Rev. Daniel Reed, L.L.D., took over as president in 1885. Before
Reed had time to even think about the hefty endowment fundraising
campaign begun by his predecessor, a threat of an entirely new form
rose up to trouble Central’s peace of mind.
1884, the Baptists of Iowa had opened a second college in Des Moines.
By the spring of 1886 it was apparent that the available funds were
spread too thin between the two institutions.
the 1886 Baptist State Convention, delegates voted to dismantle
the collegiate department of Central College and maintain only the
academy courses, thereby making Central a feeder institution to
the new Des Moines College. President Reed was in favor of this
action, an opinion which did not win him any friends either on Central’s
campus or in the town of Pella.
the 1886 convention delegates announced that they would discontinue
the collegiate department of Central and concentrate on Des Moines
College, friends of Central obtained an injunction from the circuit
court: “restraining the board of trustees from disposing of
or transferring any of the property of said university (Central),
either real or personal, to the University of Des Moines…and
from closing the doors of said University (Central) as a school
of learning.” Thus, Central College survived the first round
threats from a merger with DMC.
Reed resigned in 1886, and the Central board of trustees re-instated
Lewis Dunn. He remained in his position until he died working at
his desk on Thanksgiving Day 1888. During his second term, Dunn
established the biblical department to train Baptist ministers.
This department remained the largest on campus until the Normal
Course was established in 1902 to train teachers.
Seth J. Axtell succeeded Dunn until his resignation in 1890. He
was followed by Rev. John Stuart, Ph.D., who was the current pastor
of the Pella Baptist Church. Stuart also served as professor of
natural science and sacred literature.When
Axtell took the helm in the fall of 1890, he found that enrollment
had grown to the point where students could no longer find housing
in the city of Pella. Ground was broken for Cotton Hall, the campus’s
first dormitory in 1890, and the first students moved in a few weeks
before the opening of fall 1891. Named for J.B. Cotton, principal
of Central’s music department from 1865-1883, Cotton Hall
was at the height of modern conveniences for its time.
years after the opening of Cotton Hall, the foundations for the
YMCA/YWCA Building, also known as The Auditorium, were laid. Because
of financial difficulties, the building was not completed until
1901. When it finally opened its doors for use, the students found
inside a brand new chapel, a library, a fully equipped gymnasium
the opening of Central’s first gymnasium, it is assumed that
intramural basketball games organized by students were played soon
after. Regular schedules of basketball games were first played in
1909 and have continued ever since. In the final year of construction
on the YM/YWCA Building, then-president Rev. Arthur B. Chaffee,
D.D., pulled Central through its second round of struggles with
the Baptists of Iowa resisting the desire to close Central in favor
of supporting only the college in Des Moines.
the time Rev. Lemuel A. Garrison, D.D., took over the presidency
in 1903, the strife between Central College and Des Moines College
prompted him to state: “We as a state are beginning to learn
that the existence of two colleges is not so great a mistake as
the existence of a struggle for pre-eminence between these colleges.”
realized that financial health was one of the surest ways to ensure
the survival of Central against the forces seeking to close its
doors. In 1900 he revived the struggling endowment campaign to acquire
an additional $26,000. In one of the shrewdest moves of his presidency,
he hired H.J. Vanden Berg as treasurer of the college in charge
of fundraising, a position he held with great success for 41 years.
the administration of the college concerned itself with the financial
health of the institution, the citizens of Pella had not forgotten
their pledge to support the school. Robert R. Beard donated his
entire observatory of telescope, transit, spectroscope and clock
to the college in 1902 provided a Normal Course was developed and
a residency for the president were built within the year. Beard’s
request for a Normal department was immediately granted, and Dunn
Cottage, the new president’s house, was erected one year after
Jordan Hall was completed in 1905. Dunn Cottage remained the president’s
home until 1948. It then became the dean’s house until it
was made part of the student union.
years of 1902 through 1914 were ones of growth for Central. By 1907
the $100,000 endowment goal had been reached and immediately a second
campaign for an additional $100,000 was launched. At the Baptist
State Convention of 1907, the third round of votes attempting to
decide if Central College or Des Moines College would remain as
the permanent Iowa Baptist school was held. Though this time 222
votes came to Pella with only 146 going to Des Moines, neither location
received the required two-thirds majority necessary for decisive
these decisions relating to the future life of Central went on outside
of its walls, life on the growing campus in Pella continued on as
normal. Additions to the faculty were made on a regular basis including
the hiring of Elizabeth Graham in 1905 as professor of English.
She served as professor until 1914 when she was made dean of women,
a position she held until her retirement in 1932. Rev. John L. Beyl,
Ph.D., became acting president in 1909 and then president in 1911.
