De Leon brings Division I experience to role

Lee De Leon press conference 6x6 It’s been a dozen years since Abilene Christian University went “out of network” to hire a director of athletics, but it’s not as unusual as one might think for the Wildcats to lean on someone for that job who does not have a framed ACU diploma on the wall.

Lee De Leon was introduced to the public Thursday as only the eighth person to hold that position on The Hill and the third to have an undergraduate degree from somewhere besides ACU.

The first was A.B. “Bugs” Morris, just one year removed from his graduation at Texas A&M when ACU president Batsell Baxter hired him in 1924.

With duties as director of athletics and head coach of the football, basketball and baseball teams, Morris was a jack-of-all-trades and master of many. At the slight size of 5 foot 7 inches and just 150 pounds, he had quarterbacked the Aggies to a win in the inaugural (1922) Cotton Bowl, and played shortstop on its baseball team while leading the Southwest Conference in runs scored and hitting.

By the time he retired in 1969 from athletics administration to promote ACU’s A.B. Morris Athletic Fund, he had become a giant in his field and eventually was enshrined in four sports halls of fame.

ACU’s previous directors of athletics:

  • 1924-69 – A.B. “Bugs” Morris
  • 1969-88 – Wally Bullington (’53)
  • 1988-90 – Don Drennan (’58)
  • 1990-95 – Cecil Eager (’71)
  • 1995-2002 – Stan Lambert (’75) 
  • 2002-03 – Shanon Hays
  • 2003-2014 – Jared Mosley (’00)

De Leon is 33 years old and since 2011, has been associate director of athletics for development and executive director of the Lobo Club at the University of New Mexico. He earned degrees from Notre Dame and Texas A&M, and brings athletics marketing and fundraising experience at four Division I universities – New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana State and Houston.

He made a good impression yesterday while explaining that ACU athletics will be unyielding in its support of the faith-based education of ACU, unwavering in its support of student-athletes and unrelenting in its community engagement. De Leon said his personal goal is to “make an impact for Jesus Christ in college athletics.”

ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert said he believes De Leon is “a proven leader of people” whose experience will help the Wildcats “navigate the challenges and opportunities of the NCAA landscape.”

De Leon replaces Jared Mosley, who was recently named CEO and president of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

Rhodes featured in Veterans Day Tribute

Dusty Rhodes video

The story behind Saving Private Ryan – Steven Spielberg’s intense, cinematic masterpiece that was nominated in 11 categories (and won five) in the 71st Academy Awards – especially resonates with me today.

In the 1988 film, Pvt. James Francis Ryan, a World War II paratrooper portrayed by Matt Damon, became the object of an intense search across Normandy shortly after the D-Day invasion of 1944 for the youngest sibling of three other soldiers who had been killed in action. Not wanting to present such devastating news about all four brothers to their mother, Gen. George C. Marshall issued orders that settled upon 30-year-old Capt. John H. Miller (a Pennsylvania high school teacher portrayed by Tom Hanks), who chose six men to scour the countryside with him for Ryan and bring him home safely and immediately.

Three of the six in Miller’s group died while accomplishing that, including Miller, whose dying request of Ryan on a hard-fought bridge they had just won together were, “Earn this. Earn it.”

Years ago, my grandmother, Nina, had five sons – Gibson, Terry, Ben, Billy and David Pullen – who were each called away to military service from their small Kentucky farm to places like Pearl Harbor and the Panama Canal. Unlike three of the four Ryan sons in the story written by Robert Rodat, they all returned safely. My mother’s brothers went on to live long and full lives, and while they are now deceased, I am grateful for the blessing of their safe-keeping. I am thankful their mother need not have received a letter from Marshall quoting Abraham Lincoln of “… the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice on the altar of freedom.”

I was reminded of that when watching Spielberg’s epic film this past weekend, and today, as the Abilene Christian University campus stopped to remember Veteran’s Day.

