Saturday, November 21, 2020

3. James S. Luckey, First President of Houghton (1908-37)

J.S Luckey
This is now the third post of my notes on the story of Houghton.
1. In the second term of the school's existence, in December 1884, a "tall, thin, rather awkward" farmer's boy from Short Track made his way to Houghton Creek. This was the seventeen-year-old James S. Luckey, the second graduate of the school and its first president.

The school would never have existed without Willard Houghton. Who knows what would have happened if Silas Bond and A. W. Hall had not moved the campus to a better location. Similarly, the school might have gone into the ash heaps of history if it weren't for Luckey. The current administration building is aptly named for him, and there is a special group of donors to the college today who are known as the James S. Luckey Society.

2. Luckey worked to pay his way through. He did four terms at the seminary and then, to make money to continue, took a job as a teacher at a school for a year. He returned to Houghton in 1886, working on campus. In 1887 at the Houghton Church he went forward to the altar to consecrate his life to God. He thought at first God might be calling him to ministry. But in the end, God did not. 

He then finished his degree in 1889. In 1892 he came back to Houghton to teach math and Greek. He tutored one student in Latin until she married him in 1894. "amo, amas, amat," you know. 

3. He would become the principal of Houghton Seminary in 1894 and continue until 1896, during which time they switched from calling the head of the seminary, "principal," to calling them, "president." He thus was, in this first respect, the first president of Houghton.

Luckey was a math person. It is interesting that both he and President Stephen Paine continued to teach classes while they were president. Luckey was known to write a math equation on the board, pause to look at it, and then remark, "Isn't that beautiful?" Paine taught Greek and even wrote a Greek textbook published by Oxford Press. 

4. Then in 1896, Luckey continued his education and worked. A master's degree in education in 1898 from Albany State Teacher's College. Four years as principal of a high school. Then they moved to Oberlin College, where he got a BA in 1904 and an MA in 1905.

Oberlin was an important piece of the early Houghton equation. Before Houghton College was accredited, Houghton students would sometimes do three years at Houghton and then finish up at Oberlin. Oberlin had been a key institution in the evangelical revivals of the 1800s, a place that stood on a similar path as the Wesleyan Methodists on abolition and woman's suffrage. Luckey would actually teach there for two years (1905-1907).

He then studied math for a year at Harvard (1907-1908). He had a scholarship to continue to get his Ph.D. Then Houghton called. The hardest decision of his life, he forewent his Ph.D. in math at Harvard and returned to Houghton as president again, in 1908. Wheaton would finally give him an honorary doctorate in 1933.

4. Beyond question, the most significant of Luckey's accomplishments was to get Houghton accredited by New York State. It was not an easy feat. On the one hand, it was not easy because of New York state requirements for accreditation like $500,000 in assets, eight distinct departments with distinct heads, and faculty with the appropriate degrees and salaries. 

Meanwhile, the church wasn't sure it wanted anything more than a Bible college. Looking back, our colleges in the 1920s scarcely seem very liberal. But in the snapshot of a moment's time, some in the surrounding church may imagine that they are. Imagine the late 1960s when the church surrounding Houghton consisted of the two parts of the Wesleyan Church that didn't go with the merger over things like jewelry and hair length--the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodists and the New York Pilgrims.

Luckey, tireless in purpose and undaunted by resistance, pushed through to the goal. The state requirements, while difficult to achieve, did provide greater stability. Except for OKWU, none of the Pilgrim Bible colleges survived, and OKWU arguably survived because it went on to become a state-accredited liberal arts college. 

Many people won't try something because they don't think it's possible. They need to see someone else
do it first. Who knows what would have happened to Wesleyan higher education if Luckey had not shown that secular accreditation was possible--and without losing spirituality? Luckey showed the way. 

H. Clark Bedford
5. As a side note, in this era Houghton was the education dynamo for the Wesleyan Methodist Church. I've already mentioned that Silas Bond left Houghton in 1908 to be the founding president of Miltonvale. But perhaps the most interesting figure in this regard is H. Clark Bedford.

He was an early Houghton grad, one of those that went on to finish at Oberlin. He was then a math and Greek teacher at Houghton in the early teens. I'll mention some of his work with Luckey to develop the Houghton campus in the next post.

In 1915, Bedford went to be president of the recently established Wesleyan Methodist College in Central, South Carolina (SWU) for four years. Bob Black tells me that he was one of the best presidents of that era. In keeping with lessons learned at Houghton, he facilitated the building of "Grimes Hall" in 1916 at Central. Black says it was the building that legitimized the college, having electricity, running water, and steam heat. [1]

Then after a year back at Houghton, in 1920 he became the first president of the newly founded Marion College (IWU). His two years were not without turmoil. First, there was tension between the theological students who had come from Fairmount Bible College and the liberal arts students that made up the rest of the college. Marj Elder reports that Bible college students thought the other students were too worldly, and the liberal arts students thought the Bible college students were uneducated. [2] Bedford got up in chapel and pleaded for both sides to be charitable to each other.

It wasn't too long before Bedford himself was in the cross-hairs of the surrounding district. He was said to have a faulty view of entire sanctification. [3] The denomination vouched for him. His own statement affirmed full salvation and an experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In the end, the district said they wouldn't support Marion College, and he resigned to keep the peace. He went on to be president at Penn College in Iowa.

6. In 1929 James Luckey actually commuted once a week to act as temporary president of Marion College as it continued to struggle in its first decade. It was still only 9 years old (it's celebrating its centennial this year). His youngest son Robert Luckey would actually go on to be president of Marion College from 1976 to 1984, and again as interim from 86-87. The old gym at IWU is actually named for him.

There's a fun story about father and son in 1934. Robert was apparently a bit of a "lucky" surprise when the senior Luckey was fifty years old. In 1934, alumni and friends raised the funds for the president to take a trip to Europe as a much-deserved vacation. He left from the train station in Houghton only to return the next day to pick up his son. He figured that if he went second class, he could afford to take the seventeen year old Robert with him.

7. Luckey danced through the landmines to see Houghton provisionally accredited in 1923. Now he truly was the first president of Houghton College! He raised funds both within the church and in the surrounding region. In 1925, there was the first group of accredited graduates. Then in 1927, the charter was made permanent. I'll save the quest for Middle States accreditation for the next post. 

8. Luckey was apparently a very positive and friendly face. But he was also highly detailed and quite a micromanager. Frieda Gillette, whose arm he twisted to come as a history professor in 1923, called him a "benign dictator." If one of his proposals did not pass, he would simply bring it back again and again until it did.

The students apparently had a ditty they said about him: 

Head full of brains,
Brains full of knowledge,
Rather go to Luckey's school
Than any other college

[1] Bob wrote a history of Southern Wesleyan for its centennial in 2006--How Firm a Foundation: Southern Wesleyan University 1906-2006.

[2] Marjorie Elders, The Lord, the Landmarks, the Life (1994), 76. This book commemorated the 75th anniversary of Indiana Wesleyan University.

[3] We can imagine the level of debate they might have had in those days about the nuances of entire sanctification. We probably wouldn't even recognize the minute issues of debate today.


Martin LaBar said...

Interesting stuff!

Bud Bence said...

I attended Dr. Paine's Beginning Greek class as a freshman at Houghton. The class met at 8:00 on Monday, Wednesday. (He traveled for the college on Fridays.) He also spoke in chapel every Monday, spontaneously offering his own amplified translations of the Greek New Testament.

Ken Schenck said...

Good memories!