Dr. Elwin L. Skiles
Pastor – University President
A native of Callahan County, Skiles was born June 15, 1912, in the Scranton community, the only child of Mr. and Mrs. A.I. Skiles and grandson of a prominent early West Texas Baptist preacher, George W. Parks.
At the age of three months, Skiles first became an Abilenian when his parents moved to the city in the fall of 1912 so that his late father could continue his education at Simmons College, now HSU. Skiles’ father eventually graduated from Draughon’s Business College.
Skiles graduated from Cisco High School in 1930 and attended HSU from 1930 to 1932. From 1932 to 1935, he attended Baylor University in Waco, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in 1934 and a master of arts degree the following year.
He had determined by the time he finished high school that he would enter the ministry and was ordained by the First Baptist Church of Cisco in 1933.
Skiles attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., earning the master of theology and doctor of philosophy degrees in 1938 and 1941.
In 1938, he married Ruth Kinder of Homer, La., a student whom he met at Baylor. She received a bachelor’s degree from Baylor in 1937.
A member of what journalist Tom Brokaw has deemed “The Greatest Generation,” Skiles served as a chaplain in the United States Navy during the Second World War.
For a quarter century, he served as pastor of Baptist churches in Russellville, Kentucky, Richmond, Virginia, Georgetown, Kentucky, Pensacola, Florida and Abilene, Texas. He had served as Pastor of First Baptist Church in Abilene for 13 years when he was elected President of Hardin-Simmons University in 1966.
During Skiles’ presidency at HSU, the physical appearance of the campus was changed drastically. New buildings constructed included the Sid Richardson Science Center, the Mabee Military Science Building, the president’s home on Cedar Street, the Cowboy Band Hall, Woodward-Dellis Recital Hall, Rupert and Pauline Richardson Library, maintenance building and warehouse, and the Central Heating and Air Conditioning Plant. Funds also were raised for the Mabee Physical Education-Health-Athletic Complex. Other improvements included the Brand Swimming Pool and Recreation Area, the Streich Tennis Center and a new baseball field.
Perhaps, he is most remembered for quoting his “signature scripture” each time he approached the microphone in Behrens Auditorium. It was Psalm 118:24: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Dr. Skiles was a great orator, a dignified gentleman who possessed a clever sense of humor and an extremely effective fundraiser who understood the importance of expanding the institution’s contacts throughout the nation and the world. During his last commencement, the Board of Trustees awarded their beloved president with an honorary doctorate. He was named Chancellor – a title he held for six years – and was then named as President Emeritus.
Skiles also served as a trustee of Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene, trustee chairman at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, trustee of both the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board and Sunday School Board.
In Texas Baptist life, he served as chairman of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Program Coordinating Committee and as vice chairman of the BGCT Executive Board. In 1995, he was named an Elder Statesman by the Independence Baptist Association – a prestigious statewide honor.
Dr. Skiles and his wife, Ruth, had three children – Win, Ann and Sarah. A total of five grandchildren and two great grandchildren followed. Ruth Skiles died in 1983, a tremendous loss for the Skiles’ family and for the Abilene community. Dr. Skiles passed away on Friday, March 22, 2002, at the age of 89, having been a significant force in Texas Baptist life for more than five decades. His children made the lead gift to the Skiles Building on the HSU campus – a beautiful and lasting tribute to their father. The building opened in 2003, a year after Dr. Skiles’ death.
In recognition of his dedicated service to Hardin-Simmons University and his exceptional ministry in the cause of Christ, Hardin-Simmons University proudly inducts Dr. Elwin L. Skiles into the HSU Hall of Leaders.