With a backdrop of ACU’s large U.S flag, this morning’s annual tribute in Moody Coliseum included stirring patriotic music from ACU’s A Cappella Chorus; comments from president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91); the introduction of ACU student Tina Marie Darby, a staff sergeant who served four years of active duty in the Army in places like Bosnia and Afghanistan and is now in her 16th year in the Texas Army National Guard; a prayer by retired Brig. Gen. Jerry Strader (’52); and introductions of special guests such as Col. Michael Bob Starrcommander of the 7th Bomb Wing at Abilene’s Dyess Air Force Base.

Today’s program in Moody Coliseum also featured a touching video vignette about Abilene’s A.L. “Dusty” Rhodes (’59), a veteran of the Korean War who described an instance on the Inchon River when a fellow Marine shielded him from a North Korean bullet that could have taken Rhodes’ life but missed its mark. Rhodes recalled what he considers to this day to be the greatest honor he could ever have: “A soldier, risking his life for me.”

Veterans Day evokes many personal memories for Americans, some intensely painful. War is political and costly and does not always end with a parade down Main Street. It often requires – as did World War II – many to die so that many others can be saved. The current and former soldiers gathered today in the coliseum represented three generations of Americans willing to risk their lives for our freedom and for the freedom of others around the world. Their self-sacrifice should not be lost on us.

In the final scene of Saving Private Ryan, an elderly James Ryan kneels in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France after finding the grave of a man who died so that he might live.

“I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough,” Ryan said while reflecting on John Miller’s final command decades before. “I hope that at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”

On this Veteran’s Day, I can’t think of finer words.

VIA News: Ground broken for Onstead Center

FROM LEFT: April (Bullock ’89) Anthony, Dr. Robert Rhodes, Kay Onstead, ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91), Larry Gill of the Dodge Jones Foundation, Students’ Association executive president Rodney Johnson (’15) and ACU board chair Dr. Barry Packer (’78) were in the first wave of special guests to participate in the ceremonial event just north of the eventual construction site.

Abilene Christian University celebrated groundbreaking Monday for the new Robert R. and Kay Onstead Science Center, ceremonially beginning the third of five projects in the university’s historic Vision in Action initiative.

The event, which took place outside Walling Lecture Hall on the campus’ south quad, honored the generosity of Kay Onstead, whose $10 million gift for a facility that would match the reputation of ACU’s world-class science programs was the first of three cornerstone contributions that launched Vision in Action.

Kay Onstead

Kay Onstead

“I feel like I got way too much credit today,” Onstead said at a lunch honoring her immediately after the groundbreaking. “It’s a little bit embarrassing.”

Vision in Action is the $75 million initiative to build three new science facilities and two athletics stadiums. Work on the Engineering and Physics Laboratories at Bennett Gymnasium is scheduled to be complete by January, while a new stadium for the soccer and track and field programs is scheduled to open in April. Fundraising continues on the Halbert-Walling Research Center and football’s on-campus Wildcat Stadium.

Onstead’s gift in December 2012 created the momentum that made possible other significant gifts, including the largest in ACU history, said Dr. Phil Schubert (’91), university president.

That gift, a $30 million contribution from April (Bullock ’89) and Mark Anthony (’86), included $5 million for the Onstead Science Center. The Anthonys, lifelong friends of the Onsteads, were also on hand for the groundbreaking.

“I’m just so grateful this is happening,” said Onstead, whose husband, Robert, was founder of Randall’s Food Markets and a member of ACU’s Board of Trustees for decades before his death in 2004. “I don’t want to take any credit. God has given Bob and me much. I’m just so grateful.”

Charles Onstead

Charlie Onstead

The ceremony, held under a warm sun and clear skies, featured Schubert and provost Dr. Robert Rhodes, as well as words of thanks from Maxwell Moore, a senior biochemistry major from Abilene, speaking on behalf of ACU’s science students, and a response from Onstead’s son, current ACU trustee Charlie Onstead.

Moore praised the science faculty for their love and support of students.

“The donation that made this building possible is another form of investment in ACU’s science students,” he continued. “I can’t even comprehend the amount of money, but the value is in the fact that it’s an investment in students from people who believe in us and our futures. Gifts like that say that the students participating in the sciences at ACU are valuable.”

