Jacob’s Dream lands on ‘The Texas Bucket List’

Jack Maxwell and “The Texas Bucket List” host Shane McAuliffe

Jack Maxwell and “The Texas Bucket List” host Shane McAuliffe

Jacob’s Dream, the popular sculpture site at Abilene Christian University, will be featured regionally Easter weekend on a new episode of “The Texas Bucket List” TV show.

The show can be seen in Abilene on KTXS-TV at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 4, and on more than two dozen other Texas stations. See your local cable provider for a date and time where you live.

Host Shane McAuliffe and producer Nick Smeloff made a visit to campus last fall to scout the 34-foot-tall bronze landmark and immediately went to work shooting footage. The show’s segment includes an interview with artist Jack Maxwell (’78) and several ACU students.

ACU student Simone Leonard was interviewed for the show.

ACU student Simone Leonard was interviewed for the show.

“The Texas Bucket List” began in 2011 after McAuliffe – who has worked in broadcasting in Abilene, Corpus Christi, Austin and Bryan/College Station – started the concept at KBTX-TV in College Station.

Jacob’s Dream was dedicated in 2006 to recognize the generosity of the late Grace L. Woodward and her family of Kerrville, Texas. The inspirational site, which features four 8-foot-tall bronze angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven during a dream described in Genesis 28, annually attracts visitors from around the world. It also includes a baptismal pool and is a daily destination point for classes, devotionals, weddings, baptisms, and the work of photographers and videographers shooting images of individuals and families.

“The Making of Jacob’s Dream,” a 2007 documentary tracing development of the sculpture, received four Telly Awards and an Emmy nomination:

This short video provides a bird’s-eye tour of the sculpture:


Helton chosen to lead Alberta Bible College

Stan Helton 400x450 96Dr. Stanley N. Helton (’92 M.S.) was selected this week to be the next president of Alberta Bible College in Alberta, Canada. He begins work July 1.

Helton will become the sixth Abilene Christian University graduate to serve in 2015 as president of a college or university, joining Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) of ACU, Dr. John Tyson (’81) of Rochester CollegeDr. R. Gerald Turner (’68) of Southern Methodist University, Dr. Tim Summerlin (’68) of Schreiner University, and Dr. Brent Wallace (’03 M.A.) of North Central Texas College.

Helton was previously a research associate for the Haggard Center for New Testament Textual Studies in New Orleans and minister of the Word at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Hammond, La. From 2006-09 he was dean of Western Christian College in Regina, Saskatchewan.

He earned three graduate theology degrees from ACU: a M.S. in doctrinal and historical studies in 1992, a M.Div. in 1999 and a D.Min. in 2009. Helton also has a B.A. degree in biblical studies from Oklahoma Christian University (1988) and a Th.M. (2012) and Ph.D. (2014), both from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Alberta Bible College was founded in 1932 and is one of Canada’s oldest Bible colleges and degree-granting institutions of higher learning.

Smitty: A man for all seasons

Don Smith was a master recruiter of talented student-athletes.

Don Smith was a master recruiter of talented student-athletes.

On the recruiting trail, Don Smith (’53) was relentless.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

I found out firsthand one night in 1990. Smith and I had just broadcast Abilene Christian University’s football game against Texas A&M-Kingsville University. It was the Wildcats’ 10th straight loss and “Smitty,” as he was affectionately known around ACU for the better part of half a century, was looking to bury a spoon and his sorrow in a tub of ice cream.

Riding shotgun with then-sports information director Garner Roberts (’70) at the wheel and me in the backseat, the legendary Wildcat player and assistant coach called the shots in search of a treat. We went three-and-out in our initial attempts before Smith directed us to a gas station along a darkened Texas highway that had a freezer full of ice cream cups, the kind you’d find in a school cafeteria with the pull-tab top and the wooden pseudo-spoon attached. Rock hard from having been in there for who knows how long, the dairy dessert didn’t budge. Smith’s utensil splintered into kindling on contact. As did the next one. And the next. Undaunted, he persisted until the ice cream finally softened.

Smith, a talented player for the Wildcats, made friends easily with his own players.

Smith, a talented player for the Wildcats, made friends easily with his own players.

A litany of ACU football players can relate.

