VIA News: Chambers demolition has begun


An excavator takes its first bites out of Chambers Hall Monday morning.

With overcast skies and raindrops in the air, 86-year-old Chambers Hall has begun its final act.

A handful of spectators turned out to watch the demolition begin shortly after 9 a.m. today, then oohed and aahed as an excavator chewed the first chunks of brick and concrete off the southwest corner of the building.

“We’re sad to see it come down,” said Kevin Roberts (’88), vice president of planning and operations, addressing the crowd before the demolition began. “We’re excited about what’s going to be in its place.”

Chambers is making way for the new Halbert-Walling Research Center, one of three new science facilities in the Vision in Action initiative, which also will result in two new on-campus athletics stadiums.

IMG_0004_2Alumna Liz (Thompson ’79) Sinclair came to watch the demolition on behalf of her daughter, Katherine (Sinclair ’11) Kinnaman, who took classes in Chambers as an English major. Sinclair arrived early in hopes of getting a brick for Kinnaman, whose birthday is today.

“It’s amazing,” she said, “and kind of sad. My daughter would probably be more emotional.”

Scot Colley (’04), executive director of facilities and risk management, obliged her, grabbing an armload of bricks during a break in the action and depositing them in the trunk of her car.

Demolition likely will continue through Wednesday, Colley said, with the excavator reaching the main part of the building on Tuesday.

Chambers was one of the original buildings on ACU’s current campus. Since opening in 1929, it served as a residence hall, library, cafeteria and academic building. The last classes were held in Chambers in December.



One last #ACULoveStory

In early February, we asked Abilene Christian University alumni who met their spouses on campus to share their stories. We received dozens of tales – funny, touching, incredible. You can peruse them here.

With ACU’s Elmer Gray Stadium scheduled for demolition later this month, we close with a love story featuring Dr. Paul Faulkner (’52), professor emeritus of Bible. He taught on campus full time for 35 years, including 11 as chair of the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy, and was honored in 1982 as the university’s Teacher of the Year. As a student he was a star javelin thrower and pole vaulter, earning enshrinement in 1994 into the ACU Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments, many of them performed in Gray Stadium. In 2001, Paul and his wife, Gladys (Shoemaker ’52) were honored with the 2001 Christian Service Award.

Gladys wrote this account of their romance:


Paul and Gladys Faulkner on July 12, 1952

Lilʼ Abner, with his one-shoulder-strap denim overalls, walked into biology class.

Sitting at the back our freshman year in high school, it was my first visual of Paul. He was good looking, but his attire turned me off. I said to myself, “I would never date him.” Then I thought, “I better not say that. I might marry him some day.”

Through our high school years, I knew who he was as a pole vaulter on the track team and as president of our senior class, but we did not meet until the end of that senior year, when we were on a committee together to buy gifts for the senior class sponsors. He said he was curious about my ability to speak the “tut” language, and that was why he asked me for one date to a concert. We went our separate ways into a busy summer.

Each of us was going through the decision process of what college we would go to. I was headed to the University of North Texas. I even had a roommate, but at the last minute was pressured by a preacher and a friend to go to Abilene Christian College. Paul had several track scholarship offers and decided on Rice University. His sister stayed after him into the middle of the night to accept the track scholarship at ACC until he said, “Just let me go to sleep, and I will go to ACC.” We were unknowingly going through this process about the same time.

If we had not enrolled at the same college, I donʼt think we would have married. I believe God led us to ACC for a lot of reasons, No. 1 being a closer walk with the Lord, and No. 2 being to put Paul and me together.

We dated “steady” our freshman year. Our sophomore year, I thought we should date others and “play the field.” He dated almost all of my friends, including my roommate. No one would date me because they thought I belonged to Paul. What a stupid risk of losing him I was taking! I wasn’t interested in anyone else, anyway. Paul was everything I wanted. Before that year was over, I called him (girls did not call guys in those days). He canceled a date with my roommate that night, and we met at Elmer Gray Stadium. No one was there – just the two of us – a kiss Iʼll never forget.

We were engaged our junior and senior years, and graduated together before we married July 12, 1952. We will have been wed 63 years this summer, happy to send our children and grandchildren to ACU to continue the legacy.

VIA News: This one-story building stood tall

Communication Services Building

The Utility Building opened in 1938 and served many purposes for 76 years.

This blog post will be the only fanfare Tuesday for a structure about to meet its demise on the Abilene Christian University campus, one perhaps best known by its nearly anonymous description: “that one-story building between Bennett Gym and Chambers Hall.”

History shows it actually helped speak volumes about ACU for more than 50 years.

One of only two buildings erected during the Great Depression and World War II, the Utility Building as it first became known was requested in February 1937 by sixth president James F. Cox and the Board of Trustees to serve as a fire-proof structure large enough for a store room, Carpenter Shop, Print Shop and double garage.

