“The place for which He designs them in His scheme of things is the place they are made for. When they reach it, their nature is fulfilled and their happiness attained.”

These words may perhaps best sum up Dr. Don King’s past half century at Montreat College, where the English professor has dedicated himself to teaching students and researching the one who wrote those words, the poet and theologian C.S. Lewis.

“For my wife and I, when we first drove into Montreat that first time and went up the little rise and saw Lake Susan on the right-hand side after having been in the Midwest, we looked at each other and said, ‘We think we’ve come to the promised land,’” King recalled in an interview the week after commencement marked the conclusion of his 50th year at the Christian college in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

Ever since then, the father of four adult children and grandfather to 13 has called Montreat home with his wife, Jeanine.

“We both felt called to be at Montreat, and while we’ve been willing to go somewhere else, we’ve also been happy that we haven’t felt called to go anywhere else. Having the sense that we were where we were supposed to be made some of those hard years a little bit easier.”

After meeting Jeanine as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, King completed his master’s degree in English from Southern Illinois University. Despite his advanced degree, King acknowledged that his chances of landing a job he desired were slim. In fact, one of his friends sent out 150 different letters that never garnered a response. However, an InterVarsity representative heard about an opening at Montreat and encouraged King to apply.

“I was interviewed by the Dean at the time, a man named Dr. John Akers,” King said. “What impressed me about the interview was his first question had to do with my faith. My wife was with me during the interview, and we both were pretty impressed afterward with that being the opening question.”

In 1974, Montreat College, then known as Montreat-Anderson College, was a junior college. The president at that time was Dr. Silas Vaughn, one of many people who have worked tirelessly over the decades to keep the college thriving.

“Si Vaughn was a businessman hired by the board of the college to try to bring financial stability. In fact, as I understand it, some on the board hired him to close the college, but once he got here, he saw that the mission of the college was very much worth saving,” King said. “He enacted a number of measures that eventually got us on more stable financial footing, although it was not really until President Maurer came in 2014 that the college had a pretty solid financial situation. Until Dr. Maurer came, we were almost always in survival mode from year to year.”

That stability and success in the past decade have kept King motivated to continue teaching as a septuagenarian.

“One of the reasons I’ve stayed around so long is to see what’s happened with Dr. Maurer and the work he and his colleagues have done,” he said. “It’s been very satisfying for me.”

Because of his long tenure at Montreat, many former students recognize King as someone who best embodies the mission of Montreat College. However, King mentioned two mentors who personified Montreat College to him, including Elizabeth Wilson. The namesake for the Wilson Scholars program, which provides leadership opportunities at Montreat College, Wilson taught a Sunday School class that King and his wife attended when they first moved to the area.

“I think I’ve maybe known two saints in my life, and she was one of them,” he said. “Elizabeth Wilson had a deep, deep love for Jesus and a deep love for Montreat College and its students.”

The other mentor he named was Rev. David L. Parks, a former dean and Bible professor at Montreat College. The annual distinguished professor award is named in his honor.

“He was another person who embodied to me all the best aspects of being a teacher and a Christian,” he said.

King is one of only 13 professors to receive Montreat’s Professor of the Decade award for inspiring students like the mountains that surround Montreat’s hallowed halls. He was honored along with his colleague David Parks in the 1980s. Ironically, King pointed to the 1990s as a decade where he made the most strides in improving as a teacher. He recalled a speaker emphasizing that for students to learn effectively, they needed to be engaged, rather than simply having material thrown at them.

“This person provided lots of examples of what was meant by active learning, and that really did revolutionize my own approach to teaching,” he acknowledged. “There used to be the idea that professors had to ‘cover the material.’ She asked us to imagine sitting at a table, getting ready to have a feast. She said if you had to cover the table, that meant you would take out a tablecloth and cover the food, which is just the opposite of what you want to do. So that shifting of the idea was really helpful for me because if I tried to cover the material, basically the students weren’t going to see anything.”

To be an effective teacher, King emphasized the importance of  knowing your material and possessing a desire to share your knowledge. Above all, though, he said that the best teachers are those who are able to connect with their students.

“As much as you can, you need to tailor your approach to teaching the individual needs of students, so you have to think about how to appeal to them, “ he said. “In a class that has 150 students, you just can’t get at that personal level, so that’s another reason I’ve loved staying at Montreat. I’ve always had relatively small classes, and it’s easy to engage students.”

In addition to his teaching, King has compiled an extensive bibliography. Over the years, he has written more than 80 essays and book reviews, and he is the author of 11 books, including 10 on C.S. Lewis and those close to him. His latest book, Inkling, Historian, Soldier, and Brother: A Life of Warren Hamilton Lewis, won the bronze medal in the world history category of the 2023 Independent Publisher Book Awards.

Like so many people, King first encountered C.S. Lewis through the Narnia series; however, his literary texts often served as supplemental material in his coursework at the larger state universities he attended.

“I kept running into Lewis on an intellectual literary level,” he said. “It was also a time in which I was going through questions about faith. At the time, I didn’t really know many Christians who were thinkers. Once Lewis converted, I think for the rest of his life, through his writings in particular, he was intent on moving people toward the light of the gospel, sometimes overtly, but usually more indirectly. He wasn’t a Christian writer in the sense that he set out to write a piece that was focused on Christianity. He once said, What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects.’ To me, that’s a pretty huge difference.”

That integration of faith and learning is what King hopes will be part of his legacy at Montreat College.

“What I hope people will recall about me is someone who really cared about students, someone who really cared about his discipline, and someone who did what he could to bring together faith and learning within his discipline,” he stressed.

Although King has a desire to do some extended traveling and potentially tee off on some famous golf courses in retirement, those thoughts are still on hold for now. This fall, he plans to return to the classroom for his 51st year at Montreat College.

“I think my biggest concern is I might be bored when I retire, and I don’t really want that to happen,” he confessed. “The cliche is young people keep you young. For me, at least in my head, that keeps me young, just not literally. I enjoy being around young people so much that I’m going to stick around at least one more year.”

Looking ahead, King hopes that Montreat College continues to expand its footprint while remaining true to its historical life as a Christian college. At the same time, reflecting on the past five decades, King tried to capture a sense of the gratitude and appreciation he has for the community, his family, and Montreat College.

“I thank God for my family, my wife, my children, my grandchildren, all the colleagues that I’ve had through the years at Montreat, and all the students that I’ve taught. I’m just thankful,” he emphasized. “Fifty years ago, if I could’ve written the script of my life, I don’t think I would change anything about my time at Montreat. Obviously, some days were better than others, but overall, how many people can look back at their career and say, ‘This is the script I would have written’? I would not have written it much differently, so I like that.”