Wayland honors veterans, military heritage in centennial chapel

PLAINVIEW – Surrounded by Old Glory and flags from all the states that are home to its campuses, Wayland Baptist University staff and students honored military service personnel, veterans and the heritage of military tradition in its Centennial Military Salute Chapel held Wednesday.

The audience began with the “Star-Spangled Banner,” led by former Miss Wayland Terra Watson, followed by the pledge to the American flag, led by Wayland senior Crystal Schmalzried, a senior and Marine Reservist. Miss Wayland Kristen Blakely led the pledge to the Christian flag, and Dr. Kevin Sweeney, associate professor of geography and history, read the scripture and gave the opening prayer.

Micheal Summers, director of church services, spoke on the connections to the military that Wayland has had locally, starting most noticeably in the 1940s, when many military support organizations – such as the War Bond Committee – were formed. After World War II ended, the returning military veterans, many coming on the new GI bill, brought a new energy and revived the university which struggled financially when most male students left for war.

Summers noted that after the war, new veterans’ organizations such as the Eagle-Anchor Veterans Club were formed to celebrate the servicemen and offer them a time of fellowship. One such member, Henry Rieff of Cotton Center, was present for the chapel service and was recognized for his service to the country from 1941-46. Rieff earned his bachelor’s degree at Wayland in 1951.

Dr. Bobby Hall, executive vice president, shared about the continued military connections Wayland has through its external campuses, many of which are located on military installations. In total, Hall said Wayland teaches on 20 different bases and forts across the country, from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Almost half of Wayland’s external campus students serve in some branch of the Armed Forces.

“Your fellow Wayland students in the military today are not just attending class in the relative safety of U.S. military installations. They are also in the mountains of Afghanistan, the skies over Baghdad, the deserts of the Middle East, and patrolling the oceans of the world,” said Hall. “They are not just going to school; they are defending your freedom, making possible the way of life you safely enjoy, and sometimes, making the ultimate sacrifice for the citizens of the nation they love.”

Dr. Otto B. Schacht, professor of business and dean of the School of Business, encouraged prayer for the families of military servicemen and women and the stresses they endure, then led the chapel audience in prayer for those families. Schacht retired in May 2008 after 37 years of military service, the last 30 in the U.S. Army Reserves, where he reached the rank of Colonel.

During the chapel service, Major Gen. Edgar Murphy – retired himself from the U.S. Army National Guard and the chairman of the WBU Board – presented Schacht with The Legion of Merit medal for meritorious conduct over the past 10 years of his service upon his retirement. His wife, Madonna, was also honored with the Essayons Award by the Army Engineer Association for leadership to the Army Corps of Engineers Regiment while supporting her husband in his service.

Murphy encouraged students in particular to consider their own service to the country, whether in military or reserve service or in other ways.

“You will look back and say, ‘What did I do for my country?’ and you’ll remember that these freedoms we have weren’t free,” Murphy said. “You have an obligation to pay your country back somehow. Think about the opportunities you have and don’t waste them.”

After Dr. Charles Starnes, assistant professor of management, lead the audience in “God Bless America,” Wayland president Dr. Paul Armes led a prayer for the nation and its leaders, namely President George W. Bush and President-Elect Barack Obama, as they transition the country’s administration. The prayer of benediction was given by Jimmy Fikes, assistant professor of religion and business and whose son serves in the Navy.

The Anchorage campus was opened in 1985 as the fifth extension location, with classes also held in Fairbanks, and eventually that location became its own campus. The campus has four 11-week academic terms each year, offered primarily in the evenings and on weekends to assist working adults and military personnel with completing their degrees. With an enrollment of around 500, the Anchorage Campus offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a variety of fields. Dr. Eric Ash serves as executive director for the campus.

Headquartered in Plainview, Texas, the Wayland system also includes a campus in Hawaii, two in Arizona, two in New Mexico, one in Oklahoma and four others in Texas. The school was chartered in August 1908 by the State of Texas and began offering classes in 1910. It was founded by a gift of $10,000 and 25 acres of land from pioneer physician Dr. James H. Wayland, who had a medical practice in Plainview and served a 300-mile radius by horse and buggy.

For more information, contact the campus at (907) 333-2277.