know, ‘I’m going to be an artist! This is what You’ve given me!’” he said. “So when I came to Bob Jones, I was fighting God’s will for my life.”

He began as an art student at Bob Jones University in 1948. And at BJU he finally surrendered to do whatever God wanted to do with his life. By his second year, he had changed his major to music.

As Dwight himself so eloquently expressed in his book A Brighter Witness, “The point here is that a loving God, seeing the self-willed struggles of a young boy, drew him to a place where he clearly saw God’s will and opportunities for service, and he obeyed. It was a decision that would lead him down paths he could not imagine.”

Dwight Gustafson conducting

A Path Unimagined

In 1952 Dwight graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music, married Gwen Adams (a beautiful soprano whom he had met in university choir) and began graduate school.

Suffice it to say, those years were not easy. Work, school, music and family responsibilities piled high. Yet God was faithful, and Dwight and Gwen did not give up.

Dwight Gustafson in 1949

In 1954 God entrusted them with a new responsibility. As Dwight told it, “I got a call slip that the president wanted to see me. He said, ‘We’d like you to come back as acting dean of the School of Fine Arts, and if it works out well, come on as dean.’”

Dwight had planned to serve as a music minister in a church after earning his master’s degree. Yet as he and Gwen discussed it and prayed about it, it seemed clear that God wanted them at BJU.

That one simple step of obedience shaped the history of Bob Jones University, as well as the lives of countless students.

Lifetime of Accomplishments

Though he was young—only 24 years old when he became acting dean!—his passion for all areas of the fine arts gave him the vision he needed. He not only served as administrator, but also continued teaching and composing, directed orchestra and choir, performed in operas and plays, led music in chapel, ministered in churches and much more. In the midst of all this, he earned a doctor of musical arts degree from Florida State University in 1967.

And under his leadership, the School of Fine Arts flourished like never before. Every division, from art to music to speech, grew in number of faculty, students and programs. Physical space was expanded as well, with the completion of the Fine Arts building in 1956.

Dr. Gus served as dean of the School of Fine Arts for 43 years, until his retirement from administration in 1997. He still holds the record for the longest-serving dean in BJU history. But even after retirement, he kept on teaching, conducting and composing—and, of course, influencing and inspiring students.

In 1999 Bob Jones University honored Dr. Gus’s immeasurable contributions with the naming of the newly renovated and constructed Gustafson Fine Arts Center. That same year South Carolina recognized his lifetime of accomplishments by awarding him the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor in the state.

Dwight Gustafson in 1981

Gustafson Fine Arts Center

The Brighter Witness

Yet in the midst of the praise of men, Dr. Gus, like J.S. Bach, would say: Soli Deo Gloria. His goal was excellence and beauty in all things—for the glory of God in all things. This is the enduring legacy he leaves behind.

Stephen JonesCreativity in mankind is a direct reflection of the Image of our Creator. Perhaps more than anyone I’ve known, Dr. Gus reflected that beauty of God through a breadth and excellence of creativity that continues to hold people in awe.

As gifted as he was, however, Dr. Gus reflected God’s image in manifold other ways: his approachability, his steadfastness, and his love for others. Dr. Gus was a towering example of a devoted Christ-follower. He was God’s wonderful gift to the Gustafson family and the Bob Jones University family, and he is deeply missed.

Our prayers reach out to the Gustafson family, along with our gratitude to them for the way they so unselfishly shared their husband, father and grandfather with all of us.
— Dr. Stephen Jones, BJU president

Dan ForrestDr. Gus taught my Choral Writing and Arranging class, which is now my primary field. He was literally the person who first taught me the foundations of everything I do now, as a choral composer—vocal ranges, tessitura, texture, speech accent, etc. He was also my first teacher of “composition” lessons.

The thing that struck me the most was his ability to look at a sketch of mine and instantly see all sorts of possibilities for it that I hadn’t seen. He could look at a fragment of one of my ideas and, on the spot, improvise all sorts of ideas for expanding it.

I had never encountered someone with that kind of creative ability before. I’d like to think that his influence is present in every piece I write, as it is in the writing of hundreds (or thousands) of other composers he taught.

