Longtime Wayland trustee, supporter honored with award

PLAINVIEW -- Wayland Baptist University celebrated the kickoff event of its Center for Student Leadership and Involvement by celebrating the life of one of its greatest supporters.

Gene Owen, longtime trustee and friend of the university, was presented the inaugural Legacy Leadership Award at the luncheon leading off the High Plains Leadership Summit. With an audience full of Wayland officials and students and Owen’s family and friends, Leadership Center director Hope English presented Owen as a model of leadership and integrity for generations to come.

“There is not a doubt in my mind that today’s honoree has spent his entire life leading, serving and inspiring others – straight from his heart,” English said. “Leadership is not a formula or a program; it is human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. The capacity to care for others, especially those less fortunate, is the thing that gives life its deepest meaning and significance. And such is the case for this amazing man who has, first to last, made his devotion to the cause of Christ his life’s testimony.”

Gene is the youngest of four children born to Dr. and Mrs. A. Hope Owen, who served as Wayland’s president and first lady, respectively, from 1953-63. His relationship to Wayland actually began when his father served as pastor of Plainview’s First Baptist Church, though he was already in college when the family moved to West Texas. After graduating from Baylor Law School, Owen moved to Plainview to join his father-in-law’s law practice. Soon, however, the military would call Gene to serve during the Korean War, and he packed up his wife Mary Frank and their first daughter, Jeffre, and served at Air Force bases in San Antonio and New York.

The family returned to Plainview in 1953 just before a son, Rudd, was born. Two more children followed – a son, Ross, and a daughter, Dayna. The family was involved in their church and community, with Gene serving in leadership roles in the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the Hale County Industrial Foundation, the Plainview Area United Way, the Salvation Army, the State Bar of Texas and many more.

“It seems that every aspect of this community has flourished under the influential leadership and loyal service of Gene Owen,” English said. “But probably the two leadership experiences that are nearest and dearest to his heart are… Wayland and the James and Eva Mayer Foundation.”

Owen served on the Wayland Board of Trustees for most of the past 35 years, holding every office available at one time or another. The board adopted a Resolution of Appreciation to Owen in 2001, highlighting his countless acts of service and lifetime of commitment, his wisdom and humor, and his role as “mentor, friend and even as a conscience to fellow board members.”

English noted that Wayland president Dr. Paul Armes spoke of Owen’s generosity, providing countless hours of legal services for the university at no charge over the years.

“He told me that Gene has such a sincere desire to support the leaders who serve this university, and perhaps, most importantly, Gene has the heart of his father, a pastor’s heart that encourages and empowers others to do their best,” English related.

Owen has also served for many years as a trustee for the Mayer Foundation, an entity that has contributed $2.5 million into the Plainview community and the area, with a significant amount of that going to Wayland.

English quoted friends and family, who used terms like statesman, patriot, gallant and honest to describe Owen. She also quoted a 1982 article by Rudd Owen about his grandfather, Dr. Owen, drawing a parallel between Gene and his father.

“‘My grandfather’s influence over the people and growth of this community is one life’s immeasurable. Wherever and whenever he served, he did it with dignity, dedication and delight. One of the many letters we received after his death stated it best – Faith was his trademark, love was his hallmark, and Hope was his name,’” English read. “And may I simply add to that, like father, like son.”

“Gene Owen, your diploma may say Baylor, but you have proven to us over and over that your big and loving heart says Wayland,” English said in presenting the award to Owen.

The Legacy Leadership Award will be presented annually in conjunction with the High Plains Leadership Summit, a half-day event for Wayland students featuring a luncheon focusing on leadership and afternoon breakout sessions on various aspects of leadership.