To air is human: 25 years behind the ACU mic

On the set of the final recording of The Ken Collums Show in 2015 with Collums and the student production crew.

On the set of the final recording of The Ken Collums Show in 2015 with Collums and the student production crew.

Broadcasting is, by its nature, a powder keg. Walking that live ad-lib tightrope knowing the slightest slip could (and has) end a career is nerve-wracking for even the most veteran commentator. College broadcasting is even more combustible. Inexperienced announcers plus open mics equal, well, this.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

I had my share of explosive moments on the air during my days as an Abilene Christian University journalism student and in the years immediately following when I called some of the Wildcats’ football and basketball games on the road. Thankfully, none went viral; but some left me feeling just as sick as the guy in that video above surely felt.

I was fortunate to get hired at KACU-FM during my freshman year and (somehow) stay employed all four years I was in school. In the summer of 1989, finding part-time job pickings slim in my hometown of Nashville, Tenn., I returned to Abilene to work 40 hours a week at the station. With my ’82 Chevette Diesel on the disabled list, I was reduced to borrowing cars or bumming rides from buddies.

Working at KACU-FM as a student broadcaster.

Working at KACU-FM as a student broadcaster.

Mooch-as gracias. Even with my considerable proficiency in that regard, I found myself without wheels one Saturday morning when I was scheduled to sign the station on the air at 6 a.m. I was apartment-sitting for an ACU English professor that summer at the corner of Judge Ely Boulevard and E.S. 11th Street, so I figured I’d need a solid 30 minutes to hoof the 2.5 miles to the Don H. Morris Center.

Panicky about oversleeping, I woke up inadvertently every half hour through the night. Until I needed to. At 5:55 a.m., I very advertently leapt out of bed with a shriek, threw on my clothes and tore out the apartment door. I still giggle at the thought of what I must’ve looked like to the people passing me by. Maybe like Forrest Gump, only not as smart.

I made it to the Skinny’s convenience store (now the CVS Pharmacy) at E.N. 10th Street in 10 minutes. My chariots were on fire, and I was burned out. I called ACU security and convinced campus cop Ken Arnold to come get me. The 90-second car ride wasn’t long enough to let me catch my breath, so when I signed on at 6:17 a.m. it sounded something like this:

“Thanks for listening … (mic off, desperation gasp for air, mic back on) … to 89.7 … (mic off, another titanic inhale, mic back on) … KACU-FM … (music begins, dull thud as I collapse on the control room floor).”

During my senior year, ACU’s play-by-play man at the time, David Bacon, knew I wanted to be a sportscaster and graciously offered me the opportunity to do a couple of football games in his absence. One of those was down in Kingsville where the Wildcats would take on the then-mighty Javelinas. My broadcast partner was one of the great players, coaches and men in ACU Athletics history, Don “Smitty” Smith (’53). It was the first time I’d ever done a full game as the play-by-play man, which became immediately apparent. During one particularly frenetic sequence, a punt landed near midfield, may or may not have struck a member of the receiving team, and bounced high in the air, at which point all 22 players commenced scrambling around like a scene from The Benny Hill Show. Not that anyone listening would’ve known.

In the play’s and my confusion, I essentially curled up in a fetal position sucking my thumb. I said nothing. Smitty, not wanting to butt in but also not wanting me to sit there staring at him silently and stupidly, began vigorously pointing at the field with a series of grunts to encourage me to actually do in some small measure what I had gone down there to do, which was describe what was happening.

Calling women’s hoops with Isaiah Tripp, freshman from Baltimore, Md., and a student-athlete on the men’s basketball team.

Calling women’s hoops with Isaiah Tripp, freshman from Baltimore, Md., and a student-athlete on the men’s basketball team.

