Sen. Boozman Meets With Williams Baptist University Trustees

The Board of Trustees at Williams Baptist University welcomed U.S. Senator John Boozman to their regularly scheduled meeting on Friday, Dec. 4.  The Arkansas senator joined the trustees for lunch and heard an update on recent developments at WBU in general and on the Williams Works program in particular. The Senator also shared news from Washington with those gathered.

“We were honored to have Sen. Boozman back on the Williams campus and to hear firsthand about important issues facing our nation and our region,” said Dr. Stan Norman, president of WBU.  “We were also grateful to have the opportunity to share with him the exciting things happening at WBU, especially about the new initiatives we recently launched as part of our Williams Works initiative.” 

WBU launched the Williams Works initiative this fall.  Students selected for the program work 16 hours per work throughout the fall and spring semesters, and in exchange their tuition and fees are covered.  Students who work full-time through the summer can also have their room & board expenses paid, giving them the chance to graduate debt-free.

“It is great to be on a campus when you can talk all about the important things that need to be discussed, but also a campus where you can share your faith and that is really at the center of everything and thanks for the great job everyone here is doing,” Boozman said. “I’ve enjoyed hearing about the Williams Works program and I think it is a great thing for students and we look forward to seeing it grow in the future.”

About half of the board attended the socially-distanced meeting in person, while other board members took part virtually.

Norman briefed the board on WBU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, noting that the university has been able to maintain in-person instruction throughout the fall semester and plans to continue doing so in the spring semester.

“The pandemic has presented multiple challenges to our campus, and it has impacted a number of families that are dear to us.  We have taken this very seriously,” the president said. “WBU has taken a proactive approach toward contact tracing, quarantines and isolation for those who test positive, and that approach has enabled us to keep the campus open.”

Norman noted that WBU has had options for students to attend classes virtually, enabling them to keep up with their coursework if placed in quarantine or isolation due to covid-19.

“This has been a challenging year, to say the least, but in the midst of it, we have been blessed.  I am so thankful for this campus community in pulling together and meeting these challenges directly,” Norman added.

New Board of Trustee Members (L to R): Trey Stafford, Ben Rainwater and Clint Emfinger

The board also welcomed several new trustees at the meeting.  Trey Stafford of Jonesboro and Dr. Ben Rainwater of Little Rock are starting their first terms as WBU trustees, while Dr. Heather Moore of Cabot and Clint Emfinger of Searcy are returning to the board after serving previously.

The Williams Board of Trustees is composed of 24 members.  They are selected by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, which owns and operates the university.

WBU is a private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge.

First National Bank of Lawrence County Gives to WBU

A gift from First National Bank of Lawrence County will benefit the Williams Works initiative at Williams Baptist University.  Chief Financial Officer Amy Fitzgerald of First National presented the $7,500 donation to WBU President Dr. Stan Norman on Thursday.

“First National Bank of Lawrence County is a tremendous friend to WBU,” said Norman.  “Their longtime, generous support has helped Williams become the university it is today.  This gift helps us continue the momentum of the Williams Works initiative, where students work their way to an academically excellent, Christ-centered university education.”

WBU launched the Williams Works initiative this fall.  Students selected for the program work 16 hours per week through the fall and spring semesters, and in exchange their tuition and fees are covered.  Those who work fulltime through the summer can also cover their room and board expenses, giving students the opportunity to graduate debt-free.

First National Bank is headquartered in Walnut Ridge, with branches in Bono, Hoxie, Imboden and Pocahontas.  The bank has been a supporter of WBU for many decades.

WBU is a private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge.

Williams Baptist Library Hosts Territorial Arkansas Exhibit

Territorial Arkansas: The Wild Western Frontier will be displayed at Williams Baptist University October 6 – 14. The traveling exhibit tells the story of the Arkansas Territory, and it will be on display in WBU’s Felix Goodson Library.

