On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to share my blog with some faculty and staff members from Messiah College as part of the Murray Library‘s Summer Workshop series. During my presentation, while discussing the Photo Friday feature, I showed a past post involving two former presidents (one of Messiah College, one of the United States) shaking hands during a 1980s gathering of the National Association of Evangelicals. The picture got a few incredulous laughs from the audience.
Buoyed by that response, I thought I’d present another tale of two presidents in today’s Photo Friday installment.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was — as far as any Brethren in Christ historian knows — the only U.S. president to attend a Brethren in Christ Sunday school. Dwight, the grandson of a River Brethren minister who traveled to Kansas in the 1870s in search of affordable land, attended (at least for a brief period) the Sunday school held at the Abilene Brethren in Christ Church; his name later disappeared from the rolls, probably around the time his parents defected from the Brethren in Christ to join the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (forerunners of the Jehovah’s Witness movement).
Eisenhower was also the first (but not last) U.S. president to speak on the campus of Messiah College. In 1965, he delivered the commencement address to the school’s graduating class.
But, as E. Morris Sider suggests in his history of the college, Eisenhower’s campus visit was only partially about a speaking engagement:
The college use a luncheon given for Eisenhower on that occasion [the commencement speech] to bring to campus key community leaders. These and other leaders, such as John B. Sollenberger, John C. Tuten, G. Clinton Brookhart, Robert Griswold and Harry Banzhoff, hosted dinners at the college for still other community people.
This strategy for the first time in a significant way made the college known in the community. The use of local leaders was obviously a successful move. A lawyer in Harrisburg accompanied a cash gift with a letter explaining that up to this point he had not been familiar with the college but John B. Sollenberger and Robert Griswold had impressed him as being dedicated to its mission, and that, he added, was “good enough to satisfy me.” . . . [Another community leader] was impressed by the students: “Their mental clearness is reflected in their dress and in their faces. I am equally impressed by the administration and faculty.”
For more on the Eisenhower-Messiah College connection, see Sider, Messiah College: A History (Nappanee, Ind.: Evangel Press, 1984), 242-243.