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Teague: Hilltop Imagineer

By on December 7, 2018 in ACU News with 0 Comments

The text of Dr. Cheryl M. Bacon’s profile of Dr. William J. Teague in the 2005 edition of The ACU Century.

Bill Teague won the pizza and the halftime shoot-out one night during his presidency in a contest designed to encourage students to attend Wildcat basketball games.

He occasionally took the floor during time-outs, or in an impromptu Chapel pep rally, to lead students in his favorite cheer: “YEAAAA TEEAAAMMMM FIGHT!” That night he couldn’t resist a contest.

“I won the shoot-around and started back to the scorer’s table. I’m dribbling the ball. I turned around and underhanded it to the basket and it went in,” he recalled.

For the rest of the season, friends badgered him to do it again. With a smug chuckle, he replied, “Why would I want to do it twice?”

Teague regularly played with faculty and staff in ACU’s own NBA – the Noon Basketball Association.

Dr. John Robinson (’60), professor emeritus of history, described Teague as “a good medium-range shooter who played aggressively on the offensive end, but not on the defensive end, despite our urging.”

“I was willing to pass, but only to someone who could make the goal better than I could,” Teague explained.

Teague’s success on a basketball court, and in life, began several decades earlier.

“I graduated from high school in Nocona and went to the University of Texas. I walked on to try and play basketball because I’d had a stellar career at Nocona.” Indeed, the compact point guard had led his team to the 1944 Class A state championship.

After two summers and a freshman year in Austin, the draft board was taking more interest in young Teague than the Longhorn basketball program.

“My brother said, ‘You’d better volunteer for the Navy or you’re going to be in the walking Army.’ ” So Teague volunteered in Austin and rode a crowded troop train from Houston to San Diego, where he served four years and fell in love with Peggy.

Margaret L. “Peggy” Newlen was 16 when she met Bill. The couple dated two years and married June 4, 1948, at El Cajon Boulevard Church of Christ, where Teague preached occasionally. After discharge from the Navy, his desire to preach led him back to Texas with his wife and son, Tom.

Teague became infatuated with ACU his first year here, he said. And that passion became a family trait.

“The first two words I ever put together were ‘Beat McMurry,’ ” Tom (’72) told the Centennial Champions Luncheon audience in May 2005. “There was no greater passion for my family than their love for ACU.”

Thus, after Bill graduated from Abilene Christian in 1952 with a degree in Bible and speech, and his family expanded with Susan’s (’74) birth, he wanted to work for the college full time. “So, I started looking for a job that needed doing that nobody was doing,” Teague said. He went to Don H. Morris’ office determined to talk his way into employment.

“I said, ‘President Morris, I’d like to be of service to ACC,’ and he said, ‘Oh, good.’ A guy could have walked off the street and said that to him, but I guess he liked me better than someone off the street.”

Teague pitched a job in sports information. Morris offered him one as Alumni Association secretary and immediately sent him to Austin where alumni were forming a chapter.

“I’ll call Ray McGlothlin and tell him you’re coming down,” Morris told Teague. McGlothlin (’49) was in graduate school at UT; he and Teague had never met. Teague recalls the alumni gathering as successful. So was a meeting some 29 years later, when McGlothlin, then ACU Board of Trustees chairman, traveled to Oklahoma City at the urging of the Board’s executive committee in search of a successor for Dr. John C. Stevens (’38).

Teague was a vice president at Kerr-McGee, an energy company. His corporate background there and at Purex was widely heralded when he became president. But McGlothlin said trustees were less interested in Teague’s business experience than his earlier roles with ACU, two years at Harding University and eight at Pepperdine University, all in administrative fundraising.

That fundraising prowess marked Teague’s presidency.

Like his earliest predecessors, he became the university’s chief development officer, completing multiple campaigns while navigating storms of controversy. “‘Dealing with controversy’ would almost be a caption you could make of those years,” McGlothlin said. “Yet, if you look back over the Teague presidency, the plusses exceed the minuses by a considerable amount. He brought spirit and optimism to the campus, a forward-looking, building atmosphere that we probably lacked.”

