Library Fund Drive
The Library Happening at Eastern Mennonite College:
A Modern-day Miracle in Three Acts
by James O. Lehman, reference and serials librarian
PART III: The Laurels of Victory
Tuesday—Signing the Contract
Some Trustee members who lived at a distance had little knowledge of what had occurred over the weekend. However, Chairman Dewitt Heatwole and several others had attended the Monday night auction.
Chairman Heatwole convened the Trustees at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday, December 9 to consider the library building. Everett Ressler and Bruce Yoder were invited to recount the story of the fabulous weekend. Before long trustees were nearly sitting on the edges of their seats, obsessed with the story. They roared with laughter at an occasional bit of humor as the fellows recapped the weekend.
Trustees applauded the glowing financial report on the library drive as reported by President Augsburger. Preston Moyer—chairman of the building committee, the finance committee, and treasurer of the Board—reported his impressions.
He described his efforts of putting in a telephone call to Architect Walter Wildman at Newport News, Va., on Monday near lunch time “to see whether or not we might be able to postpone this thing (signing the contract) 30 days if we didn’t make the goal.”
To his astonishment Architect Wildman excitedly informed him that he had already heard the news twice on the radio that morning what the students were doing at Harrisonburg.
Then it was Moyer’s turn to become excited. He drove to the campus, saw the climbing thermometer, talked to a few people in the hall, and then met President Augsburger.
His response to Augsburger was, “Well, Myron, if we don’t approve this thing tomorrow, you’re going to have to leave town and the Trustees will have to leave with you!”
Moyers expressed great optimism over the financial picture, then made a motion that the Trustees accept the Nielsen Construction Co. bid and approve the erection of the new library. Chairman Heatwole readily got a second to the motion.
Before voting they called upon Architect Wildman to comment. He responded, “I want to tell you that it’s been quite an experience for me and our staff to be associated with such a thing. We’ve done many, many projects and, I declare, we have never encountered anything that has been quite as thrilling as this.”
When the vote was taken a firm chorus of ayes and no negative votes sealed the new library. “Praise the Lord,” said Chairman Heatwole, then he called for a period of prayer.
The first prayer expressed the spirit of the weekend: “Lord God, we are overwhelmed with the things that you do among us, and the opportunity that we have of seeing your hand at work in our time in 1969.” Thus prayed Roy Kiser, a pastor from a neighboring county.
“Thank you for letting our faith be tested to the limit in order that it might try the unlimited,” prayed Kenneth Good, another pastor.
The Trustees were in charge of the 11:00 a.m. student chapel service. “God’s been at work,” moderator Ken Weaver reminded the student body, “He’s done it again. He’s worked through His people. He’s worked through us.”
Chairman Heatwole conveyed with deep feeling something of his amazement at the way the student body allowed the Spirit of God to work through them. Following this he read the Trustee action to go ahead with the library.
The 47 seconds of overwhelming applause and standing ovation given the Trustees following that announcement must have been the most heartfelt and unusual in EMC’s history.
Heatwole then read the second Trustee action taken that morning—an expression to the student body of “sincere appreciation and gratitude for their unselfish contribution.”
What followed must have been the rarest of sights in today’s world of higher education—the Trustees seated on the platform before the student body rose to their feet and gave the student body a sustained standing ovation.
Expressions from other Trustees acquainted students with the total financial picture of the college, and reiterated the gratitude of the Trustees. Recognition was given to the students, the faculty, and the community. “The amazing thing is how large this community has gotten to be,” enthused one Trustee.
Students, faculty, administrators—anyone who wanted to speak—were given opportunity to say a few words. A number responded and each was punctuated by applause.
Students again clapped wildly when Everett Ressler rang the bell from its prominent but temporary place at the front of the chapel. The bell had won a place in everyone’s hearts for having helped to furnish the psychological chemistry that produced such unity and togetherness.
Finally it was time for the signing of the contract in front of the student body. Architect Wildman, in his comments before the signing, talked about driving the last nail, admitting that he never identified it. “But I am sure that you have driven the first one, and in the most effective manner that I could ever prescribe,” he complimented the students.
Sam Shrum of Nielsen Construction Co. and Chairman Heatwole prepared to sign the contract. Before it was signed Shrum commended the students, then pulled a $1000 check out of his pocket “if someone would wash his dirty car.” Needless to say he delighted the audience and had ready volunteers.
President Augsburger closed the service with an appropriate prayer: “We pray that, more than achieving this library, this may in some way be a symbol to a torn world, and to a society that is caught in tensions and hostilities, that there is a possibility of a kind of brotherhood in which we can help one another become a better people and a greater people.”
Students and faculty left the hour-long chapel service emotionally drained. It had been an unforgettable experience of praise to God and gratitude for a weekend that would live long in everybody’s memory.
Applause erupted 38 times during the service, at least four of which were standing ovations. Time devoted to applause totaled over seven minutes, not to mention numerous outbursts of laughter.
Students had a well-earned rest that afternoon to recuperate physically, psychologically, and emotionally from the taxing weekend.
