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Alum Don Hargis: A Life of Service

August 23, 2010

Don Hargis has been in the rubble of Haiti, on the wave-crushed coast of Indonesia and at ground zero after the September 11 attacks in New York City. His service-driven heart for the world's afflicted is large and bursting with love.

Don's path to international disaster relief work started with a lot of hard work as a college student at OBU.

The Chico, Calif., native arrived in Shawnee in the mid-1970s. While attending OBU, he worked at and managed the local Pizza Hut, and worked at the Shawnee Coca-Cola Bottling warehouse. The hard work paid off. Hargis met his future wife, Shirley Jean Newnam, a 1975 graduate, while they both worked at Pizza Hut.

Not only did Hargis' time as an OBU student introduce him to Shirley; it also prepared him for the career he would come to love.

"It changed my life," said Hargis, a 1979 graduate.

He credits OBU for his foundational preparation for pursuing a career in ministry. While religion courses helped him theologically, other courses helped him learn how to focus on his calling, Hargis said. That calling has led him to pastorates of churches in California, Colorado and Oklahoma, and service as interim pastor for multiple churches. He now is Baptist Men's Ministries specialist for the California Southern Baptist Convention.

Hargis recalled Dr. Rowena Strickland, longtime OBU religion professor, as being particularly influential in his growth as a student.

"Dr. Strickland was a tradition at OBU," Hargis said. "I remember hearing from some of the upperclassmen that even Jesus would have had a tough time passing her Life of Christ class. But she taught me to stay with it, and I admired her greatly. She was a true saint of God."

Strickland's encouragement to "stay with it" propelled Hargis to complete his degree at OBU. While his education took longer than the average stay, Hargis experienced life lessons some of his fellow students might not have.

"One valuable lesson was learned from the determination it took to complete my degree, even when it meant retaking classes and 'cramming my four years into seven,'" Hargis said. "My last three years of college were finished part-time while I was married, starting a family, working full-time and pastoring a church on the weekends."

The servant spirit and attitude of putting others before himself, which Hargis cultivated at OBU, continued to grow as he moved from Bison Hill.

Hargis earned a master of divinity degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. He has also completed work toward a doctor of ministry degree at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif.

In his current role, he wears many hats. His responsibilities include disaster relief ministries, organizing multiple camps, and ministering to California Baptist men.

Don Hargis (left) works with the people of Haiti in May to rebuild their nation after the tragic January 2010 earthquake.

Hargis has traveled all over the world with disaster relief, including places like Japan, Mexico, El Salvador, Indonesia, American Samoa and Haiti. He also has worked with disaster relief initiatives in more than a dozen states.

"The California Southern Baptist Convention informed me at the time I was hired that the job would involve disaster relief ministries," Hargis said. "I asked them what that meant and they told me not to worry about it because it would not take much of my time. Eighteen years later, CSBC disaster relief ministry occupies 75 percent of my time."

Beyond traveling to disaster sites and assisting with recuperation efforts, Hargis also works across the Golden State to train and equip others in disaster relief. He has been honored for his training and participation in upwards of 50 disaster recovery efforts over the past 18 years.

Through his CSBC work Hargis also has created and coordinates STRAM Camps. STRAM stands for State Recreational Adventure Mountain and Marine. Depending upon which camp a student chooses, he or she can experience mountain adventures, or marine adventures. The acronym for STRAM Camp also encompasses its mission statement: "STRAM exists to strengthen spiritual lives, to provide team building, to reach non-Christians, to advance missions awareness and to magnify God."

The camps are divided by age group and activity intensity, allowing all campers to have a full "adventure" experience. Hargis said each year nearly half of the participants will make life-changing decisions.

Hargis also helps California churches start and sustain ministry programs for men.

"My passion is to see men come to understand their place in the Kingdom of God," Hargis said. "I teach them they are to be leaders because the Father has called every Christian man to leadership in the home, the church and the marketplace. There are no exceptions."

Don and Shirley have been married for 35 years. She has taught English for several years and is now literacy consultant for the Fresno County Office of Education. Their three children, Daniella, Dustin and Shane, have provided them with the blessing of nine grandchildren, with one on the way. Hargis enjoys playing basketball, softball, soccer and going snow skiing with all of his grandchildren.

"The most challenging aspect for me now is that I am gone so often from home for long periods of time," Hargis said. "At this point in my life, when I leave home, I am already ready to return. However, my travels are worthwhile. My reward is being an effective tool in the hands of the Carpenter."

For Hargis, the act of service -- whether it takes the form of rebuilding nations, leading youth on adventures or encouraging men toward leadership -- is not simply a voluntary action. His urge to love others through service comes from years of cultivating a heart for those in need.

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