During the decade that began with Teague’s inauguration Feb. 20, 1982 (he took office Aug. 27, 1981), and ended with his transition to chancellor in 1991, the university’s endowment increased from $18 million to $56 million. Construction of the Mabee Business Building and the Onstead-Packer Biblical Studies Building framed a new front door for the campus. The Honors Program was begun. KACU became KACU-FM, a National Public Radio affiliate. For the first time, women were elected trustees, and Patsy (Powell ’48) Duncan became the first female vice president.

Yet, during the 1980s, enrollment flattened, and the cohort of high school seniors decreased. Operating deficits worsened as the oil-dependent Texas economy slowed, and margins narrowed.

Teague understood narrow margins. In California, two Teague Congressional campaigns, in 1968 and 1970, had ended in losses to Democrat Richard Hanna, who eventually went to prison in the aftermath of the 1977 “Koreagate” scandal. In 1968, Teague lost by one tenth of one percent.

“That first night when he knew he’d lost,” Peggy recalled, “he hand-wrote letters of appreciation to anyone who had done anything to help him in his campaign – about 200.”

Throughout the Teague presidency, Betty Whiteside, his administrative coordinator, typed scores of similar letters. Notes signed “WJT,” or sometimes just “Bill,” still can be found tucked in a bottom desk drawer of employees from that era.

“A lot of people thought he was pretty tough, and he was,” Whiteside said. “But when anything happened to a faculty member or staff member or they reached a milestone worthy of praise, he would write and brag on them about it.”

Whiteside worked for presidents Morris, Stevens and Teague. “Stevens had an open-door policy,” she recalled. “He wanted people to drop in. He would go out in the hall to talk to people as they came by. Dr. Teague stayed in his office with a full schedule. He was always busy,” she said. “He worked very hard. But he always had a great sense of humor.”

An articulate public speaker, Teague could be passionate and inspiring, but his humor endeared him to audiences when he often stated glibly what others only thought. In 2001, he presided at KACU-FM’s 20th anniversary dinner, appropriate for the man whose voice in 1951 had signed KACC on the air and served as its first student manager. The dinner speaker waxed on for nearly an hour. When he finally concluded, Teague returned to the podium and deadpanned, “We are now selling breakfast burritos in the foyer.”

Teague humor sometimes hinted not-so-subtly at unmet expectations; he once observed that the person in charge of a botched event “couldn’t organize a two- car funeral.”

Staff understood well that Teague’s expectations were lofty. He set a high bar for productivity, carrying home baskets of work each night and reviewing stacks of papers on long car trips while a driver carried him to the next business or fund-raising appointment.

Yet he consistently honored people who worked hard and met his high ideals. He created Caring, Serving and Excelling Awards to recognize individuals whose deeds otherwise might have gone unnoticed, and he enjoyed surprising people with honors and other unexpected accolades.

Excellence was at the heart of Teague’s vision.

“A commitment to excellence and a commitment to some kind of elegance,” Teague says of the goals he brought to the office. He insisted, for instance, on creating public events that would inspire donors and friends with the warmest feelings and highest regard for ACU’s competence, style and creativity. The standards he created continue today, with few people aware of how much Teague influenced them.

He also was committed to showing critics that Christian higher education could mean a first-rate experience in every regard. “A Christian school need not take a back seat to anyone on academic excellence because it was Christian,” he said. But he knew academic excellence required excellent faculty and knew that many were due to retire about the time he became president.

“My greatest fear was where I was going to find faculty members,” Teague said of ACU’s policy of requiring full-time professors to be active members of a Church of Christ.

Dr. Ira Hill (’56), research chemist and entrepreneur from Locust, N.J., told Teague about an MIT program that involved alumni and outside experts as consultants to academic programs. Teague believed such a program might be a tool for identifying prospective faculty. With Hill’s help, the director of MIT’s program came to campus to talk to faculty, and ACU’s Visiting Committees were born.