Schubert noted that he had interned as an accountant at Randall’s shortly after his graduation from ACU, and that a scholarship provided through an endowment created by the Onsteads helped pay for his tuition.

“There’s a lot of personal sentiment in my feeling today,” he said. “The Onstead family left an indelible mark on my life. … To be sitting here today, in this time and this place, celebrating what I know will be the same type of blessing for generations, decades of students – it’s an amazing moment, one for which I’m truly grateful.”

The Onstead Science Center will feature a transformation of the current Foster Science Building. The first phase – the demolition of Walling Lecture Hall and construction of a new glass-walled lobby to bridge the east and west wings of the building – will begin around Jan. 1; the final phase, renovation of Foster’s interior, will begin after Halbert-Walling is constructed.

Mayor, city press on in quest for future water

S-S 2014 High Hopes for H2O 36-41Rain the past two days in West Texas has fallen on some of the thirstiest ground around.

The wet-weather system – fueled in part by dying hurricane Vance (now a tropical storm) as it spins off the southwestern coast of Mexico and saunters ashore – is exactly what the doctor ordered to help fight a three-year old severe drought.

West Texas is dry by nature but climate forecasters say the current drought is the result of a combination of global warming, La Nina weather cycles and a slow “desertification” of the region, as explained in “High Hopes for H2O” in the Spring-Summer issue of ACU Today magazine.

Our story profiles the role Dr. Norman Archibald (’76 M.S.) is filling as mayor of Abilene and the city’s de facto evangelist on the subject of water supply acquisition and conservation. Archibald – known by many for his decade of roles in Student Life and in Advancement/Development at Abilene Christian University from 1981-91 – is leading the West Texas Water Partnership, a groundbreaking relationship between Abilene, Midland and San Angelo to secure water for each city’s future.

Archibald also is vice president of Hendrick Health System, Abilene’s largest hospital and medical complex.

Droughts in Texas don’t happen overnight, but they can shift into reverse gear in a surprisingly short period of time, as residents of the Panhandle were reminded in late September when a low-pressure system stalled over the area and created enough rain and runoff to cause Lake Alan Henry, one of Lubbock’s prime water sources, to rise more than 10 feet. Abilene’s rainfall this year is around 14 inches, about eight below normal. It will be several days before city officials learn how this week’s precipitation contributes to three area reservoirs on which it depends: Fort Phantom Hill, Hubbard Creek and O.H. Ivie.

But little will deter Archibald’s work toward securing a new surface water-supply lake 40 miles north of the city. The proposed Cedar Ridge Reservoir will cost some $240 million but when full, go far in creating water for the next generation of Abilenians as well as Archibald’s alma mater.

“We cannot believe that a big rain will answer all of our problems,” Archibald said late this summer, about two months before the city moved to Stage 2 of water conservation restrictions. “We need to pay for additional resources because we do not know when a drought will reoccur in West Texas.”

Abilene’s economy is a growing success story on several fronts. ACU’s $75 million Vision in Action initiative to construct three new science facilities and two on-campus stadiums is its largest building campaign in more than four decades.

That kind of development on campus and across the city takes water to meet today’s needs and into the foreseeable future. “We’re making plans today for the next generation and generation after that – for children yet born,” Archibald said.

Ballot drama delays Shirley’s opportunity

Shirley spoke to ACU students during a Chapel Forum presentation in 2009.

Shirley spoke to ACU students during a Chapel Forum presentation in 2009.

Navajo Nation voters had the opportunity today to elect Abilene Christian University graduate Dr. Joe Shirley Jr. (’73) to a record third term of office as president.

But late-breaking drama in the process has caused the election to be postponed until its executive, legislative and judicial leaders can sort out the pieces of a disagreement over the importance of their native language.

The most populous Native American tribe in the United States (more than 300,000 enrolled members) used ballots today listing the names of Shirley and Chris Deschene as presidential candidates – among other races on the ballot – but the presidential votes will not be counted, according to the Navajo Times.