The exhibit consists of 15 panels that explore the history of Arkansas Territory though the collections of the Arkansas State Archives and their branch archives, the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives in Powhatan and the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives in Washington.

On March 2, 1819, President James Monroe signed a congressional act that established Arkansas Territory from the southern portion of Missouri Territory. The new territory was a wild frontier on the western edge of the United States, where politicians settled debates by deadly duels.

Formerly a colony of France and Spain, the land had only become part of the United States 16 years prior as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. After its creation, Arkansas Territory had an influx of settlers who established small communities and isolated homesteads.

Territorial and county governments were set up, businesses opened, and workers of various trades moved to the territory to help it flourish. Initially Arkansas Territory included what is now Oklahoma, but through changes in boundary lines and the relocation of Native Americans further and further west, the territory’s land was reduced to its present size in 1828. After 17 years as a territory, Arkansas was admitted to the Union on June 15, 1836, as the 25th state.

“I am very pleased that Williams Baptist University is sharing Territorial Arkansas: The Wild Western Frontier with their visitors and community,” said Dr. Wendy Richter, the Arkansas State Archives’ Director. “Created to commemorate the Bicentennial of Arkansas Territory, this exhibit allows us to bring the incredible Arkansas Territory resources of the Arkansas State Archives to local communities throughout the state.”

Admission is free, and the exhibit will be open during regular library hours.   Felix Goodson Library is located at 91 W Fulbright near the west entrance to the WBU campus. For more information, contact Joel Olive at (870) 759-4139 or

Williams is a private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge.

WBU Board Celebrates Enrollment Jump, Maintains Current Tuition Cost

The Williams Baptist University Board of Trustees conducted its regular fall meeting on the university campus Friday, September 11.  It marked the first gathering of the full board on campus since December 2019.

The full board was unable to gather for its April 2020 meeting due to shelter in place directives and limitations for group gatherings issued last spring by Gov. Hutchinson.  The board’s executive committee met on behalf of the full board and conducted the April meeting via conference call.

“It was wonderful to welcome students back to our campus in August after a five-month absence, due to the pandemic, and it was wonderful to welcome our trustees back to campus Friday.  We have a great board, and it was exciting to share good news about Williams,” said WBU President Dr. Stan Norman.

The board applauded the report on the university’s enrollment for the fall semester.  WBU’s on-campus enrollment is 580 this semester, an increase of more than 12 percent since last year and 27 percent over the past two years.

Counting graduate and off-campus sites, overall enrollment is 619, an increase of 12 percent since last fall.

“Our enrollment management team led a very successful, campus-wide effort that resulted in the largest freshman class in the modern history of Williams. Decisions made by this board over the past two years laid the foundation for that success, so it was gratifying to share the good news with them,” Norman said.

The president also reported on the successful launch of Williams Works. Students selected for the Williams Works initiative work 16 hours per week through fall and spring semesters to cover their tuition and fees, with the chance to work through the summer to cover room and board.  WBU welcomed the first 44 students into the initiative this fall.

The board approved Norman’s recommendation for cost of tuition to remain the same for the 2021-22 school year.

“In these unsettled times, we feel it is prudent to keep tuition costs as they are for another year,” Norman said. “We want to help our students and their families receive an outstanding, Christ-centered education that is also affordable. We believe no increase for tuition next year is the best way to achieve this goal.”

The board voted to increase room and board charges by five percent to address rising infrastructure costs. Other actions approved by the board were: adoption of an investment plan to manage the university’s endowment; approval of additional members for the Foundations for the Future board; and approval of the recommendation from the nominating committee for the next year’s board officers and committee chairs.

The board received an update on various summer projects and improvements to campus facilities. The stage in Manly Chapel was expanded to provide a larger practice and performing venue for the growing concert band program.

A contribution from the university’s food service vendor, Fresh Ideas, provided resources to purchase new kitchen equipment, expand the pizza station, and enlarge the student dining area of Mabee-Gwinup Cafeteria.

