HAMMOND | The Rev. Jack Hyles died more than 14 years ago, but his memory lives on with the First Baptist Church of Hammond.
Hyles served as pastor at the church for 42 years and was remembered at the time of his death at 74 as a driving force spiritually and educationally to an uncountable tally of followers in Northwest Indiana and the country.
"He was our motivator and our leader," Hyles-Anderson College President Wendell Evans said at the time. "He helped me a lot in learning the principles of leadership, administration and counseling. He was very unselfish in helping people, including our students."
Hyles, who was born in Italy, Texas, and grew up in a poverty-stricken area of Dallas, attended Southwest Baptist Seminary after graduating from Eastern Texas Baptist College. Before coming to Hammond in 1959, Hyles led the Miller Road Baptist Church in Garland, Texas, for about six years, from a membership of 44 people to 4,000.
By May 1965, Hyles' sermons from the pulpit had become so popular that they found their way into books.
Those lost souls, as Hyles put it, found their way onto buses that fanned out across Northwest Indiana and the low-income areas of Chicago, to bring a following to Hammond on Sundays and spread the word about the simplicity of salvation.
The 1970s brought new Baptist-run schools to the area and Hyles-Anderson College. The decade also brought a new First Baptist Church auditorium addition to 523 Sibley St. and a national Christian Life Magazine report claiming that the church operated one of the largest Sunday schools in the nation, and possibly the world.