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President Thaddeus Seymour – gone, but not forgotten…

Seymour leaving commencement holding the Caleb Mills bell. The ringing in as freshmen and ringing out as graduates is a tradition created by Seymour.

In late October we received word that former president Thad Seymour had passed. As I read the news I was sad, it seemed like something vital was gone from the world.

To be clear, although my husband’s family knew the Seymours quite well, I had never met Thad Seymour in person. It was only as Archivist that I interacted with him. Still, he had a way of making everyone feel like they mattered to him.

Seymour leading his iconic “Give me a W” cheer.

Thaddeus Seymour was immensely popular with the student body. Shown here in the midst of his famous cheer during football season, Seymour could really bring the crowd to life. It is interesting to me that in nearly all of the pictures that we have of him, he is almost always in motion. I came to have a sense of him as a fellow who embraced life to its fullest.

The first contact I had with him was in connection with some items he wanted to send to the Archives. From there we continued an irregular, but always delightful, correspondence. He kept an eye on Wabash, utilizing new media like a digital native. In one instance when I posted about Wabash cancelling classes for the blizzard of 1977, it drew a swift reply.  Here is the post that drew him in: https://blog.wabash.edu/dearoldwabash/2014/02/06/winter-hardy/.

Seymour leaving commencement carrying the Caleb Mills bell used to ring in freshmen and ring out graduating seniors. This is a tradition started by Seymour which was prompted by the discovery of the Bell during his tenure here at Wabash.

Among the things that Seymour will be remembered for is a warm appreciation for autumn’s most beautiful day. Ask any former student what they most remember about President Seymour’s time here and they are likely to tell you that it is Elmore Day. Thad Seymour was bothered that there was no fall break scheduled for Wabash men. To rectify this, Seymour came up with Elmore Day. This holiday was named for Montgomery County’s most famous, and least admired, poet James B. Elmore, known to history as the Bard of Alamo.  

On some beautiful day in the fall, President Seymour would wake up and declare that day was Elmore Day. Classes were cancelled and students were encouraged to get outside and make the most of it. Back on campus, Seymour would read from the Bard’s works.

Here is a sample of Elmore’s immortal work:

In the spring of the year, when the blood is too thick,
there’s nothing so rare as a sassafras stick.
It strengthens the liver and cleans up the heart,
and to the whole system new life doth impart.
Sassafras, oh sassafras, thou art the stuff for me!
And in the spring I love to sing, sweet sassafras, of thee.

The students loved it while most of the faculty did not, as it threw off exam and lab schedules. Seymour himself noted that one of the first changes when he left here in 1978 was the end of  Elmore Day. A pre-scheduled fall break was substituted.

Seymour left Wabash and went to head Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. There he found that there was a similar holiday, no longer celebrated, Fox Day. Here is a short blurb from the Rollins College web site. “The savvy fox found his way back to campus in 1979, during Thaddeus Seymour’s administration (1978-1990). Seymour said, ‘When I was president of Wabash College in Indiana, we had a similar day called Elmore Day. It was very natural to me, and I believe any sensible college should have a day like this.’ So the popular Fox Day was reinstated and continues today. “

This picture, a large copy of which hangs in the 1832 Brew in the Library, was taken in 1974 on Elmore Day. When the picture first went up, I sent President Seymour an email with a few questions about the car. He responded quickly that this classic is an old family car – a 1929 Packard Phaeton convertible. He told me that it was still in the family and still running.

Seymour spent his retirement years seemingly everywhere at once, volunteering and working to make his adopted town in Florida better and better. Here are two links that highlight just a sliver of this good work. The first link is to a story on National Public Radio about driving and aging. Coming home from work one day ten years ago I heard this NPR piece. Needless to say I was stunned as I was listening to Thad Seymour talking about driving older folks to their appointments in Florida!  

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120537339 Seymour’s portion starts at 9:19.

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120537339

Some photos to accompany the above.

Our last email exchange was in May of this about Thaddeus Seymour, Jr.’s installation as acting president at the University of Central Florida. A proud father, Thad sent along this link to his son’s first commencement. https://twitter.com/ucf/status/1128439850057682944?s=11

Thad Seymour was many things, husband, father, dean, president of two colleges and magician, he was also just a little bit larger than life. For the nine years that he headed Wabash, Seymour engaged with the students in such a close personal way that they bestowed upon him a loving title, full of respect and admiration – “Dad Thad”. I note simply that it is always said with warmth and humor – which seems to me a fitting tribute.

All best,

Beth Swift

Archivist

Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana