"FOR BENEFITS RECEIVED"
Hayes Fuhr Speaks to the Hastings College Community
on Tuesday, November 8, 1960
At 11:20 oíclock on a sunny September morning forty-eight years ago this autumn, an incoming train numbered among its passengers for Hastings, the newly appointed Director of Music at Hastings College. To him, thus far, Nebraska had represented one of the outposts of American civilization and the home of the orator, statesman, and reformer, William Jennings Bryan, whose pudgy palm he had somewhat timidly taken a few years before at a farmerís picnic and political rally in rural Illinois.
Although he had been teaching for a time in an old, established school in the "Nearer" East, the young arrival felt the need to add a look of maturity to his bearing, so he capped his conservative attire with a derby hat. This was not his first or last error in judgment, for derbies are best suited to elliptically shaped heads, while his was, so to speak, "in the round." Nebraska was windy in those days and on his first appearance downtown, the derby took off at Denver Avenue and Second Street and ultimately came to rest a block away under a parked surrey with a horse in front.
After this incident the hat was discarded, but not the ambition in the head underneath it, which had always been to serve the cause of music on a liberal arts college campus. So, the newcomer had accepted the invitation of a new president, who, with the courage born of personal challenge, was accepting the leadership of Hastings College, following an almost overwhelming period of institutional depression. As the two of them drove from the station that morning through the sparsely settled area east of the Union Pacific tracks that led eventually to the dry and withered campus seared by a relentless August sun, the instructor felt some misgiving at having accepted this appointment, which promised only that he might share in a future development that the president and loyal supporters of the College so ardently believed lay ahead.
Five buildings constituted the Collegeís physical equipment in those days: the Library, donated by the Carnegie Foundation after a dramatic appeal by one of the hardiest of our pioneers; Ringland Hall, with its second and third floor menís dormitory; McCormick and Alexander Halls, and south of the present Clarke Hall, a frame gymnasium. A series of ramps built into the south wall of this "temple of sport" furnished the only seating facilities for football games on the adjacent field. A narrow balcony fretted with chicken wire did like service for basketball games within. So ardent did the fierce loyalties of the little student body become at inter-collegiate contests on cold winter nights that, on one occasion, the sheet-iron stoves at opposite ends of the floor became overheated in sheer sympathetic enthusiasm and burned down the building.
The "Chapel" of those days was adequately housed in what is now the Little Theater in McCormick Hall, and some of us who later became permanent fixtures on that campus eagerly looked forward to the possibility of an autumn registration which would fill the available seating space it provided.
The dining hall was easily accommodated in "Ringland Basement 4," where unmarried instructors dutifully presided as heads of the few tables necessary to supply the demand. That duty was mixed with dismay at times, when, having unselfishly passed the available rations to our companions, we apologetically handed the empty platters to the waiters, only to receive, in return, assortments of the extremities of fowls or beasts, which are considered edible only on certain islands in the South Pacific.
As for the Music Department: the two members of its staff held forth in two cavernous studios which occupied all of Alexander Hallís third floor. Either of these was entirely ample for rehearsals of a twelve-member menís glee club, including two faculty instructors Ė there being, at the time, no more than ten male students who, through the most flagrant optimism, could be catalogued as "possessing the necessary vocal equipment for harmonizing."
Elapsing years have wrought amazing changes, and yet, the nostalgic memory of these, and of even earlier days, refuses to be obliterated in the bright pattern of the current historic fabric.
What kindled the fires of enthusiasm and endeavor in those Spartan, frugal days? What bred that tenacity of purpose and whence came the essence which crystallized into the living legend of the "Spirit of Hastings College"? Were these but growing pains of institutional youth: to be outgrown and discarded for the blas» sophistication of collegiate adulthood? I do not think so. True, the wizardry of gadgets and the fantastic multiplicity of private and public facilities for living the effortless life have undoubtedly increased the gluttonous stupor of the drones, but I believe that the innate zest for adventure in youth is timeless, and, in the category of adventure, none is more exciting than the adventure of learning. Now "learning" has no fixed prerequisite of surroundings or environment. It may be achieved by the light of a pine-knot in a log cabin on Indianaís Pigeon Creek; in a sand-hill rural school house; or in a skyscraper in Pittsburgh; and colleges, large or small, achieve distinction, power, and influence according to the degree to which they attract successive generations of students with a passion to learn Ė under capable, forceful, and inspiring leadership. Through the years this College has been blessed by a comfortable percentage of both of these indispensable elements.
