Any history of Oklahoma Christian would be incomplete without recognizing the accomplishments of James O. Baird.
For more than 40 years, he wielded crucial influence to dream, to shape and to construct a formidable college in the pastures of Oklahoma. His stride was long and his pace was fast. The result of his visionary leadership is a Christian liberal arts university that has achieved national acclaim.
Selected by Central Christian College’s first president, L.R. Wilson, to be the founding academic dean, James Baird accepted his assignments with uncommon passion. He hired faculty who had good academic skills, but who also were people of heart and soul. He was as interested in their ability to inspire faith in the students as he was in their ability to diagram a sentence or dissect a frog.
In 1954, when Wilson tendered his resignation, the board turned to Dr. Baird for presidential leadership. He and his wife, Avanelle, were already making plans to leave the college and do mission work in Africa, but he prayerfully accepted the post and began a 20-year stint as the college’s second chief executive officer.
Dr. Baird was a native of Tennessee, where he learned the manners and courtesies of Southern gentlemen. Those skills served him well as he represented Oklahoma Christian to potential friends and donors wherever he could gather an audience. One of his first moves was to encourage the board to look at other locations for the college. It took great finesse to move Central Christian from Bartlesville to Oklahoma City, but it was the salvation of this small two-year school that was struggling to stay afloat.
Among his many accomplishments as president, Dr. Baird led the effort to move the institution from junior to senior college status and to secure accreditation from the North Central Association in Chicago. He raised millions of dollars to build the new campus in Oklahoma City and retained Caudill-Rowlett-Scott to design a master land-use plan before construction got underway. He and Dr. Stafford North were at the forefront of instructional technology when they pioneered Oklahoma Christian’s famous Mabee Learning Center in 1965.
Some unexpected health concerns prompted Dr. Baird to step out of the presidency in 1974, at which time he became chancellor. He was a mentor to the new president, Dr. J. Terry Johnson, and continued to raise support from longtime friends of the college.
In 1981, he became publisher of the Christian Chronicle, a newspaper for members of the churches of Christ. The circulation of the paper grew from 3,600 to more than 100,000 and brought great recognition to Oklahoma Christian from its church constituency. Dr. Baird suffered a debilitating stroke in 1990 and died in February 1998.