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On the Shoulders of Giants: Dr. Horton in Chapel

Dr. Horton Interviewed in Chapel
Dr. Horton
Dr. Arlin Horton

In a special chapel service, Dr. Troy Shoemaker, president of Pensacola Christian College, welcomed the opportunity to introduce the student body to a man he appreciates and admires—President Emeritus Dr. Arlin Horton. Students welcomed the founder to the stage with applause and a standing ovation before quietly listening to him answer questions about his life and ministry.

Dr. Horton, who retired 10 years ago, has spent much of his life in Christian service, including 60 years of ministry in Pensacola. Dr. Shoemaker noted the impact of Dr. And Mrs. Horton’s legacy by quoting Sir Isaac Newton: “If I’ve seen further, it’s because I stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Remembering His Youth

Dr. Horton told about his life as a young boy in Oregon, sharing brief stories of his experiences. As a grandson of a pioneer and one of seven children, Arlin learned early in his life how to support himself. During late summer and early fall, he and his siblings would pick wild blackberries, earning 10 cents a pound. “These blackberries were sold for the troops in our country,” he recalled. “One day, I picked 150 pounds of berries and made $15, which today would be worth $100 at least. I paid for all my clothes and everything I owned from seventh grade to high school.”

The Horton's Wedding

As a young man considering college, Arlin wanted an education founded on the “old-time religion.” He found that at Bob Jones University. “After enrolling, I traveled on a Greyhound bus four days and five nights to Greenville, South Carolina, and began college there, knowing that it would be nine months before returning to my home,” he said. “Phone calls were $30 for three minutes. How would you like that? And of course, I never made one.”

He arrived at the college in 1947, meeting Beka while waiting tables in the dining hall. “I had two goals attending college: to find a wife and to find what occupation I should pursue. And the Lord wonderfully answered both of those prayers during my college days,” he said. “I’d say I was a typical freshman and had to work hard, keeping my academic areas in good shape. . . . My friends were those who waited tables in the dining hall, and that was where I met my wife. We married and finished our senior year, and then we had 70 wonderful years.”

Starting in Education
the old PCA building

Before Pensacola, Arlin and Beka Horton taught for a year at a mission school in Kentucky, “far enough back they brought the mail in over the mountain by muleback.” Their experience was the first of many to help them learn and develop a Christian school of their own. “I like to say we had about 10 years of experience of what not to do, all wrapped up into one year, as administration cared very little about having students obey any rule,” he said. “We soon realized we could not remain there longer than that year.”

The Hortons arrived in Pensacola in 1952, soon starting Camp o’ the Pines—the first of many ministries that followed in the 70 years since. Pensacola Christian School (PCS) began with 35 students a year later. “My goal was, Lord willing, to have a school of 100 students someday, which is as far as I can dream. And of course, I was very, very green as a young person,” he said, laughing. “The second year the Lord gave us 100 students, and I realized we had a great opportunity for growth.”

the old PCC building

In winter of 1972, Arlin and Beka Horton announced plans to open a college a year and a half later. The news stunned the PCS staff and faculty at the time. While confident in God’s direction, they received confirmation of their burden to start a college a few days later. A pastor who had long wanted to talk with them finally knocked on their front door, asking if they had considered opening a Christian college in Pensacola. “To us, this God-led pastor was a confirmation from then on that God wanted us to start Pensacola Christian College,” Dr. Horton recalled. “We needed that confirmation of a difficult road ahead, and we never doubted God’s calling.”

Dependence on God

Over the years, the Hortons worked through growing pains as their ministry expanded. Each challenge wasn’t without moments of learning. “I’ve learned so many lessons, many of which learning what not to do after making a poor decision, which all of you are going to go through, I’m sure. But then you can learn what you ought to do next time, see?” said Dr. Horton. “If the Lord leads you to a ministry, be willing to put your heart and life into it. Die to yourself (John 3:30). Do what’s right. Learn from your mistakes. Tell the truth. And then it’s very, very important to ask the Lord to give you wisdom and to guide you in the decision-making process.”

“He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease”

—John 3:30

Looking back, Arlin Horton is amazed at how God chose to use a simple boy from Oregon to bring about the ministry that he and Beka Horton desired to give to the community. “As a 19-year-old in the college church, the Lord overwhelmed me, causing me to run down the aisle when the invitation was given, where I gave my heart and life to Him,” said Dr. Horton. “We stand amazed and give God credit for blessing and using these different ministries under our leadership. Now, much credit goes to our dedicated faculty and staff, for without them, it would never happen.”

After retirement, Arlin cared for Beka for five years as her health declined before she went home to be with the Lord. He was lonely in her absence. However, he soon met Wilma, who had been married for 62 years herself and lost her husband four years ago. This past June and at age 93, Arlin remarried. After introducing Wilma, who was seated in the Crowne Centre loge, Dr. Shoemaker shared with the student body, “And you know what’s so cool? When I see young people, you all, walking around so thunderstruck in love with each other—that passion is still there at age 90.” 

Before students continued with their day, Dr. Shoemaker encouraged them to embody a spirit of gratitude for how God has used the ministry they’re a part of. “We are so thankful for you and for the ministry that you’ve had in this place and our students,” he said. “As you go about your business today, do me this favor: thank God for the giants whose shoulders you stand upon, for Dr. and Mrs. Horton, and for Pensacola Christian College.”