Kerr's memories of Wayland span 80-plus years
It’s said that “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” and Wayland’s history seems to embody that. While times may change and methods adjust, the spirit and the heart of Wayland Baptist University has been constant for more than a century.
Just ask Lola Farnsworth Kerr. With nearly 98 years of living under her belt, she knows a bit about changing times. But with a view of Wayland that harkens back almost 80 years, she reflects a culture that is still alive and well today.
Today, Lola lives in a Midland, Texas, retirement facility, where she still attends church and does small hand-made crafts that she uses to brighten the days of employees, friends and just about anyone who drops by.
Early focus on education
Rewind to the 1930s, and you’ll find a teenaged Lola on the rural family farm, 17 miles from Canadian. The middle child of nine in the Farnsworth family, education was not a foregone conclusion in those rough economic times. The children attended a nearby rural school through 8th grade then went into Canadian for high school. With transportation an issue, her two older brothers took a two-year break before attending until they got a car. She was able to join them and finish her secondary education.
“When we went into Canadian for high School, we didn’t get to participate in any activities because we had to get home as soon as school let out to do the chores,” she recalls. “When I got to Wayland, I joined everything I could. There was a mission club, and I sang in the choir. Every time someone would say, ‘You should do that,’ I’d say, ‘OK.’”
College had been a dream, and older sister Naveta had already attended Wayland, then a junior college, and earned a teaching certificate in 1936. But Lola could not afford to attend right away, so she worked for neighbors and did odd jobs to save up for Wayland. Once Naveta began teaching, she helped her sister out, and Lola headed to Plainview.
She lived in Matador Hall, then one of only three buildings on campus and the primary residence for female students. A kitchen in the second floor wing was shared by many of the young ladies, including Lola.
“We all cooked our own meals in the dorm since we couldn’t afford the dining hall. I worked in the library and got references to clean houses in town,” she said, noting with a laugh that one of her clients once asked her to give her a haircut, but “she didn’t ask me that again.”
Active on campus
Lola enrolled in the fall of 1939 and studied elementary education, planning initially to follow her sister into the classroom. She was in the Spanish Club, the Baptist Student Union and played basketball her second year. But one of her other campus activities sparked additional interests. Lola was part of the Volunteer Mission Band, an active group that involved male and female students leading mini-revivals in country churches on weekends.
“The girls would do a devotional, and then the boys would lead singing and preach on Saturday nights and on Sunday,” Lola recalled, remembering many weekends spent with the group. “Those were fun times to meet people in the churches and they always appreciated us coming out there.”
Those trips awakened a passion for missions, and when Lola moved to Brownwood to attend Howard Payne, she had her heart set on foreign missions. But a visit from the mission board president confirmed that might never happen due to her allergy issues. She switched her focus to church work, which turned out to be a lifelong calling.
During school, summers often involved conducting Bible schools in various cities and then spending a summer in El Paso at a Chinese missions. As a child, Lola discovered a talent for art, and she took that into her mission work at Wayland. Chalk talks were popular at the time, involving an artist drawing illustrations while someone gave a devotional or sang a song. She practiced often, honing her talent with colored chalk and doing them often during the Bible schools.
From airplanes to altars
After leaving Wayland in wartime 1941, Lola was unable to find a teaching job and moved north to Wichita, Kan., to join her brother at the Boeing factory, where women were being hired by the droves due to the war. She had a position building the Cadet trainer planes, but she got to see the first B-20 bomber roll off the assembly line and take its maiden flight.
After working a short while and saving her money, she enrolled in Howard Payne University, finishing her bachelor’s degree in religious education. She then attended Southwestern Seminary, earning a master’s degree in religious education in 1948. Her first job offer took her to First Baptist Church in Midland, where she was hired as an assistant education director. Those chalk talks would appear again, wowing children for decades at FBC.
After four years on the job, Lola had to quit her paying job because she was marrying a deacon, James Kerr, who was an insurance salesman. The two had three children, and Lola maintained a busy schedule of volunteering at the church and other community activities. She also became active in writing, penning a complete history of the church just a few years back. She also completed her own personal history, written primarily to share with her children about the differences in life on the farm during the early twentieth century.
James died in 2004, and Lola has continued her church service as much as her health will allow. She took up painting for a few years and loves to work with her hands.
And while her time at Wayland may have been a long time ago, the memories are still vivid. Two other Farnsworth sisters followed Lola and Naveta to the little Baptist school, all earning associate’s degrees. Marjorie Garrison lives in Spokane, Wash., and Alice Munford lives in Boulder, Colo.
Devotional: Always more to learn from God
Somewhere in the distant fog of memories, I remember a Wayland professor or two emphasizing that learning was a lifelong process. At the time I was on the 4-year plan. Although I completed my degree plan in four years and without a computer, I sure did not finish my education!
I continued learning “on the job” in both secular jobs and ministry assignments. Another degree really challenged my idea of learning! People, circumstances, and challenges have a way of stretching the mind too!