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court recently declared the Board of Election supervisors in contempt of court for not removing Deschene’s name and postponing the election after it was determined he did not meet the tribe’s requirement to demonstrate fluency in the Diné language. The Navajo Nation Council voted on a proposal to change that longstanding election law but current Navajo president Ben Shelly vetoed the measure.

“We are a nation of laws. I took an oath to uphold the law,” Shelly said the next day in explaining his veto. He lost in primary elections earlier this year and will see his presidency end in 2015 after one term. “Every society has an obligation to hold on to their traditions. If we lose our language and culture, who are we?”

Shelly’s question is not purely rhetorical. Forward-thinking Native American tribal leaders struggle with how to preserve their traditional culture while transitioning to 21st-century opportunities for their people, many of whom wrestle with chronic social problems related to low per-capita income in the government-designated lands where they live. Many Navajo reside in 27,000 square miles of territory spanning Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The government capital is in Window Rock, Ariz., part of sprawling Apache County.

Shirley was president from 2003-11 but had to step aside because Navajo law prohibited its leader from more than two consecutive four-year terms of office. When it was determined that Shirley was eligible for a third term as long as it didn’t violate the consecutive terms rule, he listened to tribal leaders and other supporters who encouraged him to run again for the 2014 election. While sitting out one presidential election cycle, he was re-elected to a former role as Apache County supervisor.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Abilene Christian, with minors in Bible and English, and a master’s degree in social work from Arizona State University. Shirley received ACU’s Distinguished Alumni Citation in 2007 and has a long track record of public service to the Navajo. He lives in Chinle, Ariz., with Vicki, his wife of 23 years. They have six children, 16 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Alum launches ‘simple’ plan to fight Ebola

Global Samaritan Resources’ water purification effort in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake is similar to the one that will be used to combat Ebola in West Africa. Here, GSR trustee Dr. Ben Gray, is pictured with Haitians drinking water purified of cholera and other diseases.

Global Samaritan Resources’ water purification effort in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake is similar to what will be used to combat Ebola in West Africa. Here, GSR trustee Dr. Ben Gray is pictured with Haitians drinking newly purified water.

Abilene’s Global Samaritan Resources, led by executive director Danny Sims (’85) and inspired by Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly (’03), has launched a project to help with the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

“Simple Works – West Africa” is a plan addressing three critical needs: purified water, fortified food and medical supplies.

“We wanted to focus on simple practical things that everyday, ordinary people could do,” Sims explained. “I think most of us are frustrated by complex problems and complex solutions, and large institutions and even governments that don’t seem to do much, or we may not know what it is they are doing. So our plan is to do something very simple.”

Danny Sims (’85) is shown at the Syrian border at the U.N.’s Zatari refugee camp with his driver, Ali Hussein, assessing what U.S. Christians can do for the refugees of the Syrian war.

Danny Sims (’85) is shown on the Syrian border at the U.N.’s Zatari refugee camp with his driver, Ali Hussein, assessing what U.S. Christians can do for the refugees of the Syrian war.

Sims became interested in the Ebola fight after hearing that fellow alum Brantly had contracted the virus while working as a medical missionary in Liberia.

“Kent is a good friend of so many people in the Abilene Christian University community, including one of Global Samaritan’s board members, Brian Thomason (’99), who roomed with Kent in college,” Sims said.

“Like everyone nationally, we were interested in Kent’s story. But like others with ACU connections, we become interested personally as well,” Sims said. “But it was Kent’s focus on the Liberians and other West Africans and his poignant call to be compassionate, to help the thousands who have this disease – as Kent pointed out, the Africans with Ebola were largely ignored before he contracted Ebola – that really moved us.

“We asked, ‘Why doesn’t somebody do something?’ Then we realized we are somebody,” he said.

Stopping Ebola and other killer diseases in West Africa is the key to stopping the spread of diseases to the United States and other countries, Sims said.

He believes Global Samaritan’s plan will work “because I think people are hungry for a set of practical simple solutions that they can be a part of. Our partners are people we know by name. The people they help they know by name. We are interested in sustainable, ongoing relationships with partners we can send food, water and supplies to. And it is something that every day ordinary people can be a part of.”