He was replaced by Rev. John William Bailey, Ph.D., a pastor of
the Pella Baptist Church and professor of biblical studies at Central
since 1910. Bailey holds the distinction of presiding at Central’s
helm during the culmination of the Pella/Des Moines question when
the future of the school and its church affiliation would be answered
once and for all.
1915, it was obvious to all parties involved that some final decision
regarding Baptist education in Iowa needed to be made. At a meeting
in Chicago during October 1915, a proposition to transfer Central
College affiliation to the Reformed Church in America was made.
By November 1915, the Reformed Church had accepted the offer, and
the name, charter, grounds, buildings and equipment were transferred
to the Reformed Church provided they would maintain an accredited
college in Pella.
hard-won endowment of $100,000, current funds and pledges all went
to the Baptist Education Society. The final agreement was signed
on June 20, 1916, and Central once again found itself without an
endowment, uncertain of the path that lay in front, but nevertheless
alive and hopeful that the future would bring great things.
good faith of the Reformed Church to support Central College was
immediately tested when the Auditorium Building caught on fire the
night of Feb. 28, 1917, taking with it the school’s chapel,
library and gymnasium. The school continued work as usual through
the generous donation of facility space by the churches and schools
of the city of Pella.
First Reformed Church housed Central’s rescued Decker grand
piano and offered the use of its building for the teaching of music
classes, concerts and recitals. The Second Reformed Church gave
the use of their organ for lessons, practice and concerts. The Pella
Public High School allowed physical education classes to be held
in their gymnasium along with basketball practice and games. In
the midst of the campaign to replace the lost endowment, Central
administrators set out on an additional campaign for the construction
of two new buildings, one a combination women’s dorm and gymnasium,
and the other a chapel.
Central concentrated on its own struggles, the United States found
itself suddenly embroiled in World War I. More than 100 Central
students enlisted in the military and Central College woke up one
morning to find itself overrun with GI’s when the campus became
a base for a unit of the Student Army Training Corps. Student soldiers
were housed in Cotton Hall and practiced military drills on the
campus lawn. The rest of the student body and faculty held patriotic
fundraising campaigns for war relief of prisoners and refugees.
the close of World War I in 1919, Graham Hall had been opened and
Cotton Hall had reverted to a regular men’s dormitory. The
grand Victorian structure suffered severely from a 1923 fire, was
sadly condemned and sold for a mere $336 — approximately $3500
today — later that year. The Ludwig Library, built from the
salvaged ruins of the Auditorium Building, was dedicated on April
12, 1918, and found itself led by Miss Marie Greiner, the school’s
first full-time librarian. She remained in her position until 1939.
the time of Central’s Centennial celebration in 1953, the
original 8,000 volumes rescued from the 1917 fire had grown to 29,000
volumes. The new gymnasium was dedicated on Oct. 21, 1921, the funding
of which was largely due to the Pella Chamber of Commerce.
the loss and construction of buildings on campus, academic life
continued to thrive. In 1920 the very first classes in theatre were
offered at Central as part of the brand-new major titled “Expression.”
Along with public speaking, speech preparation and research, classes
were offered in vocal interpretation of lyric poetry and interpretation
of prose drama. Requirements for the classes included participation
in a play during the course of the semester. These beginnings laid
the foundation for the excellent theatre department Central College
with Central’s buildings were sadly not over yet. In the early
morning hours of June 14, 1922, Old Central was completely destroyed
by fire. Not only was the loss of this historic structure both a
physical and spiritual blow to the college, but the financial loss
was estimated at $22,000.
Old Central bell, which had chimed the hours and activities of the
campus from the time of its installation in 1857, had been housed
on the lawn in front of Old Central since its destruction by a bolt
of lightening in 1914. The best foundation stones of Old Central
were salvaged from the remains of the burned building to make the
bench which now supports the old bell on the lawn in front of Central
the 1924 annual meeting of the board of trustees, the endowment
campaign began fundraising efforts to secure $400,000, and an additional
$100,000 to replace Old Central with a new building on the site
of the old.
the opening of classes in 1925, president John Wesselink, D.D.,
found enough money had been raised to break ground for what is today
Central Hall. The project proved to be quite difficult, though.
Construction was halted due to the harsh winter of 1926-27, and
only the first floor was ready for use by September 1928. By 1929
the second floor had been completed, yet it was not until 1935,
during the heart of the Great Depression, that the third floor was
Central and the United States were going through post-war growing
pains, the social life and attitudes of the college were progressing
through innovations of the students. It is difficult to decipher
exactly when sports for women at Central moved from being impromptu
games played between friends to what is believed to be the first
women’s athletic organization on campus, The Red Pepper Club.