The only other ACU building project completed from 1930-45 was Morris Stadium, which served as the on-campus home of the football and track and field teams (Its footprint today is largely occupied by the Mabee Business Building). The one-story brick Utility Building was nearly 2,500 square feet in size, cost $3,390.35 and when it opened in October 1938, also doubled as office space for The Optimist student newspaper.

“Such a building would pay for itself in saving within two years,” Cox said in his 1937 annual report to the board. “We could take better care of our tools and janitor supplies, take better care of our bus and a needed truck, do more of our repair work and do it better, and do more of our printing.”

Garner Roberts (’71) served part of his long tenure as sports information director from an office in the building.

Garner Roberts (’70) served part of his long tenure as sports information director from an office in the building.

By Fall 1941, the Utility Building also became home to a classroom for students studying Civil Aeronautics and a new location for the library’s book bindery enterprise. Later, some of the athletics staff would office there as well. The Print Shop handled everything from The Optimist and Prickly Pear yearbook to course catalogs and all manner of printed material for Abilene Christian in an era when publishing was virtually the only way for the college to communicate with students and alumni.

The late Irvin Hiler (’45) was a student employee from 1942-45 in the Print Shop, which was run by Homer Howk (’34). Hiler ended up marrying Howk’s daughter, Alta Faye Howk (’47) and becoming manager of the operation, beginning a 41-year career overseeing publications and printing for his alma mater. The Hilers were married 58 years when Alta Faye died in 2007; Irv passed away in 2013.

The Print Shop became a part of Communication Services, which included professionals in public, media and sports relations; graphic design; film-making; and photography. Hiler later turned his focus to only printing, including the many books and Bible commentaries published for ACU Press.

Irvin Hiler Pressman 1958

Irvin Hiler (’45) worked in the Print Shop as a student and later managed it for 41 years.

When the Print Shop moved to the first floor of Zellner Hall and then to a storefront on Campus Court, and Communication Services relocated to the third floor of Zellner, the little one-story building became the home of campus security, and eventually, offices for WFF Facilities Services. ACU converted its Print Shop to a Copy Center in the 1990s, until the prevalence of photocopiers on campus made a central facility cost-prohibitive.

Like the old Utility Building, Chambers Hall will soon find itself – and lose its identity – in demolition. Two of ACU’s oldest structures will make way, in part, for the gleaming new Halbert-Walling Research Center, one of three major science buildings that are part of the $75 million Vision in Action initiative.

The wordsmiths who worked in The Little Building That Could would have a big time creating metaphors for the work done inside through the years. It fades away starting today, like remnants of a late February ice storm on a warm early day in March. But its story as an unassuming home for students and professional staff who, together, told ACU’s story to the world for five decades, will hopefully not be forgotten.

VIA News: One week left for Chambers


The large bay lab on the ground floor of the Engineering and Physics Laboratories at Bennett Gymnasium. The beams are painted yellow to conform to safety requirements.

Chambers Hall, the 86-year-old former library, cafeteria, residence hall and academic building on Abilene Christian University’s campus, is scheduled for demolition during Spring Break.

Crews will begin tearing down the facility, which will make room for Halbert-Walling Research Center, at 9 a.m. Monday, March 9, said Scot Colley (’04), executive director of construction and risk management.

The demolition will be the second of three on campus this month.

Beginning tomorrow, a small one-story building behind Chambers will be torn down that has been home to ACU’s Print Shop, campus security, WFF Facility Services and other organizations since 1938. Later this month, Elmer Gray Stadium likely will come down, as well, marking the final phase of the project to build a new stadium for ACU’s track and field and soccer programs. Last month, crews took down Walling Lecture Hall in preparation for converting Foster Science Building into the Onstead Science Center.

The flurry of activity is part of the Vision in Action initiative – a $75 million effort to transform the university’s science and athletics facilities spurred by three cornerstone gifts announced in February 2014. Fundraising on several of the projects continues; donors have contributed more than $42 million to the $45 million science goal, and more than $20 million to the $30 million athletics goal.

The first of the five projects is “substantially completed,” Colley said; faculty have begun moving equipment into the Engineering and Physics Laboratories at Bennett Gymnasium, with a goal of beginning classes there after Spring Break. The facility will be fully functional in time for the beginning of the 2015-16 academic year in August, said engineering lab supervisor Ray Smith.

Equipment is going into the Bennett Labs, with paper printouts as wayfinding signage for the time being.

Equipment is going into the Bennett labs, with paper printouts as wayfinding signage for the time being.

Equipment for an electronic engineering lab is being installed in Bennett. The tables were designed and built by ACU engineering faculty and staff.

Equipment for an electronic engineering lab is being installed in Bennett. The tables were designed and built by ACU engineering faculty and staff.

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: