The Abundant Life of Sherry Castello

by Robert Darden | September 25, 2019

Sherry Boyd Castello’s tenure as editor of The Baylor Line lasted from 1968 to 1990, though she remained for five more years as a senior writer and news editor. It was a remarkable time in the life of Baylor University, of America, of Castello herself.

And during that time, The Line expertly, thoroughly and fairly covered the school’s sometimes tumultuous transition from sleepy regional Baptist college to nationally ranked research university.

Through it all, Castello calmly chronicled those changes, operating under the guiding tenet, “Because it happened,” which she still believes is the most important responsibility of a good alumni magazine. The best alumni magazines are, she has said, fundamental to keeping alumni connected with their alma mater. And that, in itself, is essential to keeping any university healthy, vital and flourishing.

On the occasion of the Baylor Alumni Association’s 160th anniversary and the long-overdue digitization of The Baylor Line by the Riley Digitization Lab at Moody Library, a visit to Castello’s tree-shrouded home in Waco was definitely in order.

At Baylor, Sherry Boyd of Mineral Wells originally declared herself an English major, but during her second quarter enrolled in an introductory course in journalism. “I took that course, and I just knew I was a journalism major,” she recalled. “This was it.”

Her professor was W.J. Thomas, himself a former journalist. “He was not a particularly outstanding professor,” she said. “It was journalism that grabbed me, not Dr. Thomas. It was like, ‘Oh wow, this is what I want to do!’

“In the spring quarter, I was what they called a night editor. Which meant you put the paper to bed over at the old Baylor Press. I was editor during one quarter of my senior year in 1958.”

Also working on The Baylor Lariat during that period was photographer Don Castello, who oversaw the reporting lab. The two dated and eventually married in 1959.

Shortly thereafter, Sherry Castello began work on a master’s degree in American Civilization (later American Studies) under Dr. Charles D. Johnson, sociology chair, who had founded the journalism department at Baylor. Sherry also worked in Baylor’s public relations office.

“Dr. Johnson was, at heart, a journalist,” Castello said. “He directed my thesis, Journalism in the Curriculum of Southern Baptist Colleges and Universities. He really was an encourager of me toward journalism. I received my master’s degree in 1960.”

Over the next few years, Don worked as a staff photographer for the Waco Tribune-Herald and Sherry taught part-time at Baylor, teaching classes in the journalism and English departments. But mostly, she said, she “muddled around being a mother.” The couple eventually had four children, Bill (born in 1960), Ken (1962), Laurie (1964) and Charlie (1970).

During this period, The Baylor Line was edited by the Baylor legend Enid Markham. Looking back at issues of the magazine from that era, The Line is very newsy – dozens of short, press release-styled items, with an occasional “official” article, often written by President Abner McCall’s aide-de-camp Thomas Turner.

The March/April 1968 issue features an update on the famed Keys Quadruplets (class of ’37), and how they became the first young women to perform in the Golden Wave Marching Band (all on saxophone, incidentally). Markham’s strength, Castello said, was in her relationships. “Enid knew everybody and who they were related to. She was very rare, with deep Baylor roots.”

Castello was originally asked by alumni director George Stokes to assume the reins at the Line in 1966. She happily agreed. “Suddenly, George said, ‘Whoops, Enid wants to stay on two more years so she can get her retirement. So, I’ll get back to you in a couple of years.’ That worked out OK for me and I became editor in ’68. And I would not want to be in any way critical of her because she was great.”

When Castello was asked to take the reins of The Line in 1968, she was supported and encouraged by the leadership of the Baylor Alumni Association to create her own vision of what the magazine could be. Castello quickly became friends with Robert “Dusty” Rhodes, editor of the award-winning Brown University alumni magazine. At one point, Rhodes invited Sherry to spend time with the BAM – Brown Alumni Magazine – and his staff.

“That was a big step up,” she said. “That was like getting a master’s degree in alumni editing to get to know Dusty and hear their reasoning on their decisions.”

