History of Southeastern Bible College
Edgar J. Rowe’s vision for founding Southeastern Bible College emerged from a conversation held in 1927 with Harry A. Ironside during a Bible conference at Birmingham’s First Presbyterian Church. Ironside, then pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, adjunct faculty member at Dallas Theological Seminary, and a Bible conference speaker for Moody Bible Institute, suggested that Birmingham had great potential as a site for a Bible institute. Rowe pondered this idea for the next several years.
In 1933, Rowe shared his vision for a Bible school in Birmingham with several pastors and lay church leaders. On September 28, around thirty men gathered at the Alverson Business College to consider establishing a Bible institute in the city. After an evening of conversation and prayer, these men agreed to join Rowe in founding Alabama’s first and the South’s third independent interdenominational Bible school. The Birmingham School of the Bible’s purpose was to serve the city’s existing denominations by providing Biblical and practical training for laypersons serving in the city’s local churches. The Birmingham School of the Bible opened its doors on October 15, 1934.
Rowe received valuable assistance from many of Birmingham’s leading citizens. Three men in particular made noteworthy contributions during the school’s early years. Dr. William T. Berry, a graduate of Howard College and Vanderbilt University, and a prominent physician in Birmingham, served as Chairman of the Board from 1934 to 1945. Wick Broomall, Jr., a graduate of Maryville College in Tennessee, Princeton University, and Princeton Theological Seminary and pastor of Handley Memorial Presbyterian Church, served as dean of the institute. After three years of distinguished service, Broomall resigned to accept a pastorate in Georgia and bequeathed academic leadership to Harold A. Cook, pastor of Porter Baptist Church. Along with Rowe, these men deserve much of the credit for successfully launching the Birmingham School of the Bible.
Despite some opposition from non-premillennialists and inadequate funding from its constituency, BSB’s board decided in 1940 to offer vocational training for young people interested in full-time Christian service. William C. Bennett, a recent graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, opened the institute’s day-school program in a renovated frame house located at 2210 Ridge Park Avenue in South Highlands in the fall of 1941. Bennett suggested that a regional name would attract more students, so the Birmingham School of the Bible became Southeastern Bible School in May 1942. Guided by Bennett and Lewis Sperry Chafer, founding President of Dallas Seminary, Southeastern Bible College’s board formally affiliated the institute with the National Association of Evangelicals on August 27, 1942.
James S. Mooney succeeded Bennett as president in 1943. While the evening lay classes prospered, inadequate funding, shortage of staff, and lack of interest in the day school plagued Mooney’s presidency. Overwhelmed by these burdens, Mooney resigned in the spring of 1945 after anti-premillennialists in the Birmingham Presbytery of the Southern Presbyterian Church refused to ordain him due to his associations with Dallas Seminary and the Southeastern Bible School, both dispensational premillennialist institutions. This incident complicated the institute’s relationship with Presbyterian churches in Birmingham. After Mooney’s departure, the board closed the day school division, placed the property on South Highlands on the market for sale, and leased space in the Christian Victory Center at 2019 5th Avenue North for evening classes.
Southeastern’s fortunes rose in September 1945, when Charles Seidenspinner, a faculty member and Superintendent of Men at Providence Bible Institute in Providence, Rhode Island, succeeded Mooney as President. Seidenspinner was personable, energetic, persuasive, and a capable administrator. He quickly identified and addressed the institute’s major weaknesses and reopened the day school in the spring of 1946. By the end of Seidenspinner’s presidency in 1958, Southeastern occupied the Frank Nelson Estate at 1401 29th Street South, granted degrees, broadcast radio programs, held evening classes in several cities throughout the state, and boasted ten full-time and seven part-time faculty members.
Alden A. Gannett, a recent Th.D. graduate from Dallas Seminary, succeeded Seidenspinner as President in 1960 and served two terms (1960-1969 and 1972-1981). C. Sumner Wemp served as President during Gannett’s brief tenure as Minister-At-Large with Unevangelized Fields Mission. During Gannet’s two-term administration, which benefited from Seidenspinner’s achievements, Southeastern doubled its enrollment, obtained national accreditation with the Accrediting Association of Bible Colleges (1962), added additional programs to the curriculum, constructed additional buildings, purchased adjacent properties for dormitory space, and became a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (1981). Gannett relinquished the presidency in 1981 to become Chancellor and utilize his gifts of preaching and teaching on behalf of the college.
