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Weekly 150

Dr. Roy N. Baker

The Man Who Grew Bethel

Posted 9/25/19

When I was on the Bethel College campus, I always took note of the names on the buildings. As an athlete I spent a great deal of my time in Baker Fieldhouse which predates the Vera Low building in …

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Weekly 150

Dr. Roy N. Baker

The Man Who Grew Bethel

Posted

When I was on the Bethel College campus, I always took note of the names on the buildings. As an athlete I spent a great deal of my time in Baker Fieldhouse which predates the Vera Low building in what feels like a lifetime ago. In the six years I spent on campus, I am just now researching Dr. Baker; so I feel this week’s issue should focus on the college’s late president.

Roy Newsome Baker was born and raised on his family’s farm near the Hatchie River in Hardeman County, Tenn., near the little town of Whiteville. He was the third of twelve children born to William and Blanche Newsom Baker.

Graduating from Whiteville High School in 1926, he attended Memphis State University. In 1934, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree. Before obtaining his degree, he taught and coached at Adamsville High School (1927-1928); Middleton High School (1929-1930); Whiteville High School (1931-1941). Baker left Whiteville High School at the end of the 1941 school year and became the first principal at Martin Elementary School. The next year became the superintendent of schools in Martin (1942-1945).

On August 2, 1933 he married Janie Mullen of Whiteville. They had three children; Brenda, Barry and Newsom. In 1944, Baker earned his Master of Arts degree by George Peabody College for Teachers (now part of Vanderbilt University).

In 1945, he became the twenty-fourth president of Bethel College. Baker was the first secular or layman president of the college. The previous presidents had been preachers within the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. 

The total enrollment in 1945 was 75 students. Bethel had substantial growth and numerous changes under Baker. In 1956, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature Degree. Dr. Baker led Bethel until his death in 1968.

The twenty-three year period saw Bethel’s enrollment grow from 75 to over 800. The college budget grew from $38,850 to more than $1.5 million for the 1968 school year. Total assets of the college were more than $4 million at the time of his death. The endowment grew from $82,000 to almost $1 million. Under his direction, Bethel was recognized and accredited by the Southern Association of College and School (SACS).

During his tenure, Dr. Baker broadened the curriculum and created new facility and administrative positions. This led to a higher quality of professors arriving on campus (including two of my mentors, Dr. James Pott and Dr. Jerry Wilcoxson). At the time of his death, Bethel had five new structures constructed on campus and two other major projects were in the planning stages.

Dr. Baker was a member of Phi Delta Kappa, a professional educational fraternity. He was a member of the West Tennessee Historical Society, the National Education Association (NEA) and the Tennessee College Association (serving as president in 1955). He was a member and past-president of the Martin and McKenzie Rotary Clubs. Baker served as an elder in both the Martin and McKenzie Cumberland Presbyterian Churches. 

He had a great love for sports, especially football and basketball. He played in college, coached high school and refereed high school basketball for many years. When Bethel College built its new fieldhouse at the time, it was only appropriate to name it the Roy N. Baker Physical Education Center (now just Baker Fieldhouse).

Dr. Baker died October 29, 1968 and was buried at Melrose Cemetery in Whiteville. His wife, Janie, was buried next to him in 1986.

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