Teague’s first fundraising challenge as president was for a project already underway. Stevens had earlier secured a $500,000 commitment from the Brown Foundation for a new Brown Library wing, and the deadline was approaching.

“I made a short list of best prospects for helping get the rest of that money, and we started working them, and we met the deadline,” Teague said.

Teague recognized, however, that future campaigns could be more difficult.

“I saw pretty early that the number of major givers we had was limited, and after we went through two or three building programs, we’d run out of them. So we had to start getting more into the endowment as early as we could,” he said. Teague knew the qualms some alumni had about endowment.

Some felt that Christian colleges should have to raise money because it put more burden on them to be consistently accountable to their constituencies. Regardless, Teague insisted endowment was essential.

And when he explained it, he said, people wanted it. He knew that if the endowment ever became large enough, it would lessen the need to ask alumni and friends to give to operational funds and scholarships. So he included endowment goals in every brick-and-mortar campaign. His efforts prospered, and the endowment grew, even though operating dollars proved more difficult to acquire, and annual deficits became a larger worry. It was a challenging time and economy in which to grow a university.

Teague involved key donors in every project. Campaign materials, prospective donor lists, even floor plans and color schemes were shared and adjusted to
match their preferences.

In the process, he carefully protected relationships with those whose gifts would bring form to his vision.

J. McDonald Williams (’64), then president of Trammell Crow Companies, and Dallas entrepreneur William R. “Bill” Waugh (’59) became deeply invested in planning a new building for the College of Business Administration. Williams’ college friendship with Dr. J. William “Bill” Petty (’64), then dean of the college, opened doors for Teague and Petty to establish relationships with corporate leaders who had no earlier ACU connection.

Bronze letters spelling out the Mabee name can be found on numerous campuses and non-profit facilities throughout Texas and the Southwest. McGlothlin considered Teague’s recruiting in 1982 of Dr. C.L. Kay to be one of Teague’s most important achievements because of Kay’s “intimate contact with the Mabee Foundation.” Even before Kay arrived on campus, ACU had the Mabee Library Auditorium and Mabee Hall, but the foundation’s largest commitment to ACU was for the building that ultimately would bear the Mabee name.

Before the ribbon was cut on the Mabee Business Building, a new campaign began for the College of Biblical Studies. Teague wanted its home to be the university’s new architectural icon, and he also envisioned a new entrance to the campus between the Bible and business facilities. He enlisted Abilene trustee Bob Bailey (’52) and others to help secure state approval to move Judge Ely Boulevard 800 feet to the east so that two main parcels of university land would no longer be divided by a thoroughfare.

Teague’s successor, Dr. Royce Money (’64), says Teague understood long before others the importance of such projects. “He will be best known as we look back as a visionary president who saw clearly the necessity of having first rate facilities for the campus. He was way ahead of his time on that.”

When Robert R. Onstead and H. Lynn Packer (’50), McGlothlin’s successor as board chair, bought into Teague’s vision for the Bible facility, he rightfully considered its ultimate success assured. But in Packer’s first year as chair, a controversy began that would bring Teague his most difficult days as president. A critic set out to build a case that two ACU biology professors were teaching evolution as fact. The professors were primary objects of an attack that caused the critic to publish a book detailing his hypothesis, including excerpts of private letters exchanged between him and the university.

Dr. C.G. Gray, vice president for academic affairs, and Dr. Perry Reeves (’65), dean of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences, answered letters. Hundreds of letters.

Some of the writers made an early eternal judgment prediction for the professors and Teague. Some sincere, often elderly alumni wrote for reassurance that their beloved alma mater had not taken a path to apostasy. Some considered the debate mere foolishness. Most looked on in amazement that such a fierce attack – mostly in print – would be fired at a university with a worldwide reputation for producing respected Christian physicians, scientists and other researchers.

An internal investigation by a Board committee interviewed faculty and students and examined correspondence. At the annual Board meeting in February 1986, Packer allowed every trustee in the room to speak before consensus was reached that Teague and the faculty merited the Board’s full support.

