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Highlights Of Our Heritage–Anecdotal Reminiscences of Harding Faculty Members Who Have Blessed My Life

by Dr. Dale Jorgenson

            There are moments in a young person’s life when a person, an act of kindness, or an example can make a major impression for good.  As a college student at Harding from 1942-44 and again from 1946-48, several people impacted my life in ways that have remained formative  throughout my adult years.

            My father died on our Nebraska farm in 1941 while I was a sophomore in high school..  He and my mother had agreed that I should attend a Christian college as soon as I graduated from high school.  In the spring of 1942, my mother and I drove to Searcy in our Ford pickup to enroll me in the Harding Academy for  my senior year.  When I met Dean L. C.  Sears to work out my schedule, he demonstrated the careful study he had already done of my records, and remarked, “Son, you  know there is a war on.  If you will just go to the Academy this summer, you can be a freshman in Harding College this fall.”  And so it was that I became a sixteen-year-old freshman at Harding.  And by completing two years of college before being inducted, I was

able to  fill  a much more meaningful assignment in military service than I would otherwise have been permitted to do,  as a Chaplain’s Assistant in the Twentieth Air Force on Guam.

            Dr. Sears, born in Indiana in 1895, represented a rare combination of  talents. Married to Pattie Armstrong, the daughter of former Harding President J. N. Armstrong and the granddaughter of J .A. and Patti Cobb Harding, he was steeped in Restoration Movement doctrine and tradition.   Having graduated from Cordell Christian College in1918, he continued his academic studies at the University of Oklahoma and the  University of Kansas, and in an era when most graduates of colleges related to the Churches of Christ were somewhat wary of  terminal degrees, he received his  Ph.D in English literature from the University of Chicago in 1935.   

     It was an exciting time to be at Chicago:  Dr. Mortimer Adler, Robert Hutchins, and others associated with the Great Ideas  Program and the advanced study of literature were active on the faculty during this period.  Dr. Sears was perhaps one of the finest literature scholars of his lifetime within the colleges of the Churches of Christ, and  the respect shown for him in the field was demonstrated by his invitation to serve as visiting professor at the University of Arkansas in 1941.  Harding students fortunate enough to enroll in his classes on Shakespeare or historic English literature were given a great academic advantage in their field and an exciting intellectual experience in class.

            He began preaching during his undergraduate days at Cordell, and continued to preach in various states and in Glasgow, Scotland during his academic career.  After retiring as charter Dean of Harding College/University, he wrote biographies of both J. N. Armstrong and  James W. Harding.

            I remember a chapel talk by the Dean from 1944 when the meticulous care he exercised in research and literature studies was manifested in a more homespun way: “When you go to apply for a job, or go to work, young  men, remember  to polish the backs of your shoes!”

            The character of Dean Sears is still best observed in a typical act of humility in Searcy in 1946.  When my future wife, Mary Lee Strawn, with her brother and sister-in-las first arrived  on the short train line from Kensett, the driver and valet who picked them up at the Searcy railroad station was—Dean L. C. Sears! 

