Miss Ida Clouse, a devout Christian, courageous missionary, and registered nurse from the Midwest, wanted to make a difference for the cause of Christ. On September 29, 1917, under the Homestead Act, she settled 160 barren acres in what was Cactus, Arizona. In the years to follow, Clouse Ranch became a favorite spot for Christian conferences for people all over the southwest. It was not unusual for teenage girls visiting from the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now known as Biola University) to throw out their bedrolls and sleep under the awnings of Miss Clouse’s front porch.
In 1959, 13 years after her death, 35 acres of her land was donated to the Arizona Baptist Convention to create a Christian college. Under the leadership of pastors from the Sun Valley Conservative Baptist Association a proposal was adopted in June 1960 to found a Christian college under the name “Southwestern Conservative Baptist Bible College.”
Classes were initially held in the educational facilities of Bethel Baptist Church while construction for the new campus began. In September 1964, 40 students and 16 faculty members started classes on the new Arizona Christian University campus at its present location.
Dedication Day for the first Student Activity Building was November 19, 1966. This building is now the ACU Dining Hall. The next few decades brought the construction of the first dormitories (now the Science Building and apartments), the Student Activity Center and gymnasium, and most recently, the $10 million, three-story residence hall.
For many years, the athletic program consisted of intramurals and varsity intercollegiate competition in men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. The men’s basketball program won a National Christian College Athletic Association championship in 1986 under former NBA all-star and future NBA coach Paul Westphal, and another NCCAA championship in 1997. Now the school offers 10 intercollegiate sports in the NAIA (National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics), including baseball for men, volleyball for women, and men’s and women’s basketball, golf, soccer and cross country. Construction for an on-campus baseball stadium began in 2011, and plans were made to add women’s softball, and men’s and women’s tennis. ACU is a 5-star member of the NAIA’s champions of character program, and was accepted into membership in the prestigious Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) for the 2012-13 academic year.
As more students attended the college, majors and minors were added to the original Biblical Studies and Christian Ministries degrees. In 1975, the Arizona State Board of Education approved the teacher training degree program in Education. In 1996, a Secondary Education major was added and the Christian Ministries major began to offer minors in Youth, Counseling, and Business as part of its professional program. Business and Counseling majors were added in 1999, and a Music major was added in 2002. In 1975 the college first received accreditation with the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), and added regional accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission in 1982.
In 1965, Dr. Wallace Woods, the first College President (1965-1975), wrote: “We want to be current in our thinking and up-to-date in our methods. We want to be relevant to the changing needs of people. Nevertheless, there are foundations upon which we stand as a Bible college, and we fix our anchor in the authority of the scriptures. By God’s grace we want to be flexible in the application of Biblical principles to the training of students for effective service in their respective careers and yet hold steadfastly to the Statement of Faith which has characterized the College since its founding.”
That commitment to Scripture continued under the presidential leadership of Dr. Donald H. Launstein (1975-1982), Dr. Kenneth Stephens (1982-83), Dr. Wesley A. Olsen (1983-1992), Dr. Donald R. Engram (1992-95), and Dr. Brent D. Garrison (1995-2010).
Today, Arizona Christian University continues to hold fast to its foundations, and remains committed to equipping students who are followers of Jesus Christ with a sound biblical foundation for ministry and professional occupations.
ACU’s desire to serve the broader evangelical community was reflected in the decision in 2009 to become a non-denominational Christian liberal arts college, while remaining grateful for its roots in the Conservative Baptist association. The decision in January 2011 to embrace the name “Arizona Christian University” was the final, formal step in preparing ACU for its future as Arizona’s only private, accredited, non-profit Christian liberal arts university.
With the dynamic leadership of President Len Munsil (2010-present), a constitutional attorney and leader in Christian non-profit and public policy work, ACU has embraced a renewed vision to “transform culture with truth” – taking the truth of Jesus Christ and the Gospel into all the world, bringing biblical truth into every arena of influence in our culture. Continuing to produce biblically sound pastors, missionaries, evangelists and worship leaders, ACU also intends to equip Christian leaders for service in education, business, counseling, and is planning to expand its majors to produce Christian leaders in government, science, medicine, law and communications.
In March of 2011, the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush, was the keynote speaker at Arizona Christian University’s 50th Anniversary Dinner, where he received the first Daniel Award for Courageous Public Faith before 1,260 ACU supporters at the Phoenix Convention Center. The event highlighted just how far ACU has come, and what God can do with a generous gift from a humble and devout Christian woman who dreamed and prayed that one day a Christian college would rise in Arizona.