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Alum Richard Huggins: Continuing OBU's Rich Music Legacy

May 25, 2010

For budding musician Richard Huggins, surviving Dr. Jim Hurley's required natural science course -- and earning a B -- was his proudest academic moment on Bison Hill. And while Dr. Hurley certainly provoked the young man toward higher thoughts, it was Dr. Warren Angell, dean of OBU's College of Fine Arts, who impressed Huggins the most.

Before even arriving on campus, Huggins felt the influence of the University's music program through OBU-trained music ministers such as Bill Littleton; his brother, Jim, who sang with the Bison Glee Club; and renowned Oklahoma Baptist musician Gene Bartlett. Huggins was one of many teenagers attracted to OBU's program by Angell himself.

As an OBU student, Huggins said Angell taught him a wealth about not only music, but also about life in general. During a drive down a dark Texas highway late one night in 1990, all the lessons he had learned from Angell came flooding back to him.

"In the dark car, my mind did a quick inventory of all I had learned from Dean Angell about music ... about how he poured his energy and charisma into OBU and the Bison Glee Club, and how he could be so personally encouraging," Huggins said. "I reflected on how much I learned about the pursuit of excellence, the importance of staying inspired by going to hear live performances. Lastly I thought about a lesson perhaps as valuable as any other: that it's OK to have fun and be a serious musician. And he led the way. As the pavement thumped my wheels and all these things marched through my mind like a parade of principles, tears streamed down as I realized just how much I owed Warren Angell."

As much as Angell taught Huggins about being a musician, he said Hurley taught him about being a Christian disciple. Hurley taught his students to think deep, and then deeper still.

"What a giant of a man and teacher," Huggins said. "His eyes could pierce a tank and his roar could exhume the dead. But from the same man came eyes that could twinkle lovingly and a voice soft as gathered wool. Like Dean Angell, he invested his only life in OBU students and in challenging them to aim for higher goals and to be about the business of deciding their place in this world."

During one particularly low-faith point in Huggins' life at OBU, Hurley walked by and the two struck up a conversation. Huggins asked the professor, "Dr. Hurley, you're a scientist and a Christian. Do you ever have problems reconciling the two?" Hurley looked at Huggins and replied, "I doubt ... nevertheless, I believe."

"What this means to me is that one's intellect sometimes may battle the illogic of faith, but it's no biggie to God to bounce tough questions against Him, even to express one's doubts," Huggins said. "That statement from Dr. Hurley forever dismissed the notion that it's always wrong to doubt the faith, but just as wrong to live in that doubt. And it's clear that he lived a life of hard-won faith. That this storied professor took a personal interest in someone such as me, not even one of his majors, is a story others could tell about Dr. Hurley as well as other professors. It's a key ingredient in the greatness of OBU."

Huggins said OBU provided solid groundwork for his vocation, a foundation for his faith, and lifelong friends. Even 15 years after graduating, OBU ties opened the door for his "dream job" as an editor at Word Music in Irving, Texas. Today, Huggins' work as a freelance music arranger, composer and editor speaks well to the education he received on Bison Hill. He serves as part-time worship associate at Sylvania Church in Tyler, Texas. His wife, Barbara, is a semi-retired pediatrician.

His continued involvement on campus also testifies to the impact the University had on his life. It is a fitting honor that Huggins was named one of OBU's Profile in Excellence Award recipients, because it was Huggins himself who first suggested the award as part of OBU's alumni board nearly 30 years ago.

Knowing the rationale for the award, Huggins is quick to claim he has not achieved "that huge accomplishment ... like all the other recipients.

"My 'main thing,' with respect to bringing honor and pride to OBU, has been to lead the alumni in honoring one of its greatest and most inspiring faculty members, Warren Angell. Hand in hand with that has been, and is, promoting the legacy and fellowship of the Bison Glee Club itself."

Huggins coordinated the 90th birthday tribute to Angell in 1997, including establishing a tribute scholarship, and he arranged a 95th birthday tribute alumni gathering in Black Mountain, N.C., which drew 106 alumni from 16 states. He helped plan the dean's memorial service in May 2006, one week shy of Angell's 99th birthday. With help from Mary Kay Parrish and Lori Hagans, he coordinated the 100th birthday memorial tribute to Angell, along with the 70th anniversary celebration of the Bison Glee Club in 2007. He also led efforts in at least four other events related to the dean.

With the 75th anniversary of the Bison Glee Club coming in 2013, it is likely Huggins' devotion to the school, the club and the dean who helped shape his life will continue to shine through his gifts and abilities to pay tribute to Bison Hill - his blessed alma mater.

"One Homecoming I couldn't stay for Harvest Court, but I stayed long enough to have the campus almost to myself," Huggins said. "I walked from one end to the other, enjoying memories that seemed to pop around every green-and-gold corner. I thought mostly about my classmates and all the experiences we had together and about all I had learned at OBU.

"When I got to the end of my walk, the chapel chimes played the OBU Alma Mater. That was emotionally impactive and just reinforced what a blessing it had been to go to OBU."

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.