One strategic contributing factor to the successful weekend was the major news coverage. Suddenly and unexpectedly EMC hit the limelight of national news coverage. The event became a monumental public relations bonanza.
Stuart Showalter, Public Relations Director, set the pace with aggressive news coverage in local media, but then stepped to the sidelines as Everett Ressler and others avidly pursued publicity.
Although Everett had promised national news coverage already on Friday morning, he had said it in faith. By Saturday he began to make good his promise. He called local news media but began contacting radio stations and newspapers in Lancaster, Pa.
Many newsmen found his effervescent enthusiasm hard to resist. “I got a great story for you,” he told many a news agency. Then he would charge into the details with an irresistible spirit and enthusiasm.
A Newsman In Lancaster thought Everett’s story merited Associated Press (AP) coverage. By late Sunday night AP was interested enough to do a story. At approximately 1:00 a.m. Monday morning the story moved coast to coast on one of their main news trunk wires.
Evidence from over 100 newspapers collected from 32 states suggests that three AP stories moved coast to coast. The second one went out about midnight Monday night, and the third one after the contract signing in Tuesday’s chapel.
United Press international (UPI) had not been contacted as soon as AP. Their response was good but not as enthusiastic since AP had the “scoop” on the story. Only one UPI newspaper story—the Winston-Salem, North Carolina Journal—has been located. However, UPI stimulated a great deal of activity in radio news broadcasts. “United Press International ran a number of stories on the developments,” officials notified us later.
Most of the main newspapers of the country carried the story. The roster reads like a who’s who of major American newspapers—New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Dallas Times-Herald, Los Angeles Times.
The Baltimore Evening Sun, as did many others, carried front page stories with such glowing headlines as “Students Set Campus Afire,” “Campus Uproar and Turmoil” (Lexington Leader), or “A Riot of Good Will on Campus” (Oakland Tribune). The Syracuse Herald-Journal thought it was a “Refreshing Campus Furor.”
A number of papers, primarily in Virginia and Pennsylvania, but several as far away as Ohio and even one in Alaska, editorialized about the event. The Newport News Times-Herald outspokenly proclaimed, “Heartwarming? Without a doubt one of the moving stories we’ve read in months, and certainly a fit rejoinder to the noisome playpen revolutionaries who help to mold the intolerably wretched reports of student behavior that emanate from far too many campuses.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch enthused, “They did it. They really did it.
Many echoed the sentiment that here indeed was refreshing news in the midst of a great deal of distressing news coming from college campuses.
A touching tribute came in the Charlottesville Daily Progress editorial: “It will be recalled that last summer after floods and landslides had ravished so much of nearby Nelson County, Mennonites from many parts of Virginia and from as far away as Canada moved into the stricken county and labored long and hard without pay to help the people of Nelson emerge from their ordeal. Right now, we begin to understand why.”
At the end of December EMC again appeared in various newspapers because of the wire services. This time it was included in a year-end summary of the top news stories of the year. The Tokyo, Japan Asahi Evening News was one of them. The earlier AP stories had also been carried abroad by AP to the Stars and Stripes (U.S. Military) in Germany and Japan.
National radio networks carried the story but national television coverage did not materialize. They hesitated, fearing that this might be a promotional gimmick.
Some coverage came weeks afterward as radio stations, particularly Christian radio stations or news services, editorialized. One of the more unusual was the Evangelical Press Association release which began, “Nine hundred academic Gideons broke their lamps and blew their trumpets this week at Eastern Mennonite College, then watched awestruck as a ‘miracle’ unfolded.”
The Public Relations Department of the college followed up the weekend with numerous contacts, sending a packet of materials depicting the story. Several Mennonite periodicals and such magazines as Christianity Today, Moody Monthly, National Geographic, and several library journals carried items about the unusual drive.
General Public Response
Congratulatory telegrams and plaudits followed in quick succession in the days after the library drive. On Wednesday, December 10, Bruce Harder of Bluffton College, Bluffton, Ohio, representing the Council of Mennonite Colleges, told students what the experience meant to him: “Certainly the kinds of things that have been impressive to you have been almost overwhelming to myself. It’s very often been said that a college or university is only as great as its library…but I think in your case I’d say, give me the student body and the library will take care of itself!”
The following day, Roy Erickson, Mayor of Harrisonburg, presented “warm and heartfelt congratulations” from the City Council. “We of the community of Harrisonburg, as well as the people that surround Harrisonburg, are extremely proud of you young people,” said the Mayor.
Robert J. Sullivan, Jr., Director of Planning of the City of Harrisonburg, sent a letter which began, “I cannot really describe the extent of recognition and praise which you and the entire Eastern Mennonite College community deserve.”
The impact of the mass media coverage became apparent immediately. By Monday evening calls began coming from various areas, two from as far away as Texas and California. Letters began arriving the next day. The story had struck a nerve cord in many people.
This Student demonstration had been one of building up, not tearing down. Some sent not only congratulations but also included a contribution. It is estimated that $1,000 came from people having no previous connection with EMC.
