Category Archives: Wheaton College Archives

Ogden Nash at Wheaton College

The Wheaton College Student Union usually invited quite “serious” public figures to lecture on campus, so it was surely a delight when they snagged Ogden Nash, the American poet of light humorous verse. NashHis poetry was famously featured in The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post and elsewhere. He spoke in Pierce Chapel at 8:30pm on April 30, 1958. Admission to the event was $1.

His books include Everyone But Thee and Me, Parents Keep Out, You Can’t Get There from Here and Custard the Dragon. Among Nash’s New York literary circle were E.B. White, Dorothy Parker and S.J. Perelman.

Campus reaction to Nash’s performance is not recorded, nor is the notoriously liberal poet’s response to his conservative Christian audience. Not noted for theological reflection, Ogden Nash did observe:

God in his wisdom made the fly,

And then forgot to tell us why.

Nash was an active member of St. Andrews-by-the-Sea in New Hampshire, where his bespectacled face was immortalized on a stained-glass window. He died in 1971. At his funeral this poem was read:

I didn’t go to church today,

I trust the Lord to understand.

The surf was swirling blue and white,

The children swirling on the sand.

He knows, He knows how brief my stay,

How brief this spell of summer weather,

He knows when I am said and done,

We’ll have plenty of time together.

Rebuilding on a Solid Foundation

Article excerpted from Wheaton Magazine, Wheaton (IL) College, Spring 2008.

Numbers aside, one of Wheaton’s most well loved math professors looks at the solutions the new campaign will provide.

Although Wheaton’s state-of-the-art science center will be pleasant, it is not the comfort of new offices and the expectation of attractive student space that capture my imagination— rather, it is the possibility of renewing Wheaton’s mathematical and scientific enterprise for the next generations of Wheaton students.

pict0Our existing science and mathematics facilities in Breyer and Armerding Halls have their roots in the technologies and perspectives of the 1950s and ’60s. Over the last half century the content and methods of these disciplines have grown enormously—new sub-disciplines in math and science have emerged, different interdisciplinary relationships have evolved, and new departmental interdependencies have been established. Computational chemistry, mathematical models for dynamical physical systems, environmental science, computer-based simulation and visualization, and many, many other new mathematical and scientific domains now play crucial roles in helping us to better understand important processes within God’s creation.

In my dream for a new science building, I see students vigorously engaged in mathematics and science without the discouraging limitations imposed by two old buildings. The math and computer science department will finally have student project and research rooms, an improved seminar room, enlarged and well-lit student study rooms…and all of these in immediate proximity to our departmental faculty offices.These offices will even be large enough to help three or four students all at once—without having to search for a frequently nonexistent empty classroom. We will be freed to do science and mathematics; our classrooms will have the flexibility to be reconfigured for group work, media-based presentation, traditional lecture instruction, or seminar-style meetings. Departments will be arrayed in proximity to a central core to enable easy connection and collaboration.

As of now, the obsolescence of our old facilities along with the constraints that they impose upon learning, research, and teaching threaten to utterly compromise mathematics and science at Wheaton. I find it personally unsettling to know that we are already losing strong students who would become salt and light as cutting-edge scientists, health professionals, mathematicians, or computer scientists. Wheaton’s contribution to these disciplines stands to be diminished.

The prospect of a markedly improved teaching and learning environment with resources better configured for student engagement, practice, interaction, and collaboration really stirs my enthusiasm for The Promise of Wheaton. The new science building will create and dramatically enhance numerous possibilities for contemporary research, for more effective student mentoring and collaboration, for sophisticated interactive instruction, and for developing a renewed stream of Christian mathematicians and scientists who will not be left behind by these advancing disciplines.

Dr. Terry Perciante, Chair of Mathematics and Computer Science

A Question Answered

Aside from the institution of slavery, Jonathan Blanchard, founder of Wheaton College, loathed the Masonic Lodge. Speaking at various churches and civic events, Blanchard seldom lost an opportunity to discredit the Lodge and its secret rites. On one occasion, however, he might have uttered a few words too many. The following editorial was published in the Wheaton, Illinoisian on August 12, 1887:

MasonReplying to a question asked by J. Blanchard in what he was pleased to call a sermon, Sunday evening, August 7, at the Baptist church, “What Lodge in the country gave a dollar to pay for scraping lint or preparing anything for the comfort of the soldiers?” I would answer that Wheaton Lodge No. 269, F. & A.M., then in its infancy, gave one hundred and fifty dollars ($150.00) for that purpose. The Lodge at Naperville, Il, a like amount, and the Lodges all over the country gave for the same purpose. Query: What did the head of the house of Blanchard give to aid in carrying on the war? On the contrary, I am credibly informed that this same Blanchard discouraged the enlisting of students, saying of them, “Let the scum of society go first.” W.H. Johnson, Wheaton, Ill, Aug. 10, 1887

Thanks to Robert Shuster of the Billy Graham Center Archives for providing this article.

