55 Years of God-Sized Dreams

Palm Beach Atlantic University celebrates its 55th anniversary and the incredible journey the founders embarked on in 1968

In 2023, PBA students enjoy a beautiful campus along the intracoastal waterway that houses a spacious Warren Library, a newly renovated campus bookstore, a 400-seat DeSantis Family Chapel, a 76-acre Rinker Athletic Campus and more. Although PBA’s campus looks vastly different than it did 55 years ago, the mission determined by the founders of PBA has remained the same throughout its history.

The university we know today has developed and prospered from small beginnings. In “Miracles and Wonders,” a detailing of PBA’s history, Dr. Donald Warren, PBA’s founding chairman of the board, shares firsthand accounts of PBA’s formative years. He describes feeling “a great deal of anguish concerning why God had called [him] to such an impossible task.” Dr. Warren was a respected cardiologist with a thriving medical practice in West Palm Beach, but when Dr. Jess Moody, senior pastor at First Baptist, commissioned him to join the mission of starting a Christian college in South Florida, Dr. Warren reluctantly agreed, saying “why not us and why not here?”

With seemingly improbable needs for finances and sponsors, the founders wondered if their dream for a Christian college, in the midst of the socially turbulent Years of God-Sized Dreams 1960s, would ever be accomplished. Warren explained that they started PBA with the aim to “produce Christian leaders – young people who would leave college…work in their professions as Christians, serve in their churches as lay leaders and become the backbone of their communities.”

Originally run out of First Baptist Church classrooms and small houses purchased as dormitory buildings,PBA seemed to have a long journey ahead to reach its goal. However, Warren says the doubt and uncertainty reminded him that PBA was not his or anyone else’s. It was God’s. In “Miracles and Wonders,” he said, “Today, as I look at the college, it is clear that no one person or group of people built it. God built it.”

William Yarick, a member of PBA’s founding class, shared his gratitude for the individuals who believed in PBA’s mission and vision from the very beginning, stating that “a lot of people invested in the college with a vision for the future, and as you can see today, it has turned out to be quite a vision fulfilled.”

The vision for the Workship program that began in 1968 has continued to grow, and PBA students have now completed nearly four million Workship hours. Sharing the heart behind the origination of Workship, Warren explained that because “Christ taught and lived by example among the people, Jess (Moody) determined that…students would do the same. They would work for people in the community who could do nothing for them in return.”

The mission to produce leaders who seek wisdom, serve in their communities and have a heart for the Lord can be seen in the university’s motto: Enlightening Minds, Enriching Souls, Extending Hands.

With the celebration of 55 years of PBA, we can reflect on the seemingly impossible dream that God brought to fruition and the traces of divine intervention throughout PBA’s story. Now, more than five decades later, PBA continues to dream “God-Sized Dreams” with Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, PBA’s current president, at the helm. The strategic vision includes a multi-phased master plan to maximize available land – it plans for a new six-story, flagship business building, a health sciences complex, a student and alumni welcome center and a state-of-the-art performing arts center. “To remain competitive and responsive to marketplace changes, we are committed to continuously improving our learning community, expanding relevant program offerings and building forward-thinking, life-giving spaces,” said President Schwinn. “PBA combines whole-person education with an emphasis on excellence, so that our students graduate as servant leaders. That combination is what we need in the world today.”

Dr. Warren encapsulated PBA’s story well, stating that it “is not one of great human achievement, but one of God working through mere mortals in the past, present and future to accomplish the ‘impossible dream.’ Many people have contributed immensely to [PBA’s] cause and they are to be commended. But the main credit should go where it is due: To the God of mercy, of miracles and of wonders, who met us around every corner.”

Read stories of fellow Sailfish and share your story with us! Click here to celebrate PBA’s 55th anniversary year!

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