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the first road warrior

A Tribute to Paul Ketteman

by Robert E. Picirilli

Find out more about the Paul Ketteman Scholarship system.

HE WAS THE FIRST STUDENT, EVER, at Free Will Baptist Bible College. When young L. C. Johnson, newly selected to open the college as its first president, drove up to 3609 Richland Avenue for the first time in September 1942, Paul Ketteman was sitting on the doorstep waiting. Dr. Johnson later enjoyed saying that Paul was looking longingly toward his home in southern Illinois.

Paul J. Ketteman was from a strong, Illinois Free Will Baptist family. His father Jack was a preacher and leader, a man with a pronounced sense of humor and dedication to God. Paul Jack, as the son was often called, came by all of that honestly. No one in the community was surprised when he announced his call to preach and went off to Nashville to prepare for the ministry at the brand new “Bible School.”

Warm-Hearted Pastor

Three years later, in May 1945, Paul graduated from the new school’s two-year program after working hard to pay for his education. He immediately enrolled in Columbia (SC) Bible College to finish his degree. At least two crucial things took place during his stay there: he met Helen Johnson, who would become his wife, and he began serving Mt. Elon FWB Church (Pamplico, SC) as part-time pastor.

That’s when I came to know him, as a young teen in his church. Paul was the first person ever to ask me straight out, “Bobby, are you a Christian?” He was never hesitant about witnessing when there was an open door. Likewise quick to recognize and encourage development, he was also first to call on me (at age 14) to lead a prayer in public—without telling me in advance!

I wish more people knew about Paul the pastor: first at Mt. Elon FWB Church, then at Edgemont FWB Church in Durham (NC), then back to Mt. Elon (this time full-time), and then at First FWB Church in Columbus (MS).

Paul was the kind of pastor who got out among the people in the community and got to know them where they lived. He confronted those who needed Jesus over and over. My great-uncle, Lawrence Kennedy, bragged that the last thing he wanted to do before he died was “to down a pint;” Paul persisted and finally won him over to faith.

FWBBC Champion

Paul loved Free Will Baptist Bible College. When Dr. Johnson asked him to devote his full attention to promotion and fund-raising, he didn’t hesitate—at least not for long. He spent the last 25 years of his life on the road representing his alma mater, the denomination’s flagship institution.

He didn’t just give out information and take up offerings; he encouraged pastors and leaders everywhere he went. He did the same thing on campus, sensitive to a student’s homesickness or need. Many students tell of receiving his hospitality and gifts when they needed help the most.

Sure, Paul was known for other things as well. He was the eminent practical jokester. Even when he was nowhere around, people wondered if something suspicious was his doing. And he drove like Jehu; if they hadn’t paved the roads around Mt. Elon later on, you might still see the marks of his tires in the dirt! But nobody would confuse those memories with the important ones.

Cancer took him from us sooner than we wanted, but he left behind a legacy. His influence survives him in his God-fearing family, in the students and pastors he encouraged, in his friends, in his denomination, and most of all, in the college he helped build from the very beginning.

Innovative Fund Raiser

Paul had a godly jealousy for Free Will Baptist Bible College. He wanted, more than anything else, for the school to be strong, growing, and faithful to its founding—training young men and women for ministry to the church and to Free Will Baptists.

He began the annual Christmas fund drive that was given his name after his death. He understood better than most how costly it is to provide quality Christian education, how important it is for churches and individuals to provide regular and generous support. More than anyone else, probably, he made us conscious of that.

When Jack Williams asked me to write this article, he spoke of Paul Ketteman as the “ultimate road warrior with a pastor’s heart, a heavy foot on the gas and a passion for education as prescribed at 3606 West End Avenue.” I couldn’t have summed it up better!

ABOUT THE WRITER: Dr. Robert Picirilli retired in 1999 after serving 44 years at Free Will Baptist Bible College as teacher, registrar, and academic dean.






©2005 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists