ACU trustee Alvarez in search of kidney

Abel Alvarez 600x400 96

For years, Abel Alvarez has had a heart for his alma mater and hands quick to lead students from his hometown to Abilene. Today, he needs a kidney.

The 1982 Abilene Christian University graduate, trustee and ACU’s 2015 winner of a Distinguished Alumni Citation has a rare blood type. It’s O negative, shared by only 9 percent of Americans, according to the American Red Cross, and always in short supply. That complicates an urgent need to replace the only kidney he has, one donated to him 28 years ago by a sibling. It’s now failing and he hopes to begin dialysis quickly, but other health issues could delay treatments by a month or more.

Alvarez is longtime minister of the Harvey Drive Church of Christ in the South Texas city of McAllen, a community hero for his work in local schools, an advocate for ACU’s expertise in mobile-learning technology, and one of the university’s most devoted volunteer recruiters of high school students.

“He has a deep desire for students of all nationalities and ethnicities to experience a transformative Christ-centered education that many of us who graduated from here experienced,” said former Students’ Association president Samuel Palomares (’11), one of the many students Alvarez recruited.

“When our alumni know students well enough to tell us, ‘This person would be a great fit for ACU,’  it helps us tremendously,” said chief enrollment officer Kevin Campbell (’00) in a story about Alvarez in ACU Today magazine. “He’s been a champion and advocate for us for many years, telling our story in the Valley to anyone who will listen.”

“The last time I needed a kidney was in 1988,” Alvarez said. “Through their prayers and other help, my friends in the ACU community made a big difference in my ability to survive a difficult period in my life. I hope an organ donor with my blood type can be found, and quickly.”

Alvarez said he deeply appreciates prayers on his behalf and asks for those with leads for an O-negative kidney donor to message him on his Facebook page.

Read “Willing and Abel,” an ACU Today magazine profile of Alvarez and his life’s work:


Scholarship campaign passes $50 million mark

The Harbers

The Harbers

Thanks to a $20 million commitment from Lacy (’61) and Dorothy Harber of Denison, Texas, Abilene Christian University’s Partnering in the Journey campaign has exceeded its goal to raise $50 million for endowed scholarships for students to assist in making college more affordable.

Partnering in the Journey now stands at $50,075,647 in commitments. The $20 million gift is one of the largest in ACU’s history and is the second-largest scholarship endowment gift.

“I want to thank Lacy and Dorothy for their leadership and overwhelming generosity to this university and to our students,” said Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) on Feb. 20 at the university’s annual President’s Circle Dinner. “It’s hard to put into words how meaningful and significant this gift is, but know this: Scholarships change our students’ lives. And our students change the world.”

Since the campaign was publicly launched in February 2012, and including gifts made since June 1, 2010, 105 new endowed scholarships have been created and 67 existing endowments received $10,000 or more in new funding. More than 700 households made first-time gifts to ACU’s endowment during the campaign.

The Harber Bible Endowed Scholarship Fund will be used to provide scholarships for students in the College of Biblical Studies.

“We are honored to be able to do this,” Lacy Harber said in a previous interview about the gift. “We are just stewards of this money for a short time. It’s not really ours. It belongs to God.”

Lacy and Dorothy were raised in the Abilene area, and Lacy attended Abilene Christian in the late 1950s.

The Harbers’ philanthropy extends to various institutions and causes, including Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, Texoma Medical Center, Wilson N. Jones Medical Center, the Salvation Army and Opportunity Village. In 2014, they received the prestigious Ellis Island Medal Honor, joining the ranks of former U.S. presidents, former U.S. Supreme Court justices and Nobel Prize winners who have been so honored.

“Lacy and Dorothy are living testimonies of the words of Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ ” said ACU chancellor Dr. Royce Money (’64). “In the name of Jesus they have given freely of their time and resources to worthy causes in which they believe.”

The Harbers each received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in May 2015 from ACU for the leadership they have demonstrated through lives of selfless service to others.

When funded through their estate, the Harbers’ scholarship will be one of more than 700 endowed scholarships directly benefiting ACU students. Every year, a portion of the interest generated from Abilene Christian’s endowment provides money for both restricted and unrestricted scholarships. As of Dec. 31, 2015, the university’s endowment had a value of $357.28 million.

All ACU freshmen receive financial aid, which makes endowed scholarships an important tool for attracting the best students and providing them valuable assistance toward earning a degree.

The average first-year ACU student’s financial aid package for 2014-15 was $24,000, which included a combination of scholarships, grants, work-study and loans. ACU offered more than 4,400 scholarships and grants valued at more than $34 million to the entering Class of 2015.

Kimble, Tuhabonye honored on Alumni Day

Dr. H. Jeff Kimble

Dr. H. Jeff Kimble

Abilene Christian University presented its two most prestigious alumni honors Feb. 21 in a ceremony celebrating the recipients’ respective drives for improving the world.

Dr. H. Jeff Kimble (’71), the 2016 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year, is the William L. Valentine Professor of Physics and founding director of the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics Distinguished Scholar for 2014-16.

The world-renowned physicist credits his career to his time spent at ACU under the tutelage of Dr. Charles Ivey (’65). Kimble was one of Ivey’s first physics students as he built the then-physics department from the ground up.

“It is disquieting for me to imagine what my life would be without ACU,” Kimble said, adding the university has “one of the country’s best undergraduate physics programs.”

Gilbert Tuhabonye

Gilbert Tuhabonye

“I’m very proud to be an alumnus of this department and ACU,” he said. “I should be holding this luncheon in honor of all of you.”

In a video tribute, Ivey was equally effusive.

“I hit the jackpot,” he said. “Imagine being a new professor and having Jeff Kimble as a student. I was the lucky guy who just happened to be here when your far greater talent came along.”

ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) described Kimble as a modern-day explorer who dedicates his life to answering the question, “What’s possible?” His research in quantum optics and quantum information science has led to improvements in the way humans communicate and compute.

“Jeff, thank you for reminding us that ACU students can change the world,” Schubert said.

Numerous students, faculty and staff from the Department of Engineering and Physics were in attendance to help honor Kimble and celebrate the successes of ACU’s science programs and new facilities. Craig Fisher (’92), director of alumni relations, specifically recognized associated professor of engineering and physics Dr. Josh Willis (’97), who took part in groundbreaking research that made global headlines three weeks ago: detecting the sound of gravitational waves as two black holes collided a billion light-years away, fulfilling the last prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Representatives from the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences were also out in force to celebrate one of their own, Gilbert Tuhabonye (’01) as the 2016 Young Alumnus of the Year.

Tuhabonye fought back tears as he accepted the award for his work as a track and field coach, motivational speaker and author, and co-founder of Gazelle Foundation, which funds and builds clean water projects in his native Burundi, Africa.

There, in 1993, Tuhabonye survived a horrific massacre in the long Tutsi-Hutu war in which he was almost burned to death during a brutal attack on his school. After eight hours of suffering, he escaped through a window and ran, on fire, to freedom.  

“He’s been running ever since … but he’s not running away from his past or from others,” Schubert said. “No – Gilbert runs toward hope and joy, and an ever-brighter future, and he invites everyone he can to come along with him for the journey.”

Tuhabonye was an NCAA Division II All-America runner while at ACU, where he majored in agribusiness, and is now the head coach for cross country and track at St. Andrews High School in Austin, Texas, and the leader of Gilbert’s Gazelles, a popular training group in the city. He tells his story in the 2006 book, This Voice in My Heart, and on Sunday spoke of his motivation for not dwelling on his past and instead finding ways to make a difference in the world.

“Yes, I survived, but what is my calling on Earth to help others?” he asked.

Since its founding in 2006, the Gazelle Foundation has provided access to clean water to 60,000 people in Burundi, Tuhabonye said.

“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about the people who believe in me, like ACU did. Think about the transformation of a village – it takes lots of people. It doesn’t just take Gilbert.”

“What started here at ACU changed the world,” Tuhabonye said. “Thank you, ACU.”

New issue of ACU Today takes flight

The newest issue of ACU Today magazine mailed recently. And while our cover story has never before been tied to Second Glance, the one-page essay near the end of each issue, this one is not your everyday subject.

“The Songbird who gives ACU voices their wings” is about one of the most beloved women in university history, voice teacher Jeannette (Scruggs ’50) Lipford, who played the Bird Woman in Mary Poppins, the 2015 Homecoming Musical.

The person who has perhaps taught more voice lessons than any person at ACU stole the show in the Civic Center with her flawless portrayal and heavenly voice on “Feed the Birds.” Facebook was buzzing over the weekend with posts about it by her friends and fans.