When James G. Kallam, former dean of Northeastern Bible College, succeeded Gannett in 1981, Bible colleges faced declining enrollments, rising costs, and financial hardships due to national economic woes and the decline in the size of the college-age population. Problems stemming from national circumstances were compounded at Southeastern by unsatisfactory alumni relations and poor retention rates, as many students expressed little interest in “full-time” church work and were concerned about Southeastern’s lack of regional accreditation and its limited academic curriculum. As a result, Southeastern was forced to eliminate staff and faculty positions, make across-the-board salary cuts, expand its recruitment efforts, and seek a broadened base of gift income. By 1983 Southeastern’s leaders were considering selling the college’s property and relocating the campus. In the next three years, they began investigating the possibility of acquiring regional accreditation and of securing a retirement program with TIAA-CREF for college employees and acquired Woodcrest College’s External Studies Program. In 1985 Southeastern celebrated its golden jubilee anniversary in the midst of tribulation, with Stephen Olford encouraging and challenging the college family at the Jubilee Bible Conference and Banquet. By the late 1980s, Southeastern enjoyed a slow but heartening rise in student enrollment due to a more aggressive recruitment program.
John Talley, Jr., succeeded Kallam as President in 1988. Southeastern purchased Briarwood Presbyterian Church’s property located at 3001 Highway 280 East and moved onto the new campus during the summer of 1988, renovating the current facilities and building three dormitories in the following years. Under Talley’s leadership, all indebtedness of the new campus was eliminated. Southeastern’s Board of Trustees decided to pursue accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, secured a retirement program through TIAA-CREF for college employees, and began work toward establishing endowments for scholarships, faculty chairs and general operations.
After a decade of fruitful labor, Talley left Southeastern to become Chair of Pastoral Studies at Washington Bible College. Under the leadership of Chairman Darrell Piatt the Board of Trustees, in cooperation with faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the college, launched a prayerful and systematic search for a President. Through God’s providential leading, Southeastern’s search and selection committees were led to Donald W. Hawkins, former Executive Director of the Minirth Meier Clinic, Co-Host of the Back to the Bible radio program, Host of Life Perspectives, a late-evening national radio talk show, and the author of numerous books. Hawkins officially assumed the presidency on June 1, 2001, bringing energy, vision, and a clear understanding of the Bible College movement’s future role in a changing cultural and educational environment.
In the years following Dr. Hawkins’ appointment as president, the college has worked to maximize its potential to fulfill its mission. In 2003 Dr. Hawkins entered into a conversation with Valleydale Baptist Church about purchasing its property. As a result of that initiative and further conversations, Southeastern sold its Highway 280 campus in 2004 and relocated to its current 22-acre campus facilities at 2545 Valleydale Road in North Shelby County. In 2001, Southeastern began offering adult education through ALM (Adult Learning Model). The program, renamed ACHIEVE in 2005, seeks to fulfill the college’s mission statement by providing learning opportunities designed to help adults develop a biblically grounded faith, spiritual maturity, and the ability to apply their knowledge and faith in culturally relevant ways. With an eye toward adding regional accreditation to its ABHE accreditation, the Board of Trustees transitioned to Policy Governance, the college developed a new institutional effectiveness plan, and diversity was brought to the roll of Vice President at the college by hiring Dr. Vicki Wolfe, who brought a rich background in higher education administration, as Vice President for Academics (now Provost). In addition to setting its strategic sights on achieving regional accreditation, Southeastern launched two annual development initiatives, the President’s Council Dinner in 2005 and a Southeastern Golf Tournament in 2006. These annual events have helped the college cultivate supporters and to increase giving in the face of rising the rising costs of offering collegiate education. In the past few years, the college has significantly upgraded its website and taken innovative steps in curricular development, launching a new major, Christian Thought and History, in the Arts and Sciences Department and, under Dr. Jason Snyder’s leadership, introducing a Christian worldview initiative that includes the addition of two new courses to the college’s core curriculum and crafting college-wide academic events designed to enhance the school’s ability to ground its students in a Christian view of life.
B. Dwain Waldrep, Ph.D., Author
Presidents of SEBC
Wick Broomall Jr.
