The Flying Dean

Ehrensberger [W1929] at his desk at the University of Maryland in 1952

My family likes to tease me that I can connect Wabash men to anything, anywhere…While not exactly accurate, I am constantly surprised at the breadth of influence our alums have had and continue to have. So when my daughter called from Germany to say that she has enrolled in classes from the University of Maryland – I told her that she could do this because of the work of a Wabash man. She answered, “Of course, Mom!” Did I mention that my family hears this phrase a lot?

For decades hundreds of thousands of armed forces personnel and their families have been able to take college classes through the University of Maryland thanks to the vision and hard work of the man who came to be known as “the Flying Dean.” Ray Ehrensberger [W1929] was an incredibly gifted student who, like thousands of others before him, came to Wabash from Indianapolis. He pledged the Sigma Chi fraternity and again, like so many other Wabash students, Ray worked his way through college. In a pattern that would continue through his long life, he did what thousands of others have done – but in a totally different way. While most students found work around town, perhaps in restaurants, shops or doing odd jobs, Ray’s job was as a fireman on the Monon Railroad!

Ray made a big impression on campus and, although he studied history, it was in the Speech Department that Ray really soared. The Speech Department at Wabash in the 1920’s was headed by W. Norwood Brigance, a teacher of national repute. Ray came to be one of Briggie’s Boys, as the members of the speech and debate teams were known. As a junior in 1928 Ehrensberger won the state and the national oratorical contest.

Following graduation in 1929, Ray completed his master’s and doctorate degree and by 1932 he was the chair of the speech department at Franklin College.  A young man on his way up and in a big hurry. Ehrensberger went to the University of Maryland and just three years later was the chair of that speech department.  In 1950 Ray Ehrensberger was appointed the Director of the Overseas program.

While attending classes remotely is now so commonplace that a person can learn almost anywhere in the world this is a relatively new phenomenon. In 1950 soldiers who were stationed overseas were severely limited in their educational opportunities. It was through Ray’s work with the U of M that this changed. In a quote from the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame, “

He taught the University of Maryland’s first course offered on a military installation in 1946. He advanced to the position of Dean of the College of Special and Continuation Studies (CSCS) at the University of Maryland, recognized as a flagship institution in offering educational programs on military installations around the world.” He flew thousands of miles each year establishing classes and sites, attending graduations and organizing a worldwide program.

From a U of Maryland posting about Ray’s posthumous induction into the Hall of Fame,

“With his guidance, University of Maryland University College . . . became the first university to offer academic courses and degree programs taught on site at U.S. military bases abroad; the first to send its faculty to teach in a war zone (in Vietnam); and the first to confer bachelor’s degrees at U.S. military installations overseas. More than any other individual, Ray Ehrensberger was responsible for these remarkable developments and their success.”

This entry from the Wabash Magazine of 1970 gives us a better sense of the great work that Ray did over the course of a lifetime.

So when I hear my daughter tell me enthusiastically about the course offerings she has available in Germany, I smile and think what a great chance for her. As the Archivist of Wabash, I think of the hundreds of thousands of others who have benefited from this Wabash man’s pursuit of excellence and passion for education.

Beth Swift
Wabash College

For more information on Ray’s great work, here are two links



Elmore Day in December?

Many alumni still remember Elmore Day as a warm, sunny golden day in the fall when all classes were canceled and students were free to wander Shades or Turkey Run state parks or to go canoeing. Some hardy folks would stay on campus and listen to readings from the works of the Bard of Alamo – James Buchanan Elmore.  I believe “Sassafras, oh, sassafras” was a favorite selection.

Tom Wilson [W1977] professor of law at  Indiana University School of Law contacted me a few weeks ago about donating some of the Bard’s works to the Archives. It seems that while on break from college, Tom learned that one of his parent’s neighbors was a relative of James B. Elmore. Tom screwed up  his courage and knocked on the door.  The visit went well and Tom purchased five books and several copies of a genealogy for only $10.

Tom came to campus Friday of last week, a bone chilling day with a cold wind. Yet as I watched Tom and listened to Professor Don Herring read from a couple of the books – it didn’t seem quite as cold…Watching these two good friends sharing a laugh was just a delight. The verses were flowing – never mind the weather, it was Elmore Day!

Photos by Kim Johnson of Wabash College


Among the items that Tom donated was a book published in 1959 by Elmore’s son, Albert, entitled Newspaper Clippings from James. B. Elmore’s Old Scrapbook. It is a fascinating collection of poems, newspaper stories and includes several pictures. In this book we are treated to story after story about the Bard of Alamo selling his books on the streets, lack of respect by the literati of the time, Elmore’s scorn for the poetry of “Jim Riley” – now revered as the poet Jame Whitcomb Riley. Really quite a little book. Tom’s gift will be kept safe here in the Archives and many thanks to him for thinking of the Archives. Who knew Elmore Day could happen in December?




The Great War

The Great War

Last time I wrote about peeking into the past, using old photographs to take us to places and times that we would never see any other way. This week, I feel a bit like I have had an overload of peeking into the past. We have so many amazing images here in the Archives that it really is impossible to see them all. There are, though, some sets that are just unforgettable. The World War I photographic scrapbook of Milo Bushong [W1915] is one of those unforgettable collections. The images are just incredible, but a warning that they are also, some of them, incredibly graphic.

Milo Bushong was a captain and a dental surgeon in the Great War, as seen in the second photograph which is labeled “France, 1917.” The album is quite a mix of pictures – most were taken by Bushong, some are clearly pictures of other pictures as we can see the pins in the wall. There is also a group of pictures of German Troops and military locations which appear to have been purchased as a set. and they all have white numerals on the image. The picture below is one of this set.

This photograph gives us quite a picture of life underground during the War. Among these images are other pictures of soldiers digging deep trenches, underground bunkers really, and reinforcing them with strong wooden posts. It is an engaging picture of life in a bunker.

In this photo of General Pershing taken by Bushong we see Pershing engaged in an intense conversation. What catches me about this picture is not the two men, but the children in the background listening and watching so very intently.

This collection has several pictures of airplanes, many on the ground, some shots taken from the air and a few, like this one, which show the fragility of these flying machines.

Tanks came to be a large part of the military arsenal during this war. Here we see two tanks zipping along while thousands of people crowd at the edges of the street. Unfortunately, these images are not labeled so we don’t know the back story of this shot.

While the weapons of war were making broad advances technologically speaking, medicine was still decades away from any antibiotics to save the lives of the wounded. The results were heavy casualties – so heavy among the English that the phrase “the lost generation” was used to describe those who died. The photo below is of an ambulance corps loading casualties.

In this next photo, we see two soldiers carefully working among the remains of dozens of soldiers. The man on the left appears to be checking for indentification while the soldier on the right is making notes for future reference. Behind these two men we see row upon row of crosses as the beginning of a military cemetery is taking shape. This photo shows the side of war that we rarely see.  The crosses have a voice all their own. In this powerful picture, we are reminded of the costs of war. It really is impossible to see this image and not think of all of the friends and families who never saw their soldier again.

This scrapbook is truly a window into a different time and place. Photographs of World War I are always disturbing. I wonder if part of my unease stems from the fact that as terrible as this war was, in less than 20 years Europe was again engulfed in war.  The next war was even bigger and many of the strategies and weapons that were so fearsome in WWII were introduced and perfected in this war. Called the “Great War” at the time, the seeds of destruction that grew into WWII were sown here on these battlefields. It would take another great war, a world war, to put an end to this European conflict.

Beth Swift
Wabash College