Spirit of Excellence
St. Louisans know the meaning of the word “spirit.” It is embodied in the arch, the city’s best known symbol that commemorates the westward expansion and earned the city its nickname, the Gateway City. It is embodied in the journeys of Lewis and Clark, begun just blocks from this site. It became synonymous with this city when a virtually unknown airmail pilot operating out of Lambert Field painted “Spirit of St. Louis” on the side of the small plane that was to carry him from New York to Paris and into history.
St. Louis Baptists also understand spirit. In the early fifties they were gripped by a vision for Christian higher education in this city. Records indicate they were motivated by many factors. St. Louis Baptist leaders had harbored for over fifty years a deep desire to establish a college here. Surveys conducted by the state of Missouri confirmed the need for three or more two-year colleges in the St. Louis area. Though Baptists had birthed fine schools in the corners of the state, there was a felt need for a presence in the state’s largest metropolitan area. But above all, these visionary Baptists had as their motivation to establish a college where faith and learning could be melded together, where Jesus Christ reigned as the model teacher and the Bible as the premier textbook.
With few resource to work with, three faculty members set up shop in 1957 in the Tower Grove Baptist Church educational building as an extension of Hannibal-LaGrange College. Under the name of St. Louis Baptist College, religion courses were the only offerings that first year. The late Rufus Crozier was the first Director and Professor of Christian History.
By 1958-59 the fledgling institution had added mathematics and English to its curriculum and was seeking state accreditation through the University of Missouri, a first step in obtaining regional accreditation. Homer DeLozier was on the first Board of Directors. Tuition was $10 per semester hour and the student bulletin informs us that total cost per semester, including books and supplies, should not exceed $180. By 1960, 168 students were enrolled in a broad curriculum including one Donald V. Wideman of DeSoto, Missouri. About that same time the Missouri Baptist Convention approved the establishment of a new college in St. Louis, appointed committees for site selection and fund raising efforts, and laid the groundwork for the addition of third and fourth year courses.
A site was eventually selected in what was then an undeveloped part of West County near the route taken by many of the early pioneers on their trek westward. In the same year that the arch was completed the new college relocated to its present site. From those meager beginnings and prodded by the spirit of the founders, the college experienced a metamorphosis from idea to seminary extension, to extension of Hannibal LaGrange College, to a combined college with Hannibal LaGrange, to a separate two year college, to a fully accredited four year institution. The college now serves over 2,000 students in four locations with a faculty of 70.
The Chinese have a proverb: “When you drink the water, remember the man who dug the well.” The institution we inherit today is the product of many who dug the well and not of one. Trustees, St. Louis Baptists, faculty, staff, students, and donors have over time worked together to build an attractive and functional campus, to attract a qualified faculty, and to create a generous financial aid program that makes it possible for almost any motivated student to study at Missouri Baptist College.
In his book A River Runs Through It Norman Maclean writes: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” The College we see now has been birthed with meager resources, occasional controversy, and great effort. If we look at the words under the rocks over which the waters have flowed these last forty years we will find the words of Foster, Kellogg, Sutherland, Copley, Hewlett and others. And in all there is a river that cuts a deep channel through their thoughts and that is the steadfast commitment to the pursuit of truth in an environment that values both faith and reason.
What now does the future hold for Missouri Baptist College? Inauguration offers us the opportunity to dream about our future. Indeed, the very Latin word from which the term “inauguration” is derived means “soothsayer” or one who foretells future events.
By now you have become acquainted with the theme of this inauguration – Spirit of Excellence. It adorns the cover of the program, our recruiting literature, and most of our promotional materials. The word “spirit” comes from the Latin spiritus which means breath and conveys the idea of invigorating, animating, breathing new zest and buoyancy into life. The word excellence also has its origins in Latin and conveys the idea of going beyond a limit or standard. Both words defy easy definition. Maybe you would agree with Satchel Paige that “Ain’t no man that can avoid being born average, but ain’t nobody got to be common.” A. W. Tozer put it “To let your heart soar as high as it will.” If we are to achieve a spirit of excellence for Missouri Baptist College, if we are to become the highest quality small Christian college in the Midwest, what must we do?
First, we must commit to a strong curriculum and superb teaching. Missouri Baptist College is unapologetically and unashamedly a Christian college and Baptist college. We believe that there are certain philosophical and theological assumptions regarding man, truth and freedom that make us stand out from the crowd. We believe that the Bible is our primary source of theological instruction and inspiration and that Jesus Christ is our master teacher and role model. Our cultural roots are in firm theological soil. Though we have done an acceptable job of integrating faith and learning, our work is far from finished. As we prepare for re-accreditation and engage in long range strategic planning we have an opportunity to review our curriculum and revise it to meet the needs of today’s liberal arts student.
In the past few years higher education has had its critics, but no criticism stings more sharply than the accusation that colleges promise to make the student better morally and culturally but fail to do so. Robert Hutchins wrote “Civilization can be saved only by a moral, intellectual and spiritual revolution to match the scientific, technological and economic revolution in which we are now living. If education can contribute to a moral, intellectual and spiritual revolution, then it offers a real hope of salvation to suffering humanity everywhere. If it cannot, or will not, contribute to this revolution, then it is irrelevant and its fate is immaterial.”