And the Spirit Store was relocated to a remodeled area adjacent to the campus post office. The relocated Spirit Store allowed for the creation of a student lounge next to the campus grill.

Also at the meeting, Dr. Sonny Tucker, Executive Director for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, gave a brief report on the support and appreciation of the ABSC for WBU. Dr. Tucker shared that Arkansas Baptists across the state are excited for the recent enrollment growth. He also commended the university for the newly launched Williams Works program as a way to keep a Christ-centered education affordable for Arkansas Baptists.

Bobby Thomas, President and CEO of the Arkansas Baptist Foundation, gave an update on the performance and financial health of the university’s endowment. The board also heard a report on the school’s overall financial health from the university’s auditor, Lisa Stephens.

Dave Russell of Jonesboro will remain board chair for the upcoming year.  In addition, the board elected James Miller of Melbourne to serve as vice chair and Jody Smotherman of Batesville as board secretary.

Three board members were recognized for completion of their terms of service: Rev. Theodis Brown of Hot Springs; Mr. John Hill of Jonesboro; and Dr. David Moore of Little Rock.

The WBU board is composed of 24 members, appointed by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.  The board has three regularly scheduled meetings each year, in April, September and December.

Williams is a private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge, Ark.

Williams Baptist University Notches 12% Enrollment Gain

A challenging time for higher education hasn’t slowed enrollment growth at Williams Baptist University.  WBU’s on-campus enrollment for the fall semester increased more than 12 percent over last year, marking the second straight year of double-digit gains for the private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge, Ark.

Numbers were up across the board at WBU, including a record-breaking freshman class.  The growth was propelled by the university’s new Williams Works initiative and strong recruiting numbers for WBU athletic teams and music groups, among other factors.

“There are many people across campus who worked very hard to bring these students to Williams, overcoming the hurdles of a very challenging year.  Beyond that, it is clear to us that these incredible enrollment numbers far exceed our human abilities.  Simply stated, God is blessing WBU in a mighty way, and we are both humbled and deeply thankful to Him,” said Dr. Stan Norman, president of the university.

WBU’s on-campus headcount this fall is 581 undergraduate students.  That number reflects a 12.4 percent jump from last fall’s figure of 517.  Williams saw an even larger increase in its full-time equivalent, or FTE, which is a critical budget figure for colleges and universities. The on-campus FTE stands at 594, a 14 percent increase over last year.

WBU has 220 freshmen on campus this fall, a record in the modern history of the university, in addition to 67 students who transferred to Williams or are otherwise new to the school since last year.  The total population of new students is up eight percent over last year.

Returning students also gave WBU’s enrollment a boost.  The 294 on-campus returners reflect a 17 percent increase.

More students are living in WBU campus housing, as well.  Williams has 422 students in its residence halls this fall, an increase of 11 percent.

“Everyone at WBU deserves a thank you for their hard work in bringing students to this institution.  Vice President for Enrollment Management Angela Flippo and the admissions and financial aid staffs did amazing work.  Our coaches and the directors of our music groups recruited diligently and very effectively for their programs, even with the many restrictions necessitated by the pandemic.  The effort by our entire university family was tremendous,” Norman commented.

“The Williams Works initiative brought in more than 40 students in its first year, accounting for a significant share of our growth, not to mention the level of excitement it continues to generate both on and off campus,” the president said.  WBU launched Williams Works this fall, giving selected students the opportunity to work in exchange for their cost of education.

In addition to its on-campus numbers, WBU saw growth in its online programs.  Williams offers two online master’s degrees in education, as well as an online bachelor’s in criminal justice.  Combined, those programs account for 39 students this fall, a 30 percent increase.

Total enrollment moved above the 600 mark, with 620 enrolled overall at WBU, and that number stands to increase as off-campus extension sites report numbers in the days ahead.

“The most exciting thing is what these numbers and percentages represent.  These numbers reflect young men and young women with their adult lives before them, lives that can be transformed by the Christ-centered commitment and academic excellence of Williams Baptist University.  It is humbling to realize the impact WBU will have on their lives, and the impact their lives will have on the world,” Norman said.

It is the second year in a row for WBU to experience double-digit percentage growth.  On-campus headcount has increased by 126 students since the fall of 2018, which is a 27 percent jump over two years.

WBU began its fall semester on Tuesday, August 18.  Enrollment figures were compiled after the university’s fall enrollment period ended Friday.

Williams Baptist University Presents Doctorate to Jerry Gibbens

Jerry Gibbens, who served for more than half a century as an English professor at Williams Baptist University, was presented an honorary doctorate by WBU Saturday.  The honor was bestowed during the university’s commencement exercises.

Man receives honors during graduation ceremony

“It is astounding to think of the contributions Jerry Gibbens has made to Williams Baptist University through more than 50 years of service.  His intellect, his dedication to academic excellence and his exemplary Christian commitment are hallmarks of his tenure at WBU.  As I remarked to him, it was one of the highlights of my own academic career to present him the doctoral hood,” said WBU President Dr. Stan Norman.

The presentation was made by Norman and Dr. Kenneth Startup, a longtime academic dean and emeritus professor of history at Williams.

“Jerry Gibbens has been a faculty member of truly singular significance during his long, distinguished tenure at Williams,” Startup said.  “His passion for teaching, his remarkable skill as a teacher, his love for learning, his unfailing support of his colleagues and of the university and its mission are unlikely to be surpassed.”

Gibbens, a WBU alumnus, returned to his alma mater in 1967 as a member of the English faculty, serving for 53 years in that capacity before retiring this spring.  He was also chair of the Division of Arts and Sciences and the Department of English and Communication Arts.  He was named an emeritus professor upon his retirement.

Dr. Blake Perkins, chair of the WBU Department of History, had recommended to the Williams administration and Board of Trustees that Gibbens receive the honorary doctorate.  His recommendation was read at the commencement ceremony.

“Professor Gibbens has also been an exceptional colleague and outstanding mentor to fellow faculty members over the years.  As a faculty member, department and division chair and committee member, he has been a stalwart champion and promoter of the highest-quality of Christian liberal arts education,” Perkins’ citation read.

WBU’s commencement had been scheduled originally for May, but it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  It was rescheduled for Saturday with social distancing protocols in place, giving graduates and their families the opportunity to celebrate the milestone.

Dr. Christopher Hair Joins Williams Baptist University English Faculty

Williams Baptist University has announced that Dr. Christopher Hair will be joining the WBU English faculty this fall.  Hair, who has more than 20 years experience in higher education, will serve as professor of English, chair of the English Department, and chair of the Division of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Christopher Hair

“Dr. Hair is a great addition to our already outstanding English faculty.  He is an accomplished scholar in the study of literature, and he excels in classroom instruction.  He has an abiding Christian faith which he integrates seamlessly into his teaching.  We are blessed to have his talents and his leadership on our faculty,” said Dr. Stan Norman, president of Williams.

Hair served for the past three years at Oklahoma Baptist University, where he was associate dean of humanities and social sciences and chair of the Division of Language and Literature.  He also taught for ten years at Emmanuel College in Georgia, with previous teaching duties at Oklahoma State University, Baylor University and the University of Kentucky.

Hair earned his Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky, where he specialized in British renaissance literature, with a special focus on the 17th century, especially Milton.  He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Baylor University.

“We are delighted to welcome the Hair family into the WBU campus family and the Walnut Ridge community.  They will be a great fit here, and we look forward to everyone getting to know them,” said Norman.

Hair and his wife, Amanda, have four children: Ethan, age 19, Becca, 17, Sarah, 12, and Lilli, 9.

WBU is a private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge, Ark.

Williams Baptist University Students to Manage Hotel Rhea

The Hotel Rhea will soon be under the management of students at Williams Baptist University. Through the university’s new student work initiative known as Williams Works, students will manage and operate the historic hotel in downtown Walnut Ridge.