            Upon arrival in Searcy, my mother and I rented an upstairs apartment in the  home of John and Mary Thornton on Center Street (approximately the site of the Heritage Center), which we shared with the other members of the “Thornton Hall Quartet,” Dale Larson, LaVern Houtz, and George Knepper Jr.  Our next-door neighbor was Professor E. R. Stapleton, Head of the apartment of Business at Harding..  Dr.Stapleton welcomed me kindly to the College, even allowing me to care for his young son on occasional evenings when he and his wife, a Professor of English, wanted to be gone from their home.Dr. Stapleton taught courses in economics and upper level business administration, but was always cheerful about also being tied to courses in secretarial practice like typing and shorthand.  He was a ferociously fast typist, and since I had enjoyed a reasonably rapid  rate in my high school classes I decided to take his classes while trying to decide upon an academic major..  He even allowed  me to be his grading assistant—with the eye-straining  but still challenging assignment of grading student typing papers!  I enjoyed his Gregg shorthand class, at which he would try to push all of us as fast as we could think while we memorized brief forms and  tried to read back our hastily-written symbols.  And the result of surviving those classes landed me a student position as secretary for Mr. Ward  Halbert,  the always-interesting Assistant to the president,  and even to some evening sessions taking dictation from President George Benson.   But the most rewarding time was when an Arkansas politician, running for his second term in office, offered four dollars a hundred to those who could  address envelopes for him on the typewriter.                                                             Dr. Stapleton set us up in the typing lab, and he and I worked out numerous means of feeding hundreds of envelopes through our machines.  Passers-by worried that our  Royal typewriters needed cooling.  The gig helped me pay my school bills for one more term.  Stapleton also loved to swim, and  he spent some patient moments trying to teach me to relax on my back so that I could learn to float as he did so easily. Stapleton also spoke in chapel, at least once in 1944.  I remember his topic: “Do it vigorously!”  At the time, it sounded much like the Apostle Paul’s words in Colossians 3:17. Tragically, the Stapleton family suffered a terrible event in the fifties when Mrs. Stapleton was murdered in a local laundry mat.  Not long after that, Dr. Stapleton left Harding to join the faculty at East Texas State University in McKinney.   When fall semester, 1942 arrived and  the campus resumed its regular schedule, Leonard Kirk, Professor of Music and Choral Director, arrived  back on the campus from his home in Columbia, Tennessee.   Very shortly, my own academic future was decided in my own mind:  here was a model one could follow and I would be a choral conductor in the future.  When I jubilantly went to share this news with my mother, she smiled, and then commented, “That’s wonderful, son.  And what do you plan to do to make a living?”  As  a Depression child, I internalized the question and decided to stick with both Kirk and Stapleton through my time at Harding.  And, as Dean Sears had  noted,  there was a war taking place.                                               As a farm boy, it was easy to admire Leonard Kirk.  He was perfectly at home in a choral rehearsal, could speak of musical technical matters and worship equally comfortably, , and when he donned his dress tuxedo for a performance he looked smashing.  He was also an avid equestrian, loved to ride, and was often seen in the barn on the college farm not only riding but helping clean up the stalls in his work clothes. To my sixteen-year-old mind, he was the ultimate model of a man for all worlds, and I determined to emulate his style to the extent I could.  Although my background in music studies was flimsy (I had sung, played a little trombone and elementary piano during high school days), I enrolled in music theory, voice, piano, and  practiced when I wasn’t working as a secretary somewhere on campus.  The Harding Chorus dazzled me, and standing on the back row in a concert I remember wiping away tears of  joy more than once.

            A memorable time during my sophomore year was a trip by the Men’s Glee Club for a concert in Little Rock.  It seems that the  old college bus was scheduled to take an athletic team to a contest in the afternoon, so after leaving the singing men in Little Rock the driver and the bus left us to fend for ourselves.  After the concert, drivers on US 67 witnessed the unusual sight of some thirty-five well-dressed young men and one handsome conductor on the road  headed north with their thumbs in the air!

            Kirk had been a member of a memorable men’s quartet during his days as a student at David Lipscomb College during the nineteen thirties..   With Robert Neil (who became a school administrator, song leader and church elder  in Nashville), Klingman Prentice, and Andy T. Ritchie as bass the quartet became rather famous during the nineteen-thirties.  Kirk, who was active in the Christian camp movement in New Jersey, stayed at Harding during the two years I was away in the Air Corps, bit resigned in the fall of  1946 as I was returning for my junior year.  It was a natural progression to move from Leonard Kirk to Andy T. Ritchie as  vocal  mentor and choral director in that  time.                                                                                                                                                                       

          Kirk befriended me throughout my time overseas, and in my wedding to Mary Lee Strawn in the spring of 1947 drove from Columbia, Tennessee to Searcy to serve as my Best Man.

           Many faculty members at Harding  have  been able, at just the right time, to make a supreme difference in the lives of  their students.  These three, with many others, made lifelong impressions for good that  blessed my life.  For them all, I am thankful to the Great Teacher and to their God and mine.


           Dr.  Dale Jorgenson is a retired minister and retired college professor and choir director.









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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33