Shanks Named Distinguished Alumni Award Honors Lives Spent as Voices for the Vulnerable

Dawn Shelton

“If I had one wish, it would be for every young person in America to have a potato farmer’s wife and a homebuilder in their lives like I did in mine.” – Harold Shank

Harold Shank’s wish stems from his personal experience that brought him to Oklahoma Christian in 1968. 

The farmer’s wife led him to Christ, and the homebuilder asked Harold whether he wanted to go to college, a Christian college. 

“Since we were poor, I thought that any college experience was beyond our means,” Harold said. “When I told the homebuilder that although I wanted to go to college, I didn’t think it was possible, he told me, ‘If you decide to go, I’ll make sure it happens.’”

Dr. Harold Shank (72) has paid it forward. Now the president of Ohio Valley University, he and his wife, Sally (Tague 74), are in a position to help many young people realize their college dreams.

They will come home to OC in November to accept the Distinguished Alumni awards at Homecoming.

Sally – now OVU’s first lady, an adjunct professor, mother of two adult sons, mother-in-law, and a grandmother – recalls mission trips making a deep impression that led to the beginning of her desire to share the gospel.

“I transferred to OC as a sophomore, and remember walking into Hugo McCord’s Bible class. I will never forget him beginning class with a prayer, a welcome change after attending a state university,” she said. “We developed relationships that eventually became a team for the Milwaukee church plant. Two men that were instrumental in our formulating a church planting team were Bailey McBride (58) and Howard Norton.”

Harold and Sally served in short-term missions to Belize and Ukraine in addition to their time as part of the team that planted the Northtown congregation in Milwaukee. 

They spent more than two decades in Memphis, where Harold preached at Highland Church of Christ and began several urban ministries, championing the poor.

“My role in urban ministry focused on being a voice for the vulnerable,” he said. “I don’t believe that I have many of the skills needed to work on the front lines, but I served in the marshaling area preparing and sponsoring those who did.”

Ohio Valley University is located in Vienna, West Virginia, in the heart of the multi-state Appalachia area that is home to many of America’s poorest people. 

OVU also is near major metro centers like Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., with their impoverished inner-city areas.

“I find myself still a voice for the vulnerable now, providing a way for at-risk young people to gain a Christian higher education,” Harold said.

In the years between their service in Memphis and at OVU, the Shanks returned to OC, where Harold served as an Old Testament professor. 

He is thankful for his undergraduate days at Oklahoma Christian, where he had the opportunity to hone leadership and visioning skills. 

He also is thankful for 32 years of grounding in scripture as a pulpit minister, which serves him well now as a leader in Christian higher education.

“As both a preacher and a president, one becomes a voice to convey the dreams and to challenge the community to rise up to the task,” Harold said. “In both cases, one must be a self-starter, a lesson I learned well from Howard Norton. In both cases, one must understand how to relate to people, a concept I saw played out in the life of Raymond Kelcy. In both cases, one must see not what’s there, but what could be there, an ability that I absorbed from Ron Bever.” 

Each new semester brings new students walking the sidewalks at OC and OVU – some of whom had their own farmer’s wife, homebuilder or college president to make sure they got there.

Those students give Sally Shank hope.

“Although the media paints a dismal picture, I have a great deal of hope for our young people today,” she said. “Many of the college students I came into contact with at OC and now at OVU want to make a difference in the world and take the mission of reaching out to the vulnerable, poor and lost seriously.”


Fall 2014

View more stories from the Fall 2014 issue of Vision magazine.