A couple of years later, I called an ACU basketball game at Angelo State University. The gym in San Angelo back then was basically the size of a kitchen pantry, and the crowd noise was deafening. Our broadcast booth hung out over the bleachers where the ASU fans sat, so I could barely hear the producer who was back in Abilene at the radio station. After several futile attempts to communicate, I finally shouted, “The only way this is going to work is if you yell as loud as you can when the commercial is over to let me know when to start talking.” It went on that way all night.

I listened back to the recording of that game the next day. If I turned up the volume as high as it would go, you could faintly hear at the end of each commercial this poor soul screaming at the top of her lungs: “AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!” Fortunately, she hadn’t sprinted down Judge Ely to get to work, so she had enough breath to handle it.

In 1996, I was working in Dallas but still calling most of the ACU basketball games on the road, including the women’s team’s deepest ever run in the NCAA playoffs. Back then, the Division II playoffs culminated with the top eight teams playing for the title at the home of the highest-ranked remaining team, which in ’96 was three-time defending national champion North Dakota State University. The sports information director at the time, Garner Roberts (’70), arranged for me to catch the same flight from Dallas to Fargo, N.D., through Minneapolis that assistant athletics director Todd McKnight (’89) and a few other ACU fans were taking on the day of the game.

We made it to Minneapolis but found out upon landing that all flights the rest of the day to Fargo had been canceled because of a snowstorm. We explored other options: different airline, car, dog sled; no luck. On a whim, I suggested to McKnight we look into chartering a plane. We found one for $900. In what may well have proven to be his final act on behalf of the university, McKnight gave it the thumbs up. Four of us shoehorned into a private plane and took off for Fargo’s frozen tundra.

Calling basketball with Mary Kate Rotenberry, sophomore from Abilene (left), and Savanah Silva, sophomore from Adkins, Texas.

Calling basketball with Mary Kate Rotenberry, sophomore from Abilene (left), and Savanah Silva, sophomore from Adkins, Texas.

We still had to beat the clock. The game was scheduled to tip at 2 p.m., and we weren’t scheduled to land until a couple of minutes before then. We radioed ahead to the terminal to have them call a taxi and it was waiting when we arrived. The driver raced to the gym where I bounded up the bleachers to the broadcast booth, only to find the equipment wouldn’t work. So I called that entire national quarterfinal win over Northern Michigan University over a hand-held telephone. (Long-distance rates may have applied.)

The Wildcats lost a heartbreaker in the semifinals the next day as a blizzard blew in across the Dakota hills. I got the last flight out on that Sunday morning. A TV crew from Abilene station KTXS wasn’t as fortunate. As far as I know, they’re still stuck in Fargo.

Twenty-five years after calling my first ACU game, this has all come full circle. In my role as the Wildcats’ play-by-play man and assistant director of athletics for external operations, I have the great pleasure of giving current student broadcasters their first on-air opportunities. You’ll often see them sitting next to me with headphones on at many of the games we air. If you happen to spot us, feel free to come over and say hello. In fact, for old times’ sake, why don’t you wait ’til the commercial is over then scream at the top of your lungs.

ScreamFree Parenting gets viral video shoutout

A viral video created by an infant formula maker shows just how mainstream ACU alumnus Hal Runkel’s ScreamFree Parenting brand has become.

Runkel (’00 M.M.F.T.) is founder and president of The ScreamFree Institute. His 2007 best-seller ScreamFree Parenting launched his reputation as an expert in helping families face conflict and create healthy relationships.

Hal Runkel ('00) is author of ScreamFree Parenting

Hal Runkel (’00) is author of ScreamFree Parenting

“Years ago, my wife, Jenny Faulk (’96) Runkel, and I dreamed that our little idea, ScreamFree Parenting, would become a part of the common parenting conversation,” he shared recently on his Facebook page. “We found that the word itself acted as a reminder device to just pause instead of react. Well, our inclusion in the video may not be exactly what we envisioned, but we’ll take it.”

The video, Runkel says, is “funny as heck, and it’s a great commentary on the exhaustion mothers can feel as they try to fight to find, and then defend, their own parenting style. And yes, they mention ScreamFree. By screaming.”