Other content in this issue – which, including online-only Bonus Coverage – is our biggest ever at 168 pages:

  • “Holy Lands” by Paul A. Anthony (’04) takes a look at the Fall 2014 semester Dr. Mark Hamilton (’90 M.Div.) spent in Jerusalem at the famed Albright Institute of Archaeological Research. It’s also a love story, as Jerusalem is where Mark and his wife, Dr. Samjung Kang-Hamilton (’88 M.R.E.), first dated. The couple, who teach in ACU’s College of Biblical Studies, returned to Israel for their 25th wedding anniversary. An additional 12 pages of Bonus Coverage includes an essay by Mark and images by photojournalist Jonathan Bloom.
  • Elise (Smith ’83) Mitchell is the 2015 Outstanding Alumna of the Year. A profile of her by Deana (Hamby ’93) Nall is followed by others written by associate editor Katie (Noah ’06) Gibson: Distinguished Alumni Citation recipients Reg Cox (’84), Drs. Dave (’98) and Amy (Berry ’95) Fuller, and Abel Alvarez (’82) .
  • Groundbreaking for Wildcat Stadium and a look at the progress on two new science buildings are the high points in an update on the Vision in Action initiative.
  • Dr. Jack White (’71) of Walnut, Calif., is profiled by Sarah Carlson (’06) as recipient of the 2015 Outlive Your Life Award.
  • ElderLink’s role in helping church leaders around the world is profiled in “Flock Management,” a story by Grant Boone (’91) and illustrated by Bobby Gombert (’93).
  • Our first installment of a new feature – ACU 101 – gives readers an inside look at one of the university’s most well-known traditions. It’s Sing Song, which celebrates its 60th anniversary next weekend.
  • Another new feature – #ACU – celebrates the social media engagement students, faculty and alumni have with each other and Abilene Christian. It also aggregates some of our favorite posts on Facebook and Twitter in recent months.
  • Other Bonus Coverage this issue includes images from Homecoming and Ode to Joy, a collection of some of our favorite images capturing memorable moments of great happiness in ACU history.
  • The Second Glance essay about Lipford is accompanied in Bonus Coverage by an essay by Mary Poppins director Kari Hatfield, and images from the production by Paul White (’68).

Watch this blog in the days to come for backstories of some of these major articles in the new issue.

Enjoy the full issue by clicking on the viewer above.

Pep and perks: Wildcat Club returns to ACU

Wildcat Club Logo FC

ACU recently re-launched its official fundraising organization for Athletics, which dates back to the late 1920s.

In deciding what to call its new donation-generation organization, the Abilene Christian University Athletics program has opted for an oldie-but-goodie: the Wildcat Club.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Announced by director of athletics Lee De Leon on Jan. 27 and spearheaded by senior associate director of athletics Dave Kinard, the Wildcat Club will make it easy for alumni, fans and friends of ACU Athletics to give to the program. The more you give, the greater the rewards, such as first dibs on seats in the new football stadium, tickets and transportation to selected road games and other perks.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. This latest incarnation hearkens back to Wildcat Clubs of old. Like Great Depression old. The Oct. 10, 1929, edition of The Optimist includes a story about a campus bonfire being lit (intentionally) by the “Loyal Wildcat Club,” a group created to “further the pep” among students. All were welcome and, in fact, expected to join.

In the late 1940s, another Wildcat Club formed, according to an April 1949 Optimist article, with a stated purpose of trying “to help the school in athletics as much as they possibly can.” Comprised of former letter winners and friends of the college, that version of the club staged events and funded a variety of projects that enhanced the department, including the conversion of a campus dormitory into student-athlete housing and the purchase of a new 14-passenger Mercury automobile to replace the broken down athletics bus affectionately known as the Grey Goose.

November 1952 Optimist Article Wildcat ClubIn 1950, the Wildcat Club commemorated the 25th year of A.B. Morris’ coaching tenure by hosting a banquet at the Hotel Windsor in downtown Abilene. The guest speaker for the evening was Morris’ former coach at Texas A&M University, Dana X. Bible.

In 1958, the club took on its boldest initiative to date: a $20,000 upgrade to the track stadium, which included the addition of two dressing rooms and a press box. Those were halcyon days for the Wildcat “cindermen,” so called because the track surface in those days was made of packed cinder. Two years prior, team member Bobby Morrow (’52) had won three Olympic gold medals in Melbourne, Australia, becoming one of the world’s most famous figures and inviting attention to Abilene Christian like the college had never experienced before. Among those who noticed was California quartermiler Earl Young who graduated in 1958 and two years later would earn an Olympic gold medal of his own.

