category: Faculty Emeriti - In Memory Of

Robert ‘Bob’ Decker

Professor Emeritus of Music

Dr. Robert (Bob) Decker (1927-2013) was born in Ojus, Fla. He suffered the loss of both his mother and father before age seven, and was raised by his sister and her husband in Miami, Fla. At a young age he perfected playing the piano – one that had once belonged to his grandmother. During the years that followed, he developed an ever-increasing interest and talent in musical arts.

A pivotal point in his life came when his ninth-grade band instructor encouraged him to join the 
band and learn to play the saxophone. His love for the instrument grew, and while in high school he immersed himself completely into a variety of band instruments.  As a member of the Miami High School Marching Band, he played the bells and, during concerts, the bass saxophone. During this time, he was honored with the opportunity to conduct his own high school orchestra for a Gilbert and Sullivan musical production. He was selected the Most Musical Male in his senior class superlatives.

Following graduation, Decker joined the U.S. Navy. He served in Newport, R.I., on a yard oiler. After his discharge from the Navy, he entered the University of Miami in September 1946. With a scholarship award in percussion and the G.I. Bill, he was able to fund his college education and graduated in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in music education.

Decker’s first position as a band director took him to Griffin, Ga., where he met his wife-to-be, Ruth Sheppard. Ruth was born in Americus, Ga., and graduated in 1947 from the Georgia State College for Women. The Deckers married in August 1951 and celebrated the birth of their first son, Bob, in 1953 while living in Griffin. Their second son, John, was born in 1954 in Manchester, Ga. While in Manchester, Decker began experiencing the call to a church-related vocation. In 1956 he and his family moved to Louisville, Ky., where he entered The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. During his two years in Louisville, he was the band director at a local school and served as the minister of music at the Culbertson Avenue Baptist Church in New Albany, Ind. Decker graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1958 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Education. Following graduation, he accepted the call to First Baptist Church of Thomasville, Ga., to be the minister of music and adult education. The years in Thomasville saw the birth of another son, Peter, in 1959. Shortly after his birth, the First Baptist Church of Jessup, Ga., called Decker as the minister of music and education. A daughter, Elizabeth, was born in 1963, completing the family.

In the spring of 1963, Decker had the privilege to accompany Joe Stroud and the N.C. Baptist Chorale on a 21–day concert tour in Europe. Decker credits this experience as one of the high points in his life. Through his relationship with Stroud, Decker was recommended to be the minister of music and education for Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C., where he served for six years. During this time Decker went on to earn a Master of Music Education from Appalachian State University.

In 1970, Gardner-Webb President Dr. Eugene Poston asked Decker to assume the position of adjunct professor in band and music to fill in for a staff member who was on a sabbatical leave. What began as a one-year assignment as a band director became a 20-year relationship for Gardner-Webb and Decker. For any student fortunate enough to enroll in one of his classes or to be part of the Baptist Student Union, Decker’s enthusiasm and love of life and music were contagious. Decker served as Baptist Student Union director, Religious Education instructor, associate professor, and later, professor of music.

Decker received many honors throughout his life. During his senior year in college, two of his musical compositions premiered during an All-American Concert. He was awarded the Outstanding Musician Award from Phi Mu Alpha at the University of Miami. He composed two of Gardner-Webb’s spirit songs (including the fight song), and was responsible for the 75th anniversary anthem theme for the college in 1980. Decker was also instrumental in revising the school’s alma mater. In 1975, he pioneered and established the Gardner-Webb College/Community Orchestra, and served as conductor for 15 years. The orchestra is still a vital part of the University community today.

While serving as professor at Gardner-Webb, the First Baptist Church of Shelby called Decker to be their interim minister of music. Although the church wanted him to remain as a full-time staff member, Decker felt led to begin his doctoral studies. In 1984 he earned his Doctor of Music Education degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Decker also directed the adult choir at the Ascension Lutheran Church in Shelby for over a decade.

Decker summed up his philosophy of life this way: “I am a generalist; we human beings have the capacity to appreciate a great many things. I realize there must be specialists in various areas, but I feel at times we need to fire ourselves up, look up, and expand our horizons, so that we might enjoy the whole of life. God put us here to enjoy His whole creation and make this world a better place for having been here.”

Source: Personal Interview—Dawn Neely

Updated: Dr. Darlene Gravett and the Gardner-Webb University Communications Office (August 2014 – February 2015)

Revised: Noel T. Manning II (Aug. 2022)

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