Even if people miss the mention of ScreamFree parenting, Runkel writes, “they will be touched by the end of the video, and reminded of the common cause of parenting that unites us all.”

Runkel, a 2000 graduate of ACU’s Master of Marriage and Family Therapy program and a 2012 recipient of ACU’s Distinguished Alumni Citation, is author of ScreamFree Marriage and The Self-Centered Marriage. He also earned an M.S. degree in biblical and related studies in 1998 from ACU. He is a licensed therapist, relationship coach, international speaker and organizational consultant who has been featured on more than 1,000 media outlets, including NBC’s Today show, Redbook and Good Housekeeping. He currently serves on the Visiting Committee for ACU’s graduate program in conflict resolution.

Watson, album are on top of country world

MingleJingle13-212 6x8 96A little more than 52 miles of pavement on Highway 84 separate their West Texas hometowns – Abilene and Coleman – but Aaron Watson (’00) and Ronnie Dunn (’76), respectively, share an alma mater, a fierce independent spirit and now, a piece of music history.

Today, Watson became the second former Abilene Christian University student in nearly four years to have an album hit No. 1 on the country charts when The Underdog debuted in the top spot.

He joins Dunn, whose self-titled solo album hit No. 1 in 2009 after leaving the uber-successful duo of Brooks & Dunn behind and its more than 30 million records and 20 No. 1 singles. Dunn’s voice is one of the most iconic in the business, but Watson is just now turning heads in Nashville after becoming a well-known but hard-earned Texas music scene commodity.

From a Rolling Stone profile today by Andrew Leahey, “Aaron Watson Goes From Indie ‘Underdog’ to Country Chart’s Top Dog”:

Aaron Watson Album Cover 6x6 96“A lot of people call me ‘up and coming,’ but it’s more like ‘slow and steady,’ … I’ve been doing this for 15 years, 12 albums and 2,000-plus shows,” he adds. “I’ve been with my manager, my booking agent and my distributor forever. We have wonderful working relationships, and what we’re doing right now is pretty much a ‘David versus Goliath’ kind of situation, because I’ve never been embraced by the music industry. There’s only so many times you can be told you’ll never make it. At some point, you have to say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna need to take a different route to get where we’re wanting to go.’ And that’s what we did. If someone shuts a door in your face, you don’t let that stop you; you pick the lock, take it off its hinges or find another door that’s open.”

Watson has played his alma mater’s campus several times, and is a crowd favorite whether entertaining at Homecoming or Mingle and Jingle or a football pre-game concert.

When rain washed out a pre-football game gig in September 2013 in Frisco, Texas, Watson and his band moved indoors for an impromptu concert for Wildcat fans.

When rain washed out a football pre-game gig in September 2013 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, Watson and his band moved indoors for an impromptu concert for Wildcat fans.

On Feb. 15 he played at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville as part of the Sam’s Place – Music for the Spirit series of Christian/gospel-themed concerts. He shared the stage with host Steven Curtis Chapman, Ellie Holcomb, Josh Turner, Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, and Point of Grace.

Watson makes his Grand Ole Opry debut March 31 with The Charlie Daniels BandLarry Gatlin and Easton Corbin.

Holly Dunn (’79) – no relation to Ronnie Dunn – is the only ACU graduate to have been a member of the Grand Ole Opry, performing regularly for 20 years (1989-2009) and helping host TNN’s “Opry Backstage” from 1998-2000.

The photo on Watson’s The Underdog album is by Abilene photographer Lindsey (Hoskins ’03) Cotton, as is the image of Aaron at Rolling Stone.

Watch this blog for more information about Watson’s Opry performance and ACU’s legacy of Nashville music scene standouts.