A Spark Dropped from the Sun

Springtime dandelions sprouting across suburban Chicago yards or vast corporate lawns stand little chance for survival. Usually herbicides have been diligently sprayed to eradicate this annoyance long before the first yellow dandelion heads burst sunward on the green grass. This was certainly not the case one hundred years ago at Wheaton College. In fact, the little flower (technically a weed) was celebrated. An article from the March, 1911 Record describes a unique tradition.

…A custom peculiar to Wheaton College is that of planting dandelions. Every spring when the dandelions begin to show, the students watch eagerly for the small yellow flowers, and then still more anxiously for them to go to seed. This is the time for the popular dandelion contest. The students go out by classes and gather the spherical white blossoms, and, bringing them to campus, flow the seeds over the grass so that in future years the dormitory and Wayside Inn be blessed with dandelion greens from our own campus. A banner is awarded to the most successful class.

These days the Wheaton College campus is carefully landscaped and meticulously manicured, allowing not a single dandelion. However, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, a visionary friend of Wheaton College, writes from quite another perspective, “It gives one a sudden start in going down a barren, stony street, to see upon a narrow strip of grass, just within the iron fence, the radiant dandelion, shining in the grass, like a spark dropped from the sun.”

Wheaton at the Edgewater

For fifty years the Edgewater Beach Hotel stood as a beacon for luxury, recreation and hospitality in a city renowned for its magnificent lodging. Famous as Chicago’s “Metropolitan Hotel with the Country Club Atmosphere,” the Edgewater boasted 1000 rooms, several cocktail lounges and five large dining rooms, in addition to nightly ballroom dancing. The grounds included an outdoor swimming pool, cabanas and tennis and shuffleboard courts.

EdgewaterSituated on the North Shore a few hundred feet from Lake Michigan, the massive pink stucco complex served a variety of visitors, vacationers and celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Tallulah Bankhead. Band leaders Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey broadcast from the hotel’s radio station. In addition to an array of dignitaries, the Edgewater even hosted the Wheaton College Washington Banquet on February 21, 1958. The cost was $11 per couple. The ceremony was emceed by Dr. Gerald Hawthorne, and the speaker for the evening was Dr. Edward Elsen, pastor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower at National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.

Nearly 300 students and faculty attended, with Dr. and Mrs. Bernard Nelson portraying George and Martha Washington. The menu included fruit cocktail, baked sugar-cured ham with raisin sauce, salad, julienne string beans panache and frozen torte with chocolate sauce. Undoubtedly this was a thrilling, noisy night in the big city for the small Christian college from the western suburbs.

Sadly, because of urban renewal and a steady decline in business, the Edgewater Beach Hotel closed its doors in 1967. The buildings were razed in 1970 except for one, now refurbished as residential apartments with landmark status. The structures were so solidly constructed that it took nearly a year to demolish. That happy 1958 Washington Banquet, along with the grand old hotel, belong to fond memory.

What’s cookin’ at Wheaton College

Need a recipe for spinach balls? Pear salad? Ham souffle? Rhubarb crumble? Just thumb through Wheaton College Women’s Cooking, compiled sometime in the late 1970s by the Women’s Club. ClubThe Wheaton College Women’s Club is open to the wives of any administrators, faculty or staff. Officially organized in 1929 under Mrs. J. Oliver Buswell, wife of the third president of Wheaton College, the club was known as the Faculty Wives of Wheaton College. Today the organization seeks to serve the college community through various programs, continuing the heritage of deep concern for friendship, sharing and service shown by Mary Blanchard, wife of founder Jonathan Blanchard.

Papers relating to the Wheaton College Women’s Club (RG 9.14) are housed in the Wheaton College Archives.

The Art of Seeing

When Wheaton College custodian Dwight Ellefsen suddenly died on the job in 2006, few staff or students realized that, years earlier, he had enjoyed a professional career of considerable renown. EllefsenAs a young man, Ellefsen studied photography at the Brooks Institute in Santa Clara, California, before working for the Associated Press. Eventually Ellefsen worked with famed photographers Ansel Adams and W. Eugene Smith. His clients included Lamborghini, Standard Oil, Time Life Books, National Geographic and celebrity shoots, including Mohammed Ali. Ellefsen was the first photographer ever to have been nominated by the Chicago Artist Guild. In 1971 he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for a photograph taken of three Chicago firemen. Living for a year in Alaska, Ellefsen worked on a film about Inuits, which received an Academy Award Nomination in 1972.

