Longtime church musician Bob Woolley probably earned the highest award given by his peers in Baptist life.
The Baptist Church Music Conference presented the retired state music director for the Missouri Baptist Convention with its Lifetime Ministry Award during its annual gathering, acknowledging his 64 years of service in the field.
The meeting was held June 7-9 at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn.
The award was initiated by the organization in 2004, but it is not presented every year.
Woolley was one of two recipients in 2009. Betty Woodward, longtime faculty member at Oklahoma Baptist University, was the other.
A curriculum writer, she was an active festival director and member of camp faculties, frequently serving during Church Music Week at Windermere Baptist Conference Center.
The crystal award was designed for one whose life exemplifies devotion to Christ through sacrifice and service to others. It is a crystal rendering called “The Cross of Nails.”
Woolley, a standout athlete, aspired to be a baseball player when he was 17 and anticipating his freshman year at Oklahoma Baptist University when the day came for local tryouts with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
But the last day of tryouts was a Sunday, and he already had a commitment as part-time music director at Wallace Avenue Baptist Church in Shawnee, Okla.
The aspiring pitcher skipped the tryout and kept his church commitment, and the rest is history.
“God called me to be a music minister,” he told Word&Way when he retired in late 1992. “I could have gotten out of leading music for that Sunday of tryouts, but I had hung up my uniform for the last time, and I have never regretted it.”
He went on to become one of the best-known church musicians in Baptist life in Missouri and beyond.
During his senior year, Woolley became minister of music at First Baptist Church at Bristow, Okla., and went full time music and youth at graduation.
It was there he met Margaret Wenzlaff, a junior college student and choir member. They married in 1949.
Woolley served several churches in Oklahoma before he became minister of music at First Baptist Church, Duncan, Okla. He stayed 11 years and had the largest choir in Oklahoma.
He came to Raytown First Baptist Church in 1967, was ordained in 1969 and in 1972 became director of Missouri Baptist’s church music department.
One of his greatest joys was directing the Singing Missionaries (directors of missions), who sang for many MBC and Southern Baptist Convention events.
He was a charter member of the Singing Churchmen of Oklahoma, first director of the Missouri Music Men and a member of the Centurymen.
Woolley served as clinician, festival director or soloist in 40 states and nine foreign countries. He co-authored nine published musicals, a few anthems and a number of fun songs like “Pickles” and “Watermelon Pitter.”
He served on committee for the 1975 and 1991 Baptist hymnals, and twice served as assistant to William J. Reynolds as music director and coordinator of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
He served one term as denominational vice president for the Baptist Church Music Conference.
Currently, he is director of the Saints Alive choir of senior adults at South Haven Baptist Church in Springfield.