Celebrating 50 Years on Strawberry Point
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s Northern California Campus celebrated 50 years on Strawberry Point with homecoming festivities on May 28 and 29, 2009.
One hundred and nineteen alumni and family members participated in the two-day celebration, which included opening a time capsule from 1959, a reception at the President’s home, a tour of the previous Seminary campus in Berkeley, a founders’ dinner and the 2009 spring commencement.
A highlight of the festivities was honoring the Seminary’s “Golden Graduates” during commencement on May 29. Twenty-eight of those who graduated from the Berkeley and Oakland campuses from 1949-1959, donned golden robes and walked with the Class of 2009.
Golden Gate Seminary opened the doors to its Northern California campus in Mill Valley fifty years ago, in September 1959, after six years of planning and construction. The 148 acres of former dairy land called Strawberry Point became home to the first Southern Baptist seminary in the west, and today the fully-accredited, five-campus system is known as the 10th largest seminary in the United States and the second largest in the west.
“This place declares the Glory of God to all the nations,” said President Jeff Iorg as he stood before the open time capsule, speaking to alumni, students, faculty and staff. “Is there another explanation for the Seminary’s success other than God’s power and glory?” He held up and marveled at the remarkably well-preserved items which had been sitting in the copper shoebox-sized box, nestled in the administration building’s cornerstone since 1959. Items included the Seminary bylaws, the Baptist Faith and Message, pages from the SBC minutes of 1950 showing action of the Convention accepting Golden Gate as a Southern Baptist seminary, copies of the first and 15th anniversary issues of the alumni magazine The Gateway, photos of the three Seminary presidents (Isam B. Hodges 1944-1946, Benjamin O. Herring 1946-1952, and Harold K. Graves 1952-1977), the first and the 1959 academic catalog of classes, the student-faculty directory and faculty group photo.
One honored guest attending the time capsule ceremony was 92-year old John Carl Warnecke, the notable architect who designed the Strawberry Point campus. Among other prominent buildings, Mr. Warnecke would later design the John F. Kennedy Memorial in Arlington Cemetery, the Hart Senate Building in Washington, D.C., and Capitol Building in Hawaii. He attended with his daughter, Margo, an architect from Healdsburg, California.
The following morning, the Golden Grads and others from the Seminary heard from Fermin A. Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention and a 1992 Golden Gate graduate, and William O. Crews, Golden Gate’s sixth president and president emeritus. Joe L. Morris, a 1949 graduate, shared his story as a student during the early days at Golden Gate.
“Joe Morris, and countless other students like him, inspire and bless us,” remarked President Iorg, after Mr. Morris spoke. “They also humble us.” He noted how the founders and early builders of the Seminary made remarkable sacrifices to create something out of nothing. “The people who founded our school were visionaries but the students who came to Golden Gate in the early days also took a great risk. They came to a school that was more promise than proven fact.” He added, “Yet, because of their willingness to be early adopters, our school has grown to be a leading international provider of theological education and ministerial training.”
As current items, which paralleled the originals, were placed in the time capsule along with those artifacts from 1959, President Iorg stated, “We celebrate, this morning, our past and our future, and 50 years from now I believe there will still be a Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.”
The Golden Grads and their relatives, who came from all over the country, boarded buses to revisit the Berkeley campus building and surrounding neighborhood. Originally christened by the King of Norway, the building later housed a Baptist church before being purchased by the Seminary in 1947.
After an international lunch, alumni enjoyed reunion time in the library, reviewing yearbooks and photos, as well as examining a multi-decade display of photos and other memorabilia.
During the Founder's Dinner, which was underwritten by the Bill Avery family from Yorba Linda , California, guests were treated to more memories from the Golden Grads and everyone sang favorite hymns from the 1940s through the present, led by Dr. Gary McCoy, Chair, Leadership Skills Formation and Professor of Worship and Church Music.
Later that evening, as the Golden Grads, wearing their gold graduation gowns and medallions, which were replicas of the President’s seal, entered the staging area where the 2009 graduates were lining up, spontaneous applause broke out.
“It was a warm moment as these patriarchs of our past were honored by the current graduates, faculty and staff,” said Tom Jones, Vice President of Institutional Advancement. “We all recognized the historic significance of having these men and women in our midst.”
When the 28 Golden Grads, those who had originally received their degrees in the years 1949 through 1959, joined the processional with the current graduates into the auditorium, the audience rendered enthusiastic applause as well.
“I salute you tonight for being the models that you are,” President Iorg said to the Golden Graduates, seated with the current graduates, as the commencement ceremonies began that evening. “You not only started well, but you finished well,” he concluded, as the crowd gave the Golden Grads a standing ovation.
Golden Gate Seminary enjoys a heritage that is rich in western history. The Seminary’s roots can be traced to California’s Gold Rush days when the population on the West coast was exploding. Founded in Oakland in 1944, the Seminary moved to Berkeley in 1947. Land was purchased in Mill Valley, ground broken in 1955 and classes began in September 1959. Since the Seminary’s first class graduated in 1949, Golden Gate has trained and sent out more than 7,000 graduates to serve in churches, mission fields and ministries around the world.
For more information about the Homecoming 2009 event