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A Brief History of OBU’s Presidents

In 1911, one year after the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma established The Baptist University of Oklahoma, the OBU Board of Trustees elected Dr. J.M. Carroll as the University’s first president. The early years were extremely difficult and survival of the new university was in question. In June 1912, the Board accepted Dr. Carroll’s resignation and voted to suspend operations until the new Shawnee Hall was completed.

On Dec. 2, 1914, the Board of Trustees elected Dr. F.M. Masters of Ardmore to be the second president. During summer 1915, the Board voted to hire eight faculty members and to reopen the school during fall 1915, when Shawnee Hall opened.

In 1919, J.A. Tolman was elected OBU’s third president. With God’s blessings, the determination of Oklahoma Baptists, and the commitment of the faculty and staff, The Baptist University of Oklahoma survived and in 1920 became The Oklahoma Baptist University. The 1920s and the early 1930s were very difficult, but the school continued to survive and grow under the leadership of presidents Dr. J.B. Lawrence (1922-26), Dr. W.W. Phelan (1926-30), Dr. W.C. Boone (1930-32), and Hale V. Davis (1932-34).

In 1934, the Board of Trustees elected Dr. John Wesley Raley (1934-61) as OBU’s eighth president. Dr. Raley led the University for 27 years and is the longest serving president in school history. The University accomplished many significant things during the Raley years. In 1958, the Board of Trustees approved plans to build a new chapel which would be named in honor of President Raley. This chapel continues to serve the University well.

In 1961, Dr. Raley retired as president due to health issues and was named chancellor. Dr. James R. Scales (1961-65) was named the ninth president followed by Dr. Grady Cothen (1966-70), Dr. William G. Tanner (1971-76), and Dr. E. Eugene Hall (1977-82).

During August 1982, Dr. Bob Agee was elected the 13th president of OBU and for the next 16 years, under Dr. Agee’s leadership, the University experienced significant growth. Many decisions made during the Agee years still have a positive impact on OBU today. The endowment experienced significant growth during the 1980s and 1990s. Many new buildings, including the Bailey Business Center and the new Montgomery Hall, were added to the campus and older buildings were renovated.

In 1998, Dr. Mark Brister was elected OBU’s 14th president. The following year additional property north of MacArthur was added to the campus, expanding OBU’s property from 125 to 190 acres. In 2007, the Recreation and Wellness Center was dedicated and Brister retired.

Dr. David Whitlock was elected president in October 2008 and served until January 2019, when he retired from the presidency and served as chancellor until May 2019. During the Whitlock years, the Jane E. and Nick K. Stavros Hall and The Village student housing complex were constructed and multiple campus buildings were renovated and refurbished. Enrollment and the endowment grew significantly during these years.

Dr. Heath A. Thomas was elected as the University’s 16th president in November 2019. He assumed office Jan. 1, 2020. Thomas is the second OBU president who is also an alumnus, graduating from the University in 1998. Before becoming president, he served as dean of the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry and associate vice president for church relations, as well as the Floyd K. Clark Chair of Christian Leadership and professor of Old Testament.