Bill Hunke, Baptist leader in the West, dies in Sun Lakes

Dec 21, 2016

E.W. “Bill” Hunke Jr., whose handprints are all over the history of Arizona Southern Baptists, as well as Southern Baptists in the West, died Oct. 31 in Sun Lakes. He was 92.

Hunke first came to Arizona in 1954 as a Baptist General Convention of Arizona (now Arizona Southern Baptist Convention) general missionary serving Yuma, Gila Valley, San Carlos and Mt. Graham associations. With church planting among his responsibilities, a number of churches in those associations can trace their birth back to his influence.

In 1957, Hunke became secretary (director) of the Arizona convention’s newly created department of stewardship and church finance, and the responsbiliity of missions was added the following year. He became associate executive secretary-treasurer, while continuing to serve as director of missions, during the 1959-60 convention year. Among his responsibilities before becoming executive director of the Alaska Baptist Convention in 1966 was a stint as interim editor of Arizona’s Baptist Beacon.

In 1971, Hunke moved to Atlanta, where he served as the western regional coordinator for the Baptist Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board). With a responsibility for establishing missions across the western U.S. and Canada, he once again had an influence on Arizona Southern Baptist work.

In 1986, Bill and his wife, Naomi, moved to Sedona to retire, but he didn’t stop serving and working. He became director of evangelism/missions for Grand Canyon Baptist Association and was instrumental in the start of Village Park Baptist Church, Sedona.

In 1993, he served as interim president of the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary in Cochrane, Alberta.

The Hunkes then moved to Cottonwood. He began Bell Rock Baptist Church, which did not survive, but Bill and Naomi continued the church’s ministry in an assisted-living/retirement center. In 2002, they were named Arizona Volunteers of the Year for their work with assisted-living and nursing-home patients.

During his “retirement” years, Hunke wrote the four-volume Southern Baptist Jubilee in the West (1940-1989), a research project for the Home Mission Board that 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 also wrote the 368-page book Southern Baptists in the Intermountain West, a 50-year history of Southern Baptist work in Utah, Idaho and Nevada.

In 2012, Hunke received a distinguished alumnus award from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (now Gateway Seminary); he received the distinction at the seminary’s Arizona campus in May of that year.

At that time, at the age of 88, he was helping plant another new church in Arizona and providing his home as the church’s place of worship.

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 evangelist. He was baptized in California’s 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.

In addition to being a graduate of Golden Gate Theological Seminary, Hunke also earned degrees from Pacific Bible Institute and Fresno State University. In 1974, he earned a doctorate 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 and cared for her parents in Arizona when their health declined; two sons, David and Jim; and five grandsons.

A graveside service was held at Sedona 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.

–Compiled from Baptist Press and Gateway Seminary, with additional reporting by Elizabeth Young


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