Oklahoma Baptist University

OBU Founders: Then and Now

Founders’ Day
February 6, 2013
J. Thomas Terry, Vice President for Business Affairs emeritus

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you on Founders Day about some of the OBU history I learned during the 13 years I spent working in the OBU archives. To understand the founding of Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee it is important to know how the city of Shawnee came to exist.

About 1875, the Ray family including their daughter, Etta, traveled from Illinois to Oklahoma City which was located in Oklahoma Territory. What we now know as the state of Oklahoma was then made up of Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory. A number of years later Etta Ray met and became engaged to Henry Beard, an Oklahoma City business man. In the summer of 1891, Henry went on a hunting trip to Indian Territory where Shawnee is now located and was so impressed with the area that when the land run of September 22, 1891 was announced he encouraged Etta Ray and his brother and sister to participate in the run.

Etta Ray was successful in claiming 160 acres that is basically what is now downtown Shawnee. Her future brother–in-law, John Beard, claimed the property that includes where the Santa Fe Depot is now located.

Before the city of Shawnee existed, the area was covered with trees. After the claims were recorded, Etta Ray and her father began building a log cabin, cutting the logs from the timber on the property. By the time Etta and Henry Beard married in December 1891 the cabin was ready to live in. That cabin has been relocated beside the Santa Fe Depot Museum downtown.

The next year, Etta and Henry Beard worked with J. T. Farrall, who owned 160 acres to the south, in laying out the streets and lots to register their properties as a town in Indian Territory. The town of Shawnee was chartered in 1894.

On July 4, 1895 the Choctaw Railroad brought passengers to Shawnee and a picnic celebration was held at Woodland Park. Soon other railroads were constructed so that by 1906 when the Baptists of Oklahoma Territory and of Indian Territory met in Shawnee, there were three railroads with 42 passenger trains per day serving the town.

Let’s review the amazing development of Shawnee in less than 15 years. The slide shows how rapidly the town grew from being a timbered woodland into a thriving town in Indian Territory that could host the Baptist meetings. At that historic meeting, one year before Oklahoma Statehood, they voted to join together as the Baptists General Convention of Oklahoma. One of the resolutions passed formed an Education Commission “to study the educational situation and report at the next meeting.”

When the Baptist General Convention met in 1907 the committee reported “That it is the sense of this commission that as soon as practicable a new Baptist University be established.”

George McKinnis from Shawnee was a member of the Education Committee charged with seeking offers from cities in Oklahoma and making a recommendation for the location of the school. McKinnis was active in Shawnee affairs. He and others convinced the Chamber of Commerce to offer 60 acres of land for a campus and $100,000 to construct a building on the property. In today’s dollars that is about $2,500,000. Can you imagine a city the size of Shawnee making such an offer today?

Over the next three years the committee met with several Oklahoma towns including Lawton, El Reno, Sulphur, Shawnee and Oklahoma City to receive their offers. Finally they settled on the offer of Mr. Putnam from Oklahoma City. When he sent over his contract, however, it included a provision that he would name half of the trustees. Mr. McKinnis knew that this would not be approved by the Baptist Convention, so he made sure that Shawnee’s offer was still valid. On hearing from the committee that he could not name the trustees, Mr. Putnam withdrew his offer and the committee settled on Shawnee.

Given the turn of events a person might make the case that locating Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee was God’s plan. On February ­­­­­9, 1910 the Secretary of State issued a Charter to the Baptist University of Oklahoma. The name was changed to Oklahoma Baptist University in 1919.

Soon construction began on what is now Shawnee Hall. After a while, however, the cost of construction exceeded the amount that Shawnee residents had raised and construction had to be halted. Mr. J. Lloyd Ford, founder of Shawnee Milling, suggested that lots that were owned by the Chamber of Commerce be widely advertised and sold for this and other projects. Various fund raising plans were used and eventually the building was completed at a cost of $140,000 and classes began in September, 1915.

Over the next twenty-five years OBU had good and bad times. The 1918 flu epidemic kept the campus quarantined for two months. World War 1 took many of the male students. After the war was over the football and track programs excelled. The school band played at football games and on other occasions. Student debaters were successful. OBU developed a good reputation among the colleges in Oklahoma.