For 13 seasons from 1968-81, Smith criss-crossed the country in passionate pursuit of young men to play for the Purple and White. And like that South Texas ice cream, they usually melted under Smith’s unyielding love and encouragement.

“He’s as good as we’ve ever had,” says Wally Bullington (’53), director of athletics emeritus and Smith’s boss as head football coach from 1968-76. “He never met a stranger and could find something good about every kid he recruited.”

One of those kids was Greg Feasel (’81). Now the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies after playing professional football for parts of eight seasons, Feasel was recruited by Smith out of Barstow, Calif. His younger brother, the late Grant Feasel (’83), would follow him to Abilene and then to the NFL.

“It was the first time I was ever away from home,” Greg says. “I was a transfer. I went to Abilene and didn’t know anybody, and my parents were 1,200 miles away. Don and his wife adopted me first and then Grant. He was there all the time, whether it was taking us to church or helping us find an odd job. Anything I needed, he was always there.”

Literally. Don and his wife, Barbara (Fleming ’50), lived in the athletics dorm at the time, A.B. Morris Hall, giving them closer access to the players and allowing them to serve as surrogate parents to the Feasel boys and numerous others.

Some of Smith’s recruiting tales are epic. Like his – and, arguably, the program’s – biggest catch, Wilbert Montgomery (’77). Bullington had gotten wind of Montgomery’s exploits as a high school running back in Greenville, Miss., from a family member. By the time Smith showed up to make his pitch for Abilene Christian, so had other schools, including Jackson State University, which already had a back of some renown on its roster: future college and pro football hall of fame member Walter “Sweetness” Payton.

Montgomery delivers his induction speech in 1996.

Former Wildcat star Wilbert Montgomery delivers his induction speech in 1996 at the College Football Hall of Fame.

Smitty didn’t want Jackson State or anyone else sweet-talking Montgomery. So one day, as the story goes, while Smith was at Montgomery’s house visiting, he spotted a coach from another school coming up the walk. The former fullback wanted to meet the opposition head on. Montgomery suggested a slip screen through the back window. A then-collegiate record 76 touchdowns later, Montgomery had himself become a Wildcat legend. He went on to NFL stardom with the Philadelphia Eagles and in 1996 was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Smith wasn’t against using a back window for a great escape. What he couldn’t stomach was a closed front door, which he found when courting Montgomery in Mississippi.

His daughter, Donna (Smith ’75) Saffel, says because Smith grew up in California, he hadn’t experienced the extreme racial tension of the deep South. “I remember how upset he was when he came home from recruiting Wil,” Saffel says. “Dad did not see color; he saw a human being.”

And what those players saw in Smith was the kind of man they could trust with their own family. With the Montgomerys, as with the Feasels a few years later, one brother led to another. Cle Montgomery (’78), a wide receiver, soon joined Wilbert at ACU. His love for Smith began before he ever made it to campus.

It was July 1974, and Smith had driven to Greenville to pick up Wilbert for his sophomore season and Cle for his freshman year and take them back to Abilene. Somewhere in Arkansas, they stopped to get something to eat but were turned away because of the color of the Montgomerys’ skin. The incident made Smith’s skin crawl.

Don Smith 650x650 96“He cried,” Cle recalls, “and then he nearly got in a fistfight (with the restaurant owner). The rest of the trip he kept telling us how sorry he was. He just saw everyone as God’s children.”

Cle credits the coach with his success on and off the field. With Smith’s encouragement, Cle graduated from ACU in four years while playing at a high enough level to make the Lone Star Conference’s 75th anniversary team and then, like Wilbert, the NFL. He played six seasons, winning a Super Bowl with the then-Los Angeles Raiders in 1983.

Smith was a two-sport star and coach. In addition to playing alongside Bullington on ACU’s 1950 undefeated football team, he helped the Wildcats’ track and field team win a national championship and other prestigious relay titles. In a touch of irony, Smith later coached Cooper High School in Abilene to the 1964 state title with only five athletes and no relay team.

Smith stepped down as an ACU assistant football coach in 1981 to go into private business but couldn’t get the game out of his system. He became head coach at Abilene Christian High School later that decade, a post he was in when I broadcast ACU games with him. During one season in which his team wasn’t playing particularly well, I asked him if his team had played the night before. Smith’s zinger of an answer?

