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WatersEdge Celebrates 75 Years of Kingdom Impact
What started three-quarters of a century ago with the generosity of one man has today blossomed into the generosity of thousands. WatersEdge exists to financially empower donors and ministries to transform lives with the Gospel, and this fall the organization celebrated its 75th anniversary.
On November 6, 1946, messengers to the Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (today Oklahoma Baptists) voted to establish The Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma (today WatersEdge) as the sole incorporated trust agency for Baptist work in the state. The action arose from the desire of Baptist leadership to ensure financial stability for Baptist institutions across Oklahoma and was prompted, in part, by a gift of land from an Enid businessman named R.A. Lemen.
THE FIRST GIFT – R.A. Lemen’s gift to the International Mission Board in 1944 became the first gift received by The Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma (now WatersEdge).
Lemen donated 651 acres in the Texas panhandle to the convention in 1944 with the desire that the property be sold and used to pay the salary of a missionary to China. The $32,000 proceeds from Lemen’s gift were placed into a permanent endowment with WatersEdge. Lemen died 14 years later, in 1958, but his gift continues giving. Today, the R.A. Lemen Trust is valued at more than $204,000 and distributes nearly $8,000 to the International Mission Board (IMB) each year. Since 1946, Lemen’s gift has distributed more than $430,000 to international missions and will continue supporting IMB’s work to spread the Gospel across East Asia in perpetuity.
The generosity of Southern Baptists like Lemen, combined with the visionary leadership of six presidents and a host of dedicated staff, has grown WatersEdge into one of the largest and most influential foundations in the Southern Baptist Convention. While active in more than twenty states, the impact of WatersEdge is felt most deeply in Oklahoma. This year, messengers attending Oklahoma Baptists’ 115th Annual Meeting approved a resolution to recognize the milestone of 75 years of service.
“…This vital ministry has made a lasting impact on countless churches in Oklahoma by investing millions of dollars back into Kingdom ministries. We are thankful WatersEdge continues to grow and serve churches around the state and across the country,” the resolution stated.
From its founding 75 years ago to the present, the history of WatersEdge can be divided into three eras: creating awareness, growth amid hardship, and meeting the needs of today and tomorrow.
Auguie Henry served as the first full-time president of WatersEdge from 1949 to 1967. The former pastor worked tirelessly to champion the fledgling organization. He spoke at churches and associations across the state, as well as in secular arenas like civic clubs and schools. Henry also commissioned brochures and other informational literature promoting the work of WatersEdge, which, by the end of his tenure, had expanded to included estate planning, charitable gift annuities and church building loans.
“During its first 20 years the Foundation (WatersEdge) had become a household name in many Oklahoma Baptist homes, and had gained the respect of professional and business people over the state,” Henry wrote in his book, “A Pillar of Strength.”
During Henry’s administration, WatersEdge made 331 church loans totaling $7.1 million, helped create more than 3,000 charitable wills and trusts and grew assets under management to $7.89 million.
Bob Ross served as the fifth president of WatersEdge from 1986 to 2002 and brought about significant growth despite social and economic hardships. When Oklahoma’s energy bubble burst in the late 1980s, businesses and nonprofits alike struggled to find firm financial footing. In 1995, the bombing of Oklahoma City’s Murrah Federal Building sent shockwaves throughout the United States and especially impacted Oklahomans. Five short years later, the 9/11 terrorist attacks rocked the country again, causing continued economic turmoil.
In the face of such trials, Ross led WatersEdge to grow assets under management to a high of more than $226 million. Along the way he built a staff of financial and legal professionals and introduced donor advised funds as a new giving avenue for Oklahoma Baptists. Today, at age 85, Ross said he finds great satisfaction in knowing that WatersEdge has been an essential partner to Baptist institutions like Oklahoma Baptist University and Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children. “I think WatersEdge is probably the best kept secret in Baptist life,” he said.
THE BEGINNING OF BOYS RANCH TOWN – Boys Ranch Town founders James and Florence Johnson (left) talk with Auguie Henry, Foundation executive secretary-treasurer. On May 18, 1953, the Johnsons gave 160 acres of land and $547,000 through the Foundation to create Boys Ranch Town in memory of their only child, Jimmy, who died at age 14.
Robert Kellogg is the sixth and current president of WatersEdge, the longest serving of any of the organization’s previous leaders. During his nearly 20 years as CEO, Kellogg has overseen significant changes including the expansion of services to Southern Baptist ministries outside Oklahoma, changing the name of The Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma to WatersEdge, and the growth of assets under management to more than $600 million.
NEW LIFE – A young woman rises from the Entry Pool at Falls Creek following her baptism. She is one of hundreds who accept Christ each summer at Oklahoma Baptists’ student camp, which is supported by endowed gifts managed by WatersEdge.
“I’d like to think that those Baptists who had the forethought to birth us years ago would be very pleased with the direction we’ve taken and what we’ve accomplished,” he said.
Kellogg holds WatersEdge to a high standard of excellence and professionalism but said that isn’t what sets the organization’s work apart. There’s a difference between WatersEdge and banks, community foundations and other financial institutions, he explained, because the purpose of WatersEdge is built around the advance of God’s Kingdom.
“We care deeply about facilitating giving and growing financial assets, but we do it because we are compelled by Jesus’s command to make disciples,” Kellogg said. “WatersEdge was created to financially support Kingdom-impacting ministries. In 75 years, we haven’t strayed from that purpose, and it’s what will guide WatersEdge for the next 75 years.”