Several conversations are taking place at once around a long lunch table at Buckner Retirement Community in San Angelo. Friends trade memories back and forth, pausing only to join hands and thank God for their meal. The four individuals sitting around the table represent a variety of Howard Payne University connections including alumni, retired faculty and friends.
Each of the four is a resident at Buckner, a 100-acre, Baptist-affiliated retirement community. Dr. S.L. Harris ’48 moved to the community in 2000 with his wife, Fleta ’48, who passed away in 2013. Dr. Twila (Miller) Wakefield Smith ’48 has lived in the Buckner community since 2002. Her husband, Hugh, passed away in October 2016. Wilma Kidd ’46 and her husband, Jesse, have been residents here for nearly 28 years.
The Buckner facilities feature dozens of houses on beautifully landscaped streets and individual rooms for seniors who may need more or specialized care. There’s a chapel which hosts weekly church services, a gift shop, a thrift store and communal rooms where residents play games of Bingo or 42.
The lunchtime conversations sound very similar to exchanges between current HPU students. The alumni speak of writing for the Yellow Jacket student newspaper, attending Chapel services and participating in campus organizations. They even reminisce about food served in the dining hall. Some conversations, however, date their memories.
“All intercollegiate athletics had been disbanded because of the war,” says Dr. Harris. “But students played intramural sports.”
Dr. Harris says Howard Payne’s enrollment at that time, the mid-1940s, was around 365 because many of the young men were fighting in World War II.
“I remember thinking there’s one student for each day of the year,” he says.
Dr. Smith shares memories of participating in many organizations which hosted frequent activities.
“Except for the Redhead Club,” she says. “We got together just long enough to take a photo for the yearbook.”
Wilma Kidd arrived at Howard Payne from Nebraska because she felt God’s calling to Baptist higher education. Cap Shelton, a long-tenured Howard Payne professor and coach, helped her get a job on campus as assistant to Gladys Hicks, dean of women.
“Howard Payne’s motto at that time was ‘The college where everybody is somebody,’” she says. “That made a big impact on me because I began to realize that I was somebody.”
Several other Buckner residents from Howard Payne are unable to join the group for lunch on this particular day. Arlen White ’57 lives in a house on the facility’s campus with his wife, Dolores ’59. He’s with others from the Texas Baptist Men group cooking 200 turkey legs to serve to Angelo State University students later in the day. Jean Eaton ’59 lives in the retirement community as well, but she’s volunteering in the facility’s thrift store. Dr. Bob Sartain, retired chair of HPU’s Department of Mathematics, and Jan Sartain, retired administrative assistant, are traveling.
Dr. Mitzi Lehrer, who taught in HPU’s School of Education for many years before “retiring” to her current role as alumni and development assistant, estimates that 15 to 20 of the residents have HPU ties. Indeed, upon speaking with the woman volunteering in the gift shop, one learns she served on HPU’s staff for two years in the 1970s. A Buckner administrator says he has no HPU connections but, when he stops to think of it, he realizes he has eaten some of Dr. Don Newbury’s popcorn. Dr. Newbury ’61, HPU chancellor and former president, is known by many as the “Popcorn President” for his penchant for passing out the treat from his home near campus.
Dr. Lehrer says the Buckner Retirement Community is very similar to HPU.
“Howard Payne is well represented at BRC,” she says. “Probably because they can still visit Brownwood and they love the friendliness of BRC which, much like HPU, is a place where everybody is somebody.”
Hearing the friends reminisce during lunch, it’s easy to see how the Lord has worked through their lives. Dr. Harris was a pastor and interim pastor at several Texas churches and also served as associate pastor and director of the counseling ministry at First Baptist Church of Brownwood. He additionally was an educator and college administrator for many years, including at HPU where he served in roles including director of the honors academy, professor and dean. Dr. Smith was also an educator, serving a long stint at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri. The Kidds served as missionaries to Brazil.
All have impacted countless others with their dedication to serving the Lord. In many ways, it’s yet to be fully determined how God is transforming the lives of current HPU students. Most are quite young, of course, with many years of service to the Lord left before them.
The four friends agree that God works in great ways through HPU.
“I’ve been on college campuses throughout my whole career,” says Dr. Harris. “But Howard Payne has a special atmosphere. You just feel a part of it, even at age 90 which I’ll be in a few months. You just feel a part of it.”
Coby Sauce serves as Director of Media Relations at Howard Payne University.