McGlothlin and Teague agree upon the greatest blessing from the evolution controversy. Dr. Charles Trevathan, a Kentucky attorney and Lipscomb University graduate, had never been to Abilene, but his fervor was ignited by the good deeds of ACU alumni in local congregations.

“Trevathan just couldn’t stomach what he’d heard,” McGlothlin said, “and he began to write those guys, and he challenged them to debate.”

Teague was so grateful that he invited Trevathan to come to campus and soon offered him a position in the legal office. Eventually, he joined the sociology faculty, a role he embraced until his death in October 2004.

Teague has always been sentimental.

“He’s a very sensitive person,” Whiteside said, “very aware of people’s feelings, a tender person.” He’s most tender about Peggy and the loyalty of friends. He tears up when he recalls the day he was introduced as the ninth ACU president. He stopped en route to the Chapel stage to kiss Peggy, and the students cheered.

He believes the greatest thing about being president is the number of friends he made. “After the stroke, I began to get letters from everywhere,” he said. The stroke happened on a typical Saturday.

“We got up about 5:30, made our 6:45 a.m. trip to the fresh market. It’s one of few places where we could get what I considered a worthwhile cantaloupe,” he said.

Next they headed to GW’s, a local hamburger drive-thru, for breakfast burritos and a Dr Pepper for Bill.

“We were driving – I was driving – down the street, and Peggy said, ‘You ran a stop signal,’ and I said, ‘I never did that.’ ”

“Yes, you did.” A minute later she said, “You did it again. I’d better drive.” They crossed an intersection, and she told him to pull over.

“My right leg, which earlier wouldn’t move for me, moved, and I got it to the brake. I started pushing the brake, and GW’s got closer to me. I could see the guy had the phone in his hand,” he said. “He was already calling 911.”

Bill remembers the ambulance attendants getting him out of the car. He remembers hearing one say, “You think he had a stroke?” He remembers joking with them, saying,“Don’t take me anywhere but Hendrick!”

But Peggy said, “You didn’t say a word.”

The stroke came the day before Father’s Day 2002.

He went home August 8.

As the couple tells the story, one phrase follows another, almost in a single sentence they share. She smiles and gazes at him, the way she used to gaze adoringly when he gave a speech.

“I didn’t get the burrito, and I didn’t get the Dr Pepper,” Bill said in feigned annoyance, reminding the listener that neither his wit nor his intellect were immobilized when his left side was paralyzed.

Teague’s speech has slowed, but never slurs. His voice weakens some when he’s tired, but not his mind. He sees friends less often, but still offers a retort as his highest compliment.

He and Peggy arrive for worship each Sunday at University Church of Christ in the company of a caregiver.

“Never had one that didn’t think I was spoiled,” Teague said. “I say, ‘If I’m not spoiled then you all are not doing your job.’ ”

Peggy smiles. “They’ve all loved you to death.”

Teague still loves the Wildcats and attends home basketball games frequently, but no longer leads a cheer. He still plays a little tennis and has crafted rules to match his game. The day after Christmas a few years ago, his youngest daughter, Helen (’83), took him to the Teague Special Events Center for the Teague Invitational, an informal gathering Bill organized while still a formidable player.

“I saw three women I knew on the far court playing, so I got someone to push me down there. I said, ‘I had a stroke, but I can still think well enough to know you’re short a player.”

They asked, “Will you play?”

He replied, “On my conditions. I cannot move backwards fast enough to get a lob. Any time you hit a ball over me, it’s my point. Is that fair?”

He then answered his own question: “It’s not fair for me to have a stroke.”

Three or four women volunteered to be his partner.

EPILOGUE

Dr. Cheryl M. Bacon (’76) is professor and chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. For 18 months in 1986 and 1987, she served under Teague as assistant to the president. “He’d heard that I wanted to complete a doctorate, and the job allowed me flexibility to pursue that goal, which was uncommon for staff,” Bacon said. “I will be forever grateful for his kindness that made my career and ministry here possible.”

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