The historic Startup Chapel at Williams Baptist University is one step closer to a major renovation, thanks to a $200,000 challenge grant from the Mabee Foundation.  WBU plans to use the funds to substantially upgrade the interior of the chapel and construct a new addition at the rear of the structure. 

The Mabee Foundation, headquartered in Midland, Tex., recently notified WBU that it had been selected for the challenge grant. The Startup Chapel project is expected to cost $1 million to complete, and the challenge grant is conditional upon Williams raising the additional $260,000 it needs to fully fund the project.

“The Mabee Foundation gift brings our Startup Chapel project much closer to reality,” said Dr. Stan Norman, WBU’s president.  “Startup Chapel is an iconic structure on the Williams campus.  It is a part of the campus experience that nearly all of our alumni have in common over the decades. It binds together the experiences and memories of generations of WBU students.”

The chapel, which dates back to the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School in World War II, was one of the first buildings constructed when the military brought that base to life in 1942.  The base was decommissioned after the war, and WBU (then Southern Baptist College) relocated its campus from Pocahontas to there in 1947, taking possession of the chapel along with a number of other base buildings.

The chapel is one of only two original, military buildings left on the WBU campus. It continues to be used actively for student worship services, dramatic productions, and other activities. In recent years, the chapel was named in honor of Dr. Kenneth Startup, the retired WBU academic dean and history professor.

“Our vision is to bring new life to Startup Chapel,” said Norman. “This beautiful chapel, which has meant so much to Williams students over the last eight decades, is going to be restored and revitalized.  The result will be a modernized facility where memories continue to be made for many years to come.” 

The president said the chapel will get comfortable seating, theater lighting, new windows and roof, and other notable upgrades. And there will be new construction on the back of the structure.

“The current addition at the rear of Startup Chapel was not part of the original structure,” Norman said. “That addition has become outdated, to say the least. It has a flat roof that leaks badly, and that section of the building is no longer adequate for our needs. We plan to remove that part of the structure and replace it with a beautiful addition which better accentuates the chapel and serves our needs.”

The president said fundraising is already underway to secure the gifts needed to fully fund the Startup Chapel project. Those interested in giving to the project can designate their online gifts at

Norman said WBU hopes to complete fundraising and begin construction in 2023.