Did I mention marriage and children? Little did I realize that these pieces of God’s plan held the greatest motivators for serious learning. What a journey it has been since the Wayland years! Of course, I’m grateful to still be on the path of learning. I’m sure my wife, my children, the followers of Jesus I am privileged to lead, and the pastors with whom I serve are all praying I will keep learning.
Recently, I was reminded of how much God desires for every person to know Him personally.
- God reveals Himself through His created world to all people (Romans 1:19-20). I am amazed that even in the Old Testament we find that this effort on His part is to all people…in all languages (Psalm 19:1-4a)!
- God more clearly reveals Himself to us through His written word…the Bible (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
- God most clearly and definitively reveals Himself to us through the Living Word, Jesus (John 1:14, Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:13-18)!
- God continues to reveal Himself to man…personally and individually through His Holy Spirit (John 14:16-20, 26-27)!
Ultimately, I am called to allow Jesus to form and shape me to be like Him! No, I am not there yet. But I am so grateful for the teachers, the professors, the pastors, and the leaders who have set the example for me. I am grateful for the presence of the master teacher, God’s Holy Spirit, in my life. And anyway, what would there be left to do or to be today, if you could arrive at the “know-it-all” destination?
Tim Pruit is Director of Missions for the Gila Valley Baptist Association in Arizona. He is also pastor of Pinal County Cowboy Church, founded originally by his father. He earned a bachelor's degree at Wayland in 1986.
From the History Files
The year 1948 was a monumental one in the Wayland history books. Seventy years ago, the little school on the Plains became a four-year senior college after 40 years as a junior college. Dr. J.W. Marshall was wrapping up his first year as president and determined to grow the college past the small regional reach. Over the years he succeeded, growing the population of international students to a high percentage.
The 1947-48 school year saw a record enrollment of 625 students, with 130 of those veterans. Earning senior-college status was a big step toward Marshall's growth plan. Wayland first branched out beyond Plainview in 1948, running a language school in Guadalajara, Mexico, during the summer.
But the rest of the year was just as historic. Guy Woods penned the song that would become the school's Alma Mater -- and still remains a tradition. The president's home, located at Eighth and Smythe, was completed at a cost of $60,000.
And the university's founder, Dr. James Henry Wayland, died in February due to surgery complications. Finally, the year marked the end of Wayland's football program and a focus on basketball as a flagship sport. Football would later return in 2012.
Meet your Alumni Board
Stephanie Ciszek Begg, a 2007 graduate, may live far from her alma mater, but her role on the Alumni Executive Board keeps her involved in the life of Wayland even from a distance.
"I like collaborating with other alums to help make a difference at WBU for the current students," says Stephanie. "I think the lifelong friends that were made at WBU and the experiences I had that I wouldn't have had the opportunities to otherwise are what I enjoyed most about Wayland."
A resident of Mesa, Ariz., Stephanie is a customer master analyst at Ricoh USA, where she works on projects analyzing customer data to maintain clean and accurate records and find solutions to problems for complex accounts. She enjoys being able to help both internal and external customers in that role.
Stephanie, who was married in November 2017 to husband Richard, joined the Board in July 2017. One of Stephanie's favorite memories from her student years was the Pioneer Band trip to Russia in 2006. That and her full experiences are what motivates her to serve and to stay engaged, and she encourages others to do the same in whatever way they can.
"It's an awesome opportunity to be able to give back to Wayland as I got so much out of my experiences and my education there," she says. "I encourage those who can to stay engaged, check out campus events, and give back to help current students the way previous alums helped you out when you were students."
T-shirt sales benefiting Alumni Association
Sale of the new t-shirts featuring the three-color new Wayland Alumni Association logo are helping to benefit the programs and projects of the association, including the Alumni Loyalty Scholarship for legacy students.
"We have had a great response to the shirts so far, with around 110 already sold and shipped out," said Teresa Young, alumni director. "Donations will help us to continue to start new programs to help alumni and connect with current students, and we plan to add to the scholarship for legacy students each year and be able to bless even more students."
Shirts are available for a minimum $15 donation to the association, payable by mailing a check to WBU Alumni, 1900 West 7th Street, CMB 1291, Plainview, Texas 79072. You may also make a secure gift online here with debit or credit card, listing the Alumni Association and shirt size in the text box that appears when "Other Designated Area" is chosen on the gift recipient pulldown. Shirts can be shipped to any location or picked up in the Plainview office. Shirts will also be available at alumni events around the country. For more information, contact Teresa at 806-291-3600.
T-shirts from the recent Jimmy Dean 90th Birthday celebration are also available for $20. Contact the alumni office at 291-3600 to purchase a shirt.
2020 Road Trip promotes campaign initiatives
The Impact 2020 capital campaign is launching with a virtual tour across the country. We'll be stopping in a plethora of cities and regions, and we're hoping you'll drop by and learn more. Breakfast is on us for folks who participate! The website will be ready in a few days, and we hope you'll "stop by" when we get to your city... or just stop by even if we're not coming to your hometown. Visit www.impactwayland.com to jump on the tour.