David Ringer, an associate professor at College of the Ozarks, will complete his Ph.D. 39 years after he started it and one week before he retires. His dissertation is about J. Roswell Flower, one of the founders of Assemblies of God.
(Photo: Nathan Papes/News-Leader)
David Ringer said there were times when his head gave up, but his gut never did.
On Saturday, Ringer will receive his doctorate — 39 years after he started it.
And one week before the 71-year-old retires.
“That’s all I’ve known since we’ve been married … in 1979. We will have to find a new normal after this,” said Kathy Ringer, his wife.
Ringer is an associate professor of history at College of the Ozarks and is earning his doctorate through the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.
His daughter Kristel Ortiz said while he was in high school, her father was a record-breaking short-distance sprinter.
“Now we joke that he’s finally finishing the marathon,” she said.
Prior to C of O, Ringer taught at three junior colleges and four universities.
When he started his doctorate, it was in part to further his career.
[blockquote3]“The great story is that he is able to finish it after a whole career that has been devoted to other people and their needs,” said his son David Ringer, a 30-year-old who lives in New York. “He’s doing it for him, not monetary gains or advancement of his career or scholarly prestige, but something that is important to him. He is one of the most dedicated and persevering people I know.”[/blockquote3]
His dissertation is about J. Roswell Flower, one of the founders of Assemblies of God (see story on Page 8A). Flower is also Kathy Ringer’s grandfather. Ringer’s dissertation is coming out as the Assemblies of God church celebrates its 100th anniversary, so the timing is good after all, said Kathy.
Titled “J. Roswell Flower: A Brief Biography,” the book will be available in August, as an e-book and in print.
David Ringer, who has master’s degrees in English and religion, said he’s proud of his accomplishment but also a little embarrassed it has taken him so long.
“It’s like being 15 and graduating from kindergarten,” he joked. “On the other hand, there is satisfaction in finishing something I’ve worked on for so long.”
But his family is effusive with praise and beaming with pride.
“Doctorate or not, he has always been the smartest guy around. The doctorate is just the cherry,” said Ortiz.
While Ringer has pursued his degree faithfully, the doctorate has been put on hold many times so he could raise his children (and by their accounts he’s an excellent father), help his aging in-laws or work with students.
So how will he celebrate this accomplishment nearly four decades in the making?
His family thinks a big trip is in order.
“As old as I am, I am kind of tired, I may just take a nap,” Ringer joked.
A long journey
In the fall of 1975, Ringer started coursework for his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Ringer’s dissertation was about Jonathan Edwards, a preacher, philosopher and theologian.
Ringer had been teaching in Oklahoma at Oral Roberts University. After a year and a half, he returned to Oklahoma, which is where he met and married Kathy.
In 1980, he went back to Chicago to finish coursework for his doctorate and in 1982 started his dissertation.
The divinity school had a rule that before a dissertation could be approved, it had to go through a scholarly committee. After years of work and research, the university’s expert on Jonathan Edwards left and no one would take on the dissertation.
“So I had done all this research and no one would pick it up. It was ABD — all but dissertation. Or all but dead,” Ringer laughed.
He moved back to Tulsa and tried external universities. But that didn’t work because he needed a mentor.
When he realized that dissertation wasn’t going to happen, he turned to another subject: J.R. Flower, who was his wife’s grandfather.
“The more I learned about him, the more I thought, someone needs to write a book about this man,” Ringer said.
In fact, his family sees many similarities between Flower and Ringer, even though the men are not related by blood.
“Both men are/were so well-learned but at the same time are known for humility, integrity and diplomacy,” Ortiz said. “They aren’t just academics. My dad’s study of history gives him wisdom for the present and insight into the future. He seems to admire JR’s life and legacy so much, and sometimes when I hear him talk about specifics that he admires (like JRF’s foresight) I wonder if he knows how much it sounds like him. He’s a rock-solid guy.”
They were both religious and spiritual men (Ringer was a pastor in a church in Louisiana from 1963-1967).
Finishing in Springfield
In 1999, the Ringers moved to Springfield to help care for Kathy’s mom, who had Parkinson’s disease.
Ringer initially taught at what was then Southwest Missouri State University, then landed a job at C of O, which is where he’s been for 13 years.
While the drive for the doctorate was always there, family always came first, said Ringer’s son. He has memories of playing softball in the backyard and of his father reading to him from the Bible, and fiction and nonfiction books.
“That investment to us was incredibly valuable and I didn’t realize at the time that that was not something everyone else gets. I am very grateful for all of it,” he said.
In 2009, Kathy encouraged David to contact Assemblies of God Theological Seminary to see if he could publish his dissertation about Flower.
“They said yes but said I’d have to do a core of coursework,” Ringer said.
So he’s plugged away at it ever since.
More than once, he’s put other people’s needs first.
“He’s been patient,” said Kathy. “For example, my dad who is 89, in October … he had a cracked vertebrae and was in terrible pain. In order not to have to go into a facility, David and I moved in with him and took care of things, and him. David, he just picked up his stuff and moved all his research there and set up on the dining room table and kept working at it in the evening. That is his sacrifice, patience.”
It’s that patience that makes his family proud.
Ringer was the first person in his family to go to college and he says it opened up “new worlds” to him. Early on, he set his sights on a doctorate.
“I started it. Stopping it is just not an option. You just look for alternative ways to get there,” Ringer said.
But he admits, he had moments when he lost faith it would come to fruition — at least his mind lost faith.
His gut never did.
“I see the whole thing as God’s grace,” Ringer said. “That is what kept me going: grace, just grace.”