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).

VIA News: Onstead groundbreaking scheduled

Kay Onstead

Kay Onstead

Donors have given more than $41 million of the needed $45 million to a trio of science projects on the south side of the Abilene Christian University campus, paving the way for groundbreaking on the Onstead Science Center next month.

A ceremonial groundbreaking event is scheduled for after Chapel on Monday, Nov. 10, outside the Foster Science Building, which will be transformed into a state-of-the-art center for ACU’s world-class science programs. The event is open to the public, with an invitation-only lunch to follow for major donors and supporters.

The Robert R. and Kay Onstead Science Center will be the third of five major projects to break ground as part of the $75 million Vision in Action initiative. The Engineering and Physics Laboratories at Bennett Gymnasium is scheduled to be complete by January, and a new stadium for the track and field and soccer programs is scheduled to open by April.

The science center’s name honors Kay Onstead, who made a $10 million cornerstone gift to the facility, and her late husband, Robert, a former ACU trustee.

Crews are expected to begin Phase 1 of the project – which comprises demolishing Walling Lecture Hall and constructing a new glass-walled lobby on the building’s north side – after the semester ends in mid-December.

As with the previously begun projects, construction on Phase 1 moved forward once enough money was raised to complete that phase. Construction of Halbert-Walling Research Center, the third of the three Vision in Action science projects, will begin once the remainder of the $45 million is raised. Fundraising also continues for Wildcat Stadium, Abilene Christian’s first on-campus football facility in more than 70 years.

Groundbreaking ceremonies for both of those facilities are expected to take place in the spring.

Former Walmart CEO talks faith, business

Mike Dukes at COBA 10-14-14Mike Duke’s five years as CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. capped a nearly 20-year tenure with the retail giant but his influence over its operations may far outlive him. Duke spoke about faith and business at Abilene Christian University on Tuesday as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series hosted by ACU’s College of Business Administration (COBA).

Duke, who is now retired, served on Walmart’s Board of Trustees; oversaw the logistics, distribution and administrative divisions; and was vice chair of Walmart International.

Dr. Rick Lytle, professor and dean of ACU’s COBA, interviewed Duke during Tuesday’s luncheon. Lytle spent the 2012-13 school year representing the university as a research fellow at the CEO Forum in Colorado Springs, Colo., and as a visiting marketing professional at Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., where he shadowed Walmart executives and joined them in strategy sessions. At the time, Duke was chair and CEO of the company.

Duke had 23 years of experience with Federated Department Stores and May Department Stores before joining Walmart. He has been on the Board of Directors of The Consumer Goods Forum, the executive committee of Business Roundtable and the executive board of Conservation International’s Center for Environment Leadership in Business. He also serves on the Board of Advisors for the University of Arkansas and the advisory board of the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management in Beijing, China.

Brantly: Focus on stopping Ebola in Africa

Kent Brantly at ACU 600x600While this week’s developing news about a second diagnosis of Ebola in Dallas is worrisome to some Metroplex residents, the comments of local and federal health officials there are echoing what Samaritan’s Purse physician Dr. Kent Brantly (’03) said Friday at Abilene Christian University, his alma mater.

Nina Pham, a nurse among other healthcare workers who assisted with Thomas Duncan, the patient who died last week at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, has contracted the virus.

After his visit to ACU’s Homecoming this past weekend with his wife, Amber (Carroll ’06), Brantly was in Dallas on Sunday to donate plasma to Pham, a 2010 graduate of Texas Christian University, according to an ABC News report. On his way to Abilene a few days earlier, Kent stopped in Kansas City to do the same for video journalist Ashoka Makpo, who is hospitalized in Nebraska. Brantly said he was willing to do likewise for Duncan, but their blood types did not match.

Dr. Kent Brantly (left) and his wife, Amber (right) were interviewed by ACU theology instructor Randy Harris on Oct. 12 in Moody Coliseum.

Dr. Kent Brantly (left) and his wife, Amber (right) were interviewed by ACU theology instructor Randy Harris on Oct. 12 in Moody Coliseum.

“It’s a very serious disease for those who have it and for those who have come in contact with sick individuals. But I want to be very clear that for someone who is not in contact with a person who is sick with Ebola, there is no risk,” said Brantly, who while speaking at ACU described being “heartbroken” for Duncan and his family.

