Ouachita Baptist University, founded in 1886 with 166 students, is celebrating 125 years of quality liberal arts education in a Christ-centered learning community.
Established in Arkadelphia, Ark., by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, Ouachita’s first classes were held on Sept. 6, 1886. During the century and a quarter since Ouachita’s founding, enrollment has grown to 1,500 students from more than 30 states and 40 nations.
Highlighting the theme, “Making a Difference since 1886,” the Ouachita community is marking the historic milestone with a yearlong campus celebration.
Dr. Jeff Root, dean of Ouachita’s School of Humanities, helped kick off the anniversary observance with a Feb. 1 chapel address exploring “The World of 1886.”
“Why care about what happened 125 years ago?” Root asked. In response, he noted, “The people who established Ouachita were real people who were formed by their faith in God and by the times in which they lived. They weren’t perfect, but they were intent to create a campus where the love of God and the love of learning were not just compatible but flowed hand in hand.
“Ouachita’s mission, which they put in place, has a direct impact on the experience you are having here on campus every day,” he told the students.
Citing a number of milestones from 1886, Root said the Statue of Liberty was dedicated, the Eiffel Tower was erected and the Tournament of Roses Parade debuted that year. He added that 1886 was the year that both Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper were introduced.
“The burgeoning world of 1886 needed colleges and universities dedicated to the acquisition and the teaching of knowledge,” Root emphasized. “It also needed colleges and universities which recognized our spiritual needs and potentialities. Ouachita was established with both of these in mind – excellence in academics and spiritual growth through a relationship with Jesus Christ and in a community of believers.
“This was the mission of Ouachita when it was established in 1886,” he concluded, “and this is Ouachita’s mission today.”
President Rex M. Horne, Jr., appointed a 14-member anniversary steering committee last year to plan and coordinate the 125th anniversary observance. Chaired by Ian Cosh, OBU vice president for community and international engagement, the steering committee includes faculty, staff members and student leaders.
“Celebration and thanksgiving are two key words associated with Ouachita’s 125th anniversary events throughout 2011,” Cosh said. “The occasion will provide a time to have some fun and to give thanks for the many blessings the Lord has showered upon us since 1886.”
Major events scheduled throughout the year include the Pastors and Presidents Symposium on April 4-5, the Founders Day Convocation on Sept. 6 and the 125th Anniversary Community Celebration on Oct. 19. Keynote speakers during the year include Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe on Aug. 30 and former Gov. Mike Huckabee on Sept. 20.
Additionally, annual campus events such as the International Food Festival (Feb. 15), Birkett Williams Lecture (March 31), Tiger Serve Day (April 2 and Sept. 17) and Homecoming and Tiger Tunes (Oct. 6-8) will feature connections to the 125th anniversary celebration. The university’s annual Festival of Christmas extravaganza on Dec. 2-3 will feature a guest appearance by Point of Grace, a chart-topping contemporary Christian vocal group with strong Ouachita roots.
“Each event will provide a unique opportunity to highlight a dimension of institutional life,” Cosh pointed out. “We also invite friends of the university to visit campus to see some of our newest facilities and renew important relationships.”
Ouachita officials also are planning a major fundraising campaign designed to help finance several priority campus initiatives. The public phase of the Defining the Difference campaign is scheduled to launch on Sept. 6 in conjunction with Founders Day. Trustee Phil Baldwin, who recently retired as president and chief executive officer of Southern Bancorp, Inc., is chairing the campaign.
As Ouachita celebrates 125 years of service, “I am often mindful of the leaders and students who have come before us,” President Horne said. “We often say we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. I think more of walking alongside the men and women whose influence is still felt.”
Among those influential leaders, Dr. J.W. Conger was named Ouachita’s first president in 1886. Over the years, a total of 15 men have served Ouachita as president, including President Horne, who has served since 2006. Recent former presidents include Dr. Daniel R. Grant (1970-1988), who serves as president emeritus; Dr. Ben M. Elrod (1988-1998), who serves as chancellor; and Dr. Andrew Westmoreland (1998-2006), now president of Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.
“I am most proud that we are true to our founders,” Dr. Horne reflected. “We have remained true to our goals of faithfulness to our Christian faith and providing an education that is excellent.
“It would be understandable for every president to expect the greatest days are just ahead,” he added. “Well, I am no different. The momentum on campus is building. With God’s blessings and your involvement, Ouachita can look forward with confidence.”
Ouachita offers more than 50 majors in the academic disciplines of business, Christian studies, education, fine arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. Ouachita’s strong academic reputation is reflected in the university’s ranking by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 1 Regional College in the South for four consecutive years (2008-2011). Ouachita also is ranked nationally among “America’s Best Colleges” by Forbes magazine.
For more information about Ouachita’s 125th anniversary celebration, contact the university’s Office of Communications at 870-245-5206 or visit www.obu.edu/125.
By Trennis Henderson, OBU Vice President for Communications