39B_11647.psd“Not much.”

To me, Smith was larger than life – “the jolliest man I’d ever met,” says Cle Montgomery – which is why his death in 2002 left such a mark. The next year, the ACU football program began the Don Smith Memorial Golf Tournament in his honor to raise money for recruiting.  This year’s event is set for Saturday, April 18, at Diamondback Golf Course in Abilene. The night before, participants are invited to the ACU scrimmage at Shotwell Stadium and a gathering afterward at Sharon’s Barbeque hosted by current head coach Ken Collums and his staff.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college football program. At ACU, the challenge is even greater. Like Smith, Collums is looking for more than just good players.

“We are fully committed to growing these guys into the kind of men who will love God first and eventually their wives and kids,” Collums says. “It is our No. 1 priority. We are doing our best each day to add to the incredible foundation laid long ago by men like Don Smith.”

I hope you’ll join us for this year’s event on April 17-18. We’ll talk some football and share a few stories about Smitty. I can’t guarantee you’ll play well. But I can promise you won’t have to look hard to find the ice cream. Get the full scoop here.

VIA News: Halbert ‘proud’ of building

Halbert-Walling Research Center groundbreaking

FROM LEFT: ACU provost Dr. Robert Rhodes, Students’ Association president Beau Carter, David D. Halbert, Kathy Halbert, Board of Trustees chair Dr. Barry Packer and ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert participated in the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Halbert-Walling Research Center.

Dean Walling (’30) – scientist, entrepreneur, benefactor – was “larger than life” to his grandson, David D. Halbert (’78).

“The older I get,” Halbert said Tuesday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new science facility that will bear both men’s names, “the larger he gets.”

David Dean Halbert

David D. Halbert

Now the legacy of both men and their families will be quite large indeed, as the 54,000-square-foot Halbert-Walling Research Center will soon rise from the rubble of the former Chambers Hall, alongside which Tuesday’s ceremony took place. The building is named for Halbert and his wife, Kathy (Gay ’78), whose $15 million cornerstone gift for the facility is the third-largest in ACU history, and for Dean and Thelma (Bernard 33) Walling, who were instrumental in the transformation of campus 50 years ago during the Design for Development campaign.

Halbert paid tribute to his grandfather as “a man of integrity, a man of vision and courage” in his remarks.

“The courage my grandfather had inspired me to do what I have done – trying to live up to his legacy,” said Halbert, who has started and grown businesses in the science and medical professions, selling them for billions of dollars while funding the Caris Foundation, which he and Kathy co-founded to provide medical services for impoverished people across the globe.

The Halbert gift was one of three to catalyze the Vision in Action initiative, which will result in five new facilities for science and athletics on the ACU campus. It’s the biggest transformation of campus in five decades, when the Design for Development campaign overseen by Walling led to the construction of McGlothlin Campus Center, Moody Coliseum, Brown Library and others.

Lydia Brown

Lydia Brown

ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) hailed not only David but also Kathy and the rest of their family – children Kristen (’04) Barstad, Patrick (’07) and Michael (’11) and their spouses – for their generosity.

“This is truly not just a gift from David and Kathy,” he said. “This is a gift from the entire Halbert family.”

Schubert referenced Halbert’s reputation as intimidating and exacting as he recalled their first meeting after Schubert’s 2009 inauguration.

“It was about three hours long,” he said, “and about two hours and 58 minutes of that was him challenging me to have big, bold visions for this campus. … Every time I left a meeting with David Halbert, I felt challenged.”

Lydia Brown, senior biology major from Tucson, Ariz., described her experience in ACU’s science programs, calling her decision to attend “the best decision I’ve made in my life so far.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Halbert, thank you,” she said. “This investment is going to change more lives than you’ll be able to understand. Thank you for being willing to invest your money in something that makes a permanent difference.”

Hundreds of Wildcats serve their neighbors

More than 250 members of the Abilene Christian University community – students, parents, alumni, prospective students and trustees – turned out on Saturday to serve their neighbors in the inaugural statewide Wildcats Serving day.

Events were held in Abilene, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, coordinated by university relations director Craig Fisher (’92) and his team of university relations managers in those markets. Among the services rendered, Wildcats helped organize a Family Fun Day with Impact Church of Christ for a fifth-ward apartment complex in Houston, served at the CitySquare thrift store in Dallas and volunteered at Global Samaritan Resources in Abilene.