As the year 1912 had peculiar significance for me, so have all the years succeeding, and the chief difference between the September 1912 morning passenger and his current shriveled remains is chiefly connoted in the awesome total of personal benefits received in this place. You have them too, but I am richer because I have been here longer. I cannot take the year to tell you about mine, but Iíd like to remind you of a few of yours. Being prone to allegory, I have chosen to think of a studentís college experience in terms of a series of receipts and expenditures, and here we get down to business.
The curbstones which border the forty acres of this campus enclose an area of tree-shrouded lawns and the wood, brick, stone, and mortar of buildings designed to house the various activities which function here. Arrange these same materials in other fashions and you have homes, and factories, or even plants for the manufacture of hydrogen bombs. What then, gives these particular surroundings their peculiar significance for you, for those who preceded you, and for those who will follow?
Well, this happens to be Hastings College and that is a distinction with a difference. Our land is dotted with colleges of reputable standing, in all of which are to be found basic courses of marked similarity. There is nothing strange in this, for in manís quest for knowledge, in all fields of learning, certain facts emerge as basic truths, and these facts become the common property of educators, and, we hope, of students. The fruits of the Tree of Knowledge are for all who would pluck them. This is not to say that the adventure of learning is static, nor the horizons of knowledge fixed. To the diligent searcher, new truths and new light on accepted truths are forever illuminating the paths to the uplands of learning.
Today our civilization is so eminently the product of the trained mind that a college experience has relatively the same universality that the secondary school completion had for our parents or grandparents. So, college training for todayís youth is increasingly the minimum requirement for living a normal life, if there be such a thing as normal living. After high school graduation, therefore, the question for thousands of young men and women becomes, "What college, and why?"
To our very real gratification you have chosen this one and, this autumn, many of you for the first time, others for the second, and still others for the third and fourth times, have exchanged the familiar surroundings of home and community for this campus. Your parents, eager that you should have equal or better advantages than they had at your age, have in varying degrees made sacrifices that this privilege might be yours. When the time comes you will do the same for your children at this or at some other college. Until that time, you will not know how deep is the joy of sacrifice, how keen the hope which beats in the hearts of those whose children seek the higher levels of learning and living. Your parents live in you, and you in turn, will live in your offspring. It is an appealing and rewarding concept of immortality. Hence, merely by being here, you are the recipients of a rich bounty. Donít ignore or minimize it, but voice your appreciation to your parents. They will treasure your words when they lie awake wondering if all is well with you and will take comfort and be happy, even in the separation.
What will you receive while you are here? Having felt the pulse of this institution for more than twelve generations of students like you (among whom were the parents of some of you), knowing the members of the Board of Trustees and their objectives, and being cognizant of the caliber and quality of this faculty and administration, I am ready and willing to be interrogated.
First of all, you become joint tenants of a vast estate built for you over seventy-five odd years by students whom you do not know but all of whom are your kinsfolk. Their footsteps ground the hollows in the steps of McCormick and Ringland Halls; their voices filled the night with song; and they battled on Hansen Field and in the gymnasium. From the classrooms, laboratories, and playing fields have gone many who should give you pride. Learn their record. It is a part of your legacy. Theirs were the same receipts as yours: namely, the opportunity to train the mind in a tolerant, Christian environment under instruction motivated by the Christian ethic. The Christian College is the realization of the dreams and actions of consecrated, free men who believed that scientific and cultural training could achieve its highest function only when the soul was attuned to something above and beyond finite reason. Put in a simple allegory, such training is a meal, preceded by a blessing.
Here, there is no impressment of the intellect, no subordination of the freedom of will and choice. Here, and in other colleges of our type, the principles for which men fought to establish and preserve in this Republic can be observed in action. These benefits are yours without asking, without struggle. Not all of you will sense them, but they are here. What will you spend to preserve them? Will you grumble at the tedium of schedules, assignments, and the grinding courses whose bearing upon objectives seem obscure and fruitless, or will you accept the time honored offerings of a liberal arts curriculum as being the logical preparation for enlightened citizenship and so, seek to wring out of every classroom experience something that will make life more meaningful and productive?
Again, what benefits will you receive from the staff and the administration?
From the teaching staff there radiates an unfailing, ultimate purpose to aid you in increasing your mental, physical, artistic, and spiritual stature for trials of strength which inevitably lie ahead. This involves certain study disciplines which you should respect and accept, for they are rooted in love. You will receive fellowship, courtesy, and fair play, and an inherent respect for you as an individual. From them you may always expect the exemplification of sound character and scholarship and an intense desire to help you achieve those same ideals.
