Jim Amidon — The students, faculty, and staff of Wabash College have an enormous reason to be thankful this Thanksgiving week.
This week we are thankful that a handful of visionary leaders — Dartmouth-educated ministers — had the courage to leave the east coast 175 years ago to establish Wabash College on what was then the frontier.
Those men knew the wild west would need teachers and preachers, and on November 21, 1832 founded Wabash College in order to provide the education necessary to prepare men for lives of service.
To me it’s uncanny that the calendar lines up the way it does. When the Wabash founders gathered on a cold November evening exactly 175 years ago this week, they put together the necessary documents, gave thanks, and went to bed.
They woke the next morning, ventured out into the snow, and knelt in prayer. They prayed that their courageous vision would be successful. They gave thanks for the progress they had made to get to that point. They prayed for the tenacity to overcome great obstacles.
The anniversary of that event is this Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.
The founders faced untold obstacles — lots of them. There were funding problems, building problems, and fires that destroyed buildings. Over the course of Wabash’s great 175-year history, the obstacles have continued, many of which have been financial.
But true to the spirit of the founding fathers so long ago, Wabash has persevered and continued its long tradition of excellence and independence.
Wabash is an independent college. It does not receive state or federal money to conduct its academic program and never has. It relies on its alumni and friends to support it, and since 1832 there have been those who have believed in its mission, including this very community.
Early in the College’s history, the Crawfordsville community gave Wabash a large parcel of land on the western edge of town. College administrators almost immediately divided it up and sold half of it in order to have the funds necessary to continue operations.
When Wabash lost to fire one of its earliest academic buildings, the citizens of the community came forward with a donation of $2,000 to keep the institution solvent; to keep it going when finances were tight.
During World War II, Wabash President Frank Sparks kept the College alive by bringing to Crawfordsville the Navy’s V-12 officer training program. At one point, there were only 12 “regular” students enrolled at Wabash, but Sparks’ visionary — resourceful — thinking allowed the College to stay the course.
Over the years private foundations, too, have seen in Wabash something worthwhile and worth supporting. The Ford Foundation invested in Wabash at a critical point in its history, and Lilly Endowment Inc. has funded a range of scholarships, programs, and centers on this campus.
And perhaps the greatest tradition of all at Wabash is the tradition of alumni giving back for for the education they received when they were students. When they do so, they’re actually “paying it forward” and providing resources for future generations of students who want a rigorous liberal arts education to prepare them for life.
We have much to be thankful for this holiday season. I’d simply ask as you sit with friends and family on Thanksgiving Day, that you pause momentarily to remember the brave men and women who established Wabash College 175 years ago and have continued its work to this day.
Just imagine how thankful they felt on the morning of November 22, 1832 — cold, uncertain, and probably scared, but thankful.