Pastor of Handley Memorial Presbyterian Church was Dean from 1934 to 1937.
Harold A. Cook
Pastor of Porter Baptist Church, was Dean from 1937 to 1941; of Evening Division until June 1943.
William C. Bennett
a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, became the first to hold the title President of the Birmingham School of the Bible. Bennett launched a day-school program.
James S. Mooney
Served from July 21, 1943 until June 1945.
Served from September 1945 until 1958.
Dr. Alden Gannett (1960—July 1969; Fall 1972—1981)
In the spring of 1958, Southeastern’s board turned, as it often did, to Dallas Theological Seminary in search of a president. With the assistance of Dr. John Walvoord, their search brought Dr. Gannett to the office in 1960. Dr. Gannett had Th.M. and Th.D. degrees from Dallas Seminary and a M.A. degree from New York University. His qualifications for the office included teaching positions at Dallas Bible College and Dallas Seminary and a four-year tenure as President of London Bible College in Ontario, Canada.
Dr. Gannett resigned the Presidency of SEBC in July 1969 to serve as Minister-At-Large for the Unevangelized Fields Mission (now CrossWorld). During his absence, Dr. Gannett served as President Emeritus. He returned to the Presidency in 1972 and served until 1981.
Rev. Sumner Wemp (July 1969—May 1971)
Upon Dr. Gannett’s departure in 1969, C. Sumner Wemp was elected President and served from July 1969 to May 1971. President Wemp held degrees from Samford University and Dallas Theological Seminary. Prior to his tenure as President at SEBC, Mr. Wemp had served as a pastor from 1948 to 1961 and served as Chairman of the Department of Evangelism and Pastoral Training at Moody Bible Institute from 1961 to 1969.
Dr. Leon W. Gillaspie
Having arrived at Southeastern in 1947, Dr. Gillaspie holds the undisputed position of SEBC patriarch. He was the college’s second full-time faculty member. He was a graduate of Wheaton College, which, at the time, was the most prestigious conservative evangelical college in America.
During his lengthy tenure, Dr. Gillaspie served in numerous capacities, including Instructor, Dean of Men, Registrar, Dean of Admissions and Records, at least two terms as Academic Dean, Vice President and two terms as Acting President.
While attending to his duties at SEBC, he earned an M.A. in anthropology from the University of Alabama.
Dr. James G. Kallam (Fall 1981—1988)
Following Dr. Gannett’s second term, SEBC called Dr. James G. Kallam to the Presidency of the college. Dr. Kallam’s credentials included two music degrees from Westminster Choir College, an M. Div. from New York Theological Seminary, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from New York University. He also brought extensive experience, having achieved the rank of Professor of Bible at Northeastern Bible College between 1958 and 1978 and having served as the Academic Dean at Northeastern between 1970 and 1980.
Dr. John D. Talley Jr. (1988—2001)
Dr. Talley was the first SEBC alumnus (1966) to assume the Presidency. In addition, Dr. Talley holds graduate degrees from Grace Theological Seminary and Western Conservative Baptist Seminary. He also brought extensive experience to the job, having served in the pastorate, as an Army Chaplain with service in Vietnam, as Chairman of Pastoral Theology Departments at both Appalachian Bible College in West Virginia and SEBC. He also served Southeastern as the Academic Dean and Administrative Vice President for three years prior to his appointment as President. Dr. Talley oversaw the relocation of Southeastern from its campus on Red Mountain to the Highway 280 campus.
Dr. Don W. Hawkins (2001—present)
Dr. Don Hawkins serves as the ninth President of Southeastern Bible College. He has had an array of ministry experiences that include serving as Vice President and Executive Director of the Minirth Meier Clinic, and as co-host and producer of the Back to the Bible radio program immediately prior to coming to Birmingham. His academic credentials include a Bachelor of Arts from Southeastern Bible College in 1967, a Master of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1974, and a Doctor of Ministry from Calvary Theological Seminary in 1998.
Dr. Hawkins has authored or co-authored over 20 books and he hosts a live nationwide call-in program, Life Perspectives, from the Southeastern campus. He is a veteran conference and seminar speaker and has 19 years of pastoral experience. Dr. Hawkins and his wife Kathy have three grown children and eleven grandchildren.