George Stokes, then Ray Vickery, were Castello’s first bosses with the alumni association and The Line grew quickly in size and influence. Almost immediately, the magazine looked different.

In addition to longer features by a wider variety of writers, even the covers changed: a column of Pat Neff Hall flanked by a jet contrail (January/February 1969), a stark, weathered column from Independence with a silver/gray background and the text, “… and these stones shall be for a memorial … forever” from Joshua 4:7 (September/October 1969), a dramatic shot of the new Moody Library, lit up at night, with a ghostly image of the Fifth Street fountain in the foreground, all against a black background (July/August 1969), a close-up of the statue of Judge Baylor’s hand on a law book against a robin’s egg-blue sky (June 1978), a bird silhouetted against a Miller Chapel stained glass window (November 1982). Many of Castello’s covers display a fascination with the “significant details” of Baylor.

“We were doing good things with the magazine,” she recalled. “We had a good response from people. It went out six times a year to everybody. Baylor was growing right then, leaps and bounds, and so I inherited The Baylor Line as the university was moving to another level.”

“From the start, we told everything straight – just like you would to a family member. If you had an alumni magazine, these were your people. They needed to know everything as it was.”

Baylor’s president at the time was much-beloved Abner McCall. Castello uses words like “folksy” and “egalitarian” to describe McCall, who would deliver a document himself rather than ask for someone to pick it up. The Line, she said, had an excellent working arrangement with McCall.

But the late ‘60s were also the era of Vietnam War protests, particularly on college campuses. The protests at Baylor were what Castello called “minor tremors” compared to the massive demonstrations elsewhere. Still, after one such silent protest at Baylor, involving only a dozen people, The Line published of a photograph (by her husband Don) of the demonstration, which took place during an ROTC presentation.

Almost immediately after the issue was mailed, Castello received a telephone call from a development officer. “He suggested that people might not contribute to the university if they were aware of such goings on,” Castello said. “He asked me, ‘Why did you run this picture?’”

“I told the administrator, ‘I wrote about it and ran it because it happened.’”

McCall was succeeded in 1981 by Herbert Reynolds. Castello forged a relationship with Reynolds that lasted until his death in 2007.

“I think the unique thing for me, as editor, was having such a good, open relationship with the president,” Castello said. “I had more than a decade of going in every other month and having at least an hour with Dr. Reynolds. I would sit there with my little tape recorder, ask him anything that I wanted to ask him. That was the rule of the game. I could ask him anything and he would give me an answer. Dusty Rhodes once remarked to me that he had never known a president to be so secure and open to questioning.”

Looking back through back issues of The Line magazines from Castello’s tenure as editor is like experiencing an unexpected reunion with cherished friends – oh! the stories that these issues tell. Sherry fanned the six issues from 1981 out before us as an example. Beginning with the February issue, The Baylor Line featured the transition from McCall to Reynolds in five consecutive issues.

“In April, we highlighted McCall’s move to Chancellor,” Castello said. “In June, Kathy Dinsdale wrote what we all knew, that Reynolds was replacing a virtual folk hero – a colorful, strong and rugged individualist. Kathy observed that Reynolds’ polished desk and efficiently organized office reflected a man of precision. It was an apt assessment of their differences.”

Other articles in that year continued in that vein: “20 Questions” (an interview with Reynolds based on questions gathered from alumni and campus personnel); “The First Lady Is Joy” (about Joy Reynolds); a piece by writer/photographer Carol Dickey describing the new president’s first day in office (“And do you remember this?” Castello asked, “A memorable ice cream party down by Waco Creek. First day as the new president and he had an all-campus ice cream party!”); “A Day of Glory” by Betsy Vardaman (recounting the formal inauguration of the university’s tenth president) and “At Home at Albritton House” (the first peek inside new president’s campus home).

“Throughout my stay at The Line, that column with Reynolds continued our effort to give alumni a sense of insider status,” Castello said, “with the very tolerant president submitting to whatever questions we thought to be representative of alumni concerns.”