“For those children who were living in the household with Mr. Duncan when he was ill – before he was cared for in the hospital – the playmates and classmates of those children are not at risk, because those children were not sick when they last were around their playmates and classmates,” he continued. “For those people who are contacts of someone who is known to have Ebola, this is a very serious issue. We all need to be supporting those people, and those individuals need to be monitoring themselves and cooperating with the authorities and the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the CDC, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that healthcare professionals know how to stop Ebola. “It’s not going to spread widely in the U.S. for two basic reasons. We can do infection control in hospitals and we can do public health interventions that stop it in its tracks,” he said. On Monday, however, Frieden said he would not be surprised if others – such as the reportedly 70 who were on the healthcare team for Duncan – tested positive for the virus.

Despite the developments in Dallas, Brantly told ACU audiences on Friday that the world’s focus should be on stopping the virus more than 5,000 miles from Texas.

“But the rest of us, we need to be praying for the people of West Africa, for the family members of Mr. Duncan and the other individuals in America who are being treated in Atlanta and Nebraska right now.” he said. “We need to be finding practical ways to help in West Africa, not worrying that because we live 100 miles from a hospital that treated a patient, that we’re at risk.”

Brantly said he cannot overstate the urgency of the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

“What the United States and other nations have committed to doing is wonderful, but if it is not done in a timely manner, if it is not done immediately, it will be too little,” he said. “There is no magic bullet to stop the Ebola virus. It will take a multifaceted response. We need more isolation units. We need more medical personnel to staff those isolation units. We have to intervene now in the communities, in the villages, in the towns to stop the transmission of this disease from those who are infected to their caregivers. If the world does not respond adequately to this outbreak, we will all pay the price for it, but no one will pay a greater price than the people of West Africa.”

This morning, Dr. Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization said 8,914 Ebola cases and 4,447 deaths had been reported to WHO thus far, although actual numbers are expected to be much higher. Aylward said that by December, 5,000 to 10,000 cases per week are anticipated in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Three thousand members of the U.S. military are participating in a $763 million American effort announced by President Barack Obama last month to take supplies to Liberia, where Doctors Without Borders and Samaritan’s Purse are providing expertise in treating patients. According to a report Sunday in The Washington Post, Liberia’s small native healthcare force is dwindling because physicians, nurses and aides have contracted the virus and died, or have become discouraged and left their jobs.

ACU Remembers: Gayle Taylor

Gayle Taylor 200x250A memorial service will be held today at 2 p.m. in Abilene Christian University’s Chapel on the Hill for Linda Gayle Taylor, 68, who died Oct. 12 in Abilene.

Taylor, who endeared herself to tens of thousands of students while working at ACU for 20 years, was born Sept. 22, 1946, in Abilene. She graduated from Merkel High School and married Spencer Taylor (’65) on Nov. 13, 1965.

She was first employed at ACU in October 1984 and served full time from 1984-99 and then part time until 2004 in various roles in Campus Life, Student Life, Health Services, Student Productions and the Department of Theatre.

Taylor was preceded in death by her father, Oscar Ray Gladden. Among survivors are her husband of 25 years, Spencer; a son, Shae Taylor (’94); a daughter, Teena G. Taylor (’89); her mother, Fena Gladden; a brother, Doug Gladden (’67); a sister, Becki Pack; and two grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to ACU’s Students’ Association or social clubs (Gift Records, ACU Box 29132, Abilene, Texas 79699-9132), or a favorite charity.

Brantlys’ journey takes unexpected detour

The Brantlys' trip to Abilene took an unexpected detour, as explained in this "Today Show" story.

“Where are you right now?”

That question came in an urgent phone call yesterday to Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly (’03).

Brantly and his family happened to be on a road trip to Abilene where he and his wife, Amber (Carroll ’06), are scheduled to speak Friday on the ACU campus.

Doctors from Nebraska were calling to see if Brantly would donate blood to a freelance journalist stricken with Ebola in hopes that Brantly’s antibodies could boost the sick man’s immune system.

A few minutes later Brantly was able to stop at a nearby hospital and provide blood that was flown to the Nebraska hospital where video journalist Ashoka Mukpo is being treated, according to the Associated Press and NBCs “Today Show.”