ACU Remembers: Dr. Jerilyn Pfeifer

Dr Jeri Pfeifer mug rgb 2x3 96Dr. Jerilyn (Kyker ’70) Pfeifer, a former ACU professor and administrator who was the first woman to be named principal of an Abilene high school, died Feb. 22, 2015, in Abilene at age 66.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Highland Church of Christ (425 Highland Ave, Abilene, Texas 79605). A private family graveside service will be held that afternoon. Visitation will 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at Piersall Funeral Directors (733 Butternut St., Abilene, Texas 79602).

Born Sept. 15, 1948, in Abilene, she graduated from Abilene High School in 1966 and married Walt Pfeifer (’70) on June 6, 1969. She earned a M.Ed. in secondary education from ACU in 1973 and an Ed.D. degree from Texas Tech University in 1981.

Pfeifer’s long career in education included roles as secondary teacher (English, history and speech) and principal, director of career and technology, education director of K-12 language arts at the district level, superintendent of three school districts (Albany, Venus and Everman), and president of the Texas Joint Council of Teachers of English. In 1991 she was named principal of Abilene Cooper High School.

She was superintendent of the Everman ISD in 2013 when she received the Morlan Medal Award from ACU’s Department of Teacher Education. She was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to the Board of Regents for the Texas State Technical College System and received a Distinguished Service award from the Vocational Home Economics Teachers Association of Texas. She also served on the boards of Faith Works, Eternal Threads and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Abilene, and was a member of the United Way of Abilene’s 1992 Campaign Cabinet.

Pfeifer served at ACU from 1981-91 as associate professor of teacher education, director of academic services, assistant to the provost, and assistant vice president for enrollment management. She was named 1986 Outstanding Teacher of the Year in ACU’s College of Professional Studies.

She was predeceased by her father, Dr. Rex P. Kyker (’43).

Among survivors are Walt, her husband of 45 years; two sons, Dylan Pfeifer (’99) and Daren Pfeifer; one grandchild; her mother, Chris (White ’46) Kyker; brothers Rob Kyker (’72) and Ricky Kyker (’81); and sisters Lindy (Kyker ’74) Fullerton and Jan (Kyker ’75) Bryan.

Impact helps team learn life, basketball lessons

Impact 2015 1 6x4 96This had all the makings of one of those syrupy sweet stories that flood Facebook and are so inspiring, people don’t even care if they’re true.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

A college basketball team, smack in the middle of a long losing streak with another tough opponent looming, spends a Sunday morning shooting hoops with inner city kids, feeding the hungry and worshipping at an ethnically, generationally and socioeconomically diverse church assembly. The experience opens their eyes and reminds the team there are more important things in life than sports and worse calamities than a string of successive setbacks on a scoreboard.

The next night, with the game hanging in the balance and the team trailing, the players look up into the crowd and see the church kids cheering them on. For dramatic effect, maybe the youngsters make some kind of an Angels-in-the-Outfield arm-flap or hand motion, mimicking a shooter’s stroke or perhaps the perfect technique for setting a screen. Cherubim in the Cheap Seats.

Magically, the game turns. With the kids going bonkers in the bleachers, the team rallies to win. Players and coaches will later say they can’t quite put their fingers on it, but something powerful happened in that moment. With the losing streak in the rearview mirror, they board the bus to head home, carrying with them not just a single victory but a new perspective on what really matters.

This was going to be Buzzfeed fodder. Upworthy-worthy. It might have even had Huff Post potential, complete with one of those over-the-top, click-bait, all caps captions: “WHAT HAPPENED NEXT WILL LITERALLY BLOW YOUR MIND!”

If only it had happened that way.

Impact 2015 2 6x4 96Turns out, losing streaks don’t always die easily, a truth many members of the Impact Houston Church of Christ learned the hard way long ago.

Impact was founded in 1987 by Abilene Christian University alumni Charlie Middlebrook (’68), Ron Sellers (’69) and the late Doug Williams (’64) in an effort to serve one of the poorest parts of Houston. At a time when many churches were moving as far away from the squalor of downtown, Middlebrook, Sellers and Williams leaned in. Maybe not Magi exactly, but certainly three men wise enough to look for Jesus in unexpected places.