Through the 1960s, the Wildcat Club sponsored ACU Athletics’ annual banquet, at which senior letter winners were presented a graduation gift. In the early 1970s, head football coach Wally Bullington (’51) launched a luncheon series at the Thunderbird Lodge to let Wildcat Club members and guests hear from assistant coaches and players each week during the season.

In the mid-1980s, the Lettermen’s Association was created in an attempt to keep former student-athletes better connected to and involved with the university. The Wildcat Club kept meeting each week during the football season well into the 1990s, but the Lettermen’s Association eventually became the program’s dues-paying organization and functioned as the club once did.

January 1958 Optimist Article Wildcat ClubUntil now. In December, ACU Athletics notified all former letter winners that the Lettermen’s Association will grant instant, automatic and free membership to anyone who played for the Purple and White. The purpose, like when the group was originally founded in 1986, will be to keep all Wildcats updated on the latest exploits of the current crop.

The Wildcat Club, thus, becomes the new fundraising vehicle for ACU Athletics. De Leon thinks the name has a ring to it. Hopefully several.

“Money raised from the Wildcat Club will absolutely determine wins and losses,” De Leon said. “The more our supporters give, the more resources our teams will have to compete for championships.”

Right now, the playing field on which Wildcat teams are competing isn’t level. For example, once ACU moved up from Division II to Division I in 2013, the number of scholarships it can award increased significantly. But can and will are two different matters.

Take football. In Division II, head coach Ken Collums had 36 scholarships to divvy up among his players. Division I FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) schools are allowed 63. Good news, right? Right, but only if ACU can generate the money necessary to cover those extra 27 scholarships. Multiply 27 by the cost of tuition, room and board, and you begin to see the financial need. And that’s just football. The university has carefully invested in this Division I transition, but it can’t cover all of the costs and stay within budget.

And it shouldn’t have to. Every other university in the Southland Conference and nearly every other in Division I has a fundraising organization to raise money for scholarships, facilities and other projects. Now ACU has one of its own, and none too soon. Collums and other ACU coaches are entering most games with fewer scholarship players than their opponents, yet still finding ways to win at a remarkably successful clip. The women’s cross country team won a Southland Conference championship last fall. The women’s basketball team leads the league with four games to go. Imagine the results if each of the Wildcat teams were fully funded.

The goal for the Wildcat Club is to reach 500 members by June 1. That would be a great start, but think bigger. What if, through the Wildcat Club, former ACU football players banded together to get Collums up to 63 scholarships? What if former Wildcat basketball players created a fund to allow Julie Goodenough and Joe Golding (’99) to fly their teams to a couple of conference games a year so their players wouldn’t have to roll back in by bus from some distant Southland outpost just in time for an 8 a.m. class the next morning? Competing on the Division I level has already given ACU national exposure like it hasn’t seen since the days when Morrow and Young were winning Olympic gold. But with that exposure comes the need for fans of the university to step up in support.

Don’t misunderstand: ACU has always had generous donors, as evidenced by the recent lead gifts to construct Wildcat Stadium and install AstroTurf on the baseball and softball fields. But someone has to follow that lead. The Wildcat Club gives everyone who cares about ACU Athletics the opportunity to do that.

Everything old is new again.

Further the pep and join the club today!

Stadium to build a true home field advantage

Sam Denmark, Quentin Bryant, Ken Collums, Dr. Barry Packer Dr. Phil Schubert, April Anthony and Lee De Leon participated in the ceremonial groundbreaking.

Sam Denmark, Quentin Bryant, Ken Collums, Dr. Barry Packer Dr. Phil Schubert, April Anthony and Lee De Leon participated in the ceremonial groundbreaking.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to bring Wildcat football back to the Hill. We’re doing it today,” said Abilene Christian University benefactor Mark Anthony (’86), drawing the biggest ovation of a sunny, warm February groundbreaking Friday that felt more like football season than a week removed from Valentine’s Day.

Head coach Ken Collums

Head coach Ken Collums

Feb. 19 was a day ACU football fans will love to look back upon: the start of something big and the continuation of a collegiate football legacy dating back nearly a century.

With the football team, cheerleaders, Big Purple Band and several hundred fans present at Wally Bullington Football Practice Facility, the start of long-awaited construction on Wildcat Stadium was celebrated Friday with speeches made and shovels of dirt turned over, symbolically, as a collegiate football program’s new leaf.

ACU first played football in 1919 but hasn’t regularly hosted games on campus since the 1942 season. For 56 years, its home games have been played several miles away at the Abilene Independent School District’s Shotwell Stadium.