The trip interruption is another chapter in the Brantlys’ incredible story, which they will share at 4 p.m. Friday in ACU’s Moody Coliseum.

“Surviving Ebola: A Story of Faith and Hope” is free and open to the community. The conversation-style presentation will be facilitated by Randy Harris, popular author and speaker and a member of the ACU Bible, missions and ministry department faculty. This will be the couple’s first public speaking engagement since Brantly recovered from the virus he contracted while working as a medical missionary in Liberia.

After the Brantlys’ talk, visitors are invited to stay for the Homecoming Carnival and JamFest, beginning at 5 p.m. on the Williams Performing Arts Center north lawn.

Other events scheduled for Homecoming weekend include a golf tournament, the musical Big Fish, Wildcat football, fireworks and, of course, class reunions.

More information about the Brantlys’ visit is available here. See the complete schedule of Homecoming activities here.

Graham recovering from hiking accident

Abilene Christian University sportsDuring his star-studded career as a distance runner in college, Drew Graham became known for amazing sprints from far back in the pack during cross country and track and field meets. Online videos of his races show a blond-haired young man repeatedly making thrilling runs – often on the back stretch of the last lap – to take the lead and cross the finish line ahead of everyone else.

Graham was named all-America 15 times during his four years at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colo., and his teams won NCAA Division II national titles in cross country in 2008, 2009 and 2010. A native of Newcastle, England, he was the Division II individual national champion in the 1500-meter run outdoors in 2011 and 2012 and in the indoor mile in 2012. Before enrolling at ASU, Graham was one of the top 800- and 1500-meter runners in England.

He is in his second year as assistant coach for cross country and distance events in track and field at as Abilene Christian University, one of Adams State’s fiercest rivals in those sports the past three decades.

Today, he is in a hospital in Aurora, Colo., fighting to recover from a serious accident suffered Sept. 20 while hiking with his wife, Laura. Graham’s C4 vertebra was damaged during a dive into a lake, and prompt action from Laura saved his life. He underwent emergency spinal surgery and is learning how to breathe again on his own, and to overcome other complications caused by his injury. He began working with physical and occupational therapy staff last week. Drew hopes to be transferred soon to Craig Hospital, a world-renowned facility in Denver for neuro-rehabilitation and research of patients with spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries. [UPDATE: Drew was moved Oct. 7 to Craig Hospital and is making excellent progress.]

You can follow his progress online here, and contribute to a fund to help with his medical expenses.

A world-class athlete in his own right, Graham has a strong will, sense of humor and fierce determination to overcome any adversity. He is in one of the toughest races of his young life, but inspiring others with his courage and drive to again return to coaching the sports and student-athletes he loves. No one who knows him would bet otherwise.

10 Questions with Dawne Meeks

Director Dawne Meeks demonstrates some moves to Big Fish cast members Ryce Garren (Amos Calloway) and Sarah Yarbrough (Sandra Bloom).

Director Dawne Meeks demonstrates some on-stage moves to Big Fish cast members Ryce Garren (Amos Calloway) and Sarah Yarbrough (Sandra Bloom).

Life sometimes comes full circle. That’s something  Dawne (Swearingen ’95) Meeks, director of this year’s Homecoming musical Big Fish, can tell you about.

Meeks came to ACU as a freshman in 1991, the same year Adam Hester (77) became chair of the theatre department. After graduating from Abilene Christian in 1995, she went on to earn an M.F.A. in acting with a specialty in directing from the University of Arizona.

Dawne Meeks will take over as chair of the ACU Department of Theatre this fall.

Dawne Meeks will take over as chair of the ACU Department of Theatre this fall.

Now, 23 years later, she is set to take the reins from Hester as department chair. Hester will continue his role as professor of theatre, teaching acting and directing courses, along with playwriting. He also will direct productions throughout the year.

“I am thrilled for Dawne to assume the leadership of our theatre program,” Hester says. “She is an extraordinarily talented woman who brings exciting ideas to take us into the future.”

While Meeks was a student under Hester, he tapped into her talents as a choreographer for several of his shows. Now, Meeks, who is associate professor of acting and movement, is tapping into the talents of one of her students as choreographer for Big Fish – coming full circle yet again.