“We came in here with an amazing ignorance about what the needs were in the inner city,” Middlebrook said when Impact was presented ACU’s Christian Service Award in 2000. They found out soon enough.

Listening to their new neighbors on a couple of city blocks in the shadow of Interstates 10 and 45, Impact soon developed ministries designed to supply what was lacking, like food, clothing, job skills and simply safe places and safe people with whom to connect and have community. Nearly 30 years later, Impact has a thriving food and clothing distribution center, a home for recovering addicts, and multiple meeting times during the week, including worship on Sunday mornings.

Impact 2015 4 6x4 96It was on a recent Sunday morning that the ACU men’s basketball team dropped in.

The Wildcats had lost the night before to Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, a game that was tied at halftime and remained tight for the first 10 minutes of the second half before the resurgent Cardinals pulled away to deal ACU a fifth straight defeat. Head coach Joe Golding (’99) certainly could’ve used his team’s one day off for any number of basketball-related activities to prepare his team for a Monday night matchup against Houston Baptist University. But when he learned of the opportunity to spend the morning at Impact, he jumped at it.

If his players’ spirits were sagging that Sunday morning, you couldn’t tell. They bounded off the team bus and made their way to the blacktop at the back of the property where some of the Impact middle school guys were eagerly waiting for them. After quick introductions, the group agreed to a game of knockout, a high-speed, single-file version of H-O-R-S-E in which you stay alive by making a basket before the person behind you. ACU junior sharpshooter Parker Wentz, despite repeated attempts to intentionally miss, accidentally banked in what proved to be the game-winner. The team and the kids high-fived and huddled up for a prayer of mutual blessing before making their way to the worship assembly.

Inside, the ACU coaches and players found a congregation as diverse as they are. This hodgepodge of hoopsters – hailing from Eastern Europe, West Texas, both coasts and several states in between – walked into a room full of churchgoers dotting nearly every position along the racial and socioeconomic spectra. The penniless and the powerful. Some with terminal degrees, others terminal diseases. All sitting side by side, united in some cases by nothing other than their belief in a God who somehow unscrambles this Rubik’s Cube of humanity into something that makes sense.

Rather than sequestering themselves at the back of the auditorium, the ACU players sprinkled in amongst the youth group. They joined in when elder and worship leader Harvey Davis belted out hymns in his uniquely aerobic style of music ministry. And when the offering was taken to help feed and clothe and nurture this struggling community, many of the ACU coaches and players pitched in, in some cases – as the apostle Paul once said – from their own poverty.

After the assembly, the team stacked cushioned chairs used for the Spanish-speaking service in the common room off the kitchen and began setting up tables and folding chairs for the lunch Impact serves to the community each Sunday after services. Golding and his assistants Brette Tanner, Patrice Days, Solomon Bozeman and Cooper Schmidt were first in line to help. These coaches and players, some of the most physically and mentally capable people you’ll ever meet, humbled themselves, speaking kindly and warmly welcoming those whom the world might call “the least of these.”

Alas, the feel-good Sunday story went off script Monday. ACU, shorthanded following Golding’s dismissal of two players for violations of team rules, lost to HBU. The losing streak continued.

The weekend was a good reminder that doing the right thing doesn’t always produce the desired result. At least not right away. Telling a team to try harder can be a little like telling a homeless person to get a job. It’s rarely that simple.

On the surface, neither the men’s team’s record this season nor the assembly of the saints at Impact are particularly impressive in the ways the world has been conditioned to see such things. But look a little more closely.

The team won a holiday tournament in December and, with still seven games left, already has four more wins against Division I opponents than its inaugural Southland Conference season a year ago. And Impact continues to help many of Houston’s homeless and low-income families inch closer toward finding a place to stay, or a meal to eat, or a life controlled only by the substance of the gifts God has given each of them.

