By Gordon Govier

InterVarsity alumni - Don Powell

During World War II, while studying to be a naval officer at the University of Texas, Don Powell was invited to a weekend retreat just outside of Austin. There he was introduced to another naval trainee named Glen Zumwalt who had been meeting for a Bible study every Sunday led by an army officer named Stan Block.

Don was invited to join the small group. “That was my first real introduction to Bible study in InterVarsity, or Bible study anywhere,” he said. Today, more than 60 years later, Don is still involved with InterVarsity because of that Bible study.

“It was the source of my deep interest in understanding the Scriptures,” he said. “And it’s from the Scriptures that we learn how to live. I think I owe InterVarsity an awful lot.” Don has continued to study the Scriptures and serve God even while pursuing a business career.

At one point, after serving in Istanbul as a teacher for a year, and then finishing out his military commitment, Don considered seminary, and full-time ministry. But he believes that God directed him to stay in engineering. “I was sitting in church one Sunday morning and I was thinking about this,” he recalled. “A voice came to me and said, ‘I’ve got you where I want you—get on with it.’ So I’ve been trying to get on with it ever since.”

Don and his wife Maddie moved to Chicago, where he helped found AutoResearch Laboratories in 1959. He served as its president from 1974 until he retired in 1991. At the same time, he looked for opportunities to get involved in Christian ministry. For many years Don taught an adult Bible study at the Moody Church, and later at Christ Church of Oakbrook, Illinois.

With many different opportunities to invest his time and his money in worthwhile causes, Don said that he made his choices based on simple criteria. “I can’t support everything,” he said. “I look for those who I think are doing crucial work. I like to support things that are not the easy missions.”

As an example, in recent years Don has served on the board of Good City, a Chicago organization that “supports emerging neighborhood and faith-based programs that promote self-sufficiency, hope, and a sense of purpose in the lives of individuals in under resourced communities.” He’s proud of the fact that Good City has spun off almost 100 new organizations over the time he’s been associated with it.

InterVarsity vice president and director of collegiate ministries, Jim Lundgren, said that Don Powell has been a friend and mentor for 25 years. “He has a lot of wisdom about leadership,” Jim said. “His low-key dedication to ministry is very typical of his generation.”

Having financially support InterVarsity’s ministry ever since he graduated from college, Don was invited to become a member of InterVarsity’s board of trustees in 1968, where he served for 23 years. Ironically, at one time two of the other board members serving with him were Glen Zumwalt and Stan Block, from that University of Texas Bible study.