Among the participants: a high school senior who drove from Denton to the Wildcats Serving Dallas event at the Community Enrichment Center event in North Richland Hills.

“It was a great day for the ACU community across Texas,” Fisher said. “We were able to come together to serve and to make a difference for others. We thank all of the nonprofits for their willingness to partner with us.”

Photos from the events (Fort Worth still to come) are available on the ACU Alumni Relations Flickr page.

VIA News: Gray Stadium demo begins Monday

Elmer Gray Stadium old 600x400 96Demolition of old Elmer Gray Stadium, a venerable U.S. track and field venue for decades at Abilene Christian University, will begin at 9 a.m. Monday, March 30. It will make way for the eventual footprint of the proposed Wildcat Stadium and a return to on-campus football games for the first time since World War II.

Elmer Gray was the first ACU student-athlete to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field. He finished fifth in the semifinals of the 800-meter run in 1932.

Elmer Gray was the first ACU student-athlete to compete in the U.S. Olympic trials for track and field. He finished fifth in the semifinals of the 800-meter run in 1932.

Just to the southwest, new Elmer Gray Stadium is taking shape as construction crews prepare it for an April 10 grand opening (11:30 a.m.) and an inaugural track and field meet the next day.

The second annual Wes Kittley Invitational on April 11 will bring the most high-powered full-team competition to campus since 1960, when ACU, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and the University of Texas faced off in a quadrangular meet before a standing-room-only crowd. This year’s meet, which features ACU along with Texas Tech University and TCU of the Big 12 Conference, begins at 3 p.m.

Construction on the new stadium, which is shared with the Wildcat women’s soccer program, will still be a bit of a work in progress for its opening. And throwing events will take place across Ambler Avenue but all others will be held on the new running surface at the venue along Campus Court, north of Edwards Hall.

Gray Stadium’s full-pour polyurethane performance surface is purple and was installed by Beynon, whose handiwork can be seen in track and field stadiums at major universities throughout the Big 12, Big 10, Pac 12, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences.

The stadium is one of five major building projects that are part of ACU’s $75 million Vision in Action initiative.

Watch this blog for construction updates and special features about ACU’s legendary track and field program – named “Texas Sports Dynasty of the Century” by Texas Monthly magazine in 1999 – and the old stadium where national champions and Olympians thrilled fans for generations.

ACU and Texas Tech will be joined April 11 by TCU in the biggest full-team track and field meet on campus in decades.

ACU and Texas Tech will be joined April 11 by TCU in the biggest full-team track and field meet on campus in decades.

McNeal headlines April 9 leadership seminar

Reggie McNeal 6x5 96Missional church leadership expert Dr. Reggie McNeal will be the featured speaker April 9 when CitySquare and Abilene Christian University’s Siburt Institute host a half-day Equipping for Ministry seminar in Dallas.

McNeal, author of Kingdom Come: Why We Must Quit Our Obsession Over Fixing the Church and What We Should Do Instead, will speak on “Developing Kingdom Leadership.”

The event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at ACU at CitySquare (511 N. Akard St. in downtown Dallas, east of Interstate 35 and south of the Woodall Rogers Freeway).

The missional leadership specialist for Leadership Network, McNeal will examine the key success strategies for helping congregations move from church-centric to Kingdom-centric in their ministry. The philosophical change represents one of the most potentially transformative developments in church life in centuries of Christendom.

The cost to attend is just $40, which includes lunch. Enroll today on the Siburt Institute’s website to reserve your place.

10 Questions with country star Aaron Watson

Opry Circle 600x400 96

The circle onstage at the Opry is a cherished piece of country music history (Photo by Chris Holo / Holo Photographics Inc.)

The spotlight is pretty much the same shape as the well-worn piece of wooden stage underneath the WSM radio microphone at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, where Abilene Christian University graduate Aaron Watson (’00) is about to find out how it feels to step into country music’s most famous circle, literally and figuratively.

And he’s not nervous until you start talking about the icons of the industry who have preceded him.