Much more difficult to estimate is the amount of contributions from the local community and from the wider community and from the wider community throughout that the news coverage and the impact of the weekend shook lose.
A variety of people responded. Alumni from Waterloo, Ontario to Seattle, Washington responded with checks. One interested citizen and mother from Petersburg Va., wrote, “Please let the students know that they have won the admiration of many of us over-30-establish-mentors!” A $10 check from a housewife in Yakima, Wash., accompanied a note in which she reminded students that “there are people all over the country who were proud to read about the inherent goodness of responsible American youth.” A $25 check came from a colonel in the U.S. Army who read about it in the Stars and Stripes in Germany.
One couple from Michigan wrote that they were so startled with the news that they were briefly foregoing their loyalty to another Mennonite college so they could contribute $20 to EMC. From an oil and chemical company in Cleveland, Ohio came a $10 contribution “as our way of showing we like their (students) constructive attitude and actions.” A professor at Indiana University sent $4.00 and this note, “We hope this small contribution will buy one cookie from your bake sale. Please do not send it but eat it in good health and with our best wishes.”
Students responded delightedly to the many congratulatory notes and letters that appeared on the bulletin board. They felt a new kinship to the local community and the larger community throughout the nation.
“We Are One in the Spirit” sang the assembly of perhaps 1500 people who lined the perimeter of the proposed new library site on a beautiful clear and sunny day on December 17. Appropriately, students were highlighted on this occasion.
SGA President Bruce Yoder capsulized what had recently taken place: “Unity is truly a part of the EMC campus now. We hear it when the bell rings, we feel it in the handshake, we breathe its spirit in the air. For so many of us this unity has been talked about for a long time but never truly experienced. Now we’ve witnessed the response of community to our responsible acts of dedication, commitment, service, and creativity.
First to break the sod were a group of student leaders. They were followed by a group of representatives of the college community, alumni associations, and the local community.
Student Mel Lehman composed a ballad especially for the occasion. “Rebirth,” the folk-rock group on campus delighted the audience with their original production of it. With voice and the beat of instruments they recounted the story of the library drive. Everyone in the audience sang with them in the refrain, “Unity, you and me, with God makes three together.”
In retrospect most participants agreed with the student pastor, Truman Brunk: “It was a beautiful example of God and man shouldering the same wheel.” Unquestionable it had been impressive in its magnitude and extent of participation. By consensus several officials estimated that 90 percent of the student body participated in the drive.
The weekend seems to have been an unique synthesis of circumstances and motivation coupled with the Mennonite philosophy of life. In retrospect, it seems entirely in character with the Anabaptist Mennonite Heritage claimed by most members of the student body that participated.
Bruce Yoder saw it as “not an isolated incident but an incredible example of an active faith. The drive was prefaced and pervaded with fasting and prayer. It cannot be viewed alone, but most be seen in the total perspective of the powerful thrust of our unique style.”
Myron Augsburger, President of EMC, saw it as a validation of other concerns held by today’s Mennonite young people. “What you have done is the cause of promoting this library drive has spoken to the community and to the world beyond in a way which validates your other concerns. You have shown that those concerns are honest convictions and constructive in nature.”
Two vital concepts of the Mennonite faith are brotherhood and community. Most of these students came from homes where lending the helping hand to someone in need was an integral part of the fabric of their heritage.
Related to brotherhood is the concept of community. For a brief moment in the life of the college, true community was experienced. ON this campus, as on most others, were found a variety of personalities and a great spectrum of opinion among the 1,000 people. Differences evaporated briefly as each found a common cause around which to rally. It was a sudden closing of the gap—the generation gap—so often touted today.
Other reasons for the library happening might be cited. Timing seemed to have been right—not for easy money but for very favorable public opinion and news coverage.
Once again, it was proven that when many contribute, the total can reach a high mark. Evidently, people are able to give far more than normal if they are convinced it is for the right cause. It took a crises to open pocketbooks.
The current college climate assisted in spawning such a weekend. Youthful officers of the college were located at many crucial points of connection between students and administration. The president, the director of development, the student pastor, and the director of public relations were all around 40 years or younger.
Key adults were perceptive on the way youth operate today and had the good sense to stay behind the scenes when the steamroller of student power accelerated.
Student enthusiasm was infectious and hard to resist. One donor gave five $400 checks, no doubt because of five different students came and gave him the story. He enjoyed the inspiration so much he kept on giving. Few people in the immediate college community remained disinterested by standards very long.
Today the new library building stands completed and in use. The impressive structure and beautifully furnished edifice enhances the campus community and bolsters the learning process. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorialized, the library stands as a “memorial to the 950 young men and women who showed that student power, when properly channeled, can indeed perform miracles.”
After the phenomenal drive EMC faculty members and President Augsburger felt that students had built more than a library—“Thousands will inherit the legacy of the miracle molded by the Spirit of this weekend.” Or as student leaders described it, “The goal was fund-raising, our success was unity.”