Aug. 13, 2014 at 2:15 a.m.
Chris Elrod, senior pastor of Impact Church in Lakeland, Florida, and former standout comic, says the education he received in Marshall helped him become the man he is today.
Elrod, a native of Shreveport, Louisiana, who calls East Texas and parts of Louisiana home, attended East Texas Baptist University.
During his four-year time at ETBU, Elrod said, "Had it not been for the education that I received from ETBU and the community of Marshall as a whole, I don't think, no I know, I wouldn't have achieved what I have," Elrod said.
And Elrod has achieved much through the years. Before stepping into the Christian ministry role, Elrod was a nationally-known comedian, averaging more than 250 speaking engagements each year, including opening for Garth Brooks and Martina McBride, and many other top country music artists.
Elrod began his comedy career as a Christian comedian, then ventured into clean comedy, much like the antics of Jerry Clower.
In fact, Elrod said, "When Jerry's health started failing, my manager started working me in for some of his dates, which then parlayed into corporate gigs – for people who wanted a clean comedy act."
No matter where Elrod went, or has gone, Marshall has not been far from his mind or heart.
"I had had trouble in school and didn't apply myself too well, and had just about given up the idea of going to school. A buddy of mine had the same sort of issues, but was a student over at ETBU," Elrod said.
"He told me I should come on over and give it a try. He told me that the college was small, many of the professors were adjunct and were top-level people in the real world of business," he said.
And that appealed to Elrod, who was interested in pursuing a degree in business.
"I came over and talked to Dr. Howard, who was at the time, head of the business department, and I liked what I saw."
Elrod liked it so much, he said, "I believe the education quality at ETBU was far better than most of the other schools I had looked at. Pound for pound, I got more out of my time at ETBU and Marshall than anywhere else."
It was not just his education at East Texas Baptist University that proved valuable for Elrod.
"The education I got from the community was just a good We spent a lot of time in Marshall – coaching Little League football, attending churches, and I started speaking around in Longview, Tyler and Lufkin," Elrod said.
"Marshall is a very nurturing community," Elrod said. "It was there that I learned the importance of a handshake and the meaning of looking someone in the eye. Marshall really embraced the college students at ETBU.
"When I was a student, I had an 'adopted family,' that I hung out with and am still close with. During my last years at ETBU, I was on the road already doing the comedy tour, and I would leave, fly out for a gig and still make it back for class on Monday," Elrod said.
"I remember going to Neely's. I probably ate there two or three times a week. Different people came in regularly, and I remember this one farmer, and he would come in and we would talk," Elrod said. "And he gave me some important advice.
"He told me that I should remember that what goes up, does come down, and that no one stays on top forever.
"He said that I should remember how I treat people. Because those people who you treated well and will be there with you in the end. And he was right.
"I would perform at churches who would pay me with a love offering, and then go out and perform for 30,000 to 40,000 opening for Garth Brooks. As my career began to cool off some, those small churches were the same that still brought me in. It was because we had a relationship," Elrod said.
"Conversations like that happened all over when I was in Marshall … sitting around a restaurant or anywhere. Folks would just start talking to each other, and advice was given. I learned a bunch of life skills," he said.
One of the most important things Elrod said he learned while in Marshall as a college student was "how to handle people, have relationships and to handle business with integrity, hence the handshake-look people In the eye mentality."
"While I was there, I tutored English to kids in the community. I saw family involvement and noted that the teachers who were there didn't just come to work to punch the clock and go home. They were involved emotionally and personally with the students. They had a vested interest," Elrod said.
Elrod's church is in one of the high crime areas in Lakeland.
"Most of our church members come after sleeping on the streets. The local sheriff had asked me about starting the church there because it was just a bad area, and they really wanted to improve things and make a difference."
So Elrod, and his wife, Denise, took that step.
"It is amazing to see the differences that are being made. We have prostitutes coming to church, drug users coming to church, homeless people coming to church …"
Looking back, Elrod said, "Marshall played a huge role in the shaping of my life. Had it not been for my education at the college and the education I received from members of the community, I wouldn't be here. I never would have dreamed that I would be touring with the likes of Garth Brooks, or even launching this church.""There is no waste of steps in the education process. Education is the silver bullet in life. It is the difference between if you make it or not. I am so very grateful for the things I learned in Marshall, and the preparation for dealing with the real world that I got there," Elrod said.
When and if retirement comes, Elrod said he would "most likely come back to Marshall and that area. It was such a huge influence on my life.""And, of course, there is always the brown pig at Neely's," Elrod said, laughing.
For information about Elrod and his ministry, visit www.chriselrod.com.