PLAINVIEW – There was a noticeably empty seat around the President’s Conference Room table on Sunday afternoon as Wayland Baptist University administrators gathered to mourn the loss of Dr. Bill Hardage, executive vice president.
An employee of the university for nearly 40 years, Hardage was killed sometime Saturday in a plane crash in central California. He had traveled to Watsonville on a personal trip to pick up a recently purchased Air Coupe plane, reportedly one of his favorite to fly. Details of the accident are unknown at this time and still under investigation.
An accomplished pilot, Hardage had spent many years as the university’s pilot along with his administrative duties, often shuttling officials to graduation ceremonies at external campuses or to other locations on Wayland business.
Hardage first came to WBU in 1963, transferring from Hardin-Simmons College to run for Wayland’s new track and field program. After earning his degree in 1965, he moved to Lubbock to coach football and track at Coronado High School, then to Texas Tech University as assistant track coach and physical education instructor. He earned his master’s degree in education there.
Wayland beckoned him back, and Hardage returned as assistant track and field coach and assistant professor of physical education, serving for five years before taking a two-year break to earn the doctorate in education at East Texas State University (now Texas A&M – Commerce). He returned to WBU to chair the physical education department and to coach track before moving eventually into administrative roles.
In 1979, he became director of special services, taking the reins of the four existing external campuses and helping to start another. Since then, he has been instrumental in expanding Wayland’s reach through adding eight additional external campuses in the United States and another location in Kenya, Africa. His vision and love for those campuses was evident as he oversaw the programs and nurtured them to success.
From there, he would serve in the academic vice president's office, the advancement vice presidency, external programs leadership and back to academic and student services and provost. In 2001, he was named vice chancellor, and his title changed to Executive Vice President when the chancellor’s position was eliminated in 2002 with Dr. Wallace Davis’ retirement.
Fellow administrators lauded his impeccable work ethic and love for the university, noting that it was his energy and enthusiasm that helped Wayland procure the property that is currently McCoy Hall.
“Words cannot begin to express Wayland’s grief and my sadness over the loss of our gifted Executive Vice President, Dr. Bill Hardage,” said Dr. Paul Armes, president. “Bill loved Wayland and contributed to her success as an institution of higher learning in more ways than any of us will ever know. He will be missed greatly by every member of the Wayland family. I will miss my very good friend and fellow pilot.”
Dr. Bobby Hall, who served for a brief time under Hardage as assistant executive vice president before moving to the vice presidency for academic and graduate services, said Hardage left a true legacy.
“Dr. Hardage dedicated the majority of his adult life to Wayland and was a pioneer in the truest sense with his commitment to adult education. The positive impact of his life on the university is evident in many, many ways,” Hall said. “On a personal level, he was both a mentor and a friend and I will miss him greatly.”
Jim Smith, the university’s chief financial officer, spoke with great affection for Hardage as a friend and coworker.
“Dr. Bill Hardage was a person who loved Christ, and he cared for and loved Wayland Baptist University. The first time I met him I knew he was a very honest person,” Smith said. “I’m really going to miss those times when my office help would say, ‘The big bear is looking for you.’ I will miss my friend.”
As vice president for advancement, Betty Donaldson said Hardage’s career was marked with success and perseverance.
“Today the university mourns the loss of a man who provided the stability and vision for Wayland over the past 40 years and served as a friend and professional colleague to us all,” she said. “Bill Hardage will be truly missed.”
Dr. Claude Lusk, vice president for enrollment management, said Hardage embodied commitment and loyalty to the university in all he did.
“As is the case with all of us here at Wayland, the loss of Dr. Hardage grieves me both personally and professionally. He modeled an attitude of stewardship for our university that has helped shape how I approach my work,” he said. “His passion for the success of our institution was carried out one person at a time. That one person may be a student in Hawaii or a staff member in Plainview, but caring about that individual was critical to him.
“The obvious hole left behind by Dr. Hardage can only be matched by the legacy bearing his unique fingerprint.”
In a 2001 story marking his then 35-year career at WBU, Hardage said the love for Wayland kept him here for decades.
“I have a very deep love for this institution. I take great pride in what we do, and I always felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be,” he had said, noting a particular fondness for the work of the external campuses. “The mission effort of Wayland far exceeds many other programs of ministry by being in contact with literally thousands of students who may or may not have ever been exposed to the gospel and its influence.”
Hardage leaves behind wife Nell, son Tim of Plainview and daughter Cindy Bessire of Muleshoe, along with their spouses and numerous grandchildren. Services have not yet been set.