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Tigers Celebrate Tradition and Community at ETBU Homecoming 2023

October 28, 2023

East Texas Baptist University celebrated Homecoming 2023 by welcoming alumni and friends to campus, Friday, October 27, through Saturday, October 28.

“ETBU’s faculty and staff have been enjoying a week full of Homecoming festivities alongside our students, and it was a joy to welcome our alumni and friends of East Texas Baptist University back to the Hill," ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn said. “We extend our heartfelt appreciation to our alumni, families, and friends of the University for their devotion to our great institution and for passing on the legacy of God's faithfulness in their lives to future generations of Tiger graduates."

On Friday morning, students and alumni enjoyed a special Homecoming chapel service recognizing the 2023 Golden Blazers, Alumni Award recipients, Golden Lightkeeper recipient, and the class of 1973. Since the program's inception in 2010, a total of 103 members have been presented with ETBU's traditional Golden Blazer as a symbol of leadership, spiritual authority, and God's blessing. These ambassadors have provided generous financial support and countless volunteer hours to ETBU. The 2023 Golden Blazers are Laura Coursey (’17, ’21), Dr. Glenn Hambrick (’78), Dr. Robin Rudd (’85), and Michael Tandy (’64). Winners of the 2023 Alumni Awards included Larry Hemenes (’67) for the J. Wesley Smith Achievement Award, Bill and Anita Runnels were honored with the W.T. Tardy Service Award, Alton Holt (’82) was awarded the Alumni Achievement Award, Sadé Stewart (’08, ’14) was presented with the Unsung Hero Award, and Katie Balfe (’09) accepted the Young Alumna Award.

“I am grateful that God has allowed me to be used as a vessel to touch the lives of others,” Stewart said. “I am here to charge those that may be going through something—those that might be facing some difficulties. You will fail. That's part of life. It is what you do when you fail that matters. You make sure you get up, you keep going, and keep your eyes on God.”

Alumna Frances (Aguilar) Salazar (’51) was honored with the Golden Lightkeeper Award, a recognition reserved for alumni who graduated over half a century ago and have continued to excel in their vocations, contributions to their church, and outstanding service to their communities. Frances embarked on a remarkable journey of service and faith after completing her education at ETBC. She balanced a fulfilling career in education with her role as a devoted pastor's wife, exemplifying unwavering dedication to her faith and the communities she served. Alongside her husband, Epifanio, they spread the Gospel in various Texas cities, including Brady, Fort Worth, Waco, Lubbock, Corpus Christi, and El Paso. In addition, Frances also dedicated her time leading as the President of the Women's Missionary Union of Texas. In a heartfelt tribute to her enduring support and embodiment of ETBU's mission, her son, Orlando Salazar, accepted the Golden Lightkeeper Award on her behalf.

“The people impacted by my mom and my dad and their ministry cannot be counted,” Salazar said. “I challenge you to remain faithful to the Lord’s call just like my mom. At 96 years old, she still witnesses to the staff at her assisted living center. I am extremely grateful and impressed with East Texas Baptist University.”

Throughout the two-day celebration, the Tiger Family enjoyed activities such as a Jazz Band concert, Tiger Pep Rally and Fireworks, Late Night Breakfast, Decade Reunions, Tiger Family Carnival and Tailgate, and several Tiger athletic events.

“We didn't come to Homecoming for years because life was busy, but we plan on coming every year now,” Janeth (Bass) Ellis, class of ’71, said. “It has been great to reconnect with friends and to renew our reason that we came here in the first place. We know that God sent us here and then sent us forth to influence other people for the Lord. We feel so reassured that this is still a great institution, and we want to help support it.”

The 2023 Homecoming Court was announced during halftime of the football game against Sul Ross State University. The court included Freshman Duke and Duchess, Clayton Darby and Kasyn Peacock; Sophomore Duke and Duchess, EJ Washington and Phoebe Dunham; Junior Duke and Duchess, Randall Searls and Mary Frances Ellis; and Senior Duke and Duchess Parker Snow and Emily Gonzalez. ETBU seniors Abraham Contreras and Kara Dean were named 2023 ETBU Homecoming King and Queen.

I'm thankful that I get to be a vessel for God’s glory and just be a light here on campus,” Contreras said. “I'm very thankful to be honored in this way, and I give God the honor and praise.”

The King and Queen were nominated for their representations of a Christian leader, scholar, and servant. Abraham Contreras, a major in Christian ministry and mental health, actively engages with multiple organizations on campus. He holds leadership roles as a BSM leader, resident assistant, Tiger Camp co-leader, and CASL co-leader on campus. His leadership is not confined to the university, as he also serves as the youth apprentice at Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview and a behavioral analyst Intern at Community Healthcore. Kara Dean is a senior child development major. She currently attends New Beginnings Baptist Church in Longview where she volunteers in the children’s ministry, and actively participates as a Disciple Now small group leader. Kara has served on campus as a resident assistant, Tiger Camp leader, and on the CASL planning committee.

“The Lord has blessed me throughout my life and He has been so gracious to me throughout my time at ETBU,” Dean said. “This honor just points back to Him and what a loving Father He is. I hope I represent that well with my friendships and my relationships here at ETBU.”