A woman and four men pose for photograph while signing a document

WBU recently signed a lease agreement with Snapp Family, LLC, which has operated The Hotel Rhea since buying and thoroughly renovating the facility in 2013.  The lease signing is picture above.  Front row (left to right) are Charles Snapp, Jackie Snapp and Dr. Stan Norman.  On the back row are Brayden Brewer and Dr. Brett Cooper.

“Charles, Jackie and Carrie Mae Snapp are longtime friends and supporters of WBU, and they have made available a great opportunity for our students to work and get ‘real world’ work experience in the process,” said Dr. Stan Norman, president of WBU. “The Hotel Rhea provides a welcome addition to our Williams Works program and strengthens our connection to downtown Walnut Ridge.  We are very excited about this initiative.”

Hotel Rhea is on Main Street in Walnut Ridge and dates back to 1904. The hotel covered most of a city block at the time it was built. A fire in 1914 destroyed all but the current remnant of the structure. The Rhea is now a boutique hotel, with four large suites which were renovated to match the history of the facility.

Jackie Snapp, who has managed the hotel since her family acquired it, came up with the idea to have WBU students run the facility after reading about the Williams Works initiative. Jackie is a WBU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business, and she recalls the impact Williams had during a difficult period of her life.

“At 34 years old I found myself divorced and a single mother of two. I was more than overwhelmed by other institutions. I went to Williams, and Dr. Swaim took me by the hand and got me where I needed to go. I was on my way,” she said, recalling the assistance of Dr. Jerol Swaim, a former academic dean who went on to serve as president of the school for 17 years.

“Williams was the best decision I made.  It gave me the education I needed, but most importantly it gave me the self-confidence I lacked,” she said.

Her husband, Charles, is mayor of Walnut Ridge and excited to see WBU’s increasing presence in the downtown area. “We grew up in a time when downtowns thrived, and we understand the need for revitalization of those areas. Industry is changing, and quality of life factors, like a vibrant downtown, are the future,” he said.

“Youthful direction helps establish the future of our community, not to mention the insight youthful minds bring, and that’s the future in itself,” the mayor added.

Charles’ sister, Carrie Mae Snapp, also has longstanding connections to Williams, where she taught oral communication and drama in the 1980s. She said she is very pleased to extend her family’s connection to the university.

“Having taught at Williams, I understand how they work to prepare students for life after graduation. As an instructor I was invested in the students’ education but also their work after graduation,” she said.  “To have an opportunity that allows WBU students hands-on experience in a real business operation will add a level of training well beyond the normal classroom. I’m proud to be a part of continuing education for Williams and for continued growth and revitalization for Walnut Ridge.”

WBU announced its Williams Works initiative last fall and will welcome its first students into the program this fall. Students selected for Williams Works will work 16 hours per week during the school year, and in exchange will have their tuition and fees covered. Some will also work full-time in the summer months to cover their room and board expenses, giving them the opportunity to graduate debt-free.

Brayden Brewer, a senior from Piggott, Ark., has been hired as student manager of the Hotel Rhea. As a finance major, Brewer has been steeped in business courses at WBU, and he plans to call upon that knowledge in running the hotel. He will be assisted by Williams Works students, who will tend to cleaning the hotel and other tasks as needed.

“Brayden is a fine student and a great choice to help us launch our management of the Hotel Rhea. We believe he will receive invaluable, real world experience, as will the Williams Works students who assist him. That is just one of the many benefits of our works initiative, and we hope to have many more opportunities like this one in the years to come,” Norman said.

The hotel is open again for reservations, after being closed for several months due to the coronavirus pandemic. “We are taking all necessary steps to assure the rooms are thoroughly disinfected and safe for all guests before every stay,” Norman said.

The WBU president noted that as a boutique hotel, the Hotel Rhea offers guests a no-contact reservation and check-in system, which should be reassuring to guests during the pandemic.