Watson is feeling on top of the world and the music business, and with good reason. Earlier this month he became the first male independent recording artist to have the top-selling album in country music, and he has been featured in Rolling Stone, Texas Monthly, on National Public Radio and the front page of Nashville’s The Tennessean. He’s standing in tall cotton, as they say in these here parts of Texas, a place where he has put deep roots and built a loyal following of fans who aren’t the least bit surprised at his success. With 12 albums in the rear-view mirror over the past 15 years, he’s got the perfect analogy: “I tell people I’m not up and coming. I’m slow and steady,” he said.

We caught up with him recently as he prepared to make his Opry debut on Tuesday night, March 31. Joining him onstage will be Larry Gatlin, the Charlie Daniels Band, Pam Tillis, Easton Corbin and Eric Paslay. Gatlin, Daniels and Tillis are longtime members of the Grand Ole Opry, as once was Holly Dunn (’79).

MingleJingle13-158 6x6 96

Watson is a popular performer on the campus of his alma mater. (Photo by Paul White)

What music do you listen to on your tour bus and why?

I stumble onto artists and different bands I like. I recently met Drew Holcomb while performing at the Ryman in Nashville and think he has a really cool sound. I’m always looking for positive forms of music that inspire me as a writer and as a human being. And it’s important it be music I can listen to with my kids around. In other words, if my wife – Kim (Calkins ’01) – doesn’t approve of it, we don’t listen to it. Like nearly every guy my age I grew up listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and U2. And of course I have my Willie [Nelson], Waylon [Jennings] and Merle Haggard music, my Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt stuff. I listen not so much to the singers as the songwriters because I have more in common with them. Songwriters are more interested in the lyrics and tune, not the dance moves.

One of the lines from a song on your new album says “I’d rather be an old fencepost in Texas than the king of Tennessee.” How will you explain that to the good folks who invited you to Nashville, assuming they ask about it?

Growing up in Texas, I guess I’ve heard that saying all my life, so it’s not a big deal. When we were in Nashville recently for the annual Country Radio Seminar, a guy said, “If you’re not being played on mainstream country radio, you don’t exist.” I was recently interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine and the writer asked me how I’d respond to that. I said, “I guess I’d say, ‘My name is Aaron Watson and I don’t get played on mainstream radio but I’ve got the No. 1 album in country music.’

I love country music and country music is everywhere. Early in my career I went to Nashville numerous times and had the door shut in my face. But I had a dream and a passion for music and had to find a way to get noticed, and that was by being independent. That’s not a slam against Nashville; it’s just my story. My latest album is called “The Underdog” and I think that fits. I’ve been asked, “How are you doing this?” and I say, “I’m not, God is. If Jesus can walk on water, then making Aaron Watson have the No. 1 album is a walk in the park for Him. I give Him all the glory.” I try to stay focused on what matters most to me: my faith, my family and my fans. I’m in Nashville all the time; my booking agent is there, my record distribution is done in Nashville. But I’m a Texas guy. My momma lives in Texas and I’m a momma’s boy.

You recently performed in a gospel concert at the historic Ryman Auditorium. What was that like?

It was incredible. It’s the home of the original Grand Ole Opry, the mother church. It has more country music history than any other place in the world. To walk backstage and see pictures on the wall of Ernest Tubb and Elvis Presley and others; man, it was amazing. Most of all, my wife was there with me. So often, she has to stay at home with the kids, but to have her with me made it that much more special. She’s been there supporting me from the beginning, so I was more excited for all the people around me who have invested in me and believed in me before the music came along.

You are the third former ACU student to play the Opry (along with Ronnie Dunn and Holly Dunn). Whom have you asked for advice about this opportunity and what was their advice?

Well, now you’re making me nervous about the Opry thing by mentioning those two people and what they’ve accomplished. I’ve been doing this for 15 years and have played more than 2,000 shows. I haven’t asked for any advice about the Opry and think I’ll just stick to what’s got me this far: staying focused on faith and family. Play from the soul.

Most artists refer to their Opry debut as the highlight of their music careers. What thoughts are running through your head about standing behind the famous WSM microphone? 

I’m excited and thankful because this is a bucket list opportunity, but more excited for my little boys and the baseball games they have tonight. I get excited when it comes to being a daddy. So, I’ll get up on the stage and be genuine and be thankful. It’s an incredible honor and another great stage I can stand on and share my love for Jesus Christ. I have 20 other shows to play in April. There are people who will show up at each one of those and expect the same from me. To me they will be just as important as those at the Opry that night.

