The torch is passed from one good hand to another.

From left to right: Dr. Bruce Corley, Dr. Gene Wilkes, and Dr. Leon Leach
From left to right: Dr. Bruce Corley, Dr. Gene Wilkes, and Dr. Leon Leach

IN THE SEASON when pomp is exceeded only by circumstance, B. H. Carroll Theological Institute got a “double dose” of flowing robe formality with the inauguration of a new president, followed a few weeks later by commencement exercises.

Dr. Gene Wilkes, 26-year pastor at Legacy Church in Plano and former member of the Carroll faculty and Board of Governors, assumed the presidency of the Arlington seminary.

Wilkes succeeds the founding president, Dr. Bruce Corley, who had been his mentor during doctoral study at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1985….


   Perhaps the world’s fastest-growing seminary, Carroll’s enrollment is increasing at the rate of twenty percent per year. It offers classes at several domestic locations, as well as in other countries of the world, including Cuba, Russia, China and Vietnam.

With more than 400 students enrolled in graduate classes thousands of miles apart, few of them ever actually visit administrative offices, which they call “the hub.”

It shouldn’t surprise, then, that they refer to administrators there as “hub caps.”


   Far be it from Dr. Corley to settle into “chair-rocking.” He’s got writing, teaching and preaching to do. He’ll return to the faculty ranks as a “Senior Fellow,” the loftiest of Carroll’s teaching titles.

A highlight at commencement was the President’s Award, presented to Fran Wilson, who signed on with a handful of others who kick-started the progressive institution a dozen years ago.

She had agreed to work as long as Corley was president, and that’s what she did. A “do-everything” kind of administrative assistant, she was to the institution what duct tape is to home repairs—and a beloved figure.


   First working with Dr. Corley in the early 90s when he was dean at Southwestern, she has annually sent him a “Boss’s Day” card, the final one this year.

The result has been, of course, a “card exchange.” He’s likewise sent cards to her, “always writing personal thanks for her exemplary work,” he said. “But this year was different. I scribbled, ‘I have nothing else to say’.” On the card sent to him, she wrote, “If you decide to start another school, don’t come looking for me again—I’m done!.”


   Perhaps she, Dr. Russell Dilday and Corley are most responsible for the institute’s “unstuffy” atmosphere, as well as for its vitality and impact on theological education. (Chancellor Dilday was first chairman of the Board of Governors; current chair is Dr. Leon Leach of Houston.)

Carroll is likewise known for integrity, inclusiveness and implementation of new ways to deliver instruction.

New leader Wilkes, with enthusiasm as contagious as the founders’, rarely completes a sentence without smiling.


   Carroll’s first decade ends in the year marking the 100th anniversary of the death of the institute’s namesake.

Dr. B. H. Carroll was a revered Baptist leader, longtime pastor, Baylor faculty member and  denominational giant. At his 1914 funeral, Dr. George W. Truett, longtime pastor at Dallas’ First Baptist Church, called Carroll “the greatest preacher our state has ever known.”

It was said that Carroll averaged reading 1,000 pages daily for more than 50 years, “remembering much of the content.” The late Dr. Leon McBeth, respected church historian, called him “the John Wayne of Texas Baptists.”


   As the first Southwestern president, Carroll wrestled with the fund-raising challenge of moving the seminary from Waco to Fort Worth. He wrote hundreds of letters to church pastors, lamenting that he was “up a tree” financially, “needing help from them and their fine men to get him down.”

One pastor responded, “I’m in a deep hole, raising money to pay our church debt. How do you expect me to help you get down?”

Carroll answered, “If you help me, you’ll be out of the hole!” (The campaign goal, considered “whopping” at the time, was $30,000.)


   Alas, leaders in similar roles today face the same challenges, except the goals now have additional sets of zeroes. Fund-raising—then, now and forevermore—is daunting.

President during my college years was the late Dr. Guy D. Newman, well-known for aggressive fund-raising. He said it was so much a part of his life, he wanted appropriate scripture for his gravestone epitaph. He said I might also like the same one, Luke 16:22:

“And it came to pass that the beggar died.”


   Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: [email protected] Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: Twitter: @donnewbury


Please click the book cover images to read more about the humorous and inspirational stories in When The Porch Light’s On.

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