Meeks talks more about this year’s Homecoming musical and her future with the theatre department in this Q&A:

This year’s musical will represent the collegiate premiere of Big Fish. What drew you to this particular show?

I saw Big Fish last year with my husband. We had the pleasure of seeing one of our alums, Lara Seibert (’06), perform in the Broadway show, and she graciously gave us a backstage tour.

I fell in love with story. I feel it’s one that everyone can relate to. It’s the beautiful homecoming tale of a father and son – a prodigal son story in some ways – and a story of redemption, faith, love, community, renewal and acceptance.

As the son discovers he and his wife are going to have a baby, the father learns his life is coming to an end. It’s the ying and yang of life, the careful balancing act we humans find ourselves working through. Edward Bloom has always told big tales, and his son, Will, takes a journey revisiting stories of a mermaid, witch and giant.

These characters represent so many magical things to stir our inner child and yet speak to the adult soul. The music is stirring and moves much like the river that is a major metaphor in this story.

Big Fish is a story that I believe will touch our patrons and challenge our students.

What excites you most about this year’s musical?

I love the simplicity and heart of the story as told through the music. I also am excited that we are working with a guest digital artist from New York City, Andrew Lazarow, who works with Andrew Lippa, the composer and lyricist of Big Fish. We are using technology in new ways, and that is exciting.

I love that we are working with two student costume designers, Alexandra Eddins and Amanda Martin, who are creating the fantastical heightened characters in the show. They are co-designers with Sandy Freeman, our lead costumer and faculty member.  What better way for our students to grow and learn than to have the opportunity to work with professionals and our alums?

The cast of Big Fish

The cast of Big Fish

What will the audience find most exciting about this year’s production?

I love that we have a full 25-piece plus live orchestra. It’s a rare blessing for performers to have the opportunity to work with live musicians, with a brilliant conductor, Dr. Steven Ward (’92), and to perform in a theatrical house that seats 2,100 people. I find that the audience is always captivated by the live elements coming together in time and space. I believe they also will be charmed by the unexpected and magical characters Mermaid, Witch and The Giant.

Tell me about theatre alumnus David Utley (’99) and the role he is playing with set design.

David is a professional scenic designer who has designed for Glee, Always Sunny in Philadelphia and is currently working on a new film, The Nice Guys, with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. David and I were in school together, and it’s been thrilling to collaborate with him and alum Nate Parde (’99), another of my classmates. Nate is now a professor and lighting designer at the University of San Diego and Old Globe.

What challenges has this particular set design posed?

The digital work is new to us and relatively new to Broadway, and so there are have been several hurdles, but I know it will all come together to allow a beautiful story to be told. The show moves to so many different locations so quickly that using digital images and video allows us to travel there faster. The upstage wall will essentially become a giant movie screen to underscore thematic ideas and moments of action we see on stage.

Also, our professor Gary Varner, scenic and lighting designer, went into emergency surgery last week, and that has been an unexpected challenge. Gary is our dear friend, and we have worried and prayed over him. Gary keeps all things technical moving forward. He is smart and creative, and he is our people gatherer; he is the department storyteller. With Gary out, we have had a lot of long-distance communication between our guest designers, and they have rallied, as have our students.

Adam used your talents as a student choreographer for several of his shows. Now, you are utilizing one of your students as choreographer for your production. Seems kind of cool that things are coming full circle that way. What can you tell me about that?

I am thrilled at this full-circle experience. Senior theatre major Eean Cochran has performed in two national tours over the last two years, Dream Girls and Bring it On. He worked as dance captain in the last show, as well as performing, and found he possesses quite a skill at choreography. I loved the idea of passing on this opportunity to a talented, bright, creative spirit like Eean. His work is beyond his years, and I am so proud of him.

At ACU, you have directed Grand Night for Singing, Little Shop of Horrors, Titanic, Emma, Star Spangled Girl, The Crucible, Glass Menagerie, Triumph of Love, Footloose and co-directed Les Miserables. What has been your favorite production to direct?