Assuming you can give a shout-out from the Opry stage to friends, fans and family, whom would you name and why?

My mom and dad for sure. This will be sort of a 40th wedding anniversary trip for them. I am who I am because of them. My dad exposed me to all those great vinyl records and music while growing up. And my mom was the one who would have slapped me in the back of the head if I wasn’t singing in church. The reason why I can carry a tune is because of singing at church. My parents gave me a wonderful start to life and encouraged me to chase my dreams. I also plan to sing a song I wrote for my wife.

Opry performances blend newer and established country music stars such as Trace Adkins and Loretta Lynn. (Photo by -______)

Opry performances blend newer and established country music stars such as Trace Adkins and Loretta Lynn. (Photo by Chris Holo / Holo Photographics Inc.)

The Opry is described by some as country music’s largest live jam session, both on stage and backstage. Whom do you most hope to meet while there?

So many of my music heroes have passed on, so I don’t know who I’ll meet there. When I played the Ryman recently, it was awesome to sit around and visit with Steven Curtis Chapman. Early in my career, I got to hang out with Willie Nelson and sing a song with him on stage (“Honky Tonk Kid”). So Willie kind of spoiled me. Actually, I’m more excited to be sharing the stage with Larry Gatlin that night than anyone else. He is from this part of West Texas and helped me get started in the business. I met him for the first time in a downtown Abilene coffee shop. People forget that I’m only playing for 15 minutes at the Opry. This will be my first time to ever see it live, and I’ve got a really great seat that night to watch. Afterward, I plan to hang out in the lobby and shake hands until they kick me out.

Texas music legend Ernest Tubb made history when he became the first musician to play an electric guitar at the Opry in the 1940s. What do you most want Nashville’s music industry to understand about Texans and the country music they make?

It’s pretty simple. I’m a country singer and very much a Texan. George Jones was from Texas. George Strait is from Texas. There’s a lot of great country music out there, played all over the world, not just in Nashville. I have a business to run and I can’t put my destiny in the hands of somebody who doesn’t know me, my daughter, my sons, my wife. I enjoy the freedom of being an independent artist from Texas and making my own decisions without somebody telling me what kind of jeans to wear.

Where in Texas do you enjoy playing most, because of its history or reputation or ambiance, and why?

My backyard or at my ranch in Buffalo Gap. It’s kind of like we say about church: it’s not the building, it’s the people. I most want to play where my wife and kids are.

Where are some of the oddest places you’ve written a song?

I wouldn’t call it odd but I like to go hunting and write while enjoying the peacefulness of the outdoors. I’m supposed to be looking for deer but I find myself on the iPhone instead. The truth is I’m always writing a song and working on the ideas that are in my head. I’m always jotting down things on a piece of paper. My wife knows me well enough that when she finds stuff written on the back of a receipt or a piece of cardboard, to just put it on my desk rather than throw it in the trash.

VIA News: Chambers’ generosity made a mark

E.D. Chambers was chair of ACU's Board of Trustees from 1942-43.

E.D. Chambers was chair of ACU’s Board of Trustees from 1942-43.

Although the building bearing the Chambers name is gone, the legacy of E.D. and Julia Chambers continues on.

Chambers Hall was demolished over Spring Break – the spot where it stood for 85 years now empty, awaiting a new chapter with construction of the Halbert-Walling Research Center. With attention turning to the future, let’s take a moment to appreciate the history of one of Abilene Christian University’s most generous families.

From 1929-45, E.D. Chambers was a member of the Abilene Christian College Board of Trustees, serving as its chair in 1942-43. But that long relationship began with an unexpected visit.

In 1928, two members of the board – J.E. McKinzie and J.C. Reese – traveled through rural West Texas, looking for families willing to support the college, which at the time was in near-constant financial trouble and planning to move campuses from downtown Abilene to the Hashknife Ranch northeast of town.

W.N. and Zona Luce had agreed to give 640 acres, and the trustees went to a bank in Spur, about 70 miles east of Lubbock, to close the deal.

Reese recalled the visit in an interview with Mae Robbins (’54) for her 1960 master’s thesis analyzing donations the college had received in its first 50 years.

A circa 1940s look at the library housed in Chambers.

