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Community Invited to Renewal Era Service and Celebration April 19

April 2, 2024

In the darkness of April 19, 2023, a devastating EF2 tornado tore through the campus of OBU, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

As the one-year anniversary of this tragic event approaches, OBU is gearing up to remember the past and celebrate the future with a Renewal Era Service and Celebration Friday, April 19, 2024. Community leaders, volunteers and friends of OBU are encouraged to join the OBU community for the events of the day.

The Renewal Era Service is set to begin at 10 a.m. in the Recreation and Wellness Center. This event will serve as a testament to the resilience of the OBU community and the numerous volunteers who worked tirelessly to help with recovery in the face of adversity.

Following the service, a Renewal Era Celebration will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., including a unique opportunity for the OBU community, friends and volunteers to sign new tiles that will be used to roof the iconic Raley Chapel.

Throughout the activities of the day, the OBU community will celebrate the accomplishments of the past year as the university has moved from the wreckage of April 19, 2023, to a renewal of the OBU campus.

Reflecting on the challenges faced since the disaster, OBU President Dr. Heath A. Thomas said, “Although the storm left in its path of destruction considerable damage to every structure on campus, God protected the lives of students, employees and the entire community. The tornado didn’t keep the university from moving forward over the past year.”

While continuing with disaster clean-up and reconstruction of buildings, OBU also made significant strides in meeting educational, employment, and societal needs through its programs and offerings.

To assist in meeting industry needs for qualified engineers, OBU launched new engineering programs in August 2023 enrolling more than three times the number of students initially projected. Thurmond Hall’s first floor was transformed into a high-tech, contemporary home for engineering programs where students experience state-of-the-art learning spaces and learn from professional engineers who serve as their professors. In the near future, the second and third floor of Thurmond Hall will also be renovated to provide additional engineering learning spaces.

To help meet healthcare needs and provide quality Christian education for the substantial number of graduate students interested in these careers, OBU announced the launch of four new graduate healthcare programs, pending accreditation, over the next three years: Doctor of Occupational Therapy, Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, Master of Science in Physician Associate Studies and Doctor of Physical Therapy.

In response to community and workforce needs, the OBU Board of Trustees approved new undergraduate programs to begin in the spring and fall 2024 semesters, including cybersecurity, actuarial and financial math, data science, family therapy, sport psychology, sports communication, creative media, and education degrees in art, Spanish and theatre.

Prior to the tornado destruction, OBU had worked for two years to develop a new Campus Master Plan for the university which was delivered the week prior to the April 19 storm. Many of the locations on campus that would need substantial work in the aftermath of the storm had been addressed during the process. Rebuilding critical infrastructure, including iconic buildings such as Raley Chapel, Shawnee Hall, Thurmond Hall, Wood Science Building, WMU, Kerr, and Agee Residence Centers, has been prioritized.

For instance, Shawnee Hall was devastated by the storm and needed complete reconstruction. Plans were already in place to move classes and faculty offices out of Shawnee Hall to prepare for the renovation needs that had been identified. Although the extensive damage from the tornado moved the start date of that timeline forward about a month, the groundwork for rebuilding had already been laid.

The reconstruction and renewal of Shawnee Hall is expected to take around 18 months. This building has served every student on Bison Hill since it opened in 1915, and with this renewal, it will continue to serve as the center of learning where future shapers are equipped for the next 100 years.

Wood Science building was struck by the tornado as well. It has been repaired and updated, and additional renovations are part of the Master Plan to meet the needs of the future in scientific research, medicine and forensic science, among others.

Two residential buildings were lost to the tornado and many other residential areas were heavily damaged. Those areas have been repaired and renovated. Plans to update remaining residential areas are in place along with plans to replace residential buildings lost to the tornado.

OBU’s most iconic building, Raley Chapel, the home to chapel services, concerts and recitals through the years, received extensive damage from the tornado, rendering Potter Auditorium completely unusable. The spire, tiled roof, stonework, ceiling, stained glass and seating require major rebuilding and replacement. Raley reconstruction planning is well underway with plans for completion in late 2026. Initial estimates indicate costs for the project could range to more than $15 million.

OBU Giving Day

Despite the setbacks caused by the tornado, OBU remains steadfast in its mission to cultivate leaders who are not only academically adept but also grounded in faith and equipped to navigate an ever-changing world. As Thomas emphasized, "These are the people who will shape our future."

OBU’s 2024 Giving Day, scheduled for April 17, provides an opportunity for individuals to contribute financially to support the university's mission. This year's Giving Day holds particular significance as it marks a pivotal moment in OBU's journey from the wreckage of the tornado toward renewal and progress. Because of this, opportunities to give will be extended through April 18 and 19.  Donations made during Giving Day will go toward supporting the Annual Fund, scholarships for students, and various campus initiatives aimed at invigorating Bison Hill.

For more information about Giving Day, visit or contact OBU by phone at 405.585.5412.

“As OBU continues its journey of healing and renewal, the events planned for April 19, 2024, stand as a testament to the resilience, faith, and community spirit that define the Bison family,” Thomas said.

Annual Bible-Reading Marathon

One of the events leading up to the Renewal Era Service and Celebration is a public reading of the entire New Testament, involving an estimated 300 students, faculty members, community members, and eight reading coordinators.

This marathon reading will kick off with an opening ceremony at 8:30 p.m. on April 17, continue through the night, and culminate with a closing ceremony on April 18 at 6 p.m. Weather permitting, the event will take place in the lawn area east of the Geiger Center. In the event of inclement weather, the readings will be relocated to the Geiger Center.

This inclusive celebration is open to both the OBU and Shawnee communities, welcoming participants to join in at their convenience throughout the designated days.