Mark’s wife, trustee April (Bullock ’89) Anthony, told ACU Today magazine in 2014 of sitting next to president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) a year earlier during the Homecoming game, following conversations with her husband about helping build a true home field advantage for the football team and changing the campus gameday atmosphere.

Athletics director emeritus Wally Bullington, head coach of ACU's 1973 NAIA Division I national champion, looked on during the ceremony.

Athletics director emeritus Wally Bullington (’53), head coach of ACU’s 1973 NAIA Division I national champion, looked on during the ceremony.

She leaned over and told Schubert, “Man, I sure am tired of driving down the street from campus to get to the football stadium.”

Soon after, the Anthonys resolved to make a cornerstone contribution of $15 million to the project, part of their ACU-record gift of $30 million. Games at the new Wildcat Stadium will be played on Anthony Field.

The ceremony also included comments from Schubert, athletics director Lee De Leon, sophomore linebacker Sam Denmark and head coach Ken Collums. Sophomore defensive back Quinten Bryant and board chair Dr. Barry Packer (’78) led prayers.

Mark Anthony

Mark Anthony

“Wildcat Stadium will have an impact on countless people for decades and decades to come,” said Collums. “I can almost hear third down right now. It’s going to be awesome.”

Schubert said David (’78) and Kathy (Gay ’78) Halbert also have recently made a significant gift to the stadium in honor of David’s lifelong friend, the late All-America defensive back Chuck Sitton (’77).

“ACU is in our DNA and we are proud to be ACU graduates,” Anthony said, giving credit to Bob and Kay Onstead for showing he and April “how to give and how to give humbly. They demonstrated a Christian principle to us, with an unselfish heart.”

Anthony cited three reasons why giving to the Vision in Action initiative and the football stadium, in particular, is important.

“First, we love ACU and know this university was instrumental in preparing us for the rest of our lives. ACU equipped us spiritually, socially, intellectually, and it showed us the power of Christian fellowship. We want others to experience what we experienced,” Anthony said.

“Second, we believe in having a first-class facility that matches the quality of our faculty, our staff and our students here on campus. This is going to be a first-class facility,” he said.

“And finally, we hope and pray that our giving will inspire the next generation and future generations to make their own notable contributions as servant-leaders to this university.”

As construction begins, fundraising continues on Wildcat Stadium. To contribute, visit the online giving site.

Wildcat Stadium, seen in a recent architectural rendering, will host its first game during the 2017 season.

Wildcat Stadium, seen in a recent architectural rendering, will host its first game during the 2017 season.

Wildcat Stadium will seat up to 12,000 fans for games on Anthony Field.

Wildcat Stadium will seat up to 12,000 fans for games on Anthony Field. The venue will be on Ambler Avenue, just west of Judge Ely Boulevard and Crutcher Scott Field.

ACU Remembers: Earline Perry

Earline Perry 600x400 96Susie Earline (Davidson ’48) Perry passed away Feb. 19, 2016, in Abilene, Texas, at age 88.

A memorial service will be held at University Church of Christ on Sunday, Feb. 21, at 2 p.m. Piersall Funeral Directors (733 Butternut St., 79602) are assisting the family in the memorial and graveside services. Visitation with the family will be at a reception in the University Church of Christ MAC after the memorial service. A private graveside service will be held Monday at the Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Abilene.

Earline was born Nov. 3, 1927, in Wichita Falls, Texas, where she attended grade school before graduating from Rusk (Texas) High School. She married Dr. Lowell G. Perry (’47) on June 10, 1947, in Abilene. She studied at Texas University and Abilene Christian University before finishing a bachelor’s degree in English and business in 1948 from Indiana State University, where Lowell was working on a master’s degree in speech. Later, she taught at Draughon’s Business College in Abilene and was an instructor of business administration at ACU. She worked on a master’s degree in missions at Abilene Christian and taught from 1970-74 in its summer missions workshop. She was a successful real estate agent in Abilene for 22 years, retiring in 2000.

During ACU’s May 2013 Commencement, Earline received ACU’s Dale and Rita Brown Outlive Your Life Award. She served many years on the Board of Directors for World Christian Broadcasting Corporation, helping advance her husband’s dream and her own desire of spreading the gospel throughout the world via shortwave radio. Lowell died in a plane crash in 1977 near the island of Martinique while scouting a broadcast site in the Caribbean. He taught in ACU’s Department of Communication for more than two decades, founding the campus radio station and the broadcast program now overseen by the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Earline was a longtime member of University Church of Christ in Abilene, where she mentored other women, was a member of prayer group that had met weekly for more than 45 years, and was known for her personal ministry of encouragement. Her love of missions, fostered by exploring Europe in 1950 and by living in Brazil with her husband from 1965-67, was a lifelong passion.

