History of HPU Presidents

Dr. A.J. Emerson served as president until 1893 when Robnett was persuaded to serve as president. In 1896 Robnett left his duties as college president to accept the call to a pastorate in Dallas at the Gaston Avenue Baptist Church where he remained until his death June 23, 1898 at the age of 53.

HPC’s third president, Professor James Harvey Grove, had actually directed the program of the college during the previous year while Robnett devoted all his energy to finances. Grove resigned at the conclusion of the spring semester 1908; the trustees, for reasons not clear, chose not to name a permanent president and, instead, selected Dr. John Strother Humphreys, a member of the HPC faculty who taught ancient and modern languages, as acting president. Serving 1908-1910, the Trustees named Professor Robert H. Hamilton of Baylor University to the position of college president. For reasons not discovered, Hamilton left during 1911, probably after the end of his first year as president and before the fall semester was completed as his name appears in the 1911-12 catalog as president even though his successor is listed in the next catalog as being named president in 1911.

The trustees again filled the vacancy with Humphreys but this time they named him president, a position he held until 1913. After completing two years, Humphreys left the presidency. At that time Dr. James Milton Carroll was named president. He had previously served as financial agent for the board of trustees. At the end of the spring 1914, he resigned to undertake writing a commissioned work by the BGCT, A History of Texas Baptists, published in 1923.

With Carroll’s sudden departure, the trustees appointed Dr. Anderson E. Baten to the position of vice-president and acting president; Baten served in that capacity for two years. In the spring of 1916, the board of trustees selected Dr. Judson Allen Tolman as the eighth president of HPC. Coming to HPC from Abilene, Tolman had chaired the Department of Latin and Greek at Simmons College (now Hardin-Simmons University). Tolman served until his resignation August 4, 1919 when he was named president of Oklahoma Baptist University.

Dr. Lee Johnston Mims became the ninth president of HPC in 1919, succeeding Tolman. Mims came to HPC from the pastorate of First Baptist of Brownwood. Mims’s administration ran a deficit two of the three years he was president. A dispute soon developed between the faculty and president. Unprompted, the faculty undertook to assume some of the more unpleasant duties of the president. Mims, never accustomed to delegating responsibilities, balked at the proposal even though the board of trustees approved the suggestion.

Despite these shortcomings, Mims was considered the best money raiser the college had ever known. He knew Baptist leaders and the denomination; his only mistake was trying to carry out the administration of a college without any prior knowledge or experience. Coupled with an increasing student body, Mims left the college on firm ground when he returned to the pastorate in 1922. He was replaced by Dr. William Robert Hornburg, who was appointed vice president and acting president.

Hornburg came to HPC from the pastorate of Coggin Avenue Baptist Church. He had an attractive personality and a wonderful speaking ability. Considered handsome, he was a great favorite with young people. He used many cowboy stories as illustrations in his sermons.

His first challenge as vice president and acting president was to heal the wounds resulting from the conflict between Mims and the faculty during the later stages of Mims’s administration.

Hornburg gave the college a year of rest and healing. During the spring of 1923 the trustees considered electing Homburg to the presidency; however, in February the Board postponed taking action and Hornburg resigned to accept the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Belton. Dean Thomas Taylor was appointed acting president until a president could be selected.

On July 7, 1923, the HPC trustees elected Dr. Edgar Godbold the eleventh president of HPC. He was holding the position of Corresponding Secretary of the Executive Board of the Louisiana Baptist Convention when he was named president of HPC.

Before Godbold arrived, HPC was considered a “local” college by the BGCT. As president, he devoted many hours to contacting and enlisting the aid of the Baptist State Executive Board on behalf of HPC.

Godbold left HPC in the fall of 1929 to accept the position as General Superintendent of

the Missouri Baptist Association, a position he held until 1942. At that time he was named president of Louisiana College, an appointment he held until his retirement in 1951. He died on November 21, 1952.

