Chambers' generosity made a mark

March 27, 2015 | Paul Anthony
E.D. Chambers

Although the building bearing the Chambers name is gone, the legacy of E.D. and Julia Chambers continues on.

Chambers Hall was demolished over Spring Break – the spot where it stood for 85 years now empty, awaiting a new chapter with construction of the Halbert-Walling Research Center. With attention turning to the future, let’s take a moment to appreciate the history of one of Abilene Christian University’s most generous families.

From 1929-45, E.D. Chambers was a member of the Abilene Christian College Board of Trustees, serving as its chair in 1942-43. But that long relationship began with an unexpected visit.

In 1928, two members of the board – J.E. McKinzie and J.C. Reese – traveled through rural West Texas, looking for families willing to support the college, which at the time was in near-constant financial trouble and planning to move campuses from downtown Abilene to the Hashknife Ranch northeast of town.

W.N. and Zona Luce had agreed to give 640 acres, and the trustees went to a bank in Spur, about 70 miles east of Lubbock, to close the deal.

Reese recalled the visit in an interview with Mae Robbins (’54) for her 1960 master’s thesis analyzing donations the college had received in its first 50 years.

Library in Chambers circa 1940

“We asked Brother W.B. Lee, president of the bank, if he knew of anyone else who would be interested in helping Abilene Christian College in a similar way,” Reese told Robbins. “He suggested Mr. E.D. Chambers of Afton. We visited Mr. and Mrs. Chambers and told them of our need. He gave us a check and invited us to come back. We looked at the check later and found it to be made for $500.”

Adjusted for inflation, that would be the equivalent today of writing a $7,000 check.

That seemingly off the cuff, $500 gift quickly turned into much more. McKinzie and Reese went on to Amarillo, then swung through Afton on their way back to Abilene. Visiting again with Chambers, Reese recalled the rancher “said that he had 160 acres he wanted to donate to the college. Then he studied a minute and said that would leave a 40-acre jog so he would throw in the extra 40 acres, too, and he already knew a man who wanted to buy the land.”

Catchings Cafeteria in Chambers

The family presumably sold the land because in 1929, ACU received $30,000 from E.D. and Julia Chambers – or nearly $412,000 in 2015 dollars. In return, one of the new campus’ original buildings was named Chambers Hall.

E.D. Chambers’ tenure on ACU’s board was bookended by significant gifts. Late in their lives, he and Julia established the Chambers Trust Estate, setting aside more than $150,000. Of that, $65,000 ($850,000 when adjusted for inflation) went to fund what became McKinzie Hall, with the remainder invested so that the returns would be split between ACU and church missions.

The gift was made in January 1945; E.D. and Julia Chambers died within a week of each other that July. The trust was transferred to ACU’s endowment in 1999, and it continues to award money for student scholarships today, 88 years after E.D. first pressed a check into the hands of Reese and McKinzie.