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Transformation by Grace and Truth: OKWU’s Presidential Inauguration Day 

Written by: Blythe Moseman

October 11, 2019, at 10:10am marked the beginning of an especially significant day for Oklahoma Wesleyan University with the inauguration of our 6th president, Dr. James (Jim) Dunn. With a prestigious ceremony, a chilly reception, and a special invitation luncheon, OKWU students rubbed shoulders with dignitaries like the mayor of Bartlesville and Rep. Kevin Hern as they celebrated our president. 


The celebration began at 9:30 when all faculty members began lining up for pictures, along with previous president Paul Mills (Bartlesville Wesleyan College) and provosts of years past, all decked out in their scholarly regalia. There was an excited hum in the chapel as people reflected on the recent hopeful vibe around campus. Alumnae Andrea Drake (‘18) and Savannah Johnson (‘19), both digital cinema majors, were the photographers, and sophomore Benjamin Bender played prelude music on the grand piano.  


When asked about her feelings toward the whole day, Prof. Keri Bostwick honestly felt “like this is the moment in the Lion King when the sun is shining and Simba is being lifted up–all that awe and anticipation of what’s new. I’m really excited for today and for Jim and Wendy. It’s a day to be celebrated.” Junior Ketrina Koons, business major, says that “Jim and Wendy are some of the most genuine and authentic people I’ve ever met,” and according to Kory Pence, Vice President of Creative Impact, “Jim Dunn is the students’ president. He’s all about the students, and I think they need to know that.” 


General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church, Rev. Wayne Schmidt said, “I know Jim personally, and so I could speak from a personal level about his character and integrity. But from a denominational perspective, Dr. Dunn has long been a gift to The Wesleyan Church. His leadership at OKWU will certainly be a blessing to the university as well as to the whole denomination.” 


The ceremony began with the procession of the president, the first lady, presidential cabinet, board members, and faculty, accompanied by “Simple Gifts” masterfully played by Benjamin Bender. Sophomore Summer Smith was the only student on stage, but the audience did not know why she was up there until the end of the ceremony.  


Dr. Dalene Fisher, assistant provost, opened the ceremony with a formal address: “An inauguration is a time of new beginnings and transitions. Ultimately, this is a transition and a transformation. We’re here to highlight the transforming and liberating power of God in this sacred ceremony.” Dr. Fisher then welcomed the audience and families of the Dunns, all mentioned by name, as well as the Board, the Executive Members, the Wesleyan Investment Foundation, former President Paul Mills, numerous Wesleyan pastors, Rep. Kevin Hern and Sen. Julie Daniels, and Dale Copeland, the Mayor of Bartlesville.  


Then, Dr. Fisher transitioned into explaining the new tradition of ringing the bell, which denotes the grace of new beginnings, as a declaration of confidence. The privilege of ringing the bell is given to someone who embodies the mission of the university. For inauguration, Dr. Mark Shannon, business professor and student-voted faculty of the year two years in a row, had the privilege of ringing the bell, in honor of his son Sam, who died at age 14 on Oct 11 several years ago. He said, “Every student represents my son Samuel to me. I always tell my students at the end of class, ‘Dr. Shannon loves you. Now get out.’” This bell was dedicated in honor of Sam and renamed “Sam’s Bell” at the inauguration.  


As the bell rang, the OKWU Chorale lined the edges of the chapel auditorium and began leading the congregation in the hymn, “And Can It Be” by Charles Wesley (conducted by Dr. Jonathan Stewart, Director of Ensembles). After this, Dr. Dunn’s adult children came to pray over and anoint their dad and Wendy. Following the powerful prayers, the Chorale marched to the front of the stage to perform “Praise to the Lord,” arranged by Bradley Knight. Dr. Stewart said afterwards, “I’m proud of my performers. I appreciated how the OKWU Chorale gave the ceremony music and an extra dose of dignity. It was a wonderful experience, and I’m glad the music program was able to contribute to it.” 


