Evangel University, the first Pentecostal liberal arts college chartered in America, opened its doors on September 1, 1955. There were 87 students in that first class. Since that day, Evangel’s student body has grown to more than 2,000, and more than 20,000 have graduated over the years.
Leading the charge
In those early days, there were only a few men who dreamed about a school like Evangel, where Assemblies of God students who weren’t necessarily called to “pastoral ministry” could study the arts and sciences. Where a student’s faith would be nurtured and his or her life’s calling could be discovered. However, not everyone shared those dreams. It would take more than a desire to make Evangel a reality.
The Rev. Ralph M. Riggs, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God at that time, was known as “Mr. Education” in the AG. Against some strong opposition from many members of the Assemblies of God, Riggs spearheaded the movement to create Evangel, and after several earlier attempts failed, the resolution to create Evangel finally passed at the 1953 General Council in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Finding a home
Once the resolution was approved, a location for the new college had to be found.
Around the same time the search for Evangel’s new home had begun, the U.S. government declared the land and buildings of O’Reilly General Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, as surplus property. The hospital was built during World War II to treat wounded soldiers and was always meant to be a temporary site. After a short stint as a veterans hospital in the post-war period, O’Reilly was shut down in 1952.
Ralph Riggs, along with several other leaders in the movement, stood on the ground of O’Reilly General Hospital and prayed, asking the Lord to let the site be used for Evangel College.
After Assemblies of God executives mailed a 51-page application to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare on April 26, 1954, months went by with no word. Following that, complicated negotiations ensued. The AG knew that any city, county, state or federal agency that wanted the land would receive preference. Still, the leaders prayed.
After much more prayer and a few final obstacles to overcome, the AG received the deed to 57 1/2 acres of O’Reilly property on December 8, 1954. Evangel opened its doors to the first freshman class on September 1, 1955.