150 years ago today, Baylor’s longest-tenured president — and perhaps its most beloved — was born.
Samuel Palmer Brooks, BA 1893, was born in Georgia during the middle of the Civil War, but moved to Texas with his family when he was five. His mother died when he was 14, forcing Brooks to leave school and go to work. He didn’t enroll at Baylor (then in Independence) until he was 24, and he was almost 30 by the time he graduated. He went on to earn another degree at Yale, returned to Baylor (by now in Waco) to teach from 1897-1901, and was back at Yale working on a master’s degree when Baylor asked him to be president in 1902.
You probably know that Brooks Hall was named for S.P. Brooks; perhaps as you’ve walked by, you’ve read his Immortal Message on a plaque donated by the last residents of the original Brooks Hall. In 1931, Brooks was dying of cancer, but he still attempted to personally sign every diploma for that year’s graduating class. He died shortly before commencement, but left behind a final message to be read to the Class of 1931. Its final paragraph still resonates powerfully today:
“Because of what Baylor has meant to you in the past, because of what she will mean to you in the future, oh, my students, have a care for her. Build upon the foundations here the great school of which I have dreamed, so that she may touch and mold the lives of future generations and help to fit them for life here and hereafter. To you seniors of the past, of the present, of the future I entrust the care of Baylor University. To you I hand the torch. My love be unto you and my blessing be upon you.”
But the man left behind an incredible legacy. Brooks was the force behind the nation’s first collegiate homecoming, held at Baylor in 1909, and was the president who finally allowed students to select a mascot for Baylor (the bear, of course) in 1914.
When Brooks took office, Baylor had fewer than 300 regular college students; by the late 1920s, enrollment reached 3,500. Carroll Science, Carroll Library, Brooks Hall, Memorial Hall and Waco Hall all went up under Brooks’ leadership, and during his tenure, Baylor established a College of Medicine, a College of Pharmacy, a College of Dentistry and a Theological Seminary.
Sic ’em, Samuel Palmer Brooks!