As we begin a year-long celebration of 125 years of quality Christian education, I have reflected on the history of our school in Keene. While a lot has changed over the years, our commitment to educating students in a Christ-centered environment for service and leadership has not changed. I believe the reason for the University’s steadfast course is due to the dedication of our faculty and staff over the past century and quarter to fulfill the school’s mission semester after semester in spite of the pressures of a changing world.
One particular faculty member comes to mind. Dr. William Kilgore, Professor of Religion. Bill began teaching in the religion department at Southwestern Adventist University in 1989, and he will retire at the end of this month after 29 years of dedicated service. Bill has personified our tagline of knowledge, faith, and service long before it showed up on our letterhead.
Building knowledge has been an important part of Bill’s life. Raised in a poor home by a dysfunctional family in rural West Virginia, he has come to value higher education. After putting himself through college, he finished a master’s of divinity degree and completed his doctor of ministry degree while raising his young family and continuing to serve first as a pastor, then high school teacher, and later a college professor. He is a wonderful educator, helping to support a strong academic program within his department. He was instrumental in creating a hands-on approach in the successful Field School of Evangelism program, a curriculum designed to teach theology students how to hold revivals in churches. Bill and his colleagues also initiated a student pastor internship program, placing students in local churches for a year to be mentored by the local pastors. As a teacher, Bill is humble and kind. He is loved by his students, many of whom affectionately call him “Papa.” Wise and reflecting the character of Christ, he is respected by his colleagues. It is no surprise that he earned the title “Educator of the Year” this past spring.
Bill has lived by faith. As a two-time cancer survivor, he has continued to rely upon the Almighty for strength and courage, a living testament to a loving God. A much sought-after speaker nationwide, Bill has delivered powerful sermons and lectures that have changed the course of many lives. He has helped our students, faculty, staff, and community members grow in faith by nurturing their personal Christian growth, forming ministry partnerships, and fostering local and global mission participation.
As a natural outflowing of Bill’s strong faith, he has provided service to the University and community, engaging employees and students in his quest to serve others. Several times per year Bill participates with other leaders and students in providing the homeless with a good meal, a smile, and encouraging words at the Presbyterian Night Shelter in Fort Worth. For 14 years, he has delivered a “Meals on Wheels” route, often taking extra time to just be a friend to an aging community member. Since 2010 Bill has visited the East Cleburne Community Center weekly, bringing along his international students to talk to the children about their culture and how it differs from the children’s own. He received a community award for this project both in 2012 and in 2018. For a number of fall seasons in Keene, Bill coordinated the effort to staff the annual StarFest city celebration with university student volunteers.
Bill reaches beyond his local community, spending his spring breaks leading mission trips. In his early years at the University, he led multiple trips to Romania and Mexico, building churches and providing VBS training. Most spring breaks since 2006, he has worked alongside other faculty, staff, and students volunteering at a local youth center in the Navajo Nation and providing various kinds of support to the Navajo community in Fort Defiance, Arizona. Rarely does Bill volunteer alone, as he is in the business of equipping those around him to serve. Through his humble servant example, Bill has prepared many students for a life of service.
For 125 years Southwestern Adventist University has been building knowledge, increasing faith, and serving the community and the world. I am so grateful for the many faithful, dedicated faculty and staff over the decades who, just like Bill, have committed years of their lives to fulfilling the mission of this school. Knowledge, faith, service. We are committed to fulfilling this mission for yet another 125 years.
This article is an opinion piece written by President Shaw for the Cleburne Times Review.