That’s a tough question because every single piece was unique in its own way. Les Mis was a dream experience. It was so very special to collaborate on with Adam Hester as a colleague. We had worked together many times before as professor and student but had not collaborated since 1998, other than Senior Showcase, so that was amazing. And of course, Les Mis is such an epic story to tell.

Glass Menagerie also was a magical journey for me. I love the works of Tennessee Williams, and I utilize the text from Street Car and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof each fall semester for my intermediate acting class.  This was my first Tennessee Williams play to direct. The text is almost like poetry, so thick and languid, and I had an unbelievable cast. Some of the moments in that process were breath-taking for me.

What do you try to bring out in the young artists with whom you work?

I want our students to find their own strengths and uniqueness. They are called to the work much like prophets, and I want them to trust in those talents  God has placed within each of them. It is an honor to work with and teach them because I learn so much from them every day – it is inspiring.

What kind of legacy are you inheriting from Adam Hester as department chair?

It is humbling, and I am so incredibly honored to be asked to step into that role. I entered ACU as a freshman in 1991, the  year Dr. Royce Money (’64) became president and Adam became theatre chair and our department became its own department. It is another full-circle moment for me. Adam and his wife, Donna (’89 M.A.), along with all of our faculty and staff, have moved our department to new levels of success that are thrilling.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to study under many of our faculty as a student and to be a collaborator with them for the last 10 years at ACU. I have big shoes to fill but I want to lead with energy and humility in the way Adam has, walking and dreaming together with colleagues and students.

You have several family connections to ACU. Tell us about those.

My brother, Ryan Swearingen (’98), majored in theatre and performed many prominent roles; I was a senior the year he was a freshman. My parents attended Pepperdine University but have had such a love for ACU that ACU might as well be their alma mater. They have been wonderful supporters for years, and my dad, David Swearingen, currently serves as executive-in-residence for the College of Business Administration at ACU.

I love the Abilene Christian community – faculty, staff and students. I love that when I meet prospective students they say there is something special about ACU and that it feels like home. I love my ACU Theatre home. I am grateful to be a part of something magical. I believe what we do matters and that it is missional. We are storytellers like Edward Bloom, the leading role in Big Fish. May we all see more deeply, and speak our stories with authentic love as we journey on at ACU.

Gabriel making most of NFL opportunity

Former ACU star Taylor Gabriel continues to outrun defenses in the NFL.

Former ACU star Taylor Gabriel continues to outrun defenses in the NFL.

At 167 pounds, he is often the slightest player on the field, but 5-foot-8 Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (’14) keeps making big plays to justify his coaches’ decision to give the speedy rookie from Abilene Christian University a shot in the National Football League.

With four catches for 97 yards, Gabriel was the Browns’ top receiver Sunday in their 29-28 comeback win over the Tennessee Titans. He leads his team in yards per catch (19.1) and has 10 receptions for 194 yards. Cleveland is 2-2 early in the 2014 season and cut NFL veteran Nate Burleson in August to give Gabriel a roster spot after the former ACU star led the Browns in receptions in the preseason.

He ran a 4.27 time in the 40 during ACU’s Pro Day in March but went undrafted in April. He finished his career ranked second in ACU history in catches (215), yards (3,027) and touchdown receptions (27), and fourth in all-purpose yards (3,880). has an interesting feature today about Gabriel that includes a podcast.

Gabriel represents a new generation of Wildcats in the NFL. The elder statesman in that fraternity is Wilbert Montgomery (’77), the running backs coach for Cleveland. This is Montgomery’s 27th year as a player or coach in the NFL. Other former ACU standouts are nine-year veteran safety Danieal Manning (’07) of the Houston Texans and running back Charcandrick West (’14), a member of the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice roster.

In the Canadian Football League, Aston Whiteside (’12) has risen to a starting role as defensive end for the Toronto Argonauts after brief stays with Dallas, Chicago and Cincinnati of the NFL the last two years. Whiteside, who was on the Bears’ practice squad for most of 2012 and the Bengals’ in 2013, was named to every major all-America team after his senior season in 2011 for ACU. His teammate on the Argonauts is backup quarterback Mitchell Gale (’12), ACU’s career passing leader. Tony Washington (’10) is an offensive lineman for the Edmonton Eskimos after playing for Toronto in 2012-13 and the Calgary Roughriders in 2011.