I have learned a lot since the fall of 1977. I was a new assistant professor at Hardin-Simmons, a university that I had declared to family and anyone else in hearing distance would be the last place at which I would ever accept a teaching position. And now that pronouncement has come true. Thanks be to God. And also to my wife Katrina, my twin sons Jon and Rob, my father-in-law T. W. (Jack) Dean, my mother-in-law Frances. And thanks to Dr. Jesse Fletcher, a mentor who did not know he was mentoring me.
Dr. Fletcher did not want to come here either. Dr. B. W. Aston and the other members of the HSU presidential search committee would not be deterred from their mission, their calling, to convince Dr. Fletcher he must become the next President of HSU. The story goes that the committee made numerous trips to Richmond to insist and insist and insist, and . . . gather in their motel room to pray Dr. Fletcher to Abilene and Hardin-Simmons. I asked him once how preachers know God is “calling” them. He said it was like a thought, an image, a voice that could not be silenced, no matter how still and small. So Dr. Fletcher gave in and came to Hardin-Simmons. Thanks be to God.
And thanks be to Dr. Rupert N. Richardson. Dr. Richardson intruded into my life as if he knew what he was doing to me at the August 28, 1971, reception following Trina’s and my wedding. What little writing time Lucy, our nine-month-old Australian shepherd, permits me at 4:00 each morning has been spent lately trying to comprehend my predestined (to me, at least) connection to this tall, stentorian-voiced old man and to Hardin-Simmons. Maybe in a few months, years, my writing will lead me to discover what happened, what continues to happen.
Recently I suggested that faculty members should read Dr. Richardson’s book Famous Are Thy Halls: Hardin-Simmons University as I Have Known It. My copy (the 1964 edition) is so underlined, highlighted, flagged, and commented-on-in-the-margins that you wouldn’t be able to read it. So, please get a copy and start underlining.
I often forget how long I have been here, forget that most of the current Hardin-Simmons faculty never knew Dr. Richardson, never knew any of the former HSU family I revere, most of whom are dead or retired from the field, the fray. Here follows some selected insights from Famous Are Thy Halls.
Simmons College Before Rupert Richardson Came:
“As early as 1888, when the town was only seven years old, Henry Sayles, a well-known Abilene lawyer, suggested that Baptists found a school or college in Abilene. Other persons no doubt contributed to the idea; and in September, 1890, the Sweetwater Baptist Association (which extended westward to El Paso), meeting with the ‘Sweetwater Baptist Church of Christ,’ adopted a resolution that a Baptist high school for the association was ‘a necessity.’ Rufus C. Burleson, president of Baylor University, was present and spoke sharply against the resolution. Baptists were not supporting the schools they had already, he argued. Then why dilute the strength of the denomination still further by establishing a school in a raw new country, with relatively few people and but little wealth to support it? The group heard him to the end courteously, ignored his sensible argument, and proceeded with dispatch” (18).
“‘All of Abilene and Taylor County,’ with hundreds of people from neighboring regions, ate barbecue on the occasion of the laying of the corner stone of the college building July 4, 1891” (20). I doubt the day and the month were a coincidence.
Regarding Owen C. Pope, President of Simmons College (HSU), 1898-1901—
“What manner of man was Owen C. Pope? His predecessors were worthy men and interesting no doubt, if we could know them; but to us they are masks in a pageant. If we may carry the figure further, we can see the lines in Pope’s face, and the lines are deep and meaningful. Energetic and fervent was he and disposed to take command wherever he went. He was kind hearted, genial and honorable but also blunt, and at times harsh. Pope had known West Texas almost since Indian days. As director of Texas Baptist missions he had organized churches from Fort Worth to El Paso. He was equally at home in the camp of an antelope hunter on the plains or in the drawing room of a New York millionaire. He would fight you or pray with you, just as you wanted it. Once a trustee contended that Pope doubted his word, which was a matter of honor. ‘If you weren’t an old man, I’d give you a whipping right here,’ said the irate layman. ‘Now, Mr.—,” said Pope, ‘please don’t let a few years difference in ages bother you. There will never be a better time for you to whip me than right now,’ and he started to take off his coat. Happily there was no fight, and the two men became fast friends” (21).
Dr. J. D. Sandefer:
“In his covenant with the founders, James B. Simmons anticipated that the college he was helping to bring into existence would some day become a university. Early in his administration President Sandefer began dreaming of a university and planning for it (119). . . . To assume university status was a stupendous undertaking, but President Sandefer believed that being a university would bring prestige to the institution and make it possible to secure money to carry on the program. If it be said also that the idea was unduly ambitious, it may be said also that it was not so ambitious as founding a school in Abilene in 1891 or making of that school a college in the early 1900’s. Prexy’s enthusiasm was shared by the faculty and trustees. The change from Simmons College to Simmons University was an act of faith” (120).
