Union University — Back on Track
by Tim Ellsworth
Union University students moved into fourteen new student housing buildings when they returned to the campus for the fall semester, less than seven months after a tornado destroyed much of the university's existing student housing.
Incoming freshmen and transfer students moved onto campus September 4, with upperclassmen returning September 6. Classes for the fall semester began on September 8.
"Our ten-year plan for replacing our student housing has become a six-month plan," Union University President David S. Dockery said. "Construction has proceeded ahead of schedule, and we are grateful to God for providing for us in this way. It is truly overwhelming to think about where we were on February 6 and where we are now."
The two-story residence buildings replaced the old Watters and Hurt complexes, which housed about seven hundred students and sustained heavy damage in the February 5 tornado that caused an estimated $40 million in damage to the Union campus in Jackson, Tennessee. None of the buildings in those two complexes was salvageable and both were demolished the week of February 11.
On February 22, Union broke ground on the new student housing complex. Original plans called for half of the fourteen buildings to be ready by the start of the fall semester, with the other half to be completed by the spring semester in 2009.
But the two contractors working on the project — Worsham Brothers Construction Co. of Corinth, Mississippi, and Brasfield Construction Co. of Jackson, Tennessee — managed to finish the task earlier than expected.
"This is highly unusual to complete a project of this magnitude as quickly as we have," said Ken Brasfield, president of Brasfield Construction. "As I sit back and analyze what's happened, I think Union's need is what motivated the response. Everybody has had a total commitment and a passion to make sure that the job was completed by September 1."
The fourteen new student housing buildings encompass about 158,000 square feet and house 699 students.
The complex ultimately will consist of four "quads," each with four buildings. The quads have been named Watters, Hurt, Ayers, and Grace. Initial plans called for the completion of two quads, plus three buildings in each of the two remaining quads.
A men's commons and a women's commons buildings originally were planned to complete each of the final two quads, but university leaders have decided to construct only one commons building. The remaining quad will be completed by a fifteenth residence building, which is under construction and scheduled to be completed later in the fall.
Construction on the commons building likely will begin during the fall semester.
The new student housing facilities are located in the former location of the Watters and Hurt complexes.
The apartment-style suites in the new housing complex accommodate four students, each of whom will have a private bedroom. Each suite also features two bathrooms, a kitchenette, and a washer/dryer. Each building in the complex contains thirty-nine, forty-seven, or fifty-five bedrooms.
All downstairs apartments contain a safe room to provide storm shelters for students.
In addition to the fourteen new buildings, the university has rebuilt two buildings — Gray and Dodd — in the Heritage Residential Complex. MG Construction Co. was responsible for the reconstruction of those two buildings, which house seventy-eight students. MG also handled the renovation of Jennings Hall, an academic building which sustained heavy damage from the tornado. Jennings reopened for the fall semester.
Union University held a dedication ceremony for the new student housing complex on September 12.
Tim Ellsworth is a member of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee, and is director of news and media relations at Union University.
Still Faithful at 100 Years Old
"I thought I was going to get all of this when I got to heaven," W.L. Baker said on his 100th birthday.
Nearly five hundred people turned out to hear Baker preach, and citations from President George W. Bush and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen were among the honors he received for his longevity — and seventy-five-plus years in the ministry.
But the highlight of the celebration was Baker himself, particularly when he stood to deliver his sermon on Deuteronomy 34 during the morning worship service at Silver Springs Baptist Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.
"Moses linked his whole life to a worthy cause and he spent all of his last day on earth climbing, and I hope to do the same," Baker told the gathering.
"On Moses' last day, when he climbed the mountain, the Lord was waiting for him at the top," Baker said. "I am excited about that time when my last day comes and my Lord greets me in death and smiles. Until then, I want to press on .... God didn't put us in the world to look at small things, but big things."
He challenged the audience: "You are not living for today. This morning you are living for eternity."
Baker, who retired in 1973 after twenty-four years as pastor of First Baptist Church in Donelson, Tennessee, never really "retired." Since 1973 he has held twenty-eight interim pastorates and served as interim director of missions for the Wilson County Baptist Association just east of Nashville.
In addition, Baker serves as associate pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee, where he leads the Wednesday night prayer meeting and Bible study.
He also preaches on Sunday mornings and evenings at every opportunity. Baker regularly fills the pulpit the first Sunday evening of every month at Dry Creek Baptist Church in Dowelltown, Tennessee, where his longtime friend Donald Owens is pastor.
Silver Springs pastor Russ Stephens asked Baker three years ago to preach at the church on the Sunday closest to his 100th birthday. When Stephens realized the date would actually be Baker's birthday, he worked with Baker's daughter Ann Sloan to plan a celebration.
Stephens and others emphasize, however, that Baker's life is not just about longevity.
"It is what he has done with his life," Stephens said, describing Baker as his mentor, role model, and friend.
Stephens said he still marvels at Baker's "unique insight into Scripture, as well as his physical activities. It is a joy to hear him tell of his experiences with some of the great Baptist giants of times past — L.R. Scarborough, W.O. Carver, George W. Truett, A.T. Robertson, and others."
Most of his experiences with those men were during his seminary days, first for a year at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and then at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he graduated in 1932 and is counted as the oldest living alumnus.
"There's no way to describe how much those two years meant to me," Baker said of his studies at Southern Seminary. "Dr. [E.Y.] Mullins was gone by then, but Dr. [John R.] Sampey was there and Dr. Carver was one of my instructors. Anyone who went in Dr. Carver's class and stayed long and didn't come out with his heart burning for missions, then something was wrong with him."
The most valuable lesson he learned at Southern Seminary? Baker does not hesitate with an answer: "Love for the Bible. They instilled in me a great love for the Lord and the Bible."
For the ensuing four decades Baker pastored three churches in Tennessee: Hopewell Baptist Church in Springfield (1932-42), First Baptist Church in Jonesboro (1942-49), and First Baptist Church in Donelson (1949-73). Baker has outlived two wives. His first, Bonnie, died of cancer in 1952. Their union produced Baker's only child, Ann. His second wife, Olive, also died of cancer, in 1982.
One of the keys to his longevity and continuing fruitfulness, Baker says, is very simple: watch the diet and exercise. He executes a brief regimen of exercises each day and takes regular walks. The key to his longevity and usefulness in the ministry? Baker says that answer is equally simple: "Memorize the Scriptures."
"I would tell young ministers to memorize as much of the Bible as possible while they have the mind to do it," Baker said. "The highlight of my life along that line was when I was at my first church and I was wrestling with the problem of what to preach the next Sunday. I wrestled with that quite a while and in three or four weeks was doing it again, and I felt an impression come to me, 'Why don't I preach Jesus' sermon?' So I committed the Sermon on the Mount to memory and it has been the greatest blessing in my ministry."
Adapted from reporting by Jeff Robinson, director of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist & Reflector of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.