She was preceded in death by her parents, M.E. and Susie (Wright) Davidson; Lowell, her husband of 29 years; and a sister, EuAlice (Davidson ’57) McMillan and brother-in-law Dr. Earle McMillan (’55).

Earline is survived by two sons, David Perry (’73) and his wife, Vonnie (Southern ’74), of Abilene, and Greg Perry (’83) and his wife, Jana, of Nashville, Tennessee; a daughter, Susan Perry (’77) of Abilene; grandchildren Heather (Perry ’00) Gentileschi, Rosalyn (Perry ’06) Haug, Camille (Perry ’06) Acosta, Seth Perry, and great-grandchildren Kate and Gracie Gentileschi, Isabella, Madelyn, and Amelia Quinn Haug and Sofia and Sebastian Acosta.

Memorials may be made to World Christian Broadcasting (605 Bradley Court, Franklin, TN 37067).

Sing Song turns 60: ‘The Lord Bless You’

Sing Song Saturday night 600x400 96As a rich tradition since 1956, about one-third of Abilene Christian University’s student body participates in Sing Song each year, during which a top men’s social club, women’s social club and mixed-voices group are crowned for having the best song medley. Over the next few days, we’ll look at highlights from six decades of this popular event.

When nearly 5,000 people raise their a cappella voices in song with the first chords of The Lord Bless You and Keep You, an ethereal exclamation point punctuates the conclusion of each Sing Song show in Moody Coliseum.

“Everybody singing The Lord Bless You and Keep You at the end of Sing Song is one of our greatest traditions,” said Dr. Robert D. “Bob” Hunter (’52), vice president emeritus and founder, creator and former director of ACU Sing Song.

“I feel like I’ve just experienced a taste of what heaven will be like” is often heard among guests, he said.

Dr. Gary McCaleb (’64), vice president of the university who also directed Sing Song for nine consecutive shows, said he has heard reactions among guests ranging from “I feel like I just sat in a room with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir” to “I’ll never forget this for the rest of my life.”

“It is unforgettable,” McCaleb said. “In its truest sense, the finale is a celebration of community.” And experiencing that tangible manifestation of community deepens the understanding of what students experience at ACU – an experience that continues beyond their years as a student.

“Getting everybody back on campus for Sing Song is a thrilling thing,” Hunter said. In recent years, Sing Song has offered four shows: a Thursday night preview and performances on Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Saturday night. About 75 percent of the 9,000 guests who watch the event each year are alumni.

“We’ve had people come back to Sing Song, and it’s helped them renew their interest in the university,” Hunter said. “It has such a great PR factor, and it serves as a great opportunity for class reunions.”

Reunions are now driven in part by some of the Sing Song processes. Thirty judges are utilized throughout the group evaluation process during any one year, and alumni who were actively involved in the Sing Song process 10, 20 and 30 years ago are some of the first to receive invitations to serve as judges.

Along with a large alumni demographic in the audience, Hunter said Sing Song is a great opportunity to bring guests to ACU, especially prospective students.

McCaleb said, “We hear stories over and over again from people who say, ‘The moment I knew I wanted to come to ACU was when I saw Sing Song.’ ”

But while the audience experience is great, the student one surpasses it.

“It’s a real time of bonding for the students,” McCaleb said. “Even in the midst of the competition, there’s a feeling of ‘look what we’ve done together!’ That rises far above any elements of competition.”

See previous posts in this series:

Sing Song Saturday Night 2 600x400 96

Sing Song turns 60: The 1990s and 2000s

The senior class brought The Wizard of Oz to life in 2013.

The senior class brought The Wizard of Oz to life in 2013.

As a rich tradition since 1956, about one-third of Abilene Christian University’s student body participates in Sing Song each year, during which a top men’s social club, women’s social club and mixed-voices group are crowned for having the best song medley. Over the next few days, we’ll look at highlights from six decades of this popular event.

If Sing Song focused on creativity-in-song in the 1980s, then one could say the curtain dropped for creativity-on-stage as the show rolled into the 1990s and 2000s.

The senior class in 2013 perform as the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion.

The senior class in 2013 performs as the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion.

The curtain literally started dropping on Sing Song acts in the late ’80s. In 1987, students voted to purchase a curtain for the Sing Song stage in Moody Coliseum, allowing each act to be opened and closed with the fabric’s rise and fall.