“As Good Friday, 1940 waned, a Cowboy bandsman went to the historic triangle on the campus and blew taps, a fitting token of the end of an era. Jefferson Davis Sandefer was dead. Life had ended for the man who had led the university for thirty-one years through achievement and disappointment, expansion and recession, prosperity and depression, victory and defeat. For those of us who had grown up under his tutelage there was no one to replace him. His courage and innate optimism never failed. No matter how difficult the way became he always looked forward to smoother paths ahead and went on with unfailing energy. So many times, I recall, when I grew discouraged, he would say, ‘Rupert, you must have faith.’ And his own faith was a strong sure light for those who traveled with him” (175).
Dr. Rupert Richardson, Professor and University Administrator:
“For some time after World War I, I could not decide what I wanted to do. I still had a disposition to study law. . . . In spite of the difficulty I had in settling into it as a life profession, I loved teaching; and tardily I reached the conclusion that if I were going to amount to anything as a college professor I should have to devote myself to that calling with a singleness of purpose that I had never known before. Mrs. Richardson loyally joined me in the undertaking and in the late summer of 1921 we set out for graduate school. Now, with a family, Chicago seemed a long way off. [Dr. Richardson had entered the University of Chicago in June, 1913, earning a second bachelor’s degree and beginning his graduate work. He also studied law.] The death of my father had, furthermore, made it urgent that I remain in Texas to look after the estate. For these reasons we chose the University of Texas and the decision proved to be a happy one” (126-27). Rupert Richardson and Walter Prescott Webb (The Great Plains) were graduate students together at the University of Texas.
“For me it has been most fortunate that my connection with the University of Texas did not cease with my graduation. For all or one-half of some eight summers it has been my privilege to teach in the summer school and in addition I supplied for faculty members there two semesters and one long term” (128).
“During more than half of the summers of the 1930’s I was fortunate enough to have an invitation to teach one or both terms at the University of Texas. This work not only was more remunerative than that at home but the change of work and environment that it afforded was truly inspiring. These summers at the University of Texas were as a vacation for me, the only type of vacation that I could afford, a change of work” (173).
“I always managed to get in some research during those summers, without which I never could have published a book” (173).
“The Comanche Barrier to South Plains Settlement, my first book, was published by the Arthur H. Clark Company in 1933. It was made possible by a small grant-in-aid by the Social Science Research Council, matched by the university. Some reviewers pronounced The Comanche Barrier the best history of an Indian tribe that had been written up to that time. The year following, Carl Coke Rister and I saw our [The] Greater Southwest brought off of the press by the Arthur H. Clark Company. Neither of these books attracted a great deal of attention. Some persons evidently deemed them worthwhile, however, for they are exceedingly rare and copies in good condition bring generous prices” (173-74). I know of at least seven published books by Dr. Richardson.
“My stay at the university of Texas during the long term of 1940-41 was a rewarding experience. The teaching schedule was not especially heavy and thesis guidance work was light. It was indeed a privilege to give myself wholly to my work, almost entirely free from the interruptions that had fallen upon me at home. . . . I practically completed the manuscript of Texas, the Lone Star State” (184-85).
“Shortly after the death of President Sandefer the Board of Trustees elected me president. I was deeply grateful for the high honor. I remember so well the ovation the students gave me at chapel. According to the Simmons Brand, where the importance of no event is ever minimized, it lasted three minutes. I was greatly impressed also by the large number of congratulatory letters and telegrams that came. Indeed it had never occurred to me how important and high a position a college presidency is in the thinking of people generally. The fact must not be overlooked that college presidencies seem high and honorable because great men have made them so. No position, no matter how exalted, ever made a little man great.
“Still, I felt impelled to decline the offer, first, because I did not think it was the work that I should undertake, and, second, because I felt that it was tendered me, partly at least because of my position and past service rather than because every member of the board believed that I could fill the exacting position better than any other man who could be secured.
“In fact, I had never sought administrative responsibility; it had been imposed upon me. As dean of students in 1926, I had assumed many administrative duties and as vice president, beginning with 1928, I had taken a large share of responsibility for the affairs of the university. . . . Along with my administrative duties I continued with my teaching. Teaching was my profession and I did not wish to part with it. In 1938 I considered very seriously accepting a department headship in another institution, one of the largest in the Southwest. [I have been told that here Dr. Richardson is alluding to the University of Texas.] But President Sandefer’s health was waning rapidly; I knew that he likely could not find another man who would work with him as I was working; and I could not walk out on a dying man, especially a man whom I owed so much. Early in 1938 I was made executive vice president, a relationship that did not lessen my work but simplified the conditions under which we carried on” (176-77).
HSU President William Richardson White (1940-1943) resigned at the end of May 1943—“So, once again compelling demands placed upon me executive responsibility; the board asked that I serve as acting president. I was loathe to undertake it. The professorship without administrative encumbrances had proved delightful, and I could point to a book just coming off the press that I never could have written if I had been obliged to carry the burdens of the presidency. . . .
“The interruption in my program would not be for long; so I responded to the call and became Acting President of Hardin-Simmons University in June 1943” (186).
