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Three Southwest Baptist University alumni were presented special awards in recognition of living lives of service and Dr. C. Pat Taylor was recognized for his 20 years as SBU president at Honors Chapel on Friday, Sept. 30.
The event marks the beginning of Homecoming festivities and also featured the presentation of the 2016 Homecoming court.
“The alumni receiving the Life Service Awards are people whose lives have been lived in such a way that they have earned our utmost respect and admiration,” said SBU President C. Pat Taylor, Ed.D. “We are proud that they are alumni of SBU, and we are delighted to honor them with the Life Service Award, which is the highest honor given to alumni by SBU.”
Edwin Lightfoot Distinguished Alumni Award
The National Alumni Association Board presents the Edwin Lightfoot Distinguished Alumni Award annually to an alumnus or alumna who demonstrates the ideals personified by the late Edwin Lightfoot ’40. The award criteria include alumni leadership in the University, dedication to the education and welfare of youth and demonstrated support for SBU.
Graham Williams ’54: Williams serves on the Governor’s Advisory Committee and is a trustee on the Board of Advisors for Windermere Conference Center. He also volunteers at the Capital Region Medical Center, and is involved in Cantorum, the Jefferson City choral group. He was inducted to the Special Olympics of Missouri Hall of Fame in 2005, where he serves on the board.
Williams received his associate of arts degree from Southwest Baptist College in 1954, his bachelor of science in education from Southeast Missouri State University, and his master of science in education from the University of Missouri.
Williams and his wife, Geri, have two children, Greg and Glenna, and seven grandchildren. They attend First Baptist Church in Jefferson City.
“It’s an honor to accept this award from the University and from the alumni board,” Williams said. “It’s probably the easiest thing in the world to be alumni of Southwest Baptist University. You seniors have a great opportunity when you get out of here, and I would encourage you to join the alumni association. You who are freshmen are working toward an end that you will be recognized. Everywhere you go, people are interested in, and want to have, SBU graduates. So, I applaud you and encourage you.”
Alumni Life Service Awards
Inspired by the Life Beautiful Award presented each year to one male and one female graduate, President John Dowdy suggested to the Southwest Baptist College Board of Trustees in 1955 that the Life Service Award be given annually to graduates whose lives have exemplified the principles which are upheld at Southwest. The award is the highest recognition that the University can bestow upon an alumnus or alumna. This year’s two recipients include:
Dennis Owens ’78: Owens earned his bachelor of arts degree in religion and psychology from SWBC in 1978. He currently serves as the president and co-owner of Fresh Ideas Food Management. His history in the foodservice industry began when he was an SBU student manager in Mellers Dining Commons. Owens also serves as secretary of the Bristol Park Community Association. Previously, he served as a member of the 30th Circuit Youth Advisory Board.
Owens attends High Street Baptist Church in Springfield, with his wife, Brenda Owens ’82. They were blessed with two children, Esther and Zach ’04, and two granddaughters, Frances and Sophia, and a grandson, Max.
“The true honor goes to God. I have to recognize Him,” Owens said upon receiving the award. “It is He who led me to Southwest Baptist 41 years ago.
“I believe in Southwest, and I believe in its mission. It’s an honor for me to be considered a distinguished alumnus. My advice is very simple: Always follow God’s direction. Always follow God’s leadership. The relationships that you build here will affect your life. I encourage you to get involved and get committed and to delve into your time here – it’s very short, I assure you.”
Richard Wright, ’81: Wright earned his bachelor of arts degree in religious studies and speech communication/theatre from SBU in 1981. Wright attends First Baptist Church of West Plains, where he was the lead pastor for 10 years. Since 1997, he has been chairman of the Missions Committee for the Baptist Convention of New England. Wright also served as the President of the Baptist Convention of New England from 1995-1997.
Wright continues to live out his life of service as he works as a paraprofessional at West Plains High School for students with special needs. Wright is married to Jacklyn Wright ’79, ’14. They were blessed with three children, Nathan ’05, Angela ’07, ’08, and Jonathan ’12. They have one grandson, Jude.
20 years of service
Dr. C. Pat Taylor began his presidency on October 21, 1996 as the 24th president of Southwest Baptist University. Since his arrival in 1996, Dr. Taylor’s leadership has grown the University and established a commitment to truly be a university that is Christ-centered, caring and academic in all areas.
Taylor has awarded more than 15,000 diplomas to SBU graduates and has been instrumental in the success of major fundraising campaigns and growing the University’s endowment from $4.6 million to about $29 million. Alumni and current students of SBU often comment on the impact Dr. Taylor has made on them personally. He has always been a president who is known among the students.
Dr. Taylor and his wife, Judy, were married for 47 years before she passed away on March 26, 2016 after courageously battling a neurological disease for several years. They have two daughters, Marijo and Charla, and two grandsons, Drew Charles Austermann and Luke Taylor Austermann.
“I would not be here if it weren’t for Graham and Geri Williams (who encouraged the Taylors to come to SBU),” Taylor said. “The past 20 years have been wonderful for me. It’s been a great joy to serve here, to serve the Kingdom here at SBU.
“It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, and it’s the best job I’ve ever had. If I could describe the presidency in one word, it would be relentless. You’re on all the time. But it’s a great job because as president of this university, I have the opportunity to be associated with the finest young people in the world.”
Taylor also credited his legacy with outstanding trustees, staff and Cabinet, faculty, students and his late wife and SBU first lady, Judy.
“The success that we’ve enjoyed here, you give Judy the credit,” Taylor said. “She was a unique first lady. She did everything possible to make this campus better. We miss her.”
“We are truly blessed here at SBU,” Taylor added. “We’re blessed with a great mission. Southwest Baptist University is a Christ-centered, caring academic community, preparing students to be servant leaders in a global society. What a great honor it is to be a part of that mission for the past 20 years. The best years are ahead of us. We’ve only begun. We continue to get better, we continue to grow. And we’re going to continue to get better and work for the Kingdom and the glory of God.”
For more information about SBU Homecoming, please contact the Office of Alumni Engagement at (417) 328-1806.
Southwest Baptist University presented special alumni awards during Honors Chapel on Friday, Sept. 30. Pictured (from left to right) — Edwin Lightfoot Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Graham Williams; Dr. C. Pat Taylor, SBU president; and Alumni Life Service Award recipient Dennis Owens. Richard Wright, Alumni Life Service Award recipient, is not pictured.