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The Jacob's Dream sculpture at Abilene Christian University. The Williams Performing Arts Center can be seen in the distance.
Inside Story
Photo provided by Abilene Christian University

Trip conjures nostalgia for time spent at Abilene Christian University

Editor travels to West Texas to report on debate over sexual stewardship policy.

ABILENE, Texas — I don’t bleed purple, but I do have fond memories of Abilene Christian University.

As best I can remember, I first visited the West Texas campus nearly 40 years ago.

The year was 1984. 


Related: ACU rebuffs the left and the right in reaffirming its sexual stewardship policy


I was 16 years old.

That summer, after my sophomore year of high school, I flipped burgers at McDonald’s and attended a journalism camp at ACU. The staff of The Wigwam, the student newspaper at Keller High School, made the 165-mile trip from the Fort Worth area to Abilene. We stayed in an ACU dorm.

A yearbook spread about the Keller High School student newspaper in the 1980s.

A yearbook spread about the Keller High School student newspaper in the 1980s. A young Bobby Ross Jr. is pictured in three of the photos.

One night, we ordered pizza from Domino’s. That’s noteworthy only because I lived in a rural area, and I’m not sure I’d ever experienced pizza delivery before.

My friends and I enjoyed the journalism camp so much that we returned again the next summer. By my senior year of high school, I was pretty sure I’d major in journalism at ACU and work on its award-winning student newspaper The Optimist.

The University of North Texas — closer to my home in Keller — tried to recruit me to its journalism program. However, my parents made it clear I needed to choose a Christian university. 

On my college entrance exams, I listed ACU, Harding University and Oklahoma Christian University as my top choices. My dad is a graduate of Freed-Hardeman University, but that seemed too far away.

I never officially committed to ACU, so I didn’t need to enter the transfer portal (college football fans will understand this reference) when I changed my mind. 

Oklahoma Christian sent a recruiter named Steve Eldridge to visit me at home, and he told stories about the amazing camaraderie and opportunities on the student newspaper The Talon. 

Bobby Ross Jr. met his future wife, Tamie, at Oklahoma Christian University.

Bobby Ross Jr. met his future wife, Tamie, at Oklahoma Christian University.

Even better, Oklahoma Christian offered me more scholarship money than ACU. So I chose a university in a state I’d never entered until I showed up for the presidential scholars banquet in 1986.

In my four years at Oklahoma Christian, I met my future wife, Tamie, and made lifelong friends such as fellow journalism majors Steve Lackmeyer and Murray Evans. Steve, Murray and I later worked together at The Oklahoman. Even today, they remain two of the Oklahoma City newspaper’s top reporters.

I have no doubt God put me where he wanted me — Oklahoma. I even became a Sooners football fan.

But ACU maintained a special place in my heart. 

I was blessed to meet the late Charlie “Doc” Marler, the legendary longtime chair of ACU’s journalism program, when he came to speak at Oklahoma Christian around 1988. I remember eating lunch with him and Philip Patterson, The Talon’s faculty adviser, at Johnnie’s Burgers, a favorite during my student days.

After I covered the Oklahoma City bombing for The Oklahoman in 1995, Charlie invited me to share my experience at ACU’s Bible lectureship. 

Some of the stories that Bobby Ross Jr. wrote after the 1995 bombing are shown at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

Some of the stories that Bobby Ross Jr. wrote after the 1995 bombing are shown at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

I picked the written word, not oral speech, for a reason, but I couldn’t say no to Charlie. Plus, he took me to eat at Catfish Corner, a greasy — and extremely tasty — place that he loved.

From 2003 to 2005, I worked in the Dallas bureau of The Associated Press. During that time, I first connected with Cheryl Mann Bacon, who succeeded Charlie as ACU’s chair of journalism and mass communication. 

Cheryl is now, as most Christian Chronicle readers know, retired from that role and serving as a contributing editor for this newspaper. 

With stellar reporting such as her “Where have all the churches gone?” series, she has established herself as one of our top correspondents. She still lives in Abilene, where she dotes on her three grandchildren with a fourth on the way.

Since joining the Chronicle staff in 2005, I’ve visited ACU a number of times and made other friends such as Kenneth Pybus, the current journalism chair, and Ron Hadfield, editor emeritus of ACU Today magazine. 

Ron and I enjoy talking baseball. A Michigan native, he’s a devoted Detroit Tigers fan. I might have mentioned that I prefer the Texas Rangers.

Ron Hadfield and Bobby Ross Jr. work together on a reporting project at the old Texas Rangers ballpark in 2018.

Ron Hadfield and Bobby Ross Jr. work together on a reporting project at the old Texas Rangers ballpark in 2018.

In 2009, Chronicle President and CEO Erik Tryggestad and I traveled with former ACU President Royce Money and others to report on the Texas university’s partnership with a Ghanaian Christian college.

My first trip to Abilene in a few years brought back all those memories.

I headed to ACU this week to report on the recent debate over the university’s sexual stewardship policy. It’s a controversial story but also an important one, so I filled my gas tank and hit the road.

Enjoying lunch in Abilene, Texas, are Kenneth Pybus, James Wiser, Bobby Ross Jr., Wendy Kilmer, Cheryl Mann Bacon, Joey Roberts, Neal Coates and David Swearingen.

Enjoying lunch in Abilene, Texas, are Kenneth Pybus, James Wiser, Bobby Ross Jr., Wendy Kilmer, Cheryl Mann Bacon, Joey Roberts, Neal Coates and David Swearingen.

As always, the friendliness and thoughtfulness of the ACU community impressed me. So did the chicken-fried steak I enjoyed with Abilene friends at Lytle Land & Cattle steakhouse.

Maybe I do bleed a little purple.

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: Abilene Abilene Christian Abilene Christian University Charlie Marler Cheryl Mann Bacon Christian universities Inside Story National Oklahoma Christian University Opinion Tamie Ross Top Stories

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