Editor’s Note: This is the ninth in a series of weekly articles on individuals, who made positive contributions to Stephenville, the Cross Timbers area and/or the State of Texas. Many other noteworthy individuals, other than those in this series, have made their “mark” in this area. Perhaps some of these persons can be included in future stories.
By STUART CHILTON
Born on Jan. 28, 1918, in the small town of Marion, S.D., he was the youngest of 16 children. At a young age, he learned the meaning of the word, WORK.
This individual graduated from nearby Freeman High School in 1937. He later enrolled at Freeman Junior College, a Mennonite College. This person was a member of the Mennonite denomination as were most of the people in this area of South Dakota. He graduated from Freeman Junior College in 1939.
With war raging in Europe in late 1939 and a Selective Service Draft starting in the United States in 1940, he was drafted into the U.S. Army on Aug. 7, 1941. Although he was listed as a Conscientious Objector, he would still be placed on active duty, while his draft exemption papers were being processed.
Mennonites are forbidden from bearing arms, thus he was not to carry a rifle.
His first assignment was at Fort Leavenworth, KS. For his basic training, he was sent to Fort Warren in Cheyenne, WY. He agreed to carry a rifle only in basic training. Upon completion of his rifle training, he was listed as a “sharp shooter.” He decided not to push for draft exemption status.
He was then assigned to the Quartermaster Corps, attached to the Army Air Corps at Perrin Army Air Field, near Sherman, TX. He was subsequently promoted to the rank of corporal.
One of the most important events in his life occurred at the Sherman base, where he met his future wife, Illa Fay Clark. She was the secretary to the base Quartermaster. The couple was married on Sept. 19, 1942. Shortly after his marriage, he was converted to the Baptist faith. His wife was a Baptist. The couple would later become the parents of two sons. Illa Fay died on May 18, 2000.
His next assignment was at Majors Field in Greenville, TX. Later he would be sent to Jamaica, where he would spend six months. By this time, the war had ended, and he had been promoted to Staff Sergeant.
In a joking manner, he says, during his final days in the Army Air Cops, “I went to Harvard.”
It was at Harvard, NE., where he was honorably discharged on Nov. 24, 1945.
In December, 1945, he enrolled at Baylor University in Waco, graduating in 1948 with a major in Bible and a minor in English. During his undergraduate days at Baylor, he pastured a small church at Pancake in Coryell County.
Following his graduation from Baylor, he enrolled at the Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, graduating in 1950. His first full-time church assignment was in Knox City in 1950. He came to Stephenville to pastor a church on May 8, 1955. He remained in this job until his retirement in 1986.
This 89-year-old individual has been an active member of the Lions Club for 57 years. A proclamation from then Stephenville Mayor, Joe Cummings, designated May 11, 1980, as this person’s special day in the city. Six years later upon his retirement, this honor was again afforded to him by then Mayor David Clayton on January 12, 1986.
Two of his best friends are Stephenville residents - Bill Roundtree and Lyle Lacy. To date, he has preached at 1,729 funerals and performed 433 weddings.
One of his major milestones in Stephenville was the construction of a $950,000 church sanctuary. This structure, which has a seating capacity of 1,200 was completed and dedicated in August, 1977.
A Name to Remember - Rev. Emil Becker
Dr. Chilton, a retired educator/journalist, lives in Stephenville. He occasionally writes for this newspaper.