FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Jimmy Draper’s family has an inextricable connection with Southwestern Seminary. Spanning 100 years and covering six of the eight Southwestern presidents, five generations of Draper’s family have walked the halls of Southwestern.
Draper’s grandfather, L.M. Keeling, arrived for his first semester at Southwestern when the seminary moved from Waco to Fort Worth in 1910. He attended classes under presidents B.H. Carroll and L.R. Scarborough.
Keeling pastored a church in Texas while in seminary and went on to pastor churches in Arkansas after graduating with his bachelor’s and master’s in theology in 1913 and 1914, respectively. Draper still remembers attending his grandfather’s church in Judsonia, Ark., as a child and being asked to ring the church bell on Sunday mornings.
Draper’s personal memories of Southwestern also began as a child. His father, James T. Draper, moved the family to Fort Worth to attend seminary when Jimmy was 18 months old. Their first house, which still stands today, was near the campus on the corner of McCart and Gambrell streets. Their second house, a quadriplex, was located where the Naylor Student Center stands today.
“My earliest memories are of the place where we lived on the seminary,” Draper says.
Draper’s father graduated with his Th.M. in 1940 during the presidency of L.R. Scarborough. He, too, pastored churches in Arkansas, where Draper spent the majority of his childhood. As a pastor’s son, Draper recalls meeting many evangelists, including Southwestern’s fourth president, J. Howard Williams.
“When I grew up, we didn’t really have hotels and motels,” Draper says. “Revival preachers stayed in the pastor’s house. So, J. Howard Williams had preached revivals for my dad, and I knew him.”
Draper started seminary in January 1958, only two months before Williams suddenly died of a heart attack. Similar to his own childhood, he and his family lived in a house next to the campus for the first year. After that year, they moved to Iredell, Texas, where he served as pastor a church. His final two years of seminary consisted of an 85-mile one-way commute to classes at Southwestern along with his pastoral and family responsibilities. He petitioned the faculty to take 46 credit hours his final year—18 hours in both fall and spring with 10 hours in the summer—to which they agreed.
“I was tired,” Draper says with a grin. Learning from his experience, he does not recommend that students follow in his footsteps in this regard.
Draper completed his seminary experience under the presidency of Robert Naylor, graduating with his Th.B. (the equivalent of an M.Div.) in 1961. Draper’s brothers, George and Charles, also graduated from Southwestern.
Draper says his seminary experience served him greatly in preparing for future ministry, which included serving as pastor of large churches, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and president of LifeWay Christian Resources.
“The value of education is largely intangible,” Draper says. “I think what an education does is it creates the beginning of networks for life and creates a discipline for study.”
His advice for students today: “You get a chance to sit at the feet of some of the greatest scholars in the world. Take advantage of that and pay attention.”
Draper’s son-in-law, Mike Wilkinson, arrived on campus in the late ‘80s and completed his M.Div. in 1990 under President Russell Dilday. Noting the tense days on campus during the Conservative Resurgence, Wilkinson says he still enjoyed his classes, especially with professors like L. Russ Bush. He went on to serve as a missions pastor in College Station, Texas, and now serves as minister to adults at First Baptist in Rockwall, Texas.
Wilkinson also returned to Southwestern to earn his Ph.D., graduating in May 2011. Currently, he teaches Baptist History and Heritage as an adjunct in the College at Southwestern.
Wilkinson’s advice to students: “If you’re going into any kind of teaching ministry, whether it’s preaching, youth ministry or something else, learn the biblical languages because it will make you so much more effective to be able to communicate God’s Word. That’s probably one of the greatest tools that I gained from my time in seminary.”
When Wes Wilkinson stepped on campus this fall for his first semester as an Advanced M.Div. in International Church Planting student, he followed in the footsteps of his great-great grandfather L.M. Keeling, great-grandfather James T. Draper, grandfather Jimmy Draper, and father Mike Wilkinson, becoming the fifth generation to attend Southwestern. Yet, family legacy was not his primary reason for choosing Southwestern.
With a heart for missions in Eastern Europe, Wes enrolled in Southwestern because the seminary “values and treasures missions” and “believes correctly for the sake of following Christ obediently.” Even the banners on the flagpoles around campus that say “Preach the Word, Reach the World,” he says, point to these twin commitments.
Wes says he wanted to go to a seminary that understood the risk and sacrifice associated with missions. He knows his professors will challenge him to accept any degree of suffering for the sake of the Gospel, even if it costs him his life.
L.M. Keeling’s family legacy demonstrates the Lord’s faithfulness to men who surrender to His calling as well as His faithfulness to a seminary committed to training students to Preach the Word and Reach the World.