Baylor Founders Medal: Charles And Mary Alice Wise

October 5, 2010

He was an eighth-grade dropout turned student body president, CEO and Baylor Regent. She has spent years in children's and prison ministry. Together, they visit Death Row every Tuesday.

With no high school education, Charles Wise, BA '55, found himself swabbing decks in the Navy during the Korean War. He saw those with high school diplomas getting the better jobs with better pay, and he decided to earn his GED to improve his lot in life. After seven years in the Navy, he came straight to Baylor on the GI Bill.

"The only way I got into Baylor was because they put me on probation, and fortunately I was able to make it -- barely -- but I made it," he says.

Soon after he arrived on campus in the fall of 1951, a Baylor student waiting tables at Pete's Restaurant, across the street from Brooks Hall, helped lead Wise to become a Christian.

"While in the war zone, you start seeing everything that goes on out there, then you realize you'd better start thinking about things eternal," says Wise. "So he explained to me the plan of salvation, and I accepted the Lord that night."

Wise says he caught fire for God and within a month was teaching Sunday school. In March of 1952, after a geology class, Wise asked a classmate to have a Coke in the Student Union Building. That date turned into a 57-year commitment.

"I had never met a young man like Charlie, and we have had a wonderful marriage," says Mary Alice Wise, BA '54. "We give God all the credit."

Charles Wise later became Baylor student body president, and Mary Alice Wise was president of the Atheneans (now Kappa Kappa Gamma). After graduating from Baylor and working for several years as a manager for Upjohn Pharmaceuticals, the Wises had the chance to buy into Medical Plastics Laboratory, Inc., a Gatesville-based company, which they would own, in partnership, for 30 years until 1998. Wise was also president and CEO of the company, which specialized in manufacturing the world's first full-size human skeletons, and later sophisticated computerized patient simulators. Above all, Wise says the couple felt a calling to be Christian citizens.

"There's no doubt in our minds that God sent us to Gatesville, but it wasn't particularly to be in business; it was for us to get in the prison ministry," he says. "There's such a need inside the prisons, and many people don't see that's an opportunity to be a minister to those people's needs. There's a dynamic church inside the prison."

Mrs. Wise's heart for missions began as a teenager. While she often traveled from her hometown of Livingston to Huntsville to catch a bus for Baylor, Mary Alice would pass the Walls Unit and pray for those inside the prison walls. She and her husband first became involved in prison ministry with 1957 Baylor graduate Bill Glass and his Champions for Life Ministries.

"We went in with them, and then were allowed to do follow-up at the Gatesville men's and women's units the next week," Wise recalls.

That initial experience led to a long-term commitment to leading weekly Bible studies for prisoners. The Wises have spent 31 years in volunteer prison ministry, including 18 years ministering to women on Death Row, which they visit every Tuesday.

"We were both for the death penalty when we started going out there, but now, because we believe many innocent people have been executed, we are very vocally against it," says Mr. Wise.

In the last nine years, Mary Alice Wise in particular has devoted much of her energy to launching the Central Texas Hospitality House, a nondenominational, nonprofit ministry to prisoners' families. She serves as secretary and is on the board of directors for the ministry.

"We're just excited about what God's doing there, even this week, as we're hoping to build a 24-bedroom facility for overnight stays for families that come here from over 300 miles away. That's what is needed," she says. "It can also give other visiting families and ministry groups a place to rest, or to receive clothing for visitation requirements. We need help from churches in Waco and all around to build this building, staff it and volunteer."

The Wises also helped start Trinity Baptist Church in 1976, where Mary Alice Wise served as children's director for six years, and Charles now drives a bus to transport children to and from the church.

"A big part of our life today is working with those families," says Mrs. Wise, who estimates Gatesville has a population of about 10,000, with an additional 9,000 incarcerated. "Because of the prison we have so many poor families here in Gatesville. They are whom we've been involved with, and we love it. We wouldn't trade it."

Over the years, the Wises have been dedicated members of the Baylor family.

"Baylor is one of the greatest universities, and you realize that more and more, the longer you're out of school. It just becomes dearer," says Charles.

The Wises are members of Baylor's Endowed Scholarship Society, charter members of Baylor's Old Main Society and members of Baylor's Medallion Fellowship. They have given generously over the years to Baylor, first establishing several endowed scholarships and then giving to the Mayborn Museum Complex as well as to the McLane Student Life Center, the Mayborn Museum and Truett Seminary. Their son, Charles Wise, has provided a scholarship for Baylor basketball, and the couple's daughter, Kathryn Wise, BBA '81, MDiv '99, assistant director of Mission Waco, has given to Baylor for nearly two decades.

Wise also served from 1993-2002 on Baylor's Board of Regents.

"That really is one of the biggest miracles," says Mrs. Wise. "When Charlie was asked to be a Baylor Regent, we both just died laughing, because we saw how God had brought him from being a dropout. But because of that, he speaks to the prisoners and encourages them to get their GEDs. And so many, many times he's worked with Gatesville kids to encourage them to stay in school, and so God's used that in his life. You know, He uses everything, doesn't he?"

Read the Profiles:

Alumnus of the Year: J. Cary Gray
Young Alumna of the Year: Katie Wilhoit Kilpatrick
Pro Ecclesia, Medal Of Service: Dr. Bill Pinson
Pro Texana, Medal Of Service: Sen. Kirk Watson
Baylor Legacy Award: Sadie Jo Black
Baylor Legacy Award: Sue Holt Getterman
Baylor Legacy Award: Harold Riley
Baylor Legacy Award: Clifton Robinson
Baylor Founders Medal: Charles and Mary Alice Wise
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