For the Snapp family, renovating and operating the hotel has been a labor of love, but Jackie said she is now happy to hand over management to students from her alma mater.

“I’m in awe at the growth WBU has experienced since my graduation and so look forward to watching the Williams Works program evolve,” she said. “I am honored to be able to give back to Williams, they gave me so much.”

Those wanting to book a room or get more information can visit the hotel’s website at

Putman to Join WBU Administration/Faculty

Dr. Rhyne Putman, a Williams Baptist University graduate and highly regarded theologian, is returning to his alma mater.  Putman is joining the administration and faculty at WBU this fall as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, Director of Worldview Formation and Professor of Christian Ministries. 

In his role as AVP for Academic Affairs, Putman will serve as Dean of the Faculty and will be responsible to provide academic leadership for faculty and academic programming.  As Director of Worldview Formation, he will have primary responsibility for developing and implementing strategies that facilitate worldview formation for the university community. As a member of the faculty, Dr. Putman will provide classroom instruction in the areas of Bible, Christian worldview, theology, and other courses related to the department of Christian Ministries.

Putman graduated from Williams in 2005 and went on to earn an M.Div. and Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  He was hired onto the theology faculty at the seminary and has been serving there ever since.  He has also been the Pastor of Preaching and Vision at First Baptist Church in Kenner, La., since 2017.

During his time at NOBTS, Putman has become one of the foremost theologians in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a recognized scholar in the areas of theological method and worldview formation. His publications include When Doctrine Divides the People of God: An Evangelical Approach to Theological Diversity and In Defense of Doctrine: Evangelism, Theology, and Scripture. His forthcoming book, The Method of Christian Theology, is scheduled for release fall of 2021. 

“Dr. Putman has distinguished himself in his field of study, and he has excelled as a professor.  He is one of the most prominent young theologians in the field today.  He is a credit to WBU as an alumnus, and we are blessed to have him and his family return to Williams in this role,” said Dr. Stan Norman, president of WBU.

“Rhyne embodies the ideals of a pastor-theologian. He has the mind of a scholar and the heart of a pastor. He understands the importance of local church pastors having a solid biblical foundation and a Christ-centered theological formation,” Norman said. “Rhyne is joining a Christian Ministries faculty that instills in our students a love for the Lord and a love for His church.”

Putman said he is excited to work in a university setting. He believes it is vitally important to impart spiritual truths at this stage of their lives.

“I am excited to put my training in worldview formation to use in a more global setting—to help build a robustly Christian liberal arts education in a university. We can shape minds who see the world through the lens of the gospel, develop rich habits, and stir affections for Christ,” Putman said. 

“College students are away from mom and dad for the first time in their lives. They are discovering who they are, and this is a crucial time in the formation of their worldview. My hope is to help students find their place in the grand drama of the gospel. This is God’s world, and no matter what vocation we train for, we all have a pivotal part to play in the story he is telling,” he noted.

The hire is doubly special for Norman, who served as a systematic theology professor at the New Orleans seminary and taught Putman as a student.  The two have remained close friends in the years since.

“Rhyne was a gifted student, and I was blessed to share in his theological formation. It has been a pleasure to see him gain prominence as a pastor and a theologian,” Norman said. “Rhyne also has a true heart for ministry and a love for the local church. As a committed churchman, he has a deep appreciation of the important role and relationship that Arkansas Baptist churches have with WBU. These traits will serve him well as he trains and prepares the next generation of ministers to serve in ministry in the local church as well as the marketplace.”

Norman noted that Putman’s influence will not be limited to Christian ministry majors. Putman will also provide interim leadership to campus ministries. “He will be a perfect fit at WBU, where he can reach students in the classroom and help shape the lives of young men and women all across this campus,” said the WBU president. “Rhyne will have the opportunity to interact with students in a broad array of academic fields who are preparing for a wide range of careers.” 

Putman and his wife, Micah, are both Jonesboro natives.  They have two young children.