Happy Birthday Dear Central 150 150 years of photography

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.

In 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.

During 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.

When 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.

President 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.

Rev. 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.

Two 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 and classrooms.

With 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.

By 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.”

Garrison 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.

As 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.

The 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 action.

As 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.

By 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

While 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.

By 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.

By 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.

Amidst 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 enjoys today.

Troubles 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.

The 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 Hall.

At 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.

By 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 opened.

As 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.

Until 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 success stories.

The 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 campus.

Central 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 sideline activity.

Homecoming 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.

The 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.

Beginning 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.

In 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.

As 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.

By 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.”

President 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.

Though 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.

Tyselling 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.

When 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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