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N.M. leader honored at 100 with celebration at Glorieta

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–The New Mexico Baptist leader who put his ministry on the line in 1948 to see that Southern Baptists’ second national conference center was located at Glorieta was honored Oct. 2 with a 100th birthday celebration.
Harry P. Stagg, who served as executive director of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico from 1938-68, was honored at a luncheon at the conference center attended by 400 guests. Also present were his wife of 72 years, Alma, along with their daughters, Marsha Cantrell and Carolyn Tope, and Stagg’s only living brother, Basil, who traveled from Louisiana. Approximately 45 other family members were present from Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina and Texas.
While the 70-minute program included accolades to Stagg as a war hero, civic leader and state convention executive, the obvious consensus was that his greatest accomplishment was the key role he played in the establishment of Glorieta.
In 1948, the SBC’s only national assembly was located at Ridgecrest, N.C. To accommodate the growth of Southern Baptists in western states and to serve as a catalyst for further westward expansion, the Southern Baptist Convention established a committee to recommend a western site.
Stagg led the fledgling New Mexico state convention to purchase land near the town of Glorieta and then worked tirelessly to convince the Southern Baptist Convention it was the best site.
But there was a problem.
In September 1948 the Western Assembly Committee voted to locate the assembly in Harrison, Ark. SBC messengers would consider the recommendation the following May during their annual meeting in Oklahoma City.
Undaunted, two members of the committee brought a minority report to the floor of the convention. Vaughn Rock, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Phoenix, Ariz., and Philip McGahey, pastor of First Baptist Church, Albuquerque, where the Staggs were members, proposed Glorieta as an alternative site and persuaded the convention to vote overwhelmingly to locate the assembly in New Mexico. Glorieta opened its doors in 1952. This is believed to be the only time in SBC history that a minority report has been adopted.
During the luncheon, Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, presented Stagg a resolution approved Sept. 22 by the Executive Committee.
Chapman, the Staggs’ pastor at First Baptist Church, Albuquerque, 1974-79, called Stagg “a giant not only among New Mexico Baptists, but among Southern Baptists.”
Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Baptist Convention, recalled how as a young Royal Ambassador in the Central American nation of Panama he read about Southern Baptist work in America, including the contributions of Stagg. Whittaker added every time he has come to Glorieta since his first visit in 1972, “I thank God for the man who had the vision.”
Mike Arrington, executive director for corporate affairs at LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly the Sunday School Board) of the SBC, said to Stagg, “Because of your walk with the Lord, God gave you a God-sized vision” for Glorieta.
Arrington presented Stagg with a resolution of appreciation from the trustees of LifeWay, which owns and operates the two conference centers.
Dan Carnett of Albuquerque, a historian of 20th-century religion in the American West and a member of the BCNM’s historical committee, said Glorieta “brought forth a major change in the SBC, becoming a major factor in Southern Baptists’ leadership in multiracial relations,” even before the civil rights victories in the country in the 1960s.
Glorieta director Larry Haslam cited Stagg’s legacy in the 50,000 people who attend the conference center each year. “While the last 46 years have been wonderful, great, … the future is brighter than any of us have ever dreamed.”
Stagg’s 95-year-old wife, Alma, put the tributes to her husband in perspective in a lighthearted way:
“People say that Glorieta is (his) baby. But I want you to know I had the baby. I had to live with him (during that time). Yes, he’s the head of (our) family,” she said, “but I’m the neck. And I’d like to see him turn his head without me.”
Stagg’s contributions as a state convention executive, soldier and civic leader also were cited.
Carnett noted during Stagg’s 30-year tenure at the helm of the New Mexico convention, the number of churches doubled and the number of members multiplied fivefold.
The BCNM’s current executive director, Claude Cone, presented Stagg with a card signed by current BCNM staff members and a check, which he called “a small token of (appreciation for) a marvelous, marvelous ministry.”
George B. Faulhauber, chief of staff for the New Mexico Army National Guard, called Stagg, a Purple Heart and Silver Star recipient, “a true hero of World War I.”
The Army National Guard also provided the Staggs with military escorts for the day.
Stagg, the oldest living former district governor of Rotary International, was presented with a certificate of appreciation and a letter from the president of Rotary International by Sonny Brown of El Paso, representing Rotary International District 5520.
Other presentations to Stagg included:
— a crystal plaque from the New Mexico Baptist Foundation established during Stagg’s tenure and celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
— a painting from Wayland Baptist University, Plainview, Texas, which has a campus at Glorieta.
— a letter and proclamation from fellow New Mexico Baptist Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley.
— a proclamation of Oct. 1, 1998, as “Dr. Harry P. Stagg Day” in New Mexico, signed by New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
— a birthday card from President Bill Clinton.
— shirts and other gifts from Glorieta.
At the close of the banquet, Stagg described how, as a young man working for the railroad, he used to throw the switch of tracks between Gallup and Albuquerque, directing the train to Albuquerque.
“There’s only two places you can go when you leave this world,” the 100-year-old preacher said solemnly, adding that his most important task has been encouraging people to choose the track to heaven.
“You thrill my soul today,” he said.

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  • John Loudat