Once Charlie Clary worked with trees, then with fraternities and now with LSU athletes.
The former forester has been a missionary for CRU, known until recently as Campus Crusade for Christ, for the past 30 years.
Much of that time he and his wife, Beverly Clary, worked with fraternities, but more recently they helped bring Athletes in Action, a ministry through CRU, to LSU athletes.
“I can be overwhelmed with reaching 30,000 LSU students, but I feel like I can put my arms around 16 athletic teams,” Clary said.
Among the athletes he works with regularly are 15 to 20 football players.
He said he has always been a sports fan but has followed football more closely after working with the team.
Some days he attends LSU practices or games. Some days he leads a running group. Some days he eats lunch in the dining halls on campus.
“I like to keep my lunch times open because all athletes have to eat,” Clary said.
“I’m doing something I haven’t done for a long time — I’m going to the 5,” Clary said, referring to the dining hall at LSU.
Clary said his schedule never looks the same, but he mostly spends his time having individual appointments with athletes, talking or mentoring them.
Matt Vieke, a senior on the LSU diving team, said he was a freshman when he met Clary and they continue to get together almost every week.
“It doesn’t really matter what the activity is; he will be there,” Vieke said. “He helps me all the way down to helping me change my oil.
“He has given me a lot of maturity in that role of becoming a leader,” Vieke said. “Just the way he lives life is an example to me by his actions and the wisdom he shares has been very important in my life.”
Clary said he likes seeing students’ lives change in a positive manner.
“I enjoy seeing people begin to understand that Christ is more important than their significance in their athletic team.”
He said he wants to give athletes who want to experience spirituality an opportunity to do so.
The focus in his career is to make sure college athletes understand what biblical Christianity is all about and what it takes for them to go to heaven one day, he said.
He worked with fraternities for 28 years, before taking another fork in his path.
“I came to Christ through my fraternity at LSU, so it was natural for me to work with these young men,” he said.
Clary enjoyed working with Greeks, but said he began to feel he could have a greater impact with athletes at this point in his life.
Looking back to his life as a forester, Clary has no regrets about the different path he decided to take.
After attending a Campus Crusade for Christ conference, Clary and his wife felt a calling to work with college students. They decided to leave their jobs and begin raising financial support to become full-time staff members with the ministry.
“I had a great job, but the Lord had plans for us to be involved in the lives of young people at a pivotal time in their spiritual lives,” he said.
Charlie and Beverly Clary signed up for a two year commitment more than 30 years ago, “and we have never put together a resume to consider anything else since then,” he said.