As a Christian college, we are poised to provide a values laden education that gives the student a moral and ethical base for decision making. The first two years should lay the groundwork for further studies in the humanities, the natural sciences, mathematics and social sciences and should be staffed by our best Christian teachers. The last two years should be designed to foster the integration of educational experiences to encourage mature values and ethical behaviors, and develop critical thinking. I would like to see us become known for producing students who have a superior ability to communicate in writing and in speech not only in the language of their culture but in the newer languages of technology. I would also challenge our faculty to expand opportunities for our students to move about in the global village through international study, foreign mission programs, and faculty and student exchanges with other cultures. I would like to see significant numbers of our faculty and staff become certified in the teaching of English as a second language and become active in mission efforts at home and overseas in working with people from third world countries.
If we are to achieve this in an atmosphere of excellence we must recruit students who are serious about learning. Alvin Toffler warns that “the illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn.” We must recruit and retain faculty who are not only Christian men and women but who have the highest preparation for teaching. We will also have to expand our library offerings and increase the percentage of our resources that go directly into the teaching process.
Far too often we have confused Christianity with mediocrity. Mediocrity is never acceptable but Christian mediocrity is out of the question. Our God calls us to the highest and best and to present less is to offer a sick sheep on the altar. We must assail the gates of ignorance with the best we have to give. Rather than restricting educational opportunities, Christian commitment should fire and inspire our students to purposeful learning and service and liberate them in such a way that horizons are enlarged, insights deepened, minds sharpened, while all the while becoming cognizant to the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.
A second area of focus will be to develop an attractive campus with a strong residential program. In January our resident population will double. With the growth that we have experienced over the past few years has come a greater demand from students outside the St. Louis area to attend the college. It is well documented that the traditions and spirit that make a campus unique emanate from a strong residential program. I will challenge our student personnel to develop a program that will complement our curriculum and will result in the education of the whole student – physically, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and socially. We will also work to integrate our commuter students into campus life in a more meaningful fashion. It is my hope that we can have 250 to 300 students living on campus within the next five years.
We are fortunate to be located on one of the most beautiful pieces of acreage in all St. Louis County. The rolling hills and native foliage are God’s gift to us. A dedicated staff and improved landscaping techniques have enhanced the natural beauty of our surroundings. Parts of our physical plant have recently been renovated and overall the campus is in good shape. However, much remains to be done. With the growth in the student body has come the need for additional classroom space, faculty offices, larger dining facilities, recreation and study space, additional laboratories, a maintenance facility, additional parking, and updated science and technical equipment. Students must stand or sit around the walls in chapel and the necessity of sharing limited performance space restricts our opportunities in the performing and communication arts. The addition of a chapel/performing arts facility could help with many of these inconveniences. As we have engaged in long range strategic planning, such a building closely followed by a student center and additional dormitory have emerged as facilities needed to propel us into the next millennium.
A third focus of our efforts is our people. After all, the college is not just a collection of buildings, or courses of study. It is a community of individuals. I have been most impressed with what I have observed: a staff member taking a lunch break on a 100 degree day to paint an outdoor bench so it would be ready for student use in the fall; a group of students collecting funds for a fellow student to return to Africa to visit a family he had not seen in two years; a faculty member raising funds for a former student to stay in graduate school. These examples are the rule and not the exception.
I want us to build on this deep commitment of faculty and students to become known as a college community characterized by nurturing, caring, and cheerfulness. We will work hard to see that intercollegiate and intramural athletics, student activities, and residential living result in the development of mature and responsible interactions between individuals and groups.
Achieving these goals will not be easy. Victor Hugo observed, “The future has several names. For the weak, it is impossible. For the faint-hearted, it is the unknown. For the thoughtful and valiant, it is ideal.” We stand on the threshold of an exciting time. But we must approach it boldly. In a survey of our alumni one put it succinctly, “I am tired of hearing about Missouri Baptist College’s potential. I am ready to see it realize its potential.” Athletes have a saying that if you are going to talk the talk then you have to walk the walk. It will be necessary for us to continue and renew partnerships as well as to forge new ones. A vision for this college must encapsulate the hopes and dreams of all our constituents.
This college is worthy of the best support of all its friends. We must not shrink from asking for resources from businesses, foundations, alumni, friends, and the Missouri Baptist Convention. We must ask for the best from our faculty and staff but we must provide the means to reach higher than ever before. There is an old story that illustrates what happens when we make demands without providing adequately. A man visited a farmer and during the visit he became curious about a three-legged pig that was hopping around the barnyard. When asked to explain the farmer said, “Oh, that pig is special. Last year our house caught on fire and if that pig had not raised such a racket we could have died in the fire. And just this spring Jamie fell in the creek and would have drowned if that pig had not jumped in and rescued her.” The man said, “I guess he lost his leg on one of his adventures”, to which the farmer replied, “Oh no, but when you have a pig that good, you can only eat him one ham at a time.” We will need to launch a major capital campaign to raise needed resources for buildings and endowment to serve our future.
The scripture that was read earlier is the same scripture that was read at the very first meeting of the Board of Trustees of this college. II Corinthians 4:1 is still appropriate as it says, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”
Thomas Watson, Sr., the founder of IBM once exhorted his employees to “Put your heart into the business and the business in your heart.”I would say to you to put Missouri Baptist College in your heart and your heart in Missouri Baptist College.
In 1974 the college closed for about seven days due to financial problems. Because of the efforts of some local pastors the college reopened in time for fall classes. It is said that when the trustees voted on reopening that those waiting in the hall burst into the Doxology. In reflecting on the future of Missouri Baptist College I am reminded of an old Quaker Hymn:
My life flows on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the real, though, far off hymn
That hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I’m clinging.
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?
With a clear sense of our heritage and mission, a commitment to excellence, hard work, the grace of our loving Father, and an ear to the spirit within us – how can we keep from singing?
R. Alton Lacey
Inauguration – October 27, 1995