One of the most meaningful quotes I remember from Dr. Gus was his recalling a conversation with a musician who said to him, somewhat dismissively, “Oh, yeah, you’re that composer that writes music for all those little Baptist churches, huh?” Dr. Gus leaned in for emphasis and said, “I replied, ‘No, sir, I write music for God’s kingdom!’”

This was an offhand comment in a casual conversation I had with him, but I’ve never forgotten it…especially since I, too, now compose both “serious” concert works and church music, for God’s kingdom.
— Dr. Dan Forrest, composer and musician

Dr. Bob Jones IIIGodliness, geniality and genius were amassed in Dwight Gustafson to produce a giant—musically, pedagogically, artistically and evangelistically.

He was the gift of God to BJU and kept our fine arts emphasis Christ-centered by his humility of heart before the Savior.

He was the Asaph of his day.
— Dr. Bob Jones III, BJU chancellor

Daniel OverlyI knew Dr. Gus my whole life, but my first contact with him as a musician came when I was in 5th grade. I had a short offstage solo at the beginning of Act III in Puccini’s Tosca. I will never forget how Dr. Gus’s face lit up every time he cued me!

God has used Dr. Gus’s influence immeasurably in my life. His enthusiasm for music is one of the things that sparked my desire to become a musician in the first place. His warm-hearted concern for people and their spiritual condition was an example to me. His sweet-spirited devotion to his Savior encouraged me that following Christ, no matter the personal or professional cost, is always worth it.

Dr. Gus had a love of beauty like no one else I’ve seen. However, he didn’t view beauty as an end in itself. He loved the Source of Beauty even more. Now he is no longer looking at that beauty through a glass darkly but experiencing it firsthand, communing with his Lord face to face.
— Daniel Overly, Fulbright grantee and student at the Vienna Conservatory

Dr. Darren LawsonIt is a precious gift for a young man to be blessed with a godly mentor in his life, one who patiently and graciously invests time, effort and love to develop the young man and then willingly to hand over a lifetime of ministry. Such was Dwight Gustafson in my life.

Our relationship spanned a nearly 32-year history, beginning my freshman year when I was a student in the School of Fine Arts. I knew him as dean, as opera conductor, as teacher, as employer, and as friend. During my year of intense training under him as I prepared to take over as dean of the School of Fine Arts, I daily watched him skillfully handle the myriad of details associated with running a large academic school. I watched as he masterfully managed creative people, pulling the best out of them for the glory of God. Most importantly, I watched his testimony for Christ shine through everything that he did.

I remember my first day on the new job. An immense feeling of inadequacy flooded over me as I sat down in his familiar chair. After all, the day I was born, he already had 10 years of experience as dean. That thought nearly overwhelmed me. As I continued to learn the role, he was always available for help and guidance; however, he gave me space to make the position my own. To this day, I still find myself responding to specific situations as I saw him respond.

I greatly miss him already, but I am committed to continuing his legacy of faithfulness and excellence for the glory of our Savior.
— Dr. Darren Lawson, BJU School of Fine Arts and Communication dean

40th Anniversary Tribute (1993)

Click a time to listen to a specific section.

  • Katherine Stenholm 00:40
  • Edward Panosian 06:19
  • Gail Gingery 11:36
  • Bob Jones Jr. 16:43
  • Jay Pinner 22:14
  • Dianne Pinner 25:25
  • Lonnie Polson reads the Bob Jones Jr. poem, “The Versatile Dean” 28:34
  • Joan Pinkston 30:59
  • Joan Pinkston’s Tribute Song for Dwight Gustafson 33:19
  • Dewitt Jones with several presentations 37:54
  • Ed Dunbar presents gift of a Bible 43:20
  • Ed Dunbar honors Gwen Gustafson 44:47
  • Dwight Gustafson speaks 46:25
  • Bob Jones III 48:11

As Dr. Gus himself put it:

It should be clear by now that the brighter witness does not come about as a result of our efforts. God must light the fire, a truth never to be forgotten. But we do have a part, and the result can be immensely satisfying. In the arts, as in our other undertakings, what God has struck aglow will flame beautifully when a love for Him and a concern for His glory blaze on the altar of our lives.

Thank you, Dr. Gus, for showing us how brightly a surrendered life can blaze.

May we, too, allow God to strike that flame in us.

Dwight Gustafson conducting

Memorial Service

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