A Brief Biograph of A. Hope Owen

This short biography was written by Estelle Owens, historian of Wayland Baptist University:

ALBERT HOPE OWEN was born in Wise County, Texas, just outside Decatur, on 23 April 1897. He was one of fourteen children born to Albert Hannibal and Harriet (McAllister) Owen. The family moved to Deaf Smith County in 1913 where he grew up in First Baptist Church, Hereford, and participated in Baptist Young People’s activities. He spent a brief period as a cowboy on the famed XIT Ranch and attended Decatur Baptist College where he swept floors and shined shoes to pay his expenses. In 1918, he served five months in the U.S. Army, receiving his basic training at Texas A&M. World War I ended three months after he was drafted and he never left the country, but his older brother Joseph was killed while serving in France.

Following World War I, he worked with another brother in Owen Furniture Company, Chickasha, Oklahoma, before being called as pastor of Verden Baptist Church. While at Verden, he married Sue Lucille Kilman on 2 August 1922. She was from Greenville, Texas, educated at Burleson College, and was teaching school in Chickasha at the time of her marriage. They eventually became the parents of four children: daughter Hope and sons Kip, Bruce, and Gene.

Both of them graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University in 1924. The yearbook said of him: “While others flaunt dreams about what they do, he is ever striving to make his dreams come true.” One of those dreams was a seminary education. The Owens moved to Fort Worth so he could attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. While in school there, he pastored the Vickery Baptist Church. From 1926-30, he served as pastor of Clinton Baptist Church, Clinton, Oklahoma, before moving to Kentucky to attend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. The Owens had been in Kentucky for two years when he earned a ThM in 1930 and simultaneously served as pastor of Woodburn and Salvisa Baptist churches.

During the 1930s, he served four different churches as pastor. In 1932, he began his ministry at Central Baptist Church, Muskogee, while he continued his studies at Southern long distance. They moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1933 where he pastored First Baptist Church and served as president of the New Mexico Convention and as chaplain of the New Mexico Senate. Their ministry at FBC, Quanah, Texas, extended from 1936-39 before they returned to New Mexico to First Baptist Church, Albuquerque until 1941. From 1941-46, Owen was pastor of FBC, Shawnee, simultaneously serving as a trustee of OBU which conferred an honorary doctorate on him in 1942. They moved from Shawnee to Plainview, Texas when he became pastor of FBC in 1946. The pastor of FBC had always been a trustee of Wayland Baptist College; he was no exception, serving from 1946-53 on the college’s Board. That same Board of Trustees named him president 1 July 1953, and he served exactly ten years.

During his presidency, the college saw enormous growth of its physical plant, its endowment, and its reputation. Granted full membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and in the Association of Texas Colleges, Wayland was fully accredited as a four-year college during his tenure. The first black students in any college in the Southern Baptist Convention graduated from Wayland in 1954 (see photo).  In 1959, Wayland received the largest gift ever given to any Southern Baptist school up to that point, and Dr. Owen significantly increased the college’s endowment to $2.5 million. He told the Board in his State of the College message in 1959: “Wayland Baptist College was cradled in West Texas. The story of the founding and growth through 50 years is an epic of profound interest. Wayland has always lived and operated near the perilous edge of want. However, we cannot doubt that God has had His hand on this college.”

Upon his retirement in 1963, the Owens went to the Philippines and served briefly as missionaries, fulfilling a longtime dream. She died 9 August 1977 in Plainview and he on 1 August 1981.