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Golden Gate marks 50 years in Mill Valley

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s Northern California Campus in Mill Valley celebrated 50 years on Strawberry Point with homecoming festivities attended by 120 alumni and their families.

Highlights included opening a time capsule from 1959; a reception at the president’s home; a tour of the previous campus in Berkeley; a founders’ dinner; and this year’s spring commencement during which the seminary’s “Golden Graduates” were honored. Twenty-eight of those who graduated from the Berkeley campus from 1949-59 donned golden robes and walked with the class of 2009.

Golden Gate Seminary opened the doors to its Northern California Campus in 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 has become 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,” Jeff Iorg, the seminary’s president, said as he stood with the opened time capsule. “Is there another explanation for the seminary’s success other than God’s power and glory?”

Iorg marveled at the well-preserved items which had been contained in a small copper box nestled in the administration building’s cornerstone for 50 years.

Among the items were the seminary bylaws, the Baptist Faith and Message, minutes from the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1950 when messengers added Golden Gate as a Southern Baptist seminary, copies of the alumni magazine “The Gateway,” photos of three seminary presidents, and the 1959 versions of the academic catalog of classes, the student-faculty directory and the faculty group photo.

John Carl Warnecke, 92, the notable architect who designed the Strawberry Point campus, attended the time capsule ceremony. Warnecke also designed the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington Cemetery, the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington and the capitol building in Hawaii. He attended the ceremony with his daughter Margo, who also is a California-based architect.

The following morning, the Golden Graduates and others from the seminary heard from Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention and a 1992 Golden Gate graduate, and William Crews, Golden Gate’s sixth president. Joe Morris, a 1949 graduate, gave a testimony about being a student during the early days at Golden Gate.

“Joe Morris and countless other students like him inspire and bless us,” Iorg said. “They also humble us.”

Iorg noted that the seminary’s founders made significant sacrifices to establish an institution despite few resources.

“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,” Iorg said. “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.”

Also during the celebration, current items paralleling the original items were placed in the time capsule along with those from 1959.

“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,” Iorg said.

The Golden Graduates and their relatives, who came from across 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.

Back on campus, after an international-themed lunch, alumni enjoyed a reunion time in the library, reviewing yearbooks and photos and examining a multi-decade display of photos and other memorabilia.

That evening as the Golden Graduates, wearing their gold graduation gowns and medallions, 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 Golden Graduates joined the processional into the auditorium, the audience gave a standing ovation.

“I salute you tonight for being the models that you are,” Iorg told them. “You not only started well, but you finished well.”

The seminary was founded in Oakland in 1944 and moved to Berkeley in 1947. Land was purchased in Mill Valley, ground was broken in 1955 and its classes as a Southern Baptist seminary 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.
Phyllis Evans is director of communications at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

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