After Prof. Bostwick read a prayer from Wendy’s good friend Melva Crame to bless her, Dr. Steve Babby, former District Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church and current Board member, gave the message. He started with a sports introduction (Padres vs. Cardinals); his wish for Dr. Dunn is to be more like the Cardinals than the Padres. “What does it take to thrive?” He asked. “Being relevant and making it to the playoffs. We know Dr. Dunn will be able to make it to the playoffs because he has an emphasis on the four pillars. Jim’s life is an example of what a true Wesleyan looks like. He looks to the Lord for guidance; he loves God, loves his family, and loves his ministry and work (in that order); he is himself and he will make decisions within his personality; he is committed to excellence; he is firm, fair, and fearless. He and Wendy are gifts from God. We’re hitting a grand slam home run with the Dunns as our leaders.” 


Dr. Dunn’s youth pastor from 30 years ago, Rev. Wayne Schmidt, gave a blessing over him, and then Chairman Roger Metcalf and Provost Mark Weeter placed the presidential medallion on Dr. Dunn’s shoulders, as a seal of his leadership and authority. Dr. Dunn demonstrated a humble spirit by asking the audience to cease clapping shortly after beginning.  


Professor David Preston then read John 1:12-14 and Dr. Dunn began his inaugural address, focusing on being transformed by grace and truth. His goal is to be in the business of transforming our heads, our hearts, our hands, and our habits by focusing on Christ. He said, “We’re not anti-cultural. We’re countercultural. We need ministers of the good news in every area, not just ministry, to win some for the good news that Jesus saves. You can count on the faithfulness of our God. We don’t do life alone–that’s the heart of our Big God.” 

In a classy move to recover from powerful emotions, Dr. Dunn called out a student from the crowd in a specific seat to come to the stage. There he paid junior James Faynik $100 and thanked him for attending his inauguration. Then at 11:17am, 3 minutes before the round of 11:20 classes were scheduled to begin, Dr. Dunn announced that he was cancelling those classes and a huge shout of thanks emanated from grateful students and faculty.  


Dr. Dunn then acknowledged his family and anyone who was at Bartlesville Wesleyan College in 1984-1988, when he was a student here. The sound technician then played an audio recording of Dr. Dunn’s ailing father John Dunn praying over Jim. The choir came back in and Gabe Belden and Benjamin Bender led the congregation in a mashup of “In Christ Alone” and “Christ the Solid Rock.”  


Summer Smith, representative of the campus Cultural Connections group, closed the ceremony with Scripture and a prayer read in the four most commonly spoken languages on campus: English, Spanish, Swahili, and Serbian. Summer says, “It was a huge (spankin’) honor to give the benediction. I’m so humbled that President Jim wanted me to speak; I’ll forever be grateful for that opportunity. What really made the benediction amazing was incorporating the different languages. Thanks to Cloe (from Spain), Marjolen (from Kenya), and Jelena (from Serbia), I was able to (somewhat) speak in their languages. I also really enjoyed sitting with the faculty–with the people who love and care about their students. I’m just glad I didn’t have to wear any regalia.” 


Benjamin Bender closed out the ceremony by playing “How Great Thou Art” as the faculty and congregation streamed towards the pond for a blustery reception. 


People tried to avoid the frigid mist blowing from the fountain as they milled around the pond, eating cookies provided by Pioneer College Caterers. This was a fantastic opportunity for students to rub shoulders with important dignitaries. Although the reception was short-lived due to the cold, faculty and students alike enjoyed conversing with big names in The Wesleyan Church. 


“Uncle Sam” Dunn, retired from Northwestern Nazarene, where he was the Vice President Emeritus of Academic Affairs, said the ceremony was a “great experience and a lot of fun. I was surprised to hear the audio from Jim’s dad; that was a special addition for our family.” Shirley Mullen, President of Houghton College, OKWU’s sister college in upstate New York, said, “An inauguration is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate a university’s past and future. Dr. Dunn’s emphasis on transformation by grace and truth is exactly what this world needs! I give my best wishes to Dr. Dunn and to OKWU.”  


