Held Celebrates 100th Birthday, Family's Baylor Lineage

November 30, 2009
On Oct. 14, 1909, Dr. McDonald W. Held, AB '33, was born. 100 years later, he flew from his home in Billings, Montana to serve as Grand Marshal for Howard Payne University's homecoming parade in Brownwood, Texas. And, he's done a thing or three in-between.
Among them, he's been a U.S. Air Force intelligence worker, a professor, an author, a nationally known stage lighting specialist, and college president. He became an ordained Baptist minister at age 74. Held and his wife, Beverly, have five children, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
The young Held was in his first semester at Baylor during the stock market crash of November 1929. He played freshman football and basketball under student coach Weir Washam, who two years earlier had survived the Immortal Ten bus accident. Held was president of the junior class, a member of Chamber and president of the Baptist Student Union.
"Baylor was smaller then, about 1,480 students," recalls Held. "The Chamber was relatively new; you had to be voted in. The junior class elected the editor of the Round Up, and I ran for it because you got free tuition, but a girl won by two votes." But he was elected president of the BSU, where he organized Baylor Religion Hour gatherings in the brand new Waco Hall, which was dedicated in 1930.
"300 to 400 students usually came, but when Dr. George W. Truett would come speak, several of the Baptist churches in town cancelled their Wednesday night services and joined us," says Held. "We averaged 700 to 800 people at the end of the year."
After teaching in Baylor's speech department for a year, Held earned master's and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University. He served at Howard Payne from 1955-1964, where he was chair of the speech and theatre department and academic dean. He worked for seven years at Wayland Baptist University before moving on to Montana State University-Billings, where he retired in 1977. He became vice-president and then president of Yellowstone Baptist Bible Institute, now Yellowstone Baptist College. Held was ordained as a Baptist preacher at age 74, and he has since ministered in three churches in Montana.
While Held's story is remarkable in itself, his family has quite a history with Baylor.
"We're a Baylor family," says Held. "My father, an Austrian immigrant, graduated from Baylor with Pat Neff, Tom Connelly and other greats. My eldest sister Emilie graduated in 1922, and my younger brother, Dr. Colbert C. Held, in 1938." Another sister, Anna Dean "Deanie" Held Johnson, also attended Baylor.
According to McDonald Held's entry in The Handbook of Texas Online, his father, John Adolf Held, AB 1896, AM 1906, "was the business manager of the first Baylor annual in 1896. He was also captain of the first bicycle club, co-organizer of the first glee club, and composer of the first class song."
John Held became a popular preacher and influential Baptist pioneer in beginning adult Sunday School classes and incorporating vacation Bible school into Baptist churches. He was also a key figure in starting the Baptist Student Union movement in the South. While the younger Held was attending Baylor, his father was a missionary to European immigrants--especially Germans, Bohemians and Poles--in Waco.
Held's younger brother, Dr. Colbert C. Held, BA '38, a former professor of history and Diplomat-in-Residence at Baylor, was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer from 1957 to 1977, with various assignments throughout the Middle East. During this time, he accumulated an unrivaled slide collection showing the region on the eve of the rapid development from oil. He resides in Waco.
Though he doesn't get back to campus as often as he used to, McDonald Held still wears the green and gold at least three times per week. At 3 a.m., he has his quiet time and then drives to the local gym, where he's the first one through the doors when they open at 5 a.m.
"I dearly love Baylor. I wear a Baylor workout suit each Monday-Wednesday-Friday as I workout at the Billings YMCA," says Held, who routinely exercises for an hour and a half, has breakfast, then sometimes takes a nap before continuing his day. He doesn't go to bed until after 11 p.m. That's not too shabby for a centenarian.
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