“The Lord made this hill for a college.”
These are the words of Reverend W. T. Tardy describing his vision for the highest point in Harrison County. The founder of what was then the College of Marshall could likely see this place from First Baptist Church of Marshall where he prayed about beginning this college for two years, not speaking a word to his congregation.
Texas Baptists, along with other Baptist conventions in the south, were reluctant to start new colleges because of the long-term costs associated with such endeavors. Tardy knew that he would face resistance, but he felt strongly that there was a need for a college in East Texas where a Christ-centered education could be life-changing for individuals and their families.
Tardy saw the transformation potential of the Gospel and higher education.
In his writing, Tardy recognized that is this reality would come to pass that it must happen with the support of the people of Marshall. Tardy records, “From the start, the town adopted the school as its very own.” It could be said that they not only adopted the college, but they birthed it.
Together P. G. Whaley and M. Turney gave the first $2,000 for this new Baptist school. From there, after some though negotiating and risky financing, 100 acres including that very hilltop overlooking downtown Marshall was purchased from the Van Zandt family and, with the sacrificial gifts of all kinds Christians across the city, $80,000 was raised for the construction of Marshall Hall which was completed in 1916.
In 2016, ETBU celebrated the 100th anniversary of Marshall Hall. The cornerstone contained items that represented the community of Marshall and their investment in this endeavor.
These physical symbols represented their commitment to a vision. In the 105 years since that cornerstone was laid, history is chronicled with stories of similar Christian institutions, which have strayed from their founding mission. However, the College of Marshall, East Texas Baptist College, and East Texas Baptist University have remained faithful to the mission God planted in the hearts of the founders and the people of Marshall.
In considering ETBU’s mission, it is important to see the ways in which the Christian worldview and this framework guide the University to equip students for their vocational callings. The bond that ties this institution to its Christ-centered identity is the integration of Biblical faith and learning throughout every aspect of East Texas Baptist’s academic, spiritual, and athletic programs.
East Texas Baptist University is best described as a community of Christian scholars and servants. Through their curricular and co-curricular experiences, ETBU students build relationships in the context of community, but this engaged community is not limited to the facilities of the campus. Students, faculty, and staff seek to live out their relationship with Christ inside the university environment and engage the community of Marshall as well as the world.
Through these activities, students are provided with an educational experience in which they develop holistically and become graduates who have learned to love, follow, and obey God more deeply and, in the process, serve Him and humanity selflessly.
Just as Marshall Hall and the College of Marshall stood for an engaged community then, today ETBU sends nearly every student to serve in the community for 12 plus hours each semester, totaling over 60,000 community service hours each year.
The Rev. W. T. Tardy had a vision that God intended a Christ-centered Baptist college on this very hill. Over one hundred years ago, the College of Marshall was the beginning of that mission. Today, Dr. J. Blair Blackburn carries forward that vision in the growing and thriving Christ-centered Baptist University that still sits on this hill. ETBU’s mission embodies the Great Commission Call from Scripture which calls Christ-followers to go and make disciples of all nations. The ETBU Family answers this call through the Kingdom ministry, training, and deployment received and executed from this Hill in Marshall, Texas, to local communities, the United States, and across the globe.
By Dr. Thomas Sanders
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
East Texas Baptist University