“The curtain makes a world of difference for acts on stage,” said Dodd Roberts (’86), four-year co-director for his class.

Prior to adding the curtain, groups entered and exited the stage in the dark. Most people didn’t notice because their eyes were focused on the host and hostess performing on the lower stage, but without a curtain, elaborate props and sets were more difficult to manuever seamlessly.

Sigma Theta Chi member and 2007 co-chair Caddie Coupe (’07) said one of her best memories involved setting her club’s act on stage behind the curtain her junior year. Club members used the stairs on one side of the stage and constructed a slide covering the steps. During the act, penguins slid from the top of the stage to the bottom.

Penguins from Sigma Theta Chi slid down the Sing Song stage in 2006.

Penguins from Sigma Theta Chi slid down the Sing Song stage in 2006.

“The crowd loved it!” Coupe said. “You could hear the ‘ooh’s and ‘ahh’s as Siggies went down the slide.” She explained the concept was designed to replicate penguins sliding in the snow in Antarctica.

From the early days of singing rounds between acts, student creativity spurred more student creativity. Coupe said, “I think the penguin slide encouraged other groups to think outside the box. It helped them realize that props could help tell their story rather than just set the stage.”

Those creative exercises continued and peaked with another group: the Class of 2013. Nick Tatum (’13) directed the ensemble for four years, and they won each time, achieving the ever-elusive clean sweep victory for classes.

Tatum directed his class as the British Royal Guard his freshman year, cupids his sophomore year, Moses and the children of Israel his junior year and The Wizard of Oz his senior year.

“We actually studied videos of old acts to see what worked,” Tatum said.

Moses and the Israelites starred in the 2012 performance of the junior class.

Moses and the Israelites starred in the 2012 performance of the junior class.

The seniors’ Oz act was a triumph for the four-year winning streak and set a new standard for creativity. The act mimicked the iconic 1939 movie of the same name, starting in simple shades of black and white. A two-dimensional house was set at the front of the stage with the singers behind it, and seconds later, a tornado blew the house away, revealing the full group. As the song continued, black-and-white costumes were discarded to turn singers into full-color munchkins. Then, munchkin costumes were discarded to reveal four colorful sections representing Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. The crowd roared at the sight. The act concluded with Tatum changing costumes himself, turning from the Wicked Witch of the West to Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.

Today, elaborate backdrops and props continue to push beyond traditional limits of creativity. Groups don’t just focus on costumes, but on costume changes in mid-act. Songs continue to be creative, but song selection is now strategic, as groups consider which tunes will play best to the audience. And now, special effects are added when possible, whether confetti, streamers or the like.

Dr. Robert D. “Bob” Hunter (’52) laughed when he said Sing Song has come a long way since that first show he directed in 1957. “My, oh my,” he said.

“Today’s costuming and stage props are just amazing to me,” he said. “The really outstanding thing, though, is how our groups went from singing songs as they were written to creating complicated medleys of songs and then writing their own lyrics to be clever and funny. That is truly amazing to me.”

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The junior class in 2012.

The junior class in 2012.

The sophomore class in 2011 portrayed Cupids on Valentine's Day.

The sophomore class in 2011 portrayed Cupids on the Sing Song stage.

Junior class Cupids in 2011.

Junior class Cupids in 2011.

Sing Song turns 60: The 1980s

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A Pac-Man theme for the freshman class of 1983 featured battery-powered Christmas lights to help animate their performance.

As a rich tradition since 1956, about one-third of Abilene Christian University’s student body participates in Sing Song each year, during which a top mens social club, womens social club and mixed-voices group are crowned for having the best song medley. Over the next few days, we’ll look at highlights from six decades of this popular event.

Pac-Man, Princess Diana, MTV – the 1980s were all about shaping a new world for young people, and while culture change was rampant worldwide, a new force was making its mark on Sing Song at ACU: the Class of 1986.

They lit up the Sing Song stage like never before as freshmen in 1983. That also was the first year Jeff Nelson (’79) served as director of Sing Song.

Hunter (right) reacts to news that his senior class has achieved Sing Song's first clean sweep – winning four straight years.

Hunter (right) and others nearby react to news their senior class has achieved Sing Song’s first clean sweep – winning four straight years.

Director Les Hunter (’86) and his class devised a Pac-Man video game theme, and on stage they used clear battery-powered Christmas lights in tubes to create elements reminiscent of the game screen. It was the first time a group incorporated on-stage lighting as a prop element. They also created flip-panel costumes so they could move boards up and down, contagion-style, and simulate video game movement.