“As 1945 opened, the committee [to secure a permanent President for HSU] quit looking. From time to time one or more of them talked with me, stating that they favored my election unanimously, if I would assent to take the post. I became convinced that the members of the committee with one accord wanted me to be president and that apparently they represented quite accurately the sentiment of the board. For nearly two years they had tried hard to fill the post, and I had worked with them without success. . . . I agreed to take the presidency if every member of the board favored my election and if they would accept my program for the years immediately ahead. . . . On March 19, 1945, I became president of the university on a continuing basis” (197).
“By the spring of 1953 I would have completed ten years in the post of president, and I felt that the time had come when a change would be good both for the university and for me. I mulled for some time over a ‘five-year-plan,’ that I thought of suggesting to the board, one designed especially to strengthen academic standards. . . . But as I worked with the ‘five-year plan,’ it occurred to me that another man could promote it just as well as I. I had finished my decade in the presidency; I wanted to be relieved of its responsibilities; and I placed my resignation with Mr. Wright to take effect July 1, 1953” (239).
Academic Freedom / Tenured Professors:
“Whatever may be said of academic freedom as the term is generally used, I have enjoyed in this university a type of freedom that transcends the mere right to argue extreme points of view, and to make statements greatly at variance with the views of my students and colleagues. My freedom has been that of leaving and returning when I wished to do so, of accepting appointments in other institutions in summer or for an occasional semester or long term, even though I was always needed at home, and of serving groups or organizations outside the academic field when an opportunity that I deemed worthy was afforded. Yes, I have enjoyed here academic freedom at the highest level and have sought never to abuse it” (179-80).
Admiration For The Hardin-Simmons Faculty:
Dr. Richardson singles out many stellar faculty members during what he calls the fat years and lean (1925-1934), individuals such as Julius Olsen, Carl Coke Rister, Dossie M. Wiggins, Otto Watts, W. D. Bond, Aubrey Wiley Stephenson, Carnace Ribble, “Misses Euna and Eva Rudd,” Hoyt Ford, Dewey Wiley, E. Edwin Young, Lucian Quitman Campbell, Rosabelle Breedlove. Referring to faculty who left Hardin-Simmons for better positions, Dr. Richardson writes, “It seemed hard to lose these people whom we cherished personally and respected professionally; but to lose talented and popular faculty members is the fate of all colleges. I have often said that it is better by far to lose good people from time to time than to have a faculty made up of teachers whom other schools do not want” (125-26).
“Even if students were obliged to pinch pennies during these years [the Depression years], their plight on the whole was better than that of the faculty. For the year 1931-32 there was a reduction in salaries (already at the Southern Association minimum) of ten percent. For the following year there was another reduction of approximately thirty percent and the University was able to pay only five of the nine monthly salaried. Thus the pay of employees was reduced by about two-thirds. . . .
“With high courage and devotion most of the employees accepted the situation, took their share of the income, and loyally stayed on” (140).
“During the early years of the depression the condition of students, faculty, and the university may aptly be described in terms we learned in fourth grade grammar: the students were poor, the faculty poorer, and the institution poorest” (141).
“In the midst of financial difficulties academic ones appeared, quite as difficult and alarming as those pertaining to money. As the depression hung on and salaries were cut and then paid in part only, the annual report showed that Simmons was failing to meet Southern Association standards. Along with a score or more of other institutions Simmons’ name was starred mainly because faculty salaries were far below the standards of the association” (142-43).
“An account has been given of the courage and persistence of the faculty during the years of the depression, when income was both low and uncertain. Each took his share of what there was to divide and managed to make it do. There are many cases of teachers declining substantial pay increases to stay with Hardin-Simmons” (267).
“One did not select his teachers in those days [Dr. Richardson’s college years, 1907-1912]. There was little choice in the fields of study to be followed. Students knew their teachers well, and teachers knew students. It was rare that a class exceeded fifteen or twenty; and the teachers wielded a great and often a determining influence over their students. The group was closely knit; friendships were binding and loyalties compelling. From the perspective of years of experience in institutions large and small, renowned and obscure, I am profoundly grateful that it was given me in my student days to be a part of the little college on the hill. The concept so prevalent today that the larger an institution is the better it is, and that magnificent buildings necessarily contribute to the making of great people is one of the major fallacies of our age” (40).
“You furnish your parts toward eternity,
Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.”
Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”
“‘I am a part of all that I have met,’ Tennyson has written. If that be true, Hardin-Simmons University is a part of many people and they are a part of it. As we touch it in our different ways—students, teachers, trustees, friends—it is gratifying to think that we have had some imprint upon it. When our little day is ended it will go on, for it belongs to the ages” (274).
As the Hardin-Simmons anthem states: “Long may thy worth increase. Long live thy noble cause.” I have learned to sing this, and believe it.
Richardson, Rupert N. Famous Are Thy Halls: Hardin-Simmons As I Have Known It. Abilene Printing & Stationery, 1964.