Founded in 1928, the Red Peppers advertised themselves as “an
organization with the special purpose of furthering Women’s
Athletics on Central’s campus. It has, however, won a reputation
for itself as a pep organization as well, in that the members assist
the cheer leaders in pep meetings…Membership in the club is
earned by participation in sports such as basketball, baseball,
tennis, hiking, skating, bicycle riding, and others.” The
Red Pepper Club was absorbed by the Women’s Athletic Association
two years later.
women’s sports became an NCAA Division III fixture in 1972
after the passage of Title IX, sporting clubs, a few basic physical
education electives and intramural games comprised the whole of
women’s athletic outlets. The achievements of women’s
athletics in later years stand as one of Central’s shining
Central College Academy, the oldest department on campus, finally
outlived its usefulness and closed in 1928 since local high schools
were by that time adequate enough to train students for college
level courses rendering the costly academy obsolete. With the passing
of this section of Central, the school became solely a collegiate
first celebrated homecoming in 1927. Today, homecoming is centered
around the football game, but the beginning of the tradition was
based upon inviting alumni back to the campus to spend a weekend
at their alma mater with the football game regarded as an interesting
traditions have changed over the years. The first homecoming, and
all subsequent ones until the late 1960s, involved an elaborate
parade around the square with Central marching bands and floats
put together by each class and many of the student organizations.
literary societies hosted dinners for returning alumni, skits were
written by each class and performed during the weekend, and a huge
bonfire on the Central grounds kicked off the festivities on Friday
night. Just as today, the football game was played on Saturday afternoon.
in the early 1950s and ending at an unspecified time during the
middle 1960s, a snake dance was performed by the Central students
as one of the Friday night bonfire traditions. Dubbed the “Crimson
Racer,” the snake dance consisted of students joining hands
in a long line, and then carousing through town in a long, twisting
dace reminiscent of the movements of a snake. The leader pulled
the line of dancers over benches, around trees, turning and coiling
through the dark streets of Pella; causing a general uproar as cheers
were shouted and songs sung.
later years, other homecoming traditions have been added just as
some have fallen by the wayside. The crowing of a homecoming queen
began in 1934 and continues to the present day. Choosing a homecoming
king was not begun until the late 1990s.
in previous years, the opening of classes in 1929 saw Central still
seeking money to replace the endowment lost to Des Moines College.
President Wesselink and his staff had managed to accrue $200,000,
but needed $300,000 to take Central to its next level of being a
fully accredited college with acceptance in the North Central Association
of Colleges and Secondary Schools.
the 1931-32 school year, the Great Depression was beginning to make
itself severely felt. Churches, alumni and supporters of Central
were not able to help out as much as they previously had. At the
spring, 1933 board of trustees meeting, Wesselink made an urgent
appeal to the board and the Reformed Church for continued support.
Though the Depression was severe, Wesselink reminded committee members
that “Central College is not dealing in luxuries …We
are dealing in things of permanent value … The need of education
has not ceased on account of the financial collapse.”
Wesselink continued to support Central until his resignation in
1934. At that time, the board of trustees decided that Irwin J.
Lubbers, Ph.D, was the best person to be found to lead Central through
the remainder of the Depression.
it is common knowledge that the Great Depression was a very difficult
time for Americans between 1929 and the beginning of World War II,
one must remember that amidst the terrible financial conditions,
life did indeed go on. In the spring of 1929, the five starters
for the Central College basketball team were unaware of the legendary
status they were about to attain. Now remembered as the “Wonder
Team,” their incredible 37-game winning streak began the spring
of 1929 and did not end until the beginning of 1932. Those final
five starters, L.A. “Lefty” Schnack, Cornelius “Connie”
Muyskens, Clarence “Tiny” Wilkins, Dwain “Barney”
Neifert and Richard “Babe” Tysseling, not only proved
that they were fierce competitors without a truly worthy rival in
their schedule of games, but also gave their supporters a bit of
hope in what had become for most people an unstable world.
went on to become one of Central’s most beloved coaches and
athletic directors. After a distinguished student career during
which he became the only Central student to win four varsity letters
each in basketball, football, baseball and track, he entered the
faculty in 1938 after graduating in 1932. He coached from 1938 until
his retirement in 1960 including Iowa Conference championship teams
of 1945 and 1946.
Lubbers accepted the Central presidency, he found a resilient campus
population feeling the effects of a constricted budget. Faculty
salaries had already undergone two 10 percent reductions and student
enrollment was low. Realizing that he could not keep the school
afloat by relying solely on tuition and traditional methods of fundraising,
Lubbers, along with faculty and staff, began to think of ways to
see Central through the rough financial times. Faculty accepted
a “not-set” salary plan under which each member would
receive a proportional share of whatever tuition was taken in. Lubbers
aimed for paying faculty at least 50 percent of what they had earned
the previous year.
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