Hunter’s behind-the-scenes assistant, Dodd Roberts (’86) said, “Pac-Man was so unique – it was way outside the box for what a Sing Song act had done up until that point.”

As a winning act, Pac Man set the stage for the class to repeat that win their sophomore, junior and senior years, with no ties. In the Sing Song mixed-voices competition, that’s called a clean sweep, and it was the first time in Sing Song history for a class to achieve it.

The father of Les Hunter (right) is Sing Song's founder: Dr. Robert D. “Bob" Hunter.

The father of Les Hunter (right) is Sing Song’s founder: Dr. Robert D. “Bob” Hunter.

Along with Pac-Man, themes for the class of 1986 included Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (and their kids, the tater tots,) Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, and Adam and Eve.

Roberts said, “We joked that someone always got married in our shows – even Pac-Man had Ms. Pac-Man.”

Along with the jokes, Roberts said, competitors started to develop characters and storylines with their acts. At that time, clubs and classes didn’t change costumes on stage, but they started switching and adding elements to enhance the stories, such as eyes and noses on potatoes and a large bandage on Adam’s side where a rib went missing. “The ’80s were all about costumes and songs,” he said.

That held true with other groups, too. Notorious for not taking the concept of rehearsing too seriously, the men of Sub T-16 won the men’s division as Cabbage Patch dolls in 1984, complete with crepe paper wigs on their heads that, strangely enough, made them look a lot like the iconic toys.

Sophomores in 1987 broke new ground with illuminated costumes as Broadway Bumblebees.

Sophomores in 1987 broke new ground with illuminated costumes as Broadway Bumblebees.

Then in 1987, the sophomore class pushed costuming to another level of creativity – integrating electric Christmas lights into their costumes as Broadway Bumblebees. Each costume contained a strand of string-along lights. Bumblebee Amy (Talbot ’89) McAlister explained that each participant plugged a strand of lights into the strand on the adjacent person; then extension cords ran from the stage down the stairs to an electrical outlet in the concourse. Another student connected and unplugged the cord to make the lights go on and off at the appropriate times. “Those were fun times,” McAlister said.

Roberts said fun was the priority for the Class of 1986. “Les never talked about winning,” Roberts recalled. “It was always about having fun. And we never really thought about the competition until dress rehearsal.”

One dress rehearsal in particular proved to be an outstanding memory for the Class of 1986: their sophomore year as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Lucille Ball made the Lucy character iconic on the popular “I Love Lucy” TV show, and the class invited the actress to attend Sing Song. Her agent declined the invitation, but the week of the show, Hunter received a telegram from Beverly Hills, Calif., in which Ball wished them well in their performances. He read the telegram to the class prior to going on stage for the Saturday night finale:

Dear Les:

I love the sophomore class at Abilene Christian University. A little birdie told me that you have produced a “We Love Lucy” entry for the ACU annual Sing Song benefit show, and I want you to know this redhead is rootin’ for you to wow the audience and take home the trophy.

Nothing makes me happier than to know that Lucy and Ricky live on in the hearts of great kids like you.

I wish I could be there to personally cheer you on. But I know that you will do your very best and make everyone proud. You can do it.

With love, Lucille Ball

Roberts said his classmates’ reaction was over the top. So was their performance. “It was truly magical,” he said.

Hunter, Roberts and the Class of 1986 set new standards for Sing Song groups for years to come. Little did they know their creativity would become a gold standard in the production. The greatest thing, though, was how their efforts strengthened the bonds among their classmates.

“Even though our class was 800 to 900 people, and we just had 100 on stage, there was some level of pride among everybody,” Roberts said. “It was definitely a unifying factor. We had a ton of fun, and we all still talk about it today.”

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The seniors in 1986 won with their portrayal of Adam and Eve. Note the oversized bandage on each man's side, symbolic of God's removal of a rib during creation.

The seniors in 1986 won with their portrayal of Adam and Eve. 

Hunter leads his class of Mr. Potato Heads during a dress rehearsal.

Hunter leads his class of Potato Heads during a dress rehearsal.

Kelly and Dodd Roberts work on Potato Head costumes in 1985.

Kelly (’86) and Dodd (’86) Roberts work on Potato Head costumes.

Broadway Bumblebees during a dress rehearsal in 1987 in Moody.

The electrically charged Broadway Bumblebees rocked Moody in 1987.