To my knowledge, there is no miracle cure for winning at basketball or life. But maybe there is a minor miracle merely in the willingness to keep coming together, even – and especially – when things aren’t going your way. That’s how it happens at Impact, as the Wildcats witnessed firsthand.

For the Least of These: The Johnsons

johnsons and their adopted son

Roland and Margaret Johnson with their adopted son, Mike.

Teresa (Johnson ’78) Terry’s parents were nearly 60 years old when they adopted her youngest brother, Mike. Read her story as we continue our series about Abilene Christian University alumni who have followed their hearts to adopt.

Never Too Old

My parents both attended ACU as did my siblings and I. My dad, Roland Johnson (’40), liked to work out mathematical situations, and he once figured out that he and my mother, Margaret Johnson (’40), had had pre-teens in their home for 45 years! My oldest sister was 19 and a freshman at ACC when I was born, and I also had another sister who was 12 years older than me as well as two brothers who were 17 and 14. Two years later another sister was born.

When I was around 12 and my sister around 10, my parents decided to foster babies from the maternity home in Lubbock. We had fostered one for about a month, but due to my mother’s health problems, they decided not to foster other babies.

A feature series from ACU Today

A feature series from ACU Today

However, a couple of years later, we got a call asking if we could foster another baby. They said he was almost 6 months old and the person who had been caring for him had other commitments and could not continue fostering him. My parents said to bring him on. When we saw him, he gave us the sweetest smile and we all fell for him.

Some time before he turned 2, representatives from the maternity home came out to talk to our parents about him. The visit ended with my parents asking if they were too old to adopt him. They were told that they weren’t, and adoption procedures began. On Dec. 1, 1972, he became my legal brother and the seventh child for my parents.

Johnson family

This photo of the Johnsons was taken when Teresa was 2 years old.

Dad and mother were almost 60. They worried that they might not be around to see him grow up but they lived around 40 more years, long enough to see him grown and see his own children.

In the weeks to come, we will introduce you to other alumni who help make a real difference in the world – and enrich their own families – by adopting and fostering children.

You can follow new stories in this series on the ACU Facebook page.

See previous posts in this series:

Mitchell, Brantlys honored on Alumni Day

Craig Fisher (__), Elise (______ ’__) Mitchell and Dr. Phil Schubert (’91)

Craig Fisher (’92), Elise (Smith ’83) Mitchell and Dr. Phil Schubert (’91).

From Northwest Arkansas to West Africa, the winners of Abilene Christian University’s two most prestigious awards were honored Sunday for their achievements in the worlds of public relations and medical missions.

Elise (Smith ’83) Mitchell was honored as the 2015 Outstanding Alumna of the Year, the 57th in a line that, among recent winners, has included best-selling author Max Lucado (’77) and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Leeson (’78). Mitchell is founder and CEO of the Mitchell Communications Group, based in Fayetteville, Ark., and the new Dentsu Aegis Public Relations Network, a subsidiary of the mammoth Tokyo-based Dentsu Inc.

“ACU gave me the best opportunities,” an ebullient Mitchell told the audience. “It helped me find my faith. It changed me powerfully, and then I went on to live my life. It was really you all along that have enabled all of these things to happen to me. It was the power of God.”

Schubert (left) and Fisher (right) presented the Brantlys with their award.

Schubert (left) and Fisher (right) presented Dr. Kent (’03) and Amber (Carroll ’06) Brantly with their award.

Winners of the 2015 Young Alumni of the Year Award were Dr. Kent (’03) and Amber (Carroll ’06) Brantly, whose story of survival in the face of Ebola has inspired millions.

“I’ve never received an honor as prestigious as this one,” Amber Brantly said, “except when Kent asked me to take his hand in marriage. I’m sappy like that.”

