Spread across the lawn of Howard Payne University’s Old Main Park, members of the HPU family and other community members gathered Thursday afternoon for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Newbury Family Welcome Center.


The welcome center is being named in honor of former HPU president and current chancellor Dr. Don Newbury and his family.


A mix of affection, emotion and sprinkles of humor were on display as speakers told stories of Newbury’s accomplishments when he served as HPU’s president from 1985 to 1997. Newbury graduated from HPU in 1961.


Many of the audience members were seated under a large open air tent which shielded them from the hot afternoon sun.


Newbury was accompanied by his wife, Brenda, and other family members. Ever the humorist, Newbury sparked laughter when he said tongue-in-cheek, ""just three weeks ago, when I learned that this building was essentially pledged, maybe a little more, I thought of asking them to consider a statue too."


Deborah Cartwright, chairwoman of the HPU board of trustees, was the first to speak and referenced Old Main Hall, which wad destroyed in a fire in 1984.


"Many of you remember Old Main which was right here," Cartwright said. "Now we are at the shadow of Old Main, preparing for a welcome center that’s gong to welcome students and the community and other people to this campus for decades to come.


"How wonderful it is that we have Dr. Newbury as our chancellor and the person for whom this welcome center will be named."


Current HPU president Dr. Cory Hines described the groundbreaking as "a day of celebration as well as a day of new beginnings. Until May of 1984, Old Main was a front door for this university and was a pillar," Hines said.


"To say that I am thrilled and humbled with the opportunity that we have, as a university, to construct a new front door for Howard Payne for future generations would be an understatement. Today the dreams of so many people become a reality. There is no one that I know more deserving of this honor than Dr. Newbury."


Hines said Newbury "has given the majority of his adult life in being an advocate and serving our beloved Howard Payne. This new facility will be the front door and in many cases the first impression for future Yellow Jackets."


Brownwood Mayor Pro Tem Draco Miller said the new welcome center "will be a great asset continuing the Yellow Jacket experience. Every student, every parent, every staff member, every community, when they walk inside this welcome center, will know the Jacket experience."


Dr. Chris Liebrum, a 1973 HPU graduate and director of the Cooperative Program Ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, recalled the "challenging times" of the 1980s at HPU.


"Financially the school was at a challenging place," Librium said. "Student enrollment was way down. Morale by many measures was low. It was just not a place that we we would want Howard Payne to be.


"In the mid-’80s Don Newbury became the president of Howard Payne University. Praise the Lord. And he brought a fresh wind to this campus in every measurable way."


Liebrum said he saw "courage and wisdom" in Newbury.


After being introduced and receiving a standing ovation, Newbury walked to the podium and spoke for several minutes, sometimes with his trademark humor, at other times telling poignant and heartfelt stories.


"Not in my wildest dreams would such an event occur to me," Newbury said of the welcome center. "Speaking of wildest dreams, I asked Brenda the other day, ‘in your wildest dreams did you ever expect to have a husband like me?’ She said ‘you were not in my wildest dreams.’"


In more serious moments, Newbury said HPU "is the college where everybody is somebody … the ground at the foot of the cross is exceedingly level."


Students at HPU "feel like they matter. All lives matter," Newbury said.


"We’re standing on holy ground where many of us had classes in Old Main. That’s all there was, really, for many decades."


Newbury said he thinks the team at HPU is the "very best team ever in the 131-year history of our school, all dedicated to making this a better place.


"I know they’ll be ever alert to new ideas that are worthwhile, but keeping mind always, the old old story, that Jesus Christ is at the center of all good things and all glory lands at his feet."


Newbury concluded by saying "deepest thanks from me and my family for everyone coming, for enduring the heat, for believing in Howard Payne, for signing pledge cards."


In an earlier press release, HPU said  Newbury is fondly remembered among the HPU family for his friendly personality and leadership displayed throughout his time leading the university.


Newbury and his wife were known to frequently open their home to students and university personnel.


During his tenure as HPU president, the university added numerous new facilities, including the Mabee University Center, the Mamie D. McCullough Athletic Center and the Thompson Academic Complex, and experienced a major resurgence in student enrollment.


Before serving as HPU president, Newbury spent much of his career in higher-education leadership roles, including serving as president of Western Texas College in Snyder (1981-1985) and as community relations director at Tarrant County College (1967-1980).


He was a member of the Council of Presidents of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and served as the president of the Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association and its successor, the American Southwest Conference.


Newbury also worked in sports media, hosting radio programs and working as a correspondent for several major Texas newspapers. He has published several books and currently writes a widely published, weekly newspaper column called "The Idle American."