There is a new era beginning at Evangel University. Following the May 2014 retirement of President Robert H. Spence, who served as president of Evangel for 40 years, Dr. Carol Taylor has taken the helm as president. With the 2013 consolidation of Evangel, Central Bible College and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Evangel is now a comprehensive Christian university, offering undergraduate through doctoral degree programs. As a consolidated University, Evangel celebrates more than 190 years of rich history in Christian higher education.
Founding of Evangel
Evangel University, the first Pentecostal liberal arts college chartered in America, opened its doors on September 1, 1955.
In those early days, there were only a few men who dreamed about a school like Evangel, where Assemblies of God students’ 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.
Central Bible College
The founding of the General Council of the Assemblies of God in 1914 was marked by an emphasis upon the need for training ministers and missionaries. Central Bible College (CBC) was established in 1922 in response to this need.
CBC’s inaugural classes assembled in the basement of the old Central Assembly of God church building. The crowded quarters, which included only two classrooms, were soon outgrown. Businessmen contributed $5,000 for purchase of a 15-acre tract on North Grant Avenue, and construction began. With a student body of 132, Central Bible College occupied its new building, Bowie Hall, in 1924. The first class was graduated in 1925. Later, more land was acquired, increasing the size of the campus to 32 acres.
Along with establishing a fully operational campus, a solid foundation of Biblical principle and practical training was laid by leaders of CBC through the early years.
Adding to Central Bible College’s rapid growth, three other schools merged with CBC: Bethel Bible Training Institute of Newark, New Jersey in 1929; South Central Bible College of Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1953; and Great Lakes Bible Institute, Zion, Illinois, in 1954.
The first full-time president was Bartlett Peterson, who began his administration in 1948. In the same year CBC inaugurated its fourth year of course work, leading to a bachelor degree, and became a charter member of the Accrediting Association of Bible Colleges. Under the leadership of Philip Crouch, the name was changed from Central Bible Institute to Central Bible College. Many new facilities were added to the campus throughout his presidency.
CBC’s campus and program offerings continued to grow through the early 2000’s. When a vision was cast for consolidation to occur, CBC’s programs were proposed to help form a new School of Theology and Church Ministries. That vision has become a reality, as students and faculty from CBC have assumed vital roles while integrating and becoming part of Evangel.