To that end, Global Samaritan has created a website through which donations are being accepted for specific needs. For instance, $35 will provide a SaveStraw portable water filter/purifier that can be used in any water source to provide clean, safe drinking water. A $65 donation will provide fortified food for a family of five for five days. Other donations provide medical supplies and larger water purification systems.

“Our plan is to send at least three containers full of water systems, food, and health and protective equipment to our partners in West Africa,” Sims said. “It is something that every day ordinary people can be a part of. Together, we can make a real difference.”

McCaleb’s guest speakers enrich campus life

Leading the WayThe recent visit of W. Mark Lanier, J.D., to campus was more than an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to hear from a difference-maker. The noted Houston trial lawyer was another example of thought-provoking leaders from all walks of life brought to ACU by Dr. Gary McCaleb (’64) and the university’s Center for Building Community.

McCaleb, who is executive director of the CBC and vice president of the university, has for years hand-picked notable people to come to Abilene to speak in Chapel, at CBC luncheons and to Lynay students.

During the 2013-14 school year, best-selling author Eric Metaxas and former New York Yankee great Bobby Richardson headlined CBC events. Others through the years have included William Bennett, U.S. Secretary of Education; Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan prime minister; Herman Boone, high school football coach from Remember the Titans; Ray Bradbury, science fiction novelist and Emmy Award-winning playwright; George W. Bush, Texas governor; Dr. James Dobson, best-selling author and Focus on the Family founder; Dave Dravecky, cancer survivor, author and former MLB pitcher; Alex Haley, Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family; Dr. Charlton Heston, Hollywood film legend; James Michener, Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author; Byron Nelson, professional golf legend and former ACU trustee; Marc Ravalomanana, president of Republic of Madagascar; Nolan Ryan, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher; Dr. Joe Shirley Jr. (’73), president of the Navajo Nation; Kenneth Starr, former special prosecutor; and John Wooden, best-selling author and UCLA basketball coaching legend.

You can read more about the career of McCaleb in Leading the Way, a profile of him in the Spring-Summer issue of ACU Today magazine, by following this link or clicking on the image above. McCaleb began his 51st year of service to ACU this fall.

Lanier tackles questions with courtroom logic

Life presents tough questions. W. Mark Lanier, J.D., a prominent Houston trial lawyer and author of Christianity on Trial, offered answers to several of them during talks Monday on the Abilene Christian University campus.

Speaking in Chapel, Lanier posed two life-defining questions: “What really counts?” and “What are the two most important decisions you will ever make?” With a mixture of what he called “lawyer humor” and a sprinkling of free marital advice, Lanier offered his answers to the crowd in Moody Coliseum. (Watch the Chapel video here.)

Mark Lanier talks to students after Chapel.

Author Mark Lanier talks to students after Chapel.

And for the record, Lanier said, the most important decisions are “not the job you’re going to take and not where you’re going to live.”

Lanier spoke later at a luncheon sponsored by the ACU Center for Building Community, examining the topic of morality and the law with the same logic used by attorneys in a courtroom. (Watch the luncheon video here.)

“I will never have any trouble getting people to admit to me that what happened in Nazi Germany was an atrocity,” Lanier told the luncheon audience composed of students, faculty and members of the community. “What happened in Nazi Germany was evil; it was not just morally bankrupt, but morally horrendous. And as I look at those pictures and I read about it, there’s part of me that’s a lawyer that kicks in.

“What if a judge had said to me, ‘Lanier, I want you to represent Hitler for war crimes.’ How would I have done it? If I had no choice, if I were in a position to truly try and walk Hitler for war crimes, how would I go about doing it?” he asked himself. One of the first things he would do, he said, is try to empanel a jury of people who do not believe in God.

“If you don’t believe in God, there are some really, really tough arguments that exist that would run in support of walking Adolph Hitler,” said Lanier, who appears frequently on network TV news programs as a legal expert.