The trio were honored in the annual Alumni Day Luncheon on the ACU campus. An audience of more than 350 in the McCaleb Conference Center gave multiple standing ovations during the event, which was emceed by university president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91). The awards were presented by Craig Fisher (’92), director of alumni relations and annual projects and director of university relations.

Mitchell and her husband, ________.

Mitchell and her husband, Raye.

In introducing the Brantlys’ tribute speakers, Schubert praised the honorees’ “amazing graciousness with which they approach every aspect of their life. Their real goal is to do good in the world and inspire others to do the same.”

Allison Brown, co-founder and medical director of Mission Lazarus, a Honduran relief agency, noted Kent and Amber’s compassion, empathy and respect for others.

“It’s an extremely rare combination to find in a single individual, and I know that it’s God who put them in Amber, just as it’s God who put them in Kent, and it drew them to each other.”

In accepting the award, Kent Brantly said he didn’t expect it to be so emotional.

“Thank you so much for your support of us, your belief in us,” he said, “and in what God can do with two willing people.”

The Brantlys were accompanied by a large contingent of family members.

The Brantlys were accompanied by a large contingent of family members.

Mitchell was feted for her “noble spirit,” “inspiring vision,” generosity and “unconditional love” by longtime colleague and friend, Blake Woolsey, executive vice president in Mitchell’s firm, the Mitchell Communications Group.

“Elise is unique and extraordinary in incredible ways,” Woolsey said. “She is an example for all of us.”

In a video tribute, Dr. Cheryl Mann Bacon (’76), professor and chair of journalism and mass communication told Mitchell, “We are so proud of you. We are a better program because of you.”

“I don’t know who you are talking about,” Mitchell said upon taking the stage in ACU’s Hunter Welcome Center, “but she sounds fabulous.”

Mitchell, who graduated with a degree in public relations, praised ACU for both the academic and spiritual preparation she received.

“This school taught me how to give,” she said. “I learned that being a giver is a priceless experience.”

Mitchell set her shoes aside to be photographed with her friend, ____________.

Mitchell set her shoes aside to be photographed with her former ACU roommate, Janie (Oliver ’83) Coggins.

Watson to play iconic Nashville music venues

Aaron Watson 6x6 96You can pinch Aaron Watson (’00) and let the Abilene Christian University graduate know he’s no longer dreaming:

He’s about to put his well-worn Cowboy boots on two of the biggest stages in his chosen line of work.

One of the brightest young stars in Texas country music, Watson will perform Sunday night (Feb. 15) at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn., and make his Grand Ole Opry debut Tuesday, March 31.

The Ryman gig is part of the Sam’s Place – Music for the Spirit series of Christian/gospel-themed concerts. He will perform along with host Steven Curtis Chapman, Ellie Holcomb, Josh Turner, Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, and Point of Grace.

Holcomb is the daughter of ACU alum and songwriter/producer Brown Bannister (’75), who has won 14 Grammys, 25 Gospel Music Association Dove awards and was inducted in 2014 to the Gospel Music Hall of Fame (joining others including Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Amy Grant, Bill and Gloria Gaither, Pat Boone, Ricky Skaggs, Al Green, Michael W. Smith and Aretha Franklin).

According to the Ryman website:

“Sam’s Place takes its name from charismatic evangelist Samuel Porter Jones (1847-1906), who gained fame in the region for his energetic sermons filled of fire and brimstone during the mid-1880s. On May 10, 1885, he led a tent revival in downtown Nashville for more than 5,000 which was attended by riverboat captain Thomas Green Ryman (1841-1904). Ryman experienced a conversion that night and, inspired by the multitude unable to find room under the tent, made it his mission to construct of a great tabernacle ‘for all denominations’ to join in worship. Seven years later, the Union Gospel Tabernacle opened its doors in 1892. It was Jones, while delivering Ryman’s eulogy at the Tabernacle on Christmas Day in 1904, who proposed the building’s name be changed to Ryman Auditorium to thunderous agreement.”

