Oct 30, 2007

Getting to know Dr. Elmer Towns, the co-founder of Liberty

by Miranda Canady

    Dr. Elmer Towns wears many hats. He is a professor, author, Sunday School teacher, Dean of the School of Religion and co-founder of Liberty University. 
    He also happens to be a man of many habits. According to Towns, in order to accomplish his day-to-day tasks, he begins every morning by praying the Lord’s Prayer before even getting out of bed. He then continues in prayer, guided by an extensive prayer list filled entirely with names of family members, leaders, school of religion professors and the ministry of his books.
Towns is also very active for a man who has just celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday on Oct. 21.
    “I get up and look forward to working. I’m a workaholic,” he said.
    Most mornings he does one of two things. He either goes to school and teaches, or he stays home and writes. He currently has 130 books under his belt with close to 20 more that have yet to be published. 
    Tom Messer, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said, “Dr. Towns has been a great mentor to me and a great help to our church. He has taught me more about church growth than any other person in the world. He has taken such a personal interest in me, my family and church that goes beyond what you would expect from someone so busy and involved in the Lord’s work.”
Dr. Towns co-founded Liberty University with Dr. Falwell in 1971.
    “Dr. Falwell told me, ‘I’ll raise the money, build the buildings and recruit the students. You set up the academic programs,’” Dr. Towns said. 
    He has seen many changes at the university since its start in 1971.
    “Changes are like growth,” he said, “you have to give up things to make room for new ones. It’s like a baby giving up crawling to walk.” 
    The school used to be smaller, allowing him to get to know and spend time with almost every student. Back then, students at the university were also members of Thomas Road Baptist Church, so it was not uncommon to find students at Dr. Town’s home after Sunday night church.
    Dr. Towns laughed, “I had teenage girls then, so lots of boys came over.”
    Now, however, the growing population of the school makes it nearly impossible for him to get to know every student.
“We had to give up intimacy to reach the masses,” he said.
    One of the biggest changes occurred this past May at the death of Dr. Jerry Falwell.
    Dr. Towns said, “I’m going to do what I’ve always done. I’m going to teach class, I’m going to work with the church and I’m going to write books.” 
    “I came to teach people for ministry and this is the best place in the world to do it. I can fulfill my life’s dream here,” he replied when asked what has kept him at Liberty so long.
    Dr. Towns has left his mark all over Liberty University, not only in the lives of the students he teaches but on the campus itself. The Towns Alumni Ministry Training Center, which begins construction at the end of October, will be an 867-seat classroom located behind the Religion Hall. The building is a vision come true for Dr. Towns, who wanted a high-tech and up-to-date classroom for religion lecture classes.
    All scholarly accomplishments aside, Dr. Towns is a jovial man full of life. One of his more familiar expressions is, “My favorite pie…is cake.”
    He said the story behind the saying is that when he was a young boy, his mother would tell him to go the Army-Navy store and buy cake mix. The specific kind he bought was called “K-rations,” as it was during World War II.
    Towns said the mix came in a small box approximately twice the size of a cell phone and dipped in wax. His mother would bake the cake and never put icing on it.  At the time, it was a delicious treat and his favorite dessert.
    Dr. Towns is a testament to the fact that setting goals and reaching for them can help people reach their dreams. This great man has witnessed the birth and growth of a great Christian university, and he helped make it happen. Unlike others his age, he has not retired.
    Instead, he continues to be a part of this university by continuing his love for teaching. Students can learn much from him, and if he could offer one piece of advice to Liberty students today, it would be, “Remember God has a plan for your life. Find it and do it.” ?

Contact Miranda Canady at mwcanady@liberty.edu.

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