Thomas Hendricks Taylor, (AA degree HPC 1905) who served as dean of the faculty and taught economics and government, had been such an integral part of Godbold’s administration, as well as his long-term employment with the college since 1907, seemed, for the trustees, the natural choice for president. Taylor was the first alumni to serve as president of the college. Taylor combined in his person the offices of registrar, dean of the faculty, and president thus saving the college the entire expense of the president’s office. The Great Depression began during his second month as president.

During the Great Depression, Taylor administered the college in such a way as to keep the school from closing. In October 1930 at the Texas Baptist convention, it was made apparent to Taylor that the BGCT would not be able to continue funding the college and actually had decided to close the institution. Upon his return to Brownwood, a faculty prayer meeting was held during which the decision was reached that HPC would be operated solely with the receipts and endowment interest without deficits.  

He retired on July 1, 1955 after 26 years as president and 48 years of total service to the college. His last official act was to deliver the commencement address at the 1955 college graduation. In his retirement he collected his papers, wrote his autobiography, and a history of HPC. Dr. Taylor died after an extended illness on December 5, 1961.

In 1955 the Board of Trustees elected Dr. Guy D. Newman, special assistant to the president of Baylor, president of the college to succeed Dr. Taylor. Serving as president for 17 years, Newman was named chancellor of the university in May of 1972 upon his retirement as  president. He died July 4, 1988 at the age of 82.

In October, 1972 the presidential search committee met with Dr. Roger L. Brooks; a called board meeting in November elected Brooks the institution’s 14th president. Brooks was to assume the duties of president in January of 1973. He came to HPU from East Texas State University where he had been dean of the school of arts and sciences. During his tenure the college was elevated to university status. Faced with financial as well other unspecified issues, Brooks resigned on May 4, 1979. He was replaced by Dr. Charles Stewart, of the HPU art department as chief operating officer, pending the election of a replacement.

The board elected Dr. Ralph A. Phelps, from Dallas Baptist, as the 1 5th president on February 8, 1980. Phelps was not totally aware of the seriousness of the financial problem until after he was hired when the board charged him with eliminating the deficit and college debt. During his term, the debt was substantially reduced, although only through deep cost cuts. Near the end, there was a major conflict and dispute between Phelps and the faculty, members of the board and the community of Howard Payne over his leadership of the university.

His retirement in 1985 prompted the board to name Dr. Don Newbury, an alumni of HPU, to the post of president. His administration, 1985- 1997, accomplished the turnaround for the college, ending the debt, increasing enrollment and adding to the physical plant. He was named chancellor in 1997 and was replaced by Dr. Rick Gregory, another HPU alumni, who came to the position of president from the vice presidency for student affairs at Dallas Baptist University.

Gregory’s administration dealt primarily with physical plant issues; as a result of September 11, the stock market downturn and other financial uncertainties, his administration soon found the college in debt. In dealing with the debt, cuts were made which members of the board, faculty and other supporters of the university disputed. The dispute ultimately led to Gregory’s resignation in June of 2002. Dr. Russell Dilday was appointed interim president in August and served through February of 2003.

Effective March 1, 2003, Dr. Lanny Hall, the institution’s 18th president, took over the reins of leadership at Howard Payne University. During Hall’s tenure the Doakie Day Art Center was completed as well as the beginning construction of the Paul and Jane Meyer Faith and Life Leadership Center and the renovation of Mims Auditorium. Hall stepped down as president in May of 2009 upon receiving a call to return to Hardin-Simmons for a second tour as its president.

Immediately the trustees began a presidential search which led to the naming of Dr. William Ellis as the institution’s 19th president in the summer of 2009. During his time as president, the university made a variety of facility upgrades including an extensive renovation of the Mabee University Center and expanded operations to create an extension center in New Braunfels. He left in 2018; Dr. Paul Armes served as interim until the spring of 2019 when Dr. Cory Hines was named the 20th president of HPU.

© Dr. Robert G. Mangrum, HPU University Historian