Castello began other popular features as well. To generate more alumni involvement, the magazine invited drawings by the children of alumni. (“Boy! did we ever get them!”) Sherry said she believes that alumni should be able to speak authoritatively about their university, which prompted a series of articles that served as a “refresher course” about the school and “Baylor ABC,” articles designed to update alumni on the various details of the university, ranging from its history to current enrollment.

Another feature which endured for years recounted memories of a favorite professor. Cartoonist Rick Diamond’s “Bobby Baylor” series also enjoyed a long run in the magazine. The popular “Looking Back” column by Kent Keeth was another perennial favorite.

“All of this is my philosophy,” Castello said, “to keep alumni in touch with other alumni. If you should doubt that this is an important goal for the Baylor Line, just count the pages used for ‘Class Notes’ and alumni-oriented features in any issue.”

Under Castello’s patient, nurturing guidance, writers both young and inexperienced and older and established, vied to have bylines in The Baylor Line. A very partial list of those writers includes Katie Cook, Madeleine McDermott Hamm, Carl Hoover, Nita Sue Kent, Ralph Lynn, Vivienne Mayes, David McCollum, David McHam, Louis and Kay Moore, Judy Pace, Paul Parson, Tony Pederson, David Pickle, Ella Wall Prichard, Bob Reid, Hal Wingo, Yale Youngblood and many, many more.

In the late 1980s, Baylor was at the heart of a dramatic struggle between moderate Baptists and the fundamentalist wing of the Southern Baptist Convention, which forcibly took control of a number of Baptist institutions. It was a difficult period in the life of the university and many feared that Baylor was next on the fundamentalists’ list.

Led by Reynolds, the university enacted a change in its charter that significantly reduced the number of Baylor regents selected by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. According to Castello, Reynolds met tirelessly with alumni, faculty and staff to assure them that this move was not engineered to lessen Baylor’s historic faith-based roots.

The Baylor Line was, of course, there through it all. One cover from that era featured a line drawing of two lambs butting heads under the headline, “Who are the Baptists?” (June 1985).

“It was a huge chapter,” Castello said. “Baylor could have been taken over. And our role was the same. Information.”

Castello announced her retirement from The Line in 1995, which also marked Baylor’s transition from Reynolds to Robert Sloan as president. A Homecoming retirement party at the beloved Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center drew family and friends far and wide, along with a blizzard of written and faxed (but not yet emailed) tributes.

In their tributes, some alumni even remembered the early days of the magazine, recalling scenes of her son Charlie sleeping under Castello’s desk as she worked on the latest issue. “Charlie was born in 1970, so he grew up in my cozy office when I was up on the third floor of the Student Union building.”

Castello remained as Senior Editor for five more years, writing the occasional article and conferring regularly with her successor, Editor-in-Chief Paula Tanner. It was Tanner and Todd Copeland who faced the unfortunate period that followed as Sloan and a small group of regents worked to sever the university’s historic ties with the Alumni Association. It is a breach that has only begun to be mended under the leadership of the re-named Baylor Line Foundation and new Baylor President Linda Livingstone.

As an alumnus, Castello said she is still hurt by those events (she called it the “disemboweling” of the Baylor Alumni Association), but in the years following her retirement, she began a second, equally rewarding, equally essential career, one that continues today.

Talitha Koum (“My child, rise up!” in Aramaic), a center providing “loving relationships, research-based therapeutic intervention” in South Waco’s poorest neighborhood, was founded in 1999 by members of the nearby CrossTies Ecumenical Church.

At nearly the same time, CrossTies also founded in the Gospel Café in the neighborhood, feeding hundreds of people every Wednesday through Friday. Castello threw herself into her new roles.

“As I’m moving out and Paula was taking over, CrossTies was starting up,” she said, “and that was how I figured out how to live my life. CrossTies, Talitha Koum and the Gospel Café are by the Kate Ross projects, where Don and I once worked as part of Baylor’s Friday Night Missions. This was just after the big Youth Revival of the 1950s, so there was a lot of that fervor when I was there.