The March 31 show in the Opryhouse features Watson, The Charlie Daniels Band, Easton Corbin and Larry Gatlin.

Gatlin also has a Texas connection, having been born in Seminole, quarterbacked Odessa High School in 1964, lived in Abilene, played football for the University of Houston and – together with his two siblings as Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers – recorded 33 Top 40 singles with one of the top country/pop/gospel groups of the 1970s and ’80s.

Watson joins Holly Dunn (’79) and Ronnie Dunn (’76), formerly of Brooks and Dunn, as the only former Abilene Christian vocalists to perform live for an Opry audience. Those two Dunns are not related, but Holly’s brother, Chris [Dunn] Waters (’73), was a successful songwriter in Nashville.

Holly is the only ACU graduate to have been a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Watch this blog for more information about Watson’s Opry performance and ACU’s legacy of Nashville music scene standouts.

Share Your #ACULoveStory

Larry and Gloria Bradshaw

A Chapel seating assignment brought Gloria and Larry Bradshaw together.

Abilene Christian University students leave campus with more than a diploma: they leave with lifelong relationships – from roommates who became best friends and professors who became mentors to boyfriends and girlfriends who became spouses. This month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, ACU is celebrating those marriages whose roots are planted on the Hill.

Kari's news broadcast on radio covered Lyle's football exploits for the Wildcats.

Kari Dorsey’s radio news broadcasts covered Lyle Leong’s football exploits for the Wildcats.

If you met your future spouse on campus – whether at the Bean, on the intramural field, in the Optimist office, during class, before Chapel or at any of hundreds of other spots – we’re offering you the opportunity to share your story this month. Grab that old photo album (or CD, or flash drive) and post a photo on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with a sentence or two about how you met. Add the hashtag #ACULoveStory, and help us celebrate the relationships begun and nurtured at ACU!

Here are some examples of what an #ACULoveStory looks like:

Dr. Larry (’65) and Gloria (Bradshaw ’65) Bradshaw

“We sat together in Chapel because of our same last names. One evening, Larry was standing on the porch of Mabee Hall, and I walked by with some friends and introduced myself. Two weeks later, he called me at McKinzie Hall for a church date. The romance blossomed, and two years later we were married.” – Gloria Bradshaw

Lyle (’86) and Kari (Dorsey ’84) Leong

“I played football, and Kari was ‘the voice of KACU Radio.’ I tried to talk her into making a big deal on the air about what a big football star I was. Kari never messed up on the air, but the next time she spoke about the team, she got tongue-twisted and flubbed it up in a major way. I felt so bad about it that I asked her on a date.” – Lyle Leong

Since we first issued the invitation last week, we’ve received many terrific – and touching – responses. Among them:

Carol McCarely Snuffer

Carol (McCarley ’88) and Mike (’88) Snuffer: “My parents attended ACC and I met my husband of 26 years in the KACU radio booth and we graduated 1988. Married since 4/8/89 and the proud parents of 5 wonderful kids! #ACULoveStory”

Carolyn (Kelley '58) and David Mickey ('58), Homecoming 1956.

Carolyn (Kelley ’58) and David Mickey (’58) at Homecoming 1956.













Katie Stepp Cunningham

Tony (’07) and Katie (Stepp ’04) Cunningham: “Tony played football for ACU and I never missed a game! Met 2003 … Graduated 2004 … Married 2006 and have 4 children! #aculovestory’

Maria del Pinal Saab Ethnos

Maher (’07) and Maria (del Pinal ’07) Saab: “My husband and I met our sophomore year at ACU during one of the practices for the upcoming Ethnos shows. We remained friends through the rest of our college days and soon started dating not long after graduation. A year after that we were married and have been living happily ever after ever since! #ACUlovestory”














If you’re not on social media, but want to share your #ACULoveStory with us, email We’ll be on the lookout for the best photos and stories to share, and some will be published in a future issue of ACU Today magazine.