By Lori Bredemeyer, Copy Editor
The Tower of Light stands as a fortress by day and a beacon by night-150 feet, 15 stories, 60 slabs of Leuders limestone high, one of the tallest structures in Abilene.
The tower was built in 1989 with the Biblical Studies Building, Chapel on the Hill and Beauchamp Amphitheater.
Bob Omstead, then co-chair of the Board of Trustees Building Committee, wanted to build the tower.
“Mr. Omstead thought the university needed something that would be visible when driving from either direction on I-20, something that would stand out and mark the university,” said Dr. Ian Fair, adjunct professor of Theology who was dean of the College of Biblical Studies at the time of construction.
Fair said Omstead also wanted the tower to be taller than the steeple of University Church of Christ-it needed to stand 25 feet taller than the top of the church.
The tower’s construction was funded by Bob Gowen, a worker in Omstead’s construction firm.
Construction cost about $250,000, Fair said, noting that some were unhappy the university spent so much on a structure and not on scholarships. But an anonymous donor later gave more money to the college to offset the tower’s expense.
Fair said the artist’s drawing that stood out most had a ray of light shining up from the top of the tower, but the plan was quickly abandoned.
“That was never the intention,” he said, “and of course it would have caused all sorts of problems with the airfield being close by.”
The project was completed April 26, 1989, and dedicated Aug. 27. Tittle Luther Architects of Abilene designed the structure, and Spaw-Glass Construction Inc. built it.
University administrators, as well as Bob Gowen and his wife, wanted the Biblical Studies complex to be “one of the most outstanding buildings on campus,” said Bill Hilton, vice president of finance at the time.
“I still think it’s our most impressive building on campus from the standpoint of design,” he said. “Of course, as they get older and you have newer ones there’s some you may look at differently, but it’s still a very impressive-looking building.”
The tower’s speaker-bell system, originally on audiotape, also was installed in 1989, although using it to play hymns has been a more modern addition.
The tower chimes every 15 minutes and plays songs 10 minutes before Chapel each day. Speakers at the top of the tower play the chiming bells, said Dr. Jack Reese, dean of the College of Biblical Studies.
The original sound system was upgraded to digital in 1999. The new system made it possible to play different music and tunes.
Reese said the first time music was played was for the funeral of Dr. Jim Mankin, associate professor of Bible and associate chair of the Department of Undergraduate Bible and Ministry.
“For a long time he wanted for hymns to be played from the tower,” Reese said, “and so in honor of him, hymns were played before and after his funeral.”
In March 2000, the decision was made to play music for 10 minutes before Chapel, said Jim Holmans, executive assistant to the president, told the Optimist then.
“A [President’s] Cabinet decision determined that it would be a nice call to Chapel,” Holmans said. “It is also a nice way to let everyone on campus know that Chapel is a few minutes away.”
Pam Hadfield, assistant to the dean, said the songs are stored on computerized chips, of which the university owns four. The chip played before Chapel contains 24 songs that are rotated each day.
“We have them rotate so that the same song does not start at the same time every day,” she said. “In other words, five songs will play and then the following day we move a song down the list and five songs play. You hear the same songs a lot, but they’re not exactly in the same order.”
Hadfield said the standard chips cost about $300 each; the university owns one with hymns, one with Christmas music and one with patriotic music. She said custom chips are more expensive, and the university owns one that contains a few hymns and the alma mater, “Oh, Dear Christian College.”
The sound system also is equipped to act as an emergency broadcast system in case of “impending crisis or disaster,” Holmans said.
“We have some prearranged messages that are waiting to be read depending upon the circumstance,” he said. “We’ve got some people who are designated as readers, and they’re standing by and we call them when we need to.”
Hadfield is one of two people responsible for the sound equipment, and she said she is one of the readers.
“We’ve done that one time in bad weather,” she said. “We’ve practiced several times, but we’ve only used it one time officially for a storm.”
Pranks have cost hundreds of dollars
In the last few years, several pranks have involved the Tower of Light. Hadfield said two years ago around Lectureship, a student broke in and rewired the speakers to play a CD.
The Optimist in 2002 reported that the Abilene and ACU Police departments were “called to secure the area in case of any danger related to the prank.”
Reese said since then the university has taken extra security measures to ensure the safety of the tower and of students.
“Everybody laughed when it was happening,” she said, “but it really was not very funny because it cost several hundred dollars to have all of that repaired, and a lot of time.”