“Community” is a nebulous substance, difficult to physically discern while at the same time readily apparent when it exists. But it is certainly something that develops when people with mutual goals associate, and in order for that to happen, they must congregate… somewhere.
For the Brownwood/Brown County community, that place has been – for almost half a century now – the Brownwood Coliseum. On Tuesday night, it was the scene of the annual meeting of the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce where the contributions that numerous citizens have made to this community were celebrated.
And for the Howard Payne University community, that gathering place has been – since 1922 – Mims Auditorium. For more than two years, the current crop of HPU students has missed a lot of what students who went before them have experienced – in Mims. Instead, since 2007, they have assembled across Austin Avenue in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church. Its nearby location has helped ease the displacement created by the Mims renovation, and the willingness of that congregation to make its facilities available has served to further strengthen HPU’s ties to the city. But now that the extensive renovations at Mims are complete and the dedication ceremony has been held, that true on-campus experience can be renewed.
“Chapel” was not the most eagerly anticipated event among students when I attended Howard Payne four decades ago. But attendance was mandatory, unless you had a job to go to at 10 a.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If not, the Mims stage was home to worship services, informational campus programs and entertainment on a rotating schedule.
For my circle of friends, “chapel” was probably the one thing we complained about most – even more than green bologna in the cafeteria. Yet, whenever HPU alumni gather, it seems that what we experienced during chapel are high among the memories we talk about most.
There was the time Cactus Pryor showed up disguised as a pompous, double-talking foreign dignitary. There were the times when historic figures like Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Lloyd Bentsen, Gen. Chappie James Jr. and Pete Bucher (commander of the USS Pueblo that was hijacked by North Korea in 1968) addressed us.
And there were memorable student programs as well, including those by my contemporary Cynthia Clawson Courtney, now an award-winning musician and Austin church leader who returned to Mims yesterday to participate in the dedication.
It’s odd that so often, the things you resist – the things you wish you didn’t have to do, like chapel attendance – become the things you remember most fondly.
In the long history of Mims Auditorium, I was a regular visitor there for less than three years, because a part-time job here at the Bulletin allowed me to obtain one of those cherished chapel passes for part of my junior, and all of my senior years. Now, I wonder what I might have missed.
Mims is back now, however, better than ever. And as a result, generations of Howard Payne students, faculty and administrators will be able to form their own “community” right where it’s been happening for decades, and will be happening for decades to come.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at gene.