The brief but celebrated service of Batsell Baxter, founding president of George Pepperdine College, had a positive and permanent influence on the Pepperdine of today. His sixty-nine years began in 1886 in Sherman, Texas, where he helped on the family farm and later became a cub reporter for the Sherman Daily Democrat.
He earned his bachelor's degree at Nashville Bible College, now Lipscomb University, took Fay Scott as his bride, and stepped to the pulpit of the Church of Christ in Corsicana, Texas, as a young and eager preacher.
Baxter soon returned to academia, earning his master's degree in english at Baylor and serving as both professor and dean at two Texas colleges before taking the helm of Abilene Christian College at the age of thirty-three. In 1932, with the nation mired in the Great Depression, he was named president of his alma mater, David Lipscomb College.
Five years later, when Christian businessman George Pepperdine called him from Los Angeles about his new venture, Baxter agreed to take his third post as a college CEO, having met all of Mr. Pepperdine's criteria as the school's premier president. He was an experienced educator and a well-respected leader within the Church of Christ, of which Mr. Pepperdine was a lifelong member. And he rose to the academic challenge of the fledgling institution, gaining full accreditation by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges within the college's first seven months of operation.
Pepperdine's first students accepted him as well. The senior class named him its unanimous choice as sponsor just two months after the college opened. He also was a gracious host. "Within the next few days," reported a December 1937 issue of the campus newspaper, The Graphic, "the very spacious basement of the President's home will be fitted up as a recreation center for college students. Dr. Baxter says there will be ping-pong tables and other recreational devices installed soon so that George Pepperdine College students will have a place to work off surplus energy without going off the campus."
From the beginning, Baxter emphasized that his tenure at Pepperdine would not be lengthy, citing deteriorating health. "I was vice president of David Lipscomb College and really a department head retired from the strenuous duties of president when I was called to George Pepperdine College," he said upon tendering his resignation in March 1939, effective June 30 of that year. The following month, he traveled to Spokane to lobby for permanent membership in the Northwest Association of Colleges, earning Pepperdine full accreditation and "unqualified membership without any reservations."
After traveling to Palestine to study Bible land geography, Baxter resumed his teaching career at Harding College. Called again to serve in a leadership capacity, he filled a second term as president of David Lipscomb College from 1943 to 1946. He served his final years as chairman of the Lipscomb Bible department, and his life ended peacefully on March 4, 1956.