Gladys MacKenzie

For Marilyn Meyer, Gladys MacKenzie (’45) was more than just a Sunday school teacher; she was the embodiment of the love of Jesus.

Marilyn only knew Gladys for a few years in the 1940s when their lives intersected at Hollywood’s Fountain Avenue Baptist Church. Marilyn was about 13 years old at the time and in a vulnerable place. Her parents had died a few years earlier and she’d been adopted by a California aunt who was more interested in cashing in on Marilyn’s inheritance than in raising her well. Gladys was a student at Biola’s downtown L.A. campus with a passion to serve; she hoped to one day minister to lepers overseas and her favorite Bible verse was Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

“Gladys was the kind of person who didn’t even need to talk. Her actions spoke so loudly,” said Marilyn, who remembers how Gladys took the Sunday school students to museums in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoons, and sometimes to the BIOLA building at Sixth and Hope streets.

“She treated us like her own children. She was so dedicated. I’ve never met anyone like her, and I’ve met a lot of people,” said Marilyn, now 83, who never saw Gladys again after those years of Sunday school as an adolescent.

Gladys so impacted Marilyn’s life in her childhood that nearly 60 years later, when Marilyn was making decisions about her estate plan, she called Biola. In her career in real estate she had amassed a significant array of properties, but worried about who she should leave them to. She got to thinking about Gladys and the worthiness of her mission: her passion to show the love of Christ to everyone from teenagers in Hollywood to lepers in the Philippines.

“I wondered, are there still people today who are doing the work that she did?” said Marilyn. “The idea to call Biola just came to me. It was a bit of a miracle.”

Though she had not had any other contact or relationship with Biola aside from knowing Gladys many decades ago, Marilyn decided to assign the proceeds of her trust to Biola’s campaign — specifically to establish a testamentary scholarship fund in honor of Gladys. She also allocated significant gifts of property to Biola in her estate plan.

All because of a humble servant of Jesus named Gladys MacKenzie. Little is known of what happened to Gladys after she graduated from Biola and stopped teaching the Sunday school class at Fountain Avenue Baptist. Marilyn thinks she went into the mission field in the Philippines, or maybe somewhere in South America. She doesn’t know. Records show that Gladys was a faithful donor to Biola in the 1980s, giving monthly gifts of $5 or $20 to Biola’s annual fund and scholarships for at least six years, a fact that Marilyn was delighted to learn.

“Isn’t that beautiful? I’m sure she didn’t have much money; Gladys was not materialistic, let me tell you,” said Marilyn. “Her giving was certainly a sacrifice.”