About 1926, Berta Kay Spooner, executive director of the Woman’s Missionary Union of Oklahoma took up the problem of inadequate dormitory space for OBU women. She was able to mobilize the women of Oklahoma Baptist churches to join the cause to raise funds for a women’s dormitory. Over 4,000 people, 400 organizations and about half the churches in Oklahoma donated funds with only three contributions exceeding $500. They broke ground to begin construction in February 1928. The WMU didn’t give their contributions to OBU, however. Instead they contracted with the builder and supervised its construction until WMU Memorial Dormitory was opened in fall of 1928, completed in less than 8 months! The foresight and tenacity of Berta Kay Spooner was the key to this project being successful.

The 1930s depression had a negative impact on OBU, just as it did on businesses and the general population. Dr. John Raley became president in 1934 and began the longest tenure of any OBU president.

With the advent of World War II OBU’s enrollment dropped to 368 students because most of the male students were drafted into military service. This resulted in a severe economic crisis and threatened the jobs of faculty and staff. Through the actions of President John Raley, the university was able to contract with the United States Army and become a military training site. WMU dormitory became a barracks for soldiers. Women students moved to the smaller men’s dormitory which is now known as Owens Hall. Between February 1943 through the summer of 1944, OBU trained over 2,000 army air corps students. This program not only saved faculty and staff jobs, it allowed OBU to assist in the war effort, and was an opportunity for people all over the nation to become acquainted with Oklahoma Baptist University. This action on the part of the OBU president was instrumental in expanding the diversity of the OBU student body, so that today students studying at OBU come from 37 states and 26 countries.

After the war some outstanding students returned as faculty and began to make important contributions to the future of the school. In their way they could be thought of as “founders” because of the impact of their ideas and actions.

Bob Bass played basketball at OBU, graduating in 1950. Two years later he was named OBU’s head basketball coach. Over the next 15 years his teams set school records. Under his coaching In 1958 OBU won its first NAIA district basketball championship. The teams continued to do well and the OBU men won the NAIA National Championship in 1966 becoming the first Oklahoma basketball team to win an NAIA national championship. In 1967 Bass left OBU and coached professional teams in the American and National Basketball Associations eventually becoming an NBA executive with several teams. He was named NBA Executive of the Year on two occasions. In 2008 he was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.

The standard of excellence that Bass promoted became the expectation for OBU sports teams leading to several national championships for the Track and Field teams, national tournaments by the baseball team and another national championship by the men’s basketball team in 2010. More recently OBU has experienced more national recognition through its swimming and volleyball teams.

We should be grateful to Bob Bass and the men he coached for founding a legacy that continues to inspire OBU sports teams today.

The elevation of success in athletics obviously hasn’t been only in men’s sports. The enactment in 1972 of Title IX Legislation opened the opportunity for women to compete in high school and college athletics. Many of you are able to participate and enjoy women’s sports that were in formative stages when your parents were teen agers.

At OBU the responsibility for developing a program that fit the goals of OBU and that complied with Title IX regulations was the responsibility of the president and provost, but OBU’s athletic directors were responsible for making it work. In 1978 the first scholarships for the Women’s basketball team were offered when David Sallee, now president of William Jewell College, was athletic director. Later, Bobby Canty and eventually Norris Russell were the athletic directors who brought the programs to equal numbers of intercollegiate sports opportunities for men and women. We can say that the efforts of Sallee, Canty and Russell were foundational for today’s women’s athlete.

Juanita Millsap was reared in Gracemont, Oklahoma. She wanted to be a nurse but rather than attend a program at one of the Oklahoma hospitals, she went to Michigan and Ohio to obtain a bachelor of science in nursing. Returning to Oklahoma she became a faculty member in the nursing program at Wesley Hospital in Oklahoma City. During World War II the US government recruited nurses and established educational standards that Oklahoma’s hospital- based schools of nursing could not meet.

Juanita became a member of a Wesley Hospital committee that was charged with making recommendations concerning nursing education. She was joined by a doctor from the hospital board, the director of nursing service at Wesley and the executive vice-president of OBU, Dr. James Ralph Scales. The committee depended on Mrs. Millsap to write the proposed requirements for a program that would offer a bachelor of science degree in nursing, get it approved by the State Board of Nursing Registration and recruit a faculty and students for the program.

OBU agreed to offer the nursing program which began classes in 1952 with 10 students and three clinical faculty members. It was the only program of its type in Oklahoma. Today there are 237 students in the OBU College of Nursing who are taught by 10 clinical faculty members and the Dean. OBU’s nursing program is held in high regard by hospitals and physicians in Oklahoma and throughout the region.

OBU recognized Juanita Millsap as a founder of the bachelor of nursing degree at OBU with an honorary doctor of science degree in 2002. Also, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame.