James Occhipinti, a member of the Board of Trustees for 19 years, said, “It’s a great day for our university. It’ll be exciting to see the next chapter and what the Lord has for us.” Dr. Colleen Derr, president of Wesleyan Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University shared that she “used to work with Jim,” and she’s “thrilled to see how God has used him and is expanding His kingdom through Jim’s leadership.”  


After thoroughly freezing fingers and toes, a number of the faculty and dignitaries headed to the Bartlesville Community Center Fellowship Hall for a special invitation luncheon. There, they were greeted by the sight of beautifully decorated, white-linened tables and the OKWU student mentors acting as servers. Seniors Jon-Calvin Chance and Noah Storkson provided ambient background music while people partook in a lavish meal. Some of the food included: arugula, pears, goat cheese, walnut and cranberry salads; filet mignon, potato wedges, bacon-wrapped green beans, and delicious yeast rolls; and a delicious coffee cake for dessert. 


OKWU Academic Provost Dr. Mark Weeter opened with a welcome and prayer, and after the meal, people rose to give numerous speeches. Dale Copeland, mayor of Bartlesville, opened and said, in effect, “We give our full support to OKWU and their mission of ‘impacting culture with the lordship of Jesus Christ. You are raising up the leaders of tomorrow, and that makes our community a better place.” 


Kevin Hern, Oklahoma state representative explained that “this inauguration promises a new era. I’m confident in Dr. Dunn’s ability to keep up the college’s tradition of excellence. Being a student at OKWU is not just about information; it’s about transformation. Being a student at OKWU is not a calling to mediocrity; it’s a call to excellence. We serve a big God, not a big government.” 


Dr. Paul Mills, Bartlesville Wesleyan College’s president, said, “This is a day to remember. Jim, you were ready for all your other milestones. You are ready for today. But today is different than all the other days, since this day offers a larger and more intense service to God. You will impact a broader group, and with your leadership, will create many more days to remember, both for you and your students. 


[Text Wrapping Break]Dr. Craig Dunn, CEO of the Wesleyan Investment Foundation, looked at his brother and said, “Jim, you’re one of six kids, and now you’re the sixth president. Just… don’t wreck it.” After the audience subsided their laughter, Rev. Kyle White, Vice President of Student Development shared that “Jim doesn’t ask me to work for him, but for the kingdom, for our students, and for the next OKWU. He’ll never ask me to do something unless he’s already rolled up his sleeves to work with me. He’s been vulnerable and he’s built bridges, and it is going to be an exciting new chapter.”[Text Wrapping Break] 

Roger Metcalf, Chair of the Board of Trustees: “I’ve known Jim for years, and if it had been up to me, I would have just appointed him. But the search committee needed something to do, so we let them go through the process to elect exactly who we needed, who was Jim. I knew that all along. He’s great at making connections, and he got a unanimous vote from the Board when it came down to it. Please, pray for the Dunns daily. They’ve got an enormous task ahead of them and will need supernatural help.” 


John Hunt was not on the program, but was asked up to the stage to speak by Jim: “One thing I’ve learned from Jim is to say yes to the nudge of the Holy Spirit. You’ll go on an adventure: an adventure of a predetermined ‘yes!’ to the Lord. When we’re willing to do whatever God asks, it will be an adventure. Godspeed, Jim, and may God prosper you.”[Text Wrapping Break] 

Dr. Dunn finished the round of speeches with Ephesians 4:12. He asked, “How does one equip leaders? We have to lock arms and believe in those who have believed in you. The Body of Christ provides various gifts and talents, but we have to move forward together. We’ll never be able to do that without supernatural help.” He again encouraged everyone to pray that God would send him, Wendy, and OKWU everything we need, every day. As he finished up and all the events came to a close, people were left with a hopeful perspective, encouraged and challenged to be a part of the transformation of OKWU.