“But for me, I always think, ‘Wow, I’m now right back where I started at Baylor. You can see the towers of Baylor across I-35 from there. That means something. I realized that while I was at Baylor, I could never really see that neighborhood. The truth is that I knew absolutely nothing about poverty. As close as Baylor is, these poverty neighborhoods were invisible to me.”

In 2009, three alumni, Castello, Marsha Marty and Susan Cowley, received the W.R. White Meritorious Service Award from the Baylor Line Foundation for their extraordinary work with Talitha Koum and the Gospel Café.

Though not mentioned in the award, Sherry’s husband Don could have been an unindicted co-conspirator for his selfless volunteer work as well. William Don Castello died April 10, 2015, at the age of 80.

Castello is still involved with the Gospel Café, cooking, coordinating volunteers and greeting friends, old and new. What does she get out of it?

“I’m always the server who greets the person,” she said after a moment’s reflection. “It is important that they see one familiar face every day, even though the rest of the many volunteers are also in there. I get to smile and say, ‘What would you like today?’”

“But mainly, I think it’s just the humanizing of each other. They don’t have any idea who I am, or anything I’ve ever done. But they remember my name, and I wish I knew theirs. ‘Miss Sherry. Miss Sherry, do you have the meat and potatoes today?’ They get a main dish, a salad, hot bread, dessert, tea. And they know they’re safe.”

Castello also passionately, fiercely follows both the University and the Baylor Line Foundation. One question she says she often receives is, “Looking back at your time at the Baylor Line, what are you proudest of?”

“We told Baylor’s stories,” she says again, after another pause. “Honestly and truthfully. The Baylor Line, in many ways, chronicled the golden years of Baylor. We had been a good university, we had been a good Baptist university, and then we became a major university. And we told that story.”

The measure of any person is found in the impact she has had – and continues to have – on others. At Castello’s retirement, long-time Line writer Kathy Hampton Dinsdale celebrated Sherry’s ability to step out of her role as editor and simply be a friend.

“I’d venture to say she had no clue the far-reaching ramifications – and in Christendom, don’t we call good ramifications fruit? – of her faithful response to living at capacity. Joyfully, expectantly, fully.”

And, in response to this article, Dinsdale later wrote, “Years later, Sherry became God’s instrument in a wholly different role, breathing new life and ideas into my flat-lining faith.”

Another writer, Beth Whitley Duke, said that Castello’s influence goes far beyond the magazine, calling her “the glue that held the spirit of Baylor together.”

A long, emotional email from one of The Line’s regular contributor’s during Castello’s tenure, Nita Sue Kent, includes this touching line: “Sherry encouraged me not only as a writer for the Line, but also for whatever mental, physical or spiritual journey I was on.”

Finally, Harry Marsh, himself a former journalism professor at Baylor and later chair of the journalism department at Kansas State University, goes one step further: “Sherry Castello is a personification of the Baylor spirit. (She) should write her autobiography and it should be required reading for all Baylor students so they could learn how to live abundant lives.”

2 thoughts on “The Abundant Life of Sherry Castello

  1. After the countless features she has written about other interesting people, it’s appropriate for Sherry to be featured this way. Thank you.

    Back in the 80s, Sherry hired me part time to do class notes for the Line, and not too much later, I became class notes editor. She and I even shared a little office when Paula Tanner was made editor and Sherry stayed as senior editor. Little did I know, when I started working there, that I’d stay at the BAA for 21 years!

    She has been a wonderful colleague, a respected teacher, and a valued friend, and she has made the world a much better place. And yes, the girl from Mineral Wells has lived an abundant life!

  2. That is such a beautiful tribute to Sherry Castello and representation of who she is and the meaning she has brought to others’ lives by having lived and continuing to live her life abundantly. I believe Jesus would say “Well done good and faithful servant!” Congratulations, dear Sherry!

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