Three past presidents reflected on fifty years of faithfulness that enabled Palm Beach Atlantic University to grow from a small, struggling college into the comprehensive, Christian university it is today.
The presidents – Dr. George Borders, Dr. Paul R. Corts and Dr. David Clark – shared their reflections during the annual Founders Day celebration Wednesday morning. Students, faculty, staff, trustees and friends of the university filled the Rubin Arena for the formal ceremony in the Greene Complex.
Patrick Moody ’76, son of founding President Dr. Jess Moody, said the opening prayer, and Claude H. Rhea III, the son of former President Dr. Claude H. Rhea, Jr., gave the benediction. The Concert Choir performed “The Steadfast Love of the Lord,” a piece Dr. Tim Thompson wrote for the occasion.
Current President William M. B. Fleming, Jr. presided. He encouraged students to treat the worship service as a personal rededication and to “dream with God at the helm” of their hearts.
Borders, who led PBA as it grew out of infancy, said when he arrived in 1978, the university had fewer than 600 students and lost more students than it was accepting each year. The students who stayed could have gone to any school in the country, but they chose PBA.
“Those students were great. They were the true pioneers throughout the ’70s and the early ’80s,” Borders said.
He listed off the supporters who kept the university going in the early years: Riley Sims, Marshall E. “Doc” Rinker, Sr., William G. Lassiter, for whom the student center at the center of campus is named.
Borders told Lassiter they needed to build the center to send a message to then-West Palm Beach Mayor Helen Wilkes and the city commission that PBA was here to stay. Before that, city officials told him, “We’re not so sure.”
He ended with advice from Vince Lombardi about what it takes to win: Do things right all the time, not just once in a while, and play with all your heart.
“For 50 years, students, teachers…you and your predecessors have worked your hearts out for the cause of Jesus Christ and for the cause of Palm Beach Atlantic, and we owe you a debt of gratitude,” Borders said.
Corts, who oversaw PBA during a decade of unprecedented growth from 1991 to 2002, recalled the decade of monumental change that followed the university’s creation in 1968.
Alluding to the “Dream!” theme for the year, Corts quoted John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech as he remembered the elder Moody, a “dynamic, young Baptist pastor who was sensitive to the spirit of God.”
“In this room, young people dream new dreams. Keep the dream as we commit to follow Christ,” Corts said.
Clark, who served as president from 2003 to 2009, reflected on how the elder Moody dreamed an impossible dream – to start a college. God has been making the improbable come to pass ever since.
More than a decade ago, it seemed improbable, if not impossible, that university leaders would be able to fulfill a dream they had to build an athletic campus on 76 acres of land just north of Southern Boulevard, Clark said.
Donald Trump planned to build a golf course on it. The county owned the land, and the price was steep. The golf course plans fell through, and the university was able to buy the property at a lower price per acre than anticipated. Today, it is home to the Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Athletic Campus.
“God specializes in things thought improbable, impossible,” Clark said. “This little college was improbable, but God has used it in a marvelous way.
Clark continued: “The future is bright. Why? Because the future is as bright as the promises of God. He will do improbable things in your lives, too, students.”