Libby Rankin: Woman of Virtue

By LORETTA FULTON

Libby Rankin didn’t know it, but she waited almost a year for an award she should have received on March 26, 2020.

That was the date of the annual Hardin-Simmons University Round Table Scholarship Luncheon when the winner of the Woman of Virtue Award and the recipient of the scholarship are announced. But COVID-19 intervened in March 2020 and the luncheon was canceled. 

Nearly a year later, Rankin got the Woman of Virtue Award on Saturday, Feb. 13. Her family deserves an award, too, for keeping the honor a secret for a year. The wait certainly was worth it, as even the ongoing COVID pandemic and a blast of winter weather couldn’t keep family and friends from turning out to celebrate the honor. 

“I am just blown away that this many showed up in this weather,” Rankin said. 

Instead of the traditional luncheon, Rankin received her inscribed glass vase, bouquet of flowers, accolades, and well-wishes from friends and family in a morning ceremony held on campus. The scholarship winner will be announced later this spring.

The Rankin family moved to Abilene in 1969 when Taylor Rankin accepted a teaching position at Hardin-Simmons. Libby Rankin’s first association with the HSU Round Table, which dates to 1910, came when the family arrived in Abilene. They were invited to stay in the homes of Round Table members while waiting to get into their own home. 

Since then, Libby Rankin has had a close relationship with the members and served the organization twice as president. Socializing and working on projects together created a bond that Rankin cherishes. 

“I am grateful for that association,” she said.

Among the guests for the Woman of Virtue Award ceremony were several current and former professors and staff from Hardin-Simmons.Taylor Rankin is now retired from Hardin-Simmons. A Rankin family endowed scholarship carries on the Rankin name on campus. 

Two of the three Rankin children also were in attendance. Daughter Rachael Bein lives in Abilene. A son, Andrew, drove in from Oklahoma. Another son, Rob, lives in Midland and couldn’t attend because of road conditions. 

Nancy Cook, president of the Round Table, welcomed guests, and Judy Hancock read her memorable citation in presenting the award to Rankin. 

“What do John Wayne and our honoree have in common? Hancock asked. “Grit!”

In 1969, John Wayne starred in the western, “True Grit,” Hancock noted, and the same year a G-R-I-T-S or Girl Raised in the South moved west to Abilene with her family. During the past fifty years, Rankin has established a legacy of service to Hardin-Simmons, First Baptist Church, and to the community. She has served Hardin-Simmons in leadership positions on the Academic Foundation, Board of Development, and the Presidents Club. All three of the Rankin children are HSU graduates. 

Rankin also has served two terms as president of the Round Table organization, 1975-77 and 2008-2010. At First Baptist, Rankin has served as a deacon, teacher, and member of various committees. She currently volunteers with the children’s music ministry and serves at Abilene Baptist Association Social Ministries.

Born in Morristown, Tennessee, Rankin graduated from high school at age 16 and from Carson-Newman College at age 19 with a bachelor of arts degree in English and a minor in French. Rankin taught high school English in Tuskegee, Alabama, for three years while her husband finished his doctorate at Auburn University. In Abilene, she worked as Director of Volunteer Services at Hendrick Medical Center and as a real estate agent. 

In the community, Rankin has held memberships with the Society for the Preservation of Quaint Homes and the Friends of the Abilene Public Library. She helped establish the branch libraries on Mockingbird Lane and at the Mall of Abilene. Rankin also served for a year on a Taylor County Grand Jury.

The Rankins’ daughter, Rachael Bein, said her mother represents Christian values and beliefs that are foundational to Hardin-Simmons.

“She is indeed a virtuous woman,” Bein said. “She is a person of faith who serves God and follows Jesus.”

The Round Table has a long and distinguished history at Hardin-Simmons. The organization was founded in the fall of 1910 by Simmons College First Lady Lucile Sandefer to cultivate friendships among faculty wives. The first meeting was held around her round dining room table. Under her leadership and business acumen, the women undertook projects that would transform and enhance the campus.

In 1915, they purchased and planted 100 pecan trees, many of which remain on the campus today, and constructed an irrigation system to water the new plantings. In 1919 when electricity first became available to the surrounding community, the HSU Round Table convinced the City Council to install lights on the campus. 

Their fundraising projects brought the first concert grand piano to campus, and the early club members sponsored several concerts. In more recent years, the club placed a sundial on the campus lawn and participated in the Millennial Light Project though the purchase of a light outside Moody Center.

Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene

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