WT’s Hill Chapel to be renovated

By Chip Chandler

A beloved West Texas A&M University landmark will undergo the first major renovations in its 72-year history after a $1.5 million gift from the High Plains Christian Ministries Foundation.

Exterior and interior work will begin in the summer of 2023 on the Joseph A. Hill Memorial Chapel following the gift, which was announced during an April 13 press conference inside the chapel.

Named for the University’s second president, the chapel’s first cornerstone was laid on June 9, 1950. One of few chapels on the campus of a public university in Texas, the Hill Chapel serves students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community at large.

“This generous investment by the High Plains Christian Ministries Foundation will restore the chapel as a center for spiritual values and education at WT,” said WT President Walter V. Wendler. “Former WT President Hill unapologetically stood for education and spiritual understanding—purposes still prevalent in this chapel and on our campus. Indeed, these views are consistent with and supportive of the Panhandle's values as a unique place to live and work.”

High Plains Christian Ministries Foundation, in the largest gift in its history, donated $3 million in February 2021 to fund the Baptist Community Services Nursing Education Floor in Harrington Academic Hall WTAMU Amarillo Center.

This additional donation is meant to be “a continuing spiritual gift to WT and its students, faculty, employees and guests,” said Steve Dalrymple, president, CEO and chief legal officer of Baptist Community Services.

“The Hill Chapel’s continued presence on the campus will be a place for those who come through its doors to seek comfort, replenishment and spiritual growth, regardless of one's spiritual background,” Dalrymple said.

Renovations will include new exterior doors, repaired stonework and sidewalks, LED lighting, remodeling of rooms on each side of the chancel, new flooring and extensive landscaping. The chapel also will be brought into compliance with the American with Disabilities Act.

The gift—which does not include any new naming rights for the chapel—will include $1.1 million for renovations and $400,000 to establish an endowment to provide for ongoing maintenance.

In 1944, a campaign was organized to raise private contributions to build a chapel on the campus of then-West Texas State Teachers College. In 1950, construction was completed on the 2,590-square-foot chapel. Today, it stands as a testament to Hill's determination to provide a place for student prayer, mediation and reflection.

“Let it always be remembered that this is a place of worship,” Hill said at the chapel’s dedication on Oct. 21, 1950. “Let everyone who comes here come with … open heart as into the presence of God Himself.”

The red sandstone facility includes stained-glass windows and rings carillon bells daily. Students use the space for prayer, religious studies, meetings, inductions, memorials, worship services and weddings.

More than 100 weddings have been performed in the chapel since 2014, when Jack B. Kelley Student Center took over operations. Countless others had been performed there in the chapel’s history.

The foundation’s gift will supplement an existing endowment for the chapel, set up in 2018 by Patsy Cunningham Vaughn in memory of her husband, Dr. Ronald D. Vaughn, a longtime dentist in Guymon, Oklahoma, among other cities. The couple attended WT and were married Aug. 15, 1959, in the chapel.

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