A Denison love story

issue 01 | winter 2024
Joanne and Dave in front of Swasey Chapel

“I knew right from the start that he was the man I wanted to share my life with,” says Joanne Adamson Woodyard ’55.

“I was just glad somebody wanted me,” David Woodyard ’54 deadpans.

The Woodyards have been married for 68 years. Dave is a self-confessed social incompetent, while Joanne is “all bubbles.” Clearly, a sense of humor is required to sustain a relationship of such opposites.

A few tears can help things along, too.

Joanne tells of a night Dave said he wanted to go out with Denison’s homecoming queen. Joanne burst into sobs. “I must have cried for 15 minutes,” she says.

Dave, who was co-chair of the homecoming committee, thought he was making a simple request. His response to the deluge: “Never mind.”

Their fate was sealed.


Dave proposed to Joanne just outside Swasey Chapel, and they married the week after she graduated. The happy couple moved to New York City, where Dave was enrolled at Union Theological Seminary. Church had been a tangible source of strength for his family; he was just 11 years old when his father, Denison alum and trustee Wilfred C. Woodyard ’16, died unexpectedly.

“Our minister stepped into our family’s life,” he says. “He was a model of what a pastor could be.”

While Dave attended seminary classes, Joanne taught English, then worked in a bookstore. After Dave earned his Master of Divinity from Union, he served a church at the University of Connecticut.

Then Denison came calling. “I couldn’t believe we got to go back to our alma mater,” Joanne says. “It was just fabulous.”

Back on The Hill, Dave taught classes and served as dean of the chapel, where he spent up to 20 hours each week just talking with students.

President Blair Knapp urged Dave to get his doctorate, and with the support of a Danforth grant, eventually he earned a Doctor of Ministry from Vanderbilt University. Though Dave’s heart had been set on leading a church, the good Lord apparently had other plans.

The Woodyards settled into Granville for the long haul.

In 1968, Dave was one of about 30 professors who boycotted classes to support Black students in their call to increase their cohort at Denison (there were only eight at the time), hire more Black faculty, and establish a place where they could socialize comfortably. It was a tense time, especially for an administrator and untenured member of the faculty — Dave was told to leave the college by President Joel Smith.

Before that could happen, newly inaugurated Denison President Bob Good invited Dave to stay and become chair of the religion department. His first act was to hire Emeritus Professor Joan Novak, a “firecracker” who added feminist theology to the curriculum and helped to expand interest in the major.

Meanwhile, Dave was delving into the new fields of Black and liberation theologies. He became a close friend of James Cone, then Black theology’s leading scholar, and frequently invited Cone to campus. When Cone received an honorary degree from Denison, he called it “one of his proudest moments,” and noted that Denison students had “given him the warmest ovation I had ever received.” A number of Dave’s students, including Kelly Brown Douglas ’79 and Gary Simpson ’84, went on to study under Cone and become leaders in their fields.

Dave has taught at Denison for more than 60 years and still teaches today. He has served in a number of leadership roles, team-taught courses with economist Paul King and anthropologist Kent Maynard (with whom he also co-authored books), and served as chair of the faculty twice. A sought-out professor whose classes are always full, Dave continues to challenge his students to think outside conventional norms.

He is religious about attending Denison men’s and women’s basketball games, and has officiated more weddings of former students — now friends — than he can count. The bulletin board in his office is papered with photographs of those friends and their children. Nearby is a thick book of letters from students, alumni, and faculty, the result of a project by Andrew Pincus ’10 that honors Dave’s 50th teaching anniversary at Denison.

When asked for the secret of his success, Dave responds simply: “I listen.”


As Dave pursued academia, Joanne got busy as well, starting with children. The couple adopted two girls, Sara and Kim. “I hadn’t told anyone I was adopting,” Joanne laughs. “When I brought out a baby one day, a house mother just about fell down.”

Being a mother was wonderful, of course, but she was itching to do more. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ I can’t chase children all day long.” She launched her quest to expand her boundaries.

Long before Martha Stewart introduced the world to every conceivable craft, Joanne was leading the way. Flower arranging, crewel needlework, gardening, herbal knowledge, cooking, Christmas wreath-making, paper crafts, basket-weaving, rug-making, stenciling, painting — she learned it all.

“Living in Granville has been fantastic,” Joanne says. “You find people who do things you don’t know about, and then you join them.” Not content to simply learn something new, Joanne has become a teacher, too. She’s passed her knowledge on to legions of locals.

“Someone would say ‘I could never do that,’ and that became a challenge,” she says. “‘Never’ is a word that is not in my vocabulary. All they need is someone to show them. It became the purpose of my life.”

That mission aligns with her other big calling: helping folks feel like they belong. “People are lonely; they need someone to tell them they’re special, and I believe they are.”

As soon as Joanne learns about someone new in town, she invites them to one of her “newcomer coffees” and introduces them to a dozen of their new best friends. For 40 years, she often entertained twice a day and several times a week. Her legendary Christmas coffees featured dozens of cookies and sweets for 125 of her closest friends.

Dave + Joanne

When this formidable pair is actually in the same room together, the sparks fly. Their banter is fast and funny, and reveals a deep love. An example: Dave, 91, has written 10 books, of which Joanne, 90, has read exactly … zero.

“Why should I bother?” she says.

While Joanne is deeply spiritual, books on theology don’t interest her.

His reply: “If you had just opened them, you would have seen the one I dedicated to you.”

Published December 2023
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