His talk was based on a chapter in his recently released Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith. “I’ve gotten more feedback – some of it flack – on this chapter more than any other chapter, including that on the resurrection,” Lanier said. “I believe the reason why is this really hits a nerve.”

Though Lanier has written several books on legal issues, Christianity on Trial is his first religious book. In it, he uses his legal experience to examine the plausibility of the Christian faith. Proceeds from book sales go to the Lanier Theological Library Foundation.

VIA News: Purple track is in the starting blocks

Seemingly overnight, the piles of gray and brown sand covering the site of Abilene Christian University’s new track and field/soccer stadium have disappeared beneath the ground.

About 400 tons of what is called root-zone sand was poured into an even layer nine inches deep and overlaid this week with sod, creating the first official soccer field in ACU history. Once crews finish installing irrigation lines, the site will look a lot more purple.

Soccer 1

Rolls of sod wait to be used to create the new soccer pitch Wednesday.

“Everything inside the track has to be complete before they start the running surface,” said John Mann, project superintendent for HOAR Construction, the contractor ACU has hired to build four of the five projects that are part of the Vision in Action initiative.

Beynon Sports Surfaces – the Maryland-based company whose previous projects have included NCAA Division I tracks for Baylor, TCU, Alabama, Texas and Florida State – will begin pouring the Wildcats’ new purple-colored track next week, likely on Wednesday, Mann said. A live webcam is recording the progress of the stadium.

The University of Oregon’s legendary Hayward Field – known as TrackTown USA – is one of the showcases for Benyon’s work. Hayward Field was the site of the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, the 2009 and 2011 U.S. Outdoor Nationals, and the 2010 NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships. In July, 129 records were set at Hayward during the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships and another nine during the 40th annual Prefontaine Classic. The 2015 NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships and 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials also will be held in Eugene.

Depending on weather, ACU’s installation process will take up to four weeks, Mann said. Once crews finish pouring the track, construction will begin on lighting, stands and press box, with most of that work expected to be complete by the end of January.

Track 1

Crews also began work Tuesday on a new track fieldhouse, to sit alongside the current one shared by the women’s soccer and softball teams. After underground utilities are installed, crews next week will pour the foundation. Projected completion for the fieldhouse is April 1, just in time for ACU’s first fully Division I track and field meet later that month. The second annual Wes Kittley Invitational on April 11 will feature teams from ACU, Texas Tech, TCU and New Mexico.

Vision in Action is the $75 million initiative that will lead to three new science facilities and two new stadiums, including the first on-campus football stadium in more than 70 years.

ACU Remembers: William F. Hooten

Bill Hooten 200x250Former longtime Abilene Christian University trustee William F. “Bill” Hooten of Johns Creek, Ga., died Oct. 2 at age 88.

He was born Aug. 13, 1926, in St. Louis, Mo., married Joanne “Jan” Jeans on Aug. 1, 1949, and graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1950. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1944-46 during World War II and for 18 months in the Army as a lieutenant during the Korean War.

Hooten’s career in the hardware-automotive retail and wholesale industry spanned 40 years. He worked his way from copy writer to corporate vice president and director of Western Auto Supply Co. Later, he was president of Liberty Distributors in Chicago before facilitating the merger of Liberty and Sentry Hardware Corporation into Distribution America, an organization of 4,500 hardware, lumber and building materials stores for which he served as president.

In 1991 he received the Leukens Leadership Award, the highest recognition of a distributor or manufacturer in the hardware industry.

After retirement from Distribution America in 1992, he and Jan traveled on several overseas assignments for International Executive Service Corps in which he was an advisor to developing- and emerging-market retail companies.

Hooten served as an elder in four congregations, including the North Atlanta Church of Christ. He was an ACU trustee for 29 years.

Among survivors are Jan, his wife of 65 years; a son, Bill Hooten III; daughters Marcy (Hooten ’76) Godfrey and Suzy (Hooten ’78) Brownlee; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Memorials can be made to ACU’s Jan and Bill Hooten Biblical Studies Endowed Scholarship (Gift Records, ACU Box 29132, Abilene, Texas 79699-9132).