E.W. “Bill” Hunke Jr., executive director of the Alaska Baptist Convention from 1966-71 and prolific chronicler of Southern Baptist work in the western U.S., died Oct. 31 in Sun Lakes, Ariz. He was 92.
Hunke led a large-scale disaster relief effort in Fairbanks after harrowing flooding of the Chena River in 1967. And he led the Alaska convention to prevail in a dispute with the city of Anchorage in 1970 over taxation of the Baptist Building offices.
E.W. “Bill” Hunke Jr.
In 1971, Hunke was part of a 14-day simultaneous crusade for the Alaska convention’s 25th anniversary which yielded 370 baptisms.
In retirement in 1988, Hunke published the 368-page book Southern Baptists in the Intermountain West (1940-1989): A Fifty-Year History of Utah, Idaho and Nevada Southern Baptists.
In 1996, Hunke’s four-volume Southern Baptist Jubilee in the West (1940-1989) was released. The research project for the former Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) spanned 1,404 pages in four three-ring binders and included an array of biographical sketches of individuals who had played a part in Southern Baptists’ westward advance.
He earlier wrote a 63-page Home Mission Board publication, “A Biblical, Philosophical, and Historical Basis for Home Missions” in 1964 and 55-page research project for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, “A Study of Arizona Southern Baptists,” in 1963.
Hunke’s late wife Naomi also was an author, penning In This Land about the first 25 years of the Alaska convention, three other books and numerous articles for Southern Baptist publications.
In 2012, Hunke received a distinguished alumnus award from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (now Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention); he received the distinction at the seminary’s Arizona campus in May of that year.
“Dr. Hunke was one of the earliest graduates of Golden Gate Seminary,” President Jeff Iorg said at seminary’s luncheon during the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in New Orleans.
“He has invested his life fulfilling our mission of expanding God’s Kingdom around the world. It is a privilege to honor him and celebrate his many accomplishments.”
During Hunke’s ministry, he was a Home Mission Board coordinator in the western U.S. and Canada; associate executive secretary for the Arizona convention; a missionary for several Baptist associations; pastor of four churches in California, Utah and Arizona; and a catalyst for planting 14 churches in California and Arizona and a half-dozen other churches, missions and fellowships in Alaska during his tenure as executive director. He also was president of Golden Gate Seminary’s alumni organization in 1960.
“What a remarkable man he is,” Iorg told the 2012 seminary luncheon. “Today, at the age of 88, he is helping to plant another new church in Arizona, and it currently meets in his home.”
Earlier in retirement, Hunke served as evangelism director for the Grand Canyon Baptist Association and interim president of the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary in Cochrane, Alberta, in 1993.
The flooding in Fairbanks in August 1967 left 10 Southern Baptist churches heavily damaged and 200 Baptist families homeless after the heaviest rainfall in 40 years, Baptist Press (BP) reported at the time.
“We’re going to have to have help fast,” Hunke told BP. “This has nearly wiped Fairbanks off the map.”
Hunke issued a plea for Baptists throughout the nation to respond to the crisis and to pray for the flood survivors, noting that sub-zero weather was only six weeks away.
The flooding caused the cancellation of the Alaska convention’s annual meeting after middle-of-the-night evacuations of several speakers, including Porter W. Routh, then-executive secretary of the SBC Executive Committee.
“We were running for our lives,” Hunke told BP after being taken to safety aboard a U.S. Army armored truck with oversized tires.
A total of 122 volunteers came to Fairbanks, deploying to plumbing, electrical, carpentry and masonry needs; the Home Mission Board sent $50,000 in relief funds and churches outside Alaska sent more than $11,000.
Hunke, in an October letter to those who assisted the convention, wrote, “You will be happy to know that every facility is now operational. Much work remains to be done in sheetrock finishing, painting, finished carpentry in trim and door hanging, some floor tile work, and equipment purchase, but we are operational. …
“We frankly do not know what we would have done without the concern and response of God’s people,” Hunke wrote.
Other key junctures
The 1970 tax dispute over the Baptist Building followed an Alaska Supreme Court decision sustaining taxation of a Seventh-day Adventist residence-office facility for denominational officials.
Hunke, in lengthy discussions with Anchorage officials, prevailed in pointing out that the Baptist Building was, as he put it, “a religious office facility used only for religious and charitable purposes.”
The 1971 simultaneous crusade at the convention’s 25-year point featured 36 evangelists from the “lower 48” states following a two-day evangelism conference at First Baptist Church in Anchorage that included testimonies from a 113-year-old Eskimo Christian, “Grandma” Tucker, who was converted at age 83, and “Aunt” Elsie Willock, 83-year-old widow of the first Eskimo Baptist deacon, who also sang in their native tongue.
In addition to 370 baptisms, reports from participating churches totaled 118 additions by letter, 14 for special service and 880 rededications.
The crusade was “one of the greatest meetings we have ever had,” Hunke said, highlighting professions of faith by numerous young people and high attendance marks at many churches.
A native of Taylor, Texas, Hunke enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school in Waco in 1942, serving three years in the U.S. Corp of Engineers and subsequently the Air Force in several states in electronics, engineering and aircraft mechanics.
While in the military, Hunke made a profession of faith in Christ stemming from the witness of Clifford E. Clark, a state Home Mission Board (HMB) evangelist. He was baptized in California’ chilly San Joaquin River by B.N. Lummus, another HMB state evangelist. He surrendered to preach in an Air Force chapel and was ordained by First Southern Baptist Church in Madera, Calif.
Hunke was a 1953 graduate of Golden Gate Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif. (now Gateway Seminary in Ontario, Calif.), previously earning degrees from Pacific Bible Institute and Fresno State University. In 1974, he earned a Ph.D. in education from Arizona State University.
He is survived by a daughter, Dixie, who led the Woman’s Missionary Union of the California Southern Baptist Convention during the 1980s; two sons, David and Jim; and five grandsons.
A graveside service was held at Sedona (Ariz.) Community Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions or the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)