Shelley Caulder illustrates “comprehensive giving” as donor and student
Since losing his beloved wife to cancer, Shelley Caulder has enriched the classrooms at Southern Seminary with generosity, kindness, and encouragement. Caulder’s time as a Southern student has been during a season of great grief in his life. Soon to be 87, he faithfully learns more about the God he loves, comforts students in their own times of loss, and carries his late wife’s legacy.
Jonathan Kiel met Caulder when he was the teaching assistant for an Old Testament class. Kiel noticed when Caulder comforted a couple who had suffered a miscarriage. Caulder cried with them, shared his own story, and encouraged them.
“He was always interested in other folks in the class and how they were doing and he was very willing to take time to talk with folks,” Kiel said.
As their relationship grew in the classroom, Kiel and his wife, Corrie, admired the deep love Caulder had for his late wife, Charlotte.
“He talked about his wife in ways that were very real, and kind. I don’t think I’ve ever known a man who has loved his wife more than Dr. Caulder loved Charlotte,” said Kiel. “She was certainly his best friend and the person he most admired on earth.”
As Caulder and Kiel became friends, Corrie became pregnant with their youngest daughter. Caulder joined the Kiels at the hospital to meet the newest member of their family. While Caulder held their baby girl, the Kiels revealed her name.
“They said, ‘Our prayer is that our Charlotte would grow up to be a godly woman like your Charlotte. And we’re going to name our little girl Charlotte,’” Caulder said.
Kiel described the decision to name their daughter Charlotte was connected to hearing about the Christian example she lived to her children, grandchildren, church, and community, but most specifically to Caulder.
“We wanted to honor Dr. Caulder’s wife, but we also want to encourage our own daughter when she gets older and learns how she was named and who she was named after. We want to encourage her in the type of mom and the type of faithful servant of Christ that Shelley’s wife was,” Kiel said.
Charlotte Caulder’s diagnosis came unexpectedly on Christmas Eve 2010: Stage IV liver cancer. Southern President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and his wife, Mary, were among the first to hear the news because they led the Caulders’ Sunday School class at Highview Baptist Church.
“This is one of those friendships that goes back to church, where so many of our most important friendships originate and are nurtured,” Mohler said. “We came to know them and to love them. They became very, very close friends. Shelley and Charlotte were absolutely inseparable, and just two of the sweetest Christian people we’ve ever had the opportunity to know.”
He is a demonstration about how comprehensive giving really is. We often think of giving things, mate- rial goods, and that’s important, but giving joy, that’s a unique gift.
Due to the cancer’s progression, Charlotte opted out of radiation and chemo, and Caulder was able to be Charlotte’s primary caregiver. During her 10-month battle Mohler said it was a gift to see the Caulders’ love for one another. He said Charlotte presented “a beautiful Christian confidence in the face of death.”
Throughout Charlotte’s journey, Caulder said, the Mohlers were like family. They visited often to pray with the Caulders. The day Charlotte passed, she had been in a coma for about 30 hours. The family gathered knowing she did not have long. Mary Mohler reached out to Caulder to check on Charlotte’s progress, and hearing her time was short, the Mohlers visited the Caulders’ house, as they had done often, to pray with the family.
“So we gathered around when they came about 12:30 or 1 p.m.,” Caulder said. “Dr. Mohler led a beautiful prayer as he does. And at the moment that he said amen, her head dropped. It was her last breath. So she heard it all. … The Mohlers have been, are, and always will be dear family to me because of that experience.”
Following Charlotte’s death, Caulder was encouraged that his mission on earth was not yet completed, and after talking with Mohler, Caulder began auditing classes at the seminary.
In his nine semesters attending Southern Seminary, Caulder has only missed one chapel service. Caulder stands out among the students with his white hair and bright smile. He said he enjoys the challenges of learning, seeing how relationships develop with other Southern students, and witnessing the Lord using them to further his kingdom purposes.
Many students may think Caulder has always been at Southern, but in fact he began building relationships with students at the University of Louisville after returning from military service. Caulder worked as an oral surgeon until 1970 when he retired from the military and returned to Louisville and his alma mater. There Caulder taught as a faculty member until 1992. This is when Caulder first interacted with Southern Seminary.
“Back in the olden days when Louisville had an old dental school … we used the chapel at Southern for graduation because we didn’t have an auditorium,” Caulder said.
Caulder’s love for Southern, for Charlotte, and for students gave birth to a scholarship fund in Charlotte’s name. He says a 2012 lecture in a Hermeneutics course on Ecclesiastes and enjoying the Lord’s blessings inspired him to help Southern Students with tuition costs. All glory goes to God, he would say, but his faithfulness to carry out God’s mission does not go unnoticed.
Caulder gives to the seminary because of how the seminary has given him a renewed purpose, but his impact goes beyond financial assistance. He gives of his whole self, including time, attention, affection, finances, and joy, Mohler said.
“He is a demonstration about how comprehensive giving really is,” Mohler said. “We often think of giving things, material goods, and that’s important, but giving joy, that’s a really unique gift.”
Caulder’s dedication to studying is an example of his faithfulness in allowing God to use him in any stage of life. In the midst of living with grief and the loss of his beloved wife, Caulder has not given up hope.
“I try to tell him as often as I can that ‘Charlotte would be so proud of you because this is how she would have wanted you to carry on.’ He’s not quitting,” said Mary Mohler. “He’s pressing on with all the strength the Lord gives him for any given day. And he’s going to finish well. Not only will the Lord welcome him gladly, but Charlotte will just be so glad he lived his life to the fullest.”
Donations can be made to the scholarship fund by writing “Charlotte Caulder Scholarship Fund” in the memo line of a gift.