HBU Spirit: 1967’s Pioneer Graduates
“The freshman class of 1963 was a remarkable group of students. They had wide-ranging choices of colleges … there was no visible campus … no faculty nor curriculum. Their decision to enroll in Houston Baptist College was an act of faith.”
Excerpted from An Act of Providence, A History of Houston Baptist University by Dr. Don Looser, HBU Vice President Emeritus.
Four years later, on May 29, 1967, 59 of the 190 enrolled in that first class graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from then-named Houston Baptist College. Another 30 completed their degree in subsequent years including Frances Vargas Velasco who, in 1998, shared the accomplishment with her family present.
Two members of that first class, Lynda DeLoach and Philip K. Ruthstrom, Jr., (right) last month celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary. This spring, the two chaired their 50th college reunion. Amazingly, almost half the 59 graduates attended.
From the beginning, the school strove for the highest academic standards and Christian training. Students benefited from top-notch faculty who were recruited from prestigious and academically rigorous institutions, themselves making a leap of faith to a virtually unknown institution. Still, the promise of developing a new academic venture in a city of explosive growth and entrepreneurial spirit was attractive.
DeLoach reinforced the academic rigor existing from the University’s founding. “The most fortunate academic aspect was the interdisciplinary core course at the heart of our curriculum. Where else would a small group of college freshmen sit in a lecture hall three mornings a week under the tutelage of a team of five professors, three of whom were PhDs?”
In a 1996 essay, Professor Elysee Peavy recalled how faculty and students continued discussions well after classes adjourned. “These students acknowledge to this day that the core curriculum has been invaluable in their personal and professional lives.”
In his book on the history of HBU, Dr. Looser discusses an extraordinarily close bond among students, faculty and staff – sharing “in the pioneering task of institutional establishment.” “I was 24 when I joined the faculty; my students were scarcely five or six years my junior. Today, these same students are among my best lifelong friends—because of the road we traveled and victories we shared.”
“President Hinton could call every student by name and knew their hometowns as well. I remember trustee Rex Baker treating my roommate and me to dinner at the Petroleum Club,” DeLoach shared. “The secretaries kept tabs on our problems and love lives; I still use Judy Babb’s carrot cake recipe. It was that special nurturing that made my years at HBC so rich, so memorable and so significant to my adult life.”
Building a full collegiate experience
And what about the other aspects of a collegiate experience? “Our small first class struggled to establish the traditions, rituals and organizations for our new college. Choosing a school mascot, for one. Someone paraded a live alligator across the stage, another an armadillo. I’m sure Dr. (William) Hinton (HBC president) chuckled when we voted in a long-haired Alaskan sled dog, Toby, as the mascot for our southeast Texas college,” DeLoach recalls.
“Some of us felt we justly earned at least a minor in constitution writing. Every time we came up with a great idea for a club, someone had to draft bylaws. The first I helped to pen was for the student government. In that first year, we chartered about 14 organizations.”
Perhaps one could have predicted that Houston Baptist’s first alumni still are among its most active alumni.
Accomplishing great things
Many members of that small, dedicated group of pioneering students went on to great accomplishments. Some earned PhDs; others raised strong, Christian families; several became corporate titans; others were professional musicians, pastors, physicians and healthcare administrators in the renowned Texas Medical Center. There even was a professional golfer!
DeLoach worked as an educator for 45 years; her husband served in Vietnam, worked in professional theater, earned a doctorate and taught at the University of Houston for 10 years.
“These first students had extra grit and initiative or they might have chosen an established college to attend. It was the pioneering experience that made the successes sweeter,” Dr. Looser added. “As President Robert B. Sloan voiced, ‘these are they on whose shoulders all succeeding generations of HBU students stand.’”