From the administration you may always expect benevolence and sympathy for your problems and an equal distribution of benefits to all. The task of administering a college demands great courage, efficiency, and faith. The financial problems of all private institutions are crucial and, at times, well nigh desperate. Without the continued support of believers in the cause of Christian liberal arts education, this college and hundreds of its sister institutions would be but a memory of past greatness. You should always believe that within the utmost limits of its resources, the administration extends to you every possible comfort, facility, and care.
What will you give in exchange for these things?
Once again, in the light of my privileged experiences on this campus and from my association with multiplied hundreds of students like you, whose companionship and achievement have blessed me and my colleagues, I can tell you a few of the things which I should hope for, were I the father of sons or daughters now sharing in the benefits of this place:
First, I should want them to mature in the stature of ladies and gentlemen in a cultured community; to be innately and unfailingly courteous; to be respectful to their elders in all situations; and to maintain a dignity and refinement of social behavior which would give me pride and do honor to their mother. I should want them to be orderly housekeepers in their quarters and display thoughtfulness for the rights of others who share the same privileges. I should want them to have unfailing respect for public and community property and to try never to despoil or mar anything which belongs to the group, or to detract from its beauty and function. I should also want them to be thoughtful in little things Ė to render the small service, so that they might come to know the satisfaction that lives in kindness; to be friendly to everyone, but the confidant of few; and to hate gossip and the slur as the devilís own tools.
I would have them occasionally seek out all of their instructors for advice and counsel, knowing that such a practice can result only in good. In the process of choosing and implementing major and minor courses of study, I would have them be patient, clear thinking, and trustful, knowing that the advisorís chief purpose is "to advise." I would have them accept the fact that scholarship is not easy to come by and to do the best possible job within their capabilities. This would call for a systematic budgeting of time and a strict adherence to the discipline of study Ė putting first things first, and keeping them there. Most of the so-called "sharks" merely work regularly and hard and, during study, get along without rock-and-roll radio background!
I should want my youngsters to try for one or two of the campus activities best suited to them. Whatever they chose Iíd want them to support to the limit: being punctual, eager, and loyal. Iíd have them say, "Sorry," to all the rest. Iíd want them to come to know and love great music, art, and drama, and within the limits of their talents to experience the thrill of self-expression in those fields. I should want them to attend church and to put their "mites" on the offering plate as tokens of gratitude for immeasurable benefits received. Now and then it would be mighty pleasant if they would practice their English composition by writing home.
These are some of the things which I, as a parent, would relish in my dependents, but I would never have the courage to tell them so. I only tell you because you will keep it confidential. If these thoughts seem platitudinous or "fuddy-duddy" Ė you may consider the source. You, too, will feel them in due time.
Thirty-five hundred years ago a young Israelite who, later, was to achieve a quality of leadership which would stand as a pattern through eons of time, led his flock of sheep to the mountain slopes which bordered the barren waste of the Arabian desert. Here, one of the most electrifying of many startling events in his life occurred: Suddenly a bush on a nearby rise burst into flame and, as he watched it, fascinated, he realized that this was no ordinary fire kindled by the rays of a desert sun. The bush was neither charred nor consumed. In awe he approached it cautiously only to be halted by a celestial voice which said: "Draw not nigh hither! Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."
Since then, men have repeatedly learned that "holy ground" is not confined to halls of worship or to cathedrals which they have built to identify their faith. It is any place where the Supreme Spirit speaks to the spirit of man, and man listens and obeys. It may be in the Surgery of the Curie Laboratory, at the organ console, or in a symphony hall.
College campuses are not excluded and to any who have served on this one for half a century or more, the clouds of witnesses are innumerable. Who are these witnesses? They are the intrepid men who first dreamed of what you now experience as reality and were not content with dreaming; they are their successors, the men and women who gave every single facility which you enjoy; they are your student forebears, who lived in your rooms, ate at your tables, filled your classrooms, manned your projects and while doing so, sometime, somewhere, heard a still, small voice urging them to higher levels of enlightened living and service. Yes, every place on which you step may have been "holy ground" to some one before you. Will not you too, then, tread there unshod?
Fifteen hundred years after the desert experience of the young Israelite, three kings put off their shoes and brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the "holy ground" of a stable which held the hope of the world. You, too, are kings in your own right, rulers of your own kingdoms Ė and here you have come to one of the many shrines which still cherish and accept that hope of the world. What do you bring? I should hope that you would bring the gold of integrity, uncompromising ideals, and fidelity to your duty; the frankincense of good will, kindness, and gentle courtesy; myrrh for the burial of prejudice, intolerance, and self-love. If you bear such gifts, you will, like the kings of old, return to your own country "another way."
May your days here be filled with the joy of achievement toward whatever goals you strive, and may you, here, come to know more fully the true meaning of the abundant life.