Donald G. Osborn was reared in Cushing, Oklahoma. He served in the US Marine Corps in 1944-46. He graduated from OBU in 1951 and was recalled to the Marines, serving as a 2nd Lieutenant in Korea. Following this Osborn became an OBU faculty member and counselor to male students. Eventually he was named Vice President for student development.

Other than sports, social clubs and the SGA, student involvement in university affairs was minimal during the first fifty years of OBU’s existence. Osborn became an early advocate of involving more students in university business. He championed the policy of including students as voting members of university committees, a practice that continues today. Osborn’s determination to increase student participation provided many OBU students an opportunity to make important contributions to University life. Osborn retired from OBU in 1998. Today, students who serve on university committees can be grateful to Don Osborn for laying the foundation for that opportunity.

William E. Neptune, a native of Lawton, Oklahoma, graduated from OBU in 1950 with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and mathematics. After receiving his master’s degree he joined the faculty and in 1954 received his PhD from the University of Oklahoma. In 1960 he was named dean of the college or arts and science. He also became an examiner for North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. During that time he became more aware of developments in approaches to higher education.

OBU had always had a strong academic program, but Dean Neptune learned of new ways to present a college education that would be more meaningful. Under his guidance the faculty began exploring better ways to present information to students. In 1971 a new university calendar was developed and the core curriculum became known as Unified Studies.

Over time the strength of the core curriculum championed by Dr. Nepture, accompanied by strong instruction in student major studies, is now recognized by rating agencies and other higher education organizations making an OBU degree highly valued by educators, businesses and other universities.

In 1980, Dr. Neptune left OBU to join the Home Mission Board as a consultant to college in-service guidance programs. William E. Neptune’s work in founding the framework for the OBU Unified Studies curriculum continues to live on.

When Dr. Bob R. Agee became OBU’s 13th president, he was impressed by the fact that the number of OBU graduates serving on the foreign mission fields exceeded those of every college in the United States. But he also wanted current OBU students to have an experience with missions. Working with the Baptist Student Union and the School of Christian Service staff, many mission opportunities were developed including summer programs in China and Hungary and lengthy stays in a school in Moscow. In addition, one of the last chapel programs of the year became a commissioning service recognizing students and faculty who would be involved in missions during the summer months. This emphasis on missions has continued to grow in number and importance. We can credit Dr. Agee’s foresight in founding the framework for the many programs that exist today.

Mary Kay Higginbotham lived in Pascagoula, Mississippi. After her high school graduation she attended Music Week at Ridgecrest, North Carolina. There she sang in the choir directed by OBU Dean Warren M. Angell. That experience caused her to change college plans. Her parents brought her to Shawnee to attend OBU. She graduated in 1962, obtained a Masters Degree in Music at North Texas State University, and joined the OBU faculty in 1964. In 1969 she married John Parrish.

In the spring of 1983, Mary Kay Parrish recommended that a hand bell program become a part of the

Fine Arts curriculum. After a year of rehearsing twice a week, the first hand bell group presented a one hour program in Yarborough auditorium and a new music program was founded. Over the next 19 years the group won many awards, being recognized as one of the top collegiate groups in the nation.

May Kay Parrish founded a program that continues to be an important part of the Fine Arts curriculum. She retired in 2002 and is still in demand as a hand bell clinician and composer.

In 2008 under the leadership of Monica Mullins, the Student Success Center was begun at OBU with the goal of transforming students into scholars by equipping them to pursue academic excellence in a way that integrates their faith with their studies.

Since 2008, the number of students who have participated in the Student Success Center has increased dramatically. During the fall of 2008 there were 1,467 student visits to the Center. Last fall there were over 5,000 student visits, an increase of almost 350%. There are many examples of students who have been helped to succeed. Most of the staff of students who work at the center first came there seeking assistance. The help that they received enables them to understand and become mentors to students who are new to the college experience.

Last fall, the Student Success Center received a significant gift from a Shawnee couple, Ann and Paul Milburn, which will help the center serve an increasing number of students over the years. Mullins has founded a program, with the help of many others, which will have a lasting impact on the lives of those they reach.

There are many others who could have been included in this recognition on Founder’s Day.

As you can see, it takes a person or group to have ideas and be tenacious in bringing them to fruition. The founders of OBU created a dynamic organization whose influence and reach would be viewed with extreme pleasure by those who advanced the idea over 100 years ago of creating a Baptist University. We owe a debt of gratitude to the people who have worked to make OBU the great school that it is today. I look forward to seeing how God will bless OBU in the future.

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