Texas Wesleyan University in southeast Fort Worth has been a Methodist institution since its founding in 1890. Through the years, the university’s ties to First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth continue to grow.
Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth is on the move. Over the last few years, the 125-year-old Methodist institution (and oldest university in Fort Worth) has seen significant growth in the areas of campus improvements, enrollment, and awareness, and the university has made major progress toward revitalizing the surrounding Polytechnic Heights neighborhood in southeast Fort Worth.
What you may not know is that Texas Wesleyan’s proud history and bright future is closely intertwined with leadership from the congregation of First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth. Several FUMCFW people are a big part of Texas Wesleyan — yesterday and today.
To begin, here are three key FUMCFW people with deep ties to Texas Wesleyan University. Dr. Tim Bruster, Senior Pastor of First Church, has been a devoted member of the Texas Wesleyan Board of Trustees since 2003 and recently introduced Texas Wesleyan President Fred Slabach when he spoke to the Fort Worth Rotary Club. Louise Canafax, donor of the new clock tower that serves as the centerpiece of the “Rosedale Renaissance” Project at the university, was both a Texas Wesleyan graduate and longtime First Church member. Finally, recent past chairman of the Texas Wesleyan Board of Trustees Kenneth Jones is also a former chairman of the First Methodist Church of Fort Worth Foundation. Also, reading forward, watch how often the name Baker appears!
Dr. Law Sone, the longest-tenured president in Texas Wesleyan history, serving in that role from 1935 until 1968, joined FUMCFW with his wife immediately following his retirement from Texas Wesleyan. Dr. Sone, along with longtime board chair Edward Baker Sr., brought Texas Wesleyan into the modern era. Dr. Sone’s tenure included such firsts as the establishment of the college’s group life insurance and hospitalization benefits, accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, establishment of an employee retirement program, and the construction of a large portion of the current campus. Today, the Law Sone Medal is the university’s most prestigious honorary award and has only been given three times. On Saturday, February 20, 2016, at Texas Wesleyan’s 125th Anniversary Gala at the Worthington Renaissance Hotel, President Frederick G. Slabach honored U.S. Representative and First Church member Kay Granger with the medal. Previous recipients of the award were Louella and Nicholas Martin, and Kenneth H. Jones Jr.
Louella Baker Martin (aka Lou) currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Texas Wesleyan Board of Trustees and served as chair of the university’s 125th Anniversary Gala. Her family has been involved with Texas Wesleyan since it was founded in 1890. James B. Baker Sr., Lou’s grandfather, served on the Board of Trustees from 1895 to 1912 and was instrumental to the development and advancement of Texas Wesleyan. At FUMCFW, Mr. Baker was also the chairman of its building committee when our current majestic facility (then known as First Methodist Episcopal Church, South) was constructed. The stock market was falling as ground was being broken, and the trowel used to lay the cornerstone of our church in 1890 was handed to Mr. Baker by Bishop Joseph S. Key of the Texas Annual Conference. Lou’s father, Edward L. Baker Sr., served on the Board of Trustees from 1945 to 1969, one of the most transformational periods in the university’s history.
In 1996, Louella and Nicholas Martin funded the move to campus of the original home of Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Baker Sr. from its previous location in the Riverside area. This involved removal of the brick, cutting the house in half, moving it via flatbed truck, and reassembling it in place. In 2001, the Martins funded the transformation of the auditorium in the Ann Waggoner Fine Arts Building from its original structure to a state-of-the-art venue for performing arts, complete with upgrades to sound, lighting, and facilities. The venue, now known as Nicholas Martin Hall, is a true gem on the Texas Wesleyan campus. In 2006, the Martins funded the creation of Lou’s Place, an informal gathering space for banquets and receptions adjacent to the previously relocated original home of Lou’s grandparents.
During the university’s recent 125th Anniversary Gala, Lou and Nick Martin announced their generous naming gift to kick off Texas Wesleyan’s new University Center fundraising campaign.
Dr. Lamar Smith serves on the Texas Wesleyan Board of Trustees. He was the interim university president from 2010 – 2011, prior to the appointment of current President Fred Slabach. His wife, Beverly Sone Smith, is the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Law Sone. She is the oldest of the Sones’ three children, and literally grew up on the Texas Wesleyan campus.
In recognition of Dr. Smith’s lifelong commitment to the United Methodist Church and Texas Wesleyan, the Rev. Dr. Lamar Edward Smith Center for Evangelism & Church Growth within the UMC Central Texas Conference Service Center was named in his honor. The Center is part of the Rosedale Renaissance revitalization project and now offices Bishop J. Michael Lowry and the Central Texas UMC Conference staff.
For more than 70 years, Dr. Smith has had a personal and professional relationship with Texas Wesleyan. Following his discharge from the Navy in 1946, he entered Texas Wesleyan College and distinguished himself as a campus leader and scholar. During his graduate studies, he returned to campus to serve as the chaplain and an admissions recruiter. He organized the Alumni Association and served as its first president in 1952.
Dr. Smith’s first church appointment was in 1955, when he served as Associate Minister at FUMCFW. Over the next decade, he helped enlist more than 5,000 new members to the church. His later appointments took him to Wichita Falls, Baton Rouge, and Conroe. Prior to his “retirement” in 1997, Dr. Smith was provost of the Texas Annual Conference and assistant to Bishop J. Woodrow Hearn in the Houston area. This is his 30th year on the First Church staff.
Are you also involved with Fort Worth’s oldest Methodist institution? Email Lamar Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) to share your Texas Wesleyan stories. What to learn more? Visit Texas Wesleyan online at txwes.edu.