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J. Ralph Nookester

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J. Ralph Nookester


J. Ralph Noonkester, President Emeritus of William Carey University, died on Sunday, September 30, 2012 after a brief illness.

Born on June 10, 1924 in Flatridge, Virginia, Noonkester graduated from Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia and attended Marion College in Marion, Virginia. In 1944 he received the Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Sociology from the University of Richmond and was elected Phi Beta Kappa. Subsequently he completed the Th.M. and Ph.D. degrees at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. His 1949 doctoral dissertation concerning Oriental missionary movements in the United States represented a pioneering effort in Comparative Religion.

Noonkester later served as Minister of Education at First Baptist Church of Charlottesville, Virginia before accepting a teaching position at Mississippi Woman's College in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. When Woman's College became co-educational in 1954, it was Noonkester's idea to change its name to William Carey College reflecting the educational vision of the great Orientalist and missionary to India, William Carey (1761-1834).

Noonkester was Professor of Religion, Dean and, from 1956 to 1989, President of William Carey College (now University). He guided the trustees of William Carey College as they made it one of the first private colleges in the Gulf South voluntarily to achieve racial integration in 1965.

Noonkester's tenure as president witnessed successful fund-raising campaigns and the establishment of campus sites in New Orleans (1969) and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (1976). His expansive vision received recognition from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education in 1980. He retired from William Carey College in 1989 and was named President Emeritus.

While president of the Hattiesburg Chamber of Commerce in 1966, Noonkester led a fund-raising effort to rebuild the home of Civil Rights martyr Vernon Dahmer, Sr. Noonkester was president of the Mississippi Association of Colleges, the Mississippi Foundation of Independent Colleges and the Hattiesburg United Way and a member of the Hattiesburg Kiwanis Club and the Hattiesburg Civic Association.

Noonkester served on the Board of Directors of First Mississippi National Bank and BancorpSouth and received the Silver Beaver Award from the Boy Scouts of America. In 2012 he received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mu Gamma Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha.

Noonkester was a member of the Newcomen Society and Omicron Delta Kappa. He served on the boards of trustees of the Hattiesburg Public Schools and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As an experienced college president, Noonkester chaired the Education Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and guided several Southern Association of Colleges and Schools visiting accreditation teams.

Noonkester was a deacon of First Baptist Church, Hattiesburg for many years and in retirement sang tenor in the Visionaires Choir. Most recently, he and his wife Naomi were members of University Baptist Church, Hattiesburg.

Noonkester received the Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Richmond, the Rust College Shield for Leadership in Education and Social Development, the Liberty Bell Award from the South Central Mississippi Bar Association and the Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Blue Mountain College. In 1982 he was named the Hattiesburg Sales and Marketing Executives Man of the Year. The following year he became the third recipient of the Hub Award. The J. Ralph Noonkester Endowed Professorship, the J. Ralph Noonkester Scholarship at William Carey University and the Noonkester Park at Oak Hill Academy honor his memory.

In 2007 William Carey University named the Ralph and Naomi Noonkester School of Arts and Letters for him and for his wife Naomi who had served William Carey College faithfully as Registrar in the early days and later hosted receptions and public events in the William Carey President's Home.

Noonkester was the son of the late Reggie Lee and Arcie Parks Noonkester. He was preceded in death by his brother Clarence Noonkester and his sister Judy Noonkester.

Noonkester is survived by his wife of 65 years, Naomi Hopkins Noonkester; sisters Loretta Crismond of Bedford, Virginia and Kate Legard of Stuart, Virginia; a son, Myron Noonkester of Hattiesburg, Mississippi; a daughter, Lila Noonkester of Greenwood, South Carolina; a daughter-in-law, Jennie Morgan Noonkester of Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and grandchildren P. Belgium Harris of Laveen, Arizona, Adam Daniel Noonkester and William Morgan Noonkester of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

A funeral service will be held at Main Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg at 11 AM on Thursday, October 4, 2012. Visitation will precede the service from 9-11 AM. Dr. Bennie R. Crockett, Jr. and Dr. Rusty Edwards will officiate. Pallbearers will include colleagues in higher education and public service. Interment will take place at Highland Cemetery in Hattiesburg.

Members of the family request that memorial donations be designated to the Carey Center at William Carey University or to Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia.

Hulett-Winstead Funeral Home in Hattiesburg, MS is in charge of arrangements.

Published in Clarion Ledger on Oct. 2, 2012
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