Rev. Harold D. Burkhardt ’49, P’80
2022 Distinguished Humanitarian Award Recipient
Harold D. Burkhardt ’49, P’80 led a long life of service and sacrifice. From teaching piano to young Black students who didn’t have a music class at their segregated school in the 1940s to helping older adults find food and fellowship during the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Methodist Church minister dedicated his time and energy to those in need.
“He exemplified many of Southwestern’s core values in his 72 years since and before his 1949 graduation,” says Burkhardt’s daughter Rebecca Burkhardt ’80. “He not only served as a spiritual leader, but also brought his church community together to erect new buildings and build new ministries, especially with and for the youth.”
A first-generation college student, Burkhardt graduated from Southwestern with a bachelor’s degree in religious education. His mother, a piano teacher, instilled in him a love for music, and during his time at Southwestern, he sang in the choir, played trumpet in the university band, and was a member of a dance band that performed at various social events on campus. He went on to receive a master’s degree in religious education from Duke University in 1950 before beginning his career in ministry as an associate pastor at Alamo Heights United Methodist Church in San Antonio. After moving to Dallas and earning his master’s degree in divinity from Southern Methodist University in 1956, Burkhardt served as pastor for churches in Lytle, Kingsville, El Campo, and Brownsville.
In 1973, Burkhardt was named president of the Methodist Mission Home (now Providence Place) in San Antonio. During his 21 years in that role, he ministered to over 2,000 expectant single mothers and placed 1,800 babies in loving homes for adoption. Under his leadership, the organization added a new ministry, providing education and job training for hearing-impaired young adults. He also maintained his enthusiasm for learning, earning a master’s degree in health care administration from Trinity University in 1984.
After retiring in 1994, Burkhardt continued to serve the church in a variety of ways. He directed the financial campaign for the construction of a new headquarters building for the Southwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church (now known as the Rio Texas Conference), raising more than $3 million. In 2002, his ministry career came full circle as he returned to Alamo Heights United Methodist Church, serving part-time as pastor to older adults until 2014.
“I witnessed his integrity, professionalism, and dedication to service,” says Debbie Mann ’79, who is close friends with Burkhardt’s daughter Rebecca. “I am particularly proud of his open support of the LGBTQ+ communities in his church, church conference, and Southwestern. His daughter Becky and I are members of the LGBTQ+ community, so his support was especially meaningful to me.”
Burkhardt was a tireless supporter of his Southwestern. He made an annual gift to the University and established the Burkhardt Family Endowed Scholarship for Music with his daughter Rebecca. He returned to campus many times for Homecoming, even driving his beloved candy apple red 1968 Mustang convertible in the parade. In 1981, Southwestern awarded Burkhardt with an honorary doctorate of divinity, one of the University’s highest honors.
“Everyone I meet who knew my father expresses such respect and adoration for him. It makes me proud to be his daughter,” says Shelly Weibel. “My children looked to him as a role model and someone they choose to emulate in life. His welcoming smile, bright eyes, and open arms has made the world a much better place.”
For his outstanding service to the United Methodist Church and contributions to the community, the Southwestern University Alumni Association is proud to honor the late Harold D. Burkhardt with the Distinguished Humanitarian Award.