NASCAR driver, TV personality and humanitarian Kyle Petty inspired the audience to change their perspective to focus on helping others, as he delivered the keynote address during OBU’s seventh annual Green and Gold Gala. The event took place March 5, 2019, at the Chevy Bricktown Events Center in Oklahoma City. The annual Gala raises funds for student scholarships at OBU.
The evening kicked off as OBU alumnus Jonathan Polasek took the stage as emcee. Polasek is a sportscaster and church media director and has served multiple times as the emcee for the annual event. OBU student Court Haygarth, a communications major and theatre minor from Edmond, Oklahoma, delivered the invocation.
Dr. Will Smallwood, OBU senior vice president for advancement and university relations, then presented the Presidential Leadership Award to the Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma. The award is presented annually in recognition of exemplary leadership and support for Christian higher education.
“Tonight’s recipient has partnered with our University for many years, working with us to best steward the university’s assets and endowment,” he said. “This group strives to channel the faith of believers into charitable causes that transform lives. To achieve that goal, they work with their clients to share God’s prosperity with those most in need, in order to accomplish His work on earth.”
Dr. C. Pat Taylor, OBU’s interim president, assisted with the presentation of the award and then shared remarks with the crowd. Taylor came to Bison Hill as interim president in mid-February, after recently retiring from his 22-year tenure as president of Southwest Baptist University in Missouri. Taylor previously served at OBU for 10 years as senior vice president and provost from 1986-96.
“OBU is a unique and special place, one which captured my heart many years ago when I first came to Bison Hill in 1986,” he said. “Each year, OBU provides more than $25 million in scholarships, allowing students to receive the life-changing, transformational education found at OBU. Our desire is to make our OBU education accessible to every qualified student who desires to study here. As we work together to increase student scholarships, we ensure that our legacy of academic excellence in Christian higher education will continue for decades and centuries to come.”
The Bison Jazz Orchestra, the premiere student jazz ensemble at OBU, provided entertainment before the event and during dinner.
David Green, the CEO and co-founder of Hobby Lobby, then took the stage to introduce Petty.
“At Hobby Lobby, we operate our business with a commitment to several key principles,” he said. “As I have come to know and love the great institution that is Oklahoma Baptist University, I have realized that we share many of these core missional beliefs.”
“Hobby Lobby believes in the power of the life-changing education that OBU offers to its students,” he said. “OBU truly is making a difference in our world by educating students with rigorous academic standards, by building their character through numerous service opportunities and worldview development, and by deepening their faith through countless spiritual growth experiences. These young people then take their knowledge and go out into the workplace as world-changers, impacting those they encounter through the quality of their work, the sincerity of their compassion and the authenticity of their convictions.”
Petty, the son of Richard “The King” Petty and grandson to NASCAR forefather Lee Petty, shared his inspiring story of how his grandfather was one of the original founders of stock car racing and how his father’s drive to win made him the greatest racecar driver of all time. He also shared how following in the footsteps of two legends helped pave the way for him to find success both on and off the track.
Petty enjoyed success on the track as a driver and team owner, and experienced business success running both his own racing teams as well as the family company. He also developed a passion for helping others, as he founded the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America in 1995 to benefit children’s charities around the nation. To date, the Kyle Petty Charity ride has raised more than $14 million, with hundreds of fans, drivers and crew members jumping on their motorcycles to join Petty in visiting local children’s hospitals and other local charities.
Upon the death of his son, Adam, in a racing accident in New Hampshire in May 2000, Petty’s perspective and focus was forever changed. He decided to focus his attention on helping others, and in October of that same year, he announced plans to open the Victory Junction Gang Camp near his home in Level Cross, North Carolina. The camp became a reality in 2004 when it opened its doors to become the sixth of the “Hole in the Wall Gang” camps founded by actor Paul Newman. This Disney-like camp houses more than 5,000 children with life-threatening or chronic illnesses per year.
Petty closed with an impassioned plea for the audience to be willing to step up and make an impact in others’ lives, too.
“When we lost a son, we raised our hand and said, ‘we’re going to do something - does anybody else want to do it with us?’ So I want you guys to take away tonight that it only takes a little bit to change a life. It only takes that first step. It only takes that first knock on your heart to change a life. Everybody in this room is capable of it. I hope and pray that at some point in time in your life, your raise your hand and say ‘let’s do this,’ too.”
Numerous key sponsors helped make the event possible and helped maximize the Gala’s impact for student scholarships. Lead sponsors included First United Bank and the Massey Family Foundation. Premier sponsors included the Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma, Kirk and Danna Humphreys, and KIMRAY. Gold sponsors included Allied Engineering, Chartwells, CJC Architects, Robert A. Funk, Hobby Lobby, Lingo Construction and Sparks Reed Architecture and Interiors. Eighteen additional sponsors contributed as Green sponsors for the event.
OBU has also recently announced the keynote speaker for next year’s event. Henry Winkler, Emmy-winning actor, director, producer and New York Times best-selling author, will be the keynote speaker at the University’s 2020 Green and Gold Gala. The event will be held March 3, 2020, with specific details to be announced at a later date.