A circa 1940s look at the library housed in Chambers.

“We asked Brother W.B. Lee, president of the bank, if he knew of anyone else who would be interested in helping Abilene Christian College in a similar way,” Reese told Robbins. “He suggested Mr. E.D. Chambers of Afton. We visited Mr. and Mrs. Chambers and told them of our need. He gave us a check and invited us to come back. We looked at the check later and found it to be made for $500.”

Adjusted for inflation, that would be the equivalent today of writing a $7,000 check.

That seemingly off the cuff, $500 gift quickly turned into much more. McKinzie and Reese went on to Amarillo, then swung through Afton on their way back to Abilene. Visiting again with Chambers, Reese recalled the rancher “said that he had 160 acres he wanted to donate to the college. Then he studied a minute and said that would leave a 40-acre jog so he would throw in the extra 40 acres, too, and he already knew a man who wanted to buy the land.”

The cafeteria was housed in Chambers until McGlothlin Campus Center opened in the late 1960s.

Catchings Cafeteria was housed in Chambers until McGlothlin Campus Center opened in 1968.

The family presumably sold the land because in 1929, ACU received $30,000 from E.D. and Julia Chambers – or nearly $412,000 in 2015 dollars. In return, one of the new campus’ original buildings was named Chambers Hall.

E.D. Chambers’ tenure on ACU’s board was bookended by significant gifts. Late in their lives, he and Julia established the Chambers Trust Estate, setting aside more than $150,000. Of that, $65,000 ($850,000 when adjusted for inflation) went to fund what became McKinzie Hall, with the remainder invested so that the returns would be split between ACU and church missions.

The gift was made in January 1945; E.D. and Julia Chambers died within a week of each other that July. The trust was transferred to ACU’s endowment in 1999, and it continues to award money for student scholarships today, 88 years after E.D. first pressed a check into the hands of Reese and McKinzie.

Wildcats playing NCAA’s top baseball teams

Sophomore first baseman Russell Crippen

Sophomore first baseman Russell Crippen

Wildcat fans who may still be in denial that Abilene Christian University is playing major NCAA Division I competition need to head to Crutcher Scott Field in April.

Kudos to head baseball coach Britt Bonneau, whose team plays in the historically strong Southland Conference, for not shying away from challenging the best competition in the Southwest.

Junior catcher Alex Copeland

Junior catcher Alex Copeland

Scheduling such heavyweights can be hard on the won-loss record but is part of the process of seasoning Bonneau’s team for future success, especially when ACU is surrounded geographically with premier programs across Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona.

This week’s current No. 4-ranked team, TCU, comes to Scott Field on April 6. The Horned Frogs of the Big 12 Conference have been ranked as high as No. 1 this season and have been to the College World Series twice in the last five years – 2010 and 2014. TCU won 48 games last year and the Big 12 title.

On April 14, Texas Tech University’s baseball team makes its first appearance on ACU’s campus since 1995. The Wildcats gave the Red Raiders, who played in the 2014 College World Series, all they wanted on March 3 when the two teams battled for 16 innings in Lubbock before ACU fell, 6-5. Tech was ranked No. 5 in the nation at the time.

Head coach Britt Bonneau and sophomore _______

Head coach Britt Bonneau and junior outfielder Heath Beasley

Earlier this week, ACU hosted No. 23 Dallas Baptist University at Scott Field. DBU is a member of the Missouri Valley Conference and a perennial power in college baseball with appearances in the NCAA regional tournament four of the past seven years. In the game Monday night, ACU matched the Patriots’ firepower after the first inning but couldn’t overcome an early 6-0 deficit and lost, 11-6.

The Wildcats have rematches with Texas Tech (April 21 in Midland) and TCU (April 22 and May 12 in Fort Worth), and play No. 1 Texas A&M University in College Station on April 15.

Later this season ACU plays at No. 11 Arizona State University (May 19 in Tempe) and No. 20 University of Arizona (May 21-22 in Tucson).

Underdogs frequently pull shockers in topsy-turvy collegiate baseball. ACU upset Arizona – the 2012 national champion and a power in the Pac 12 Conference – on their home field late last spring in Tucson.

Follow the Wildcats’ 2015 schedule here and make plans to attend the next game in Abilene or on the road this season.