Making an investment around the world: The Southwestern story of Charles Wolcott

Ashley Allen
| May 20, 2022

Editor’s note: this article appears in the Spring 2022 issue of Southwestern News.

To listen to 87-year-old retired Lt. Col. Charles Wolcott (’64) speak of his life and ministry experiences is to listen to a man filled with joy and gratitude.

When the Refugio, Texas, native graduated with Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, history, and religion from Baylor University in 1957, the new father moved his first wife, Norma, and their two-month-old daughter to the Dallas-area to begin serving at the then-Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Sensing a call to ministry, he was encouraged to enroll at Southwestern Seminary by W. A. Criswell, legendary pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. Upon graduation with a Master of Divinity in 1964, he began to pastor in Dallas. However, with the United States in the middle of the Vietnam War and inspired by a former professor at Baylor who served as an Army chaplain in World War II and “loved the chaplaincy,” Wolcott sensed “the Lord was leading” him to enlist as a chaplain in the U.S. Army. In 1966, he was endorsed by the then-Home Mission Board, now the North American Mission Board, to serve as a chaplain in the Army and was initially stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.

For the next 22 years, military chaplaincy assignments took Wolcott around the world caring for soldiers and their families in Vietnam, San Francisco, Germany, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and ultimately at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, before his final assignment at Fort Hood, where he retired from the military in 1988.

In his unique role as the chaplain at the Pentagon, for three-and-a-half years Wolcott was the lone chaplain to the 25,000 people who worked in the nation’s military headquarters. Through this ministry role, he oversaw the 22 weekly Bible studies offered on-site and was responsible for the former Pentagon Pulpit Program. Additionally, once a month he relieved the chaplain on duty at Arlington National Cemetery, which is located adjacent to the Pentagon.

Wolcott’s service in the Army earned him numerous commendations, including three Bronze Stars, five Meritorious Service medals, four Army Commendation Medals, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with palm, Vietnamese Honor Medal First Class, and an award as the honor graduate of the 4th U.S. Army Language School, among other awards.

Though Wolcott retired from the military as a U.S. Army chaplain in 1988, he did not retire from ministry. Following his military service, he began teaching psychology courses at Central Texas College while serving as the senior pastor of Sunset Baptist Church in Killeen, Texas, for well over a decade. Later, following the encouragement of their youngest daughter, the Wolcotts moved to Houston to be closer to their family. In Houston, Norma was diagnosed with cancer and Alzheimer’s and Wolcott cared for her as her primary caregiver. After her passing, he married Pauline in 2010.

Wolcott has been a faithful giver to Southwestern Seminary for almost five decades. Some of his investment in Seminary Hill includes the building of Mathena Hall, which houses the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions and Texas Baptist College.

Seeking to plan ahead, Wolcott recently established a charitable gift annuity through a program of the Southern Baptist Foundation. The annuity provides for Pauline after Wolcott’s passing while also giving to the seminary.

“I want to support the seminary,” Wolcott explains while commending the “great job” the seminary is doing in the work of training men and women for theological education. “The Lord has blessed me with more money than I ever thought I would have, so I felt this is what I would rather do before I die then leave it; that’s what the Lord led me to do.”

As Wolcott invests in the next generation of God-called men and women, he says the institution’s commitment to the Great Commission encourages him to give.

“Our mission is to ‘go,’” Wolcott notes. “Southwestern is true to the Great Commission – sending people out to preach the Gospel, the Good News, so it is why I support Southwestern. I believe they have done, and are doing, a good job.”

Ashley Allen (’03, ’09) is managing editor of Southwestern News.