WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. – The Board of Trustees at Williams Baptist University took part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the renovation of Startup Chapel Tuesday, Sept. 26. The board, meeting in regular session on the Williams campus, also gave its approval to creation of WBU’s Center for Healthy Families, which will foster a Christian understanding of communities and families.

Board members, along with donors and other friends of WBU, took up ceremonial shovels to officially launch construction at Startup Chapel. The historic chapel, dating back to World War II, is going to be thoroughly renovated, including a refurbished auditorium and a new addition at the rear of the structure.

“Startup Chapel is the one element that ties together every student who has attended college on this campus,” said WBU President Dr. Stan Norman. “Students throughout the wonderful history of Southern Baptist College, Williams Baptist College and now Williams Baptist University all share great memories from this chapel, and we are delighted to see it restored to new life.”

Construction is slated to begin this fall on the $1 million project. Startup Chapel is named in honor of longtime academic dean and history professor Kenneth Startup. The chapel is actively used for theater productions and other events.

The chapel project is to be fully funded by donors, including a $200,000 gift from the J.E. & L.E. Mabee Foundation.

In other matters, trustees voted to approve the Center for Healthy Families, to be started this year at Williams. The stated purpose of the center is “to collectively build healthy communities in which restoration in the areas of intellect, emotion, spirit, and vocation are in line with the Creator’s intent for human flourishing.”

The center will be led by Dr. Stephen & Tracy Bell of the Williams faculty. Stephen Bell is director of graduate and professional studies, as well as professor of family studies and social work. Tracy Bell is associate professor of family studies and social work.

“In my mind, the family is our greatest mission field,” Norman said. “This center gives WBU an opportunity to reach out to individuals and families and help them restore relationships that are broken. It is intended to help both our campus community and those outside of the university.”

Faculty with the Williams Teacher Education Program (WTEP) were recognized for a recent honor bestowed upon the program. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) recently announced that WTEP is a recipient of the 2023 Frank Murray Leadership Recognition for Continuous Improvement.

“Recipients of this honor provided evidence and data trends to achieve national accreditation with no stipulations or areas for improvement during the CAEP accreditation visit in 2022,” said a statement from CAEP. “The WTEP is one of only 21 educator preparation programs in the United States and abroad to receive this distinction from CAEP in 2023.” 

Certificates were presented to Dr. Charlotte Wheeless, chair of WTEP; Dr. Chris Hair, chair of the division of arts & sciences; Carol Halford, chair of the department of health and physical education; and Lynn Pennington, instructor of music education. All four were involved with the successful CAEP accreditation visit.

And the board offered its appreciation to four trustees who are rotating off the board after this meeting. Lance Brewer, Jeff Dial, Johnny Hutchison and James Miller have completed two terms on the board. WBU trustees are appointed by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Terms extend for three years, and members are allowed to serve two consecutive terms before rotating off for at least a year.

Williams is a private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge.

*photo of Groundbreaking (Cutline: From L to R: Dana Kelly, Dr. Pat Taylor, Milton Smith, Melinda Williams, Dr. Stan Norman, Luke Colley, Dave Russell)