His film photography also received awards from the Cannes Film Festival and the Midwest Film Festival. From 1975 to 1985 he was a professional photographer at Argonne National Lab in Darien, Illinois, until he was laid off during a bad economy. Ellefsen’s ability to observe and record a moment established his reputation as a first-rate artist. Soon hired at Wheaton College, he settled into a new career as a custodian in Edman Chapel, Smith-Traber, McManis-Evans and Fischer Halls. A strong Christian, Ellefsen performed well as photographer or custodian.

It has been remarked that photography is the art of seeing. Ironically, after his death, one colleague remarked, “He was the kind of guy people could pass every day in the halls without appreciating him or noticing him.” Aside from award-winning photography, perhaps Ellefsen’s greatest legacy is an invitation to the living, especially Christians, to open our eyes to those who stand beside us and behold the glory, however insignificant they might seem.

The Curious Case of the Absentee Actor

According to the November 19, 1959 issue of The Record, actor Basil Rathbone, famous for his recurring film role as the definitive Sherlock Holmes, was scheduled to perform a one-man show in Pierce Chapel under the auspices of the Lyceum. RathboneHowever, due to a contractual obligation to his role in Archbald MacLeish’s play, J.B., he cancelled. Rathbone the Episcopalian, writing in his autobiography, In and Out of Character (1962) describes the play as “…anti-fundamentalist, but most certainly not anti-Christian.” Though Wheaton College might have regretted Rathbone’s non-appearance, the feelings were likely not reciprocated, as he was quite anxious to pull away from the grueling demands of stock gigs. “You play eight performances a week,” he complains, “and then every Sunday you travel most of the day to your next date….To live through this…one must have considerable endurance and a stimulating objective….” This objective was provided by J.B., rescuing the aging Rathbone from the rigors of cross-country journeying.

Taking over for the British actor in Pierce Chapel was Ilka Chase, writer, actress and television personality. A familiar face, she wrote for magazines and often hosted such television shows as “Glamour-Go-Round” and “Fashion Magic.”



How does “paying it forward” play out in academia?

I was recently asking a very talented former student about her experiences as a new instructor. She expressed how much she loved what she was doing, and parenthetically asked how I had known teaching would fit her calling. I couldn’t quite bring myself to tell her how evident her talents and gifts were, or to dispel the mysteries around my powers of observation. However, still enjoying the moment of grandiosity and humor, I was reminded that I had simply lived out a generational legacy.

When I was a junior in college, the head of the psychology department, Dr. Martha Shalitta, said to me, “You are going to teach college students one day:’ It was a remarkable thing to hear as a young African American man-the first generation of his family to attend a four-year college. At that time my highest aspiration was simply to graduate, so becoming a faculty member was not a real consideration. In fact, to this day I’m not sure what compelled her to say this, but it began a dream that God brought to fulfillment. I have been very fortunate throughout my academic career to have people invest themselves in my future, and speak inspiration into my life; moreover to offer dreams beyond my imagination, and wisdom beyond my life experiences.

I am convinced that mentoring is more than scholarly assistance or career coaching; but it is also helping students see their greater potential and then facilitating the possibilities.

This is the most inspiring and renewing aspect of my work. Consequently, of my three most rewarding duties, teaching/training, collaborative scholarship with faculty and students, and mentoring young professionals-mentoring is the most personally satisfying. It means that I sometimes allow students to disturb my scholarship moments, or occupy my research time and linger in conversations that go beyond a particular question to the larger questions of living wisely. I find that this allows me to hear a deeper narrative of their dreams and possible selves, but it also provides a chance to question their perceptions and distortions. Mostly, it gives me a chance to learn who they are and see how God is shaping and inspiring them.

Supporting students as they identify their calling and capacities has become as important to me as helping them determine the future questions that their generation must answer. For them to answer these challenges, they will need to be people of creative intellectual abilities, plus spiritual men and women of maturing qualities. Mentoring can help students avoid the pitfalls of becoming self-absorbed in aggrandizing ventures, or the experience of disillusionment from kindheartedness without discernment. Most importantly, mentoring can inspire them beyond their first dream.

Dr. J. Derek McNeil, Associate Professor of Psychology, received his Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Northwestern and his M.Div. from Fuller. He teaches diversity; clinical interviewing skills; group, marital, and family therapy; and has traveled nationally and internationally presenting workshops and seminars. He has also published four articles and authored chapters in five books. (The above statement was included at the time of publication — Wheaton Magazine, Winter 2008)


A long distance Calle to the Moon

NixonAmong the numerous fascinating oddities stored in the Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections is this reproduction of an original drawing first presented to President Richard Nixon in Washington, D.C., in October of 1969, depicting the historic first telephone call to the Moon. The framed reproduction was presented to Dr. Hudson Armerding, President of Wheaton College, on January 16, 1970, by representatives of the Telephone Engineer & Management magazine. It is personally signed by artist Paul Calle.