The Salem College Years–An Adventure in Higher Education

Almost my entire life had been lived next door to the Salem College campus. It would be difficult to put a value on the opportunity afforded me to get a college education. However, there was the question of expense–tuition, books, etc. The Great Depression was still hanging over us and for our family it was a struggle to survive. From the perspective of the college it was important to recruit as many new students as possible, I suppose.

I am forever grateful that an arrangement was made with the administration of the college for me to work out my tuition doing maintenance and janitorial work during the summer months. I don’t remember how much the tuition was. By today’s standards it would be ridiculously low. The arrangement was for me to work ten hours a day, six days a week, during the summer vacation months. The hourly pay rate began at 25 cents and was later raised to 30 cents. A big advantage of the plan for me was that 1 could participate fully in the academic and social programs of college during the school year.

Being a Salem College Freshman was exciting. Friendships quickly developed with classmates and upper classmen. Introduction to a variety of courses, and their professors, was stimulating. At some point I decided to major in English and minor in physical education. The curriculum I chose stressed a liberal arts education including literature, mathematics, history, chemistry, French, physical education and music. Throughout the first three years of college I was committed to preparation to be high school teacher.

I feel especially privileged to have studied math under Dean M. H. Van Horn. He was considered to be one of the outstanding math teachers in I-lest Virginia. The course I had with him introduced us to algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

Chemistry introduced me to science with Dr. Gould as teacher. The lab work was most interesting–especially the experiments in qualitative analysis.

Dr. Ferdinand Ruge taught French and deserved the role of most eccentric professor on campus. There was the incident when he put his lighted pipe in his pocket before stepping on campus. As he walked down the hall, smoke was observed rolling up from his pocket. The pipe was removed promptly.

Dr. Ruge made a practice of harassing one or more students in his French class. He chose me for that dubious role and once said such offensive things about me that I slammed my books on the floor and confronted him eyeball to eyeball. From that time forward Dr. Ruge and I became fast friends. On learning that I planned to enter the ministry, he offered sage advice. Two examples: “Don’t ever preach to the people what they ought to hear. Preach to them what they want to hear. If you preach to them what they ought to hear, the moving van will back up to your door.” “The choir and the ladies aid are the war department of the church” (Dr. Ruge had been an Episcopalian minister). I was invited to tea several times with Dr. Ruge, his lovely wife and daughter, Genevieve.

My English and Literature professors were Dr. M. Channing Linthicum and Miss Nannie Lowe. Dr. Linthicum once suggested to me that I could make a successful politician. Is it not true that a successful minister must be something of a politician? Becoming familiar with English and American literature–especially poetry–inspired me in ways that have lasted through my life.

Pastor George B. Shaw, beloved minister of our Salem Seventh Day Baptist Church, taught a Bible course that was very popular with Salem College students. I still treasure the textbook he authored and have used it often.

I was the first male student to take the Table Service course offered by Miss Cleo Gray. She headed the home economics department and in the course we worked in teams to prepare and serve a number of meals, teas and receptions. College officials were invited as guests for these occasions. I baked an angel food cake and a meatloaf as assignments and for the table decoration for one event I decided to use dandelions. I arranged the decoration in advance of the event but alas, when the class members and guests gathered the dandelions had all closed up. My experience in the Table Service course paved the way for other college men, including a number of athletes, to benefit by it. What I learned from Miss Gray has been invaluable to me through the years.

The credits I acquired in the music department came close to being enough for a minor. Music courses with Miss Elizabeth Bond included Music Appreciation and Sight Singing. I studied piano with Miss Bond and reached the level of playing Chopin and Brahms in recitals. It is one of my educational regrets that I did not become a more proficient pianist.

Following is the text of a brief paper written as an assignment in the Music Appreciation class. At the end of the piece is a comment signed, E. Bond.

“Using the word “appreciation” in its most sincere and deep sense I feel that Music Appreciation has really meant a great deal to me. Strangely enough, Music Appreciation has never seemed to be “just another course”, but rather it has stood among my activities as something finer, something that has had a real appeal–a subject devoted to happiness and true beauty.

I have learned to love music and all that it carries with it. Beautiful melodies and harmonies stir up feelings within me that reach far into my being.

Everything about me seems to have suddenly turned musical. Birds wake me in the morning with their happy chorus and their evening songs haunt my sleep. Nature seems especially musical.

Then too, I have learned to feel a deeper sense of appreciation for the composers who have given us our music. The stories of their lives reflect the beauty and sincerity of their compositions and their tireless work and effort make us appreciate the fruits of their labor even more.

Through the study of Music Appreciation” I have come to recognize some of the possibilities of music and what it can do to make people happy and contented–better able to enjoy the real fullness of life.”

The grade on this piece was A, with Miss Bond’s comment handwritten on the bottom of the page: “Fine! I copied this and intend to keep it. You have been an inspiration in the class and this little essay makes me very happy.”

In addition to the regular required physical education course, I took boxing and wrestling and tumbling. In boxing I was glad to learn rope-jumping. I excelled defensively in wrestling, being difficult for opponents to pin.

Samuel Kistler headed the physical education department. As an alumnus of Salem College, he had earned a reputation as a celebrated athlete in football, basketball and baseball. His teaching skills and dedication were of a high order.

The tumbling class was most enjoyable for me. We developed a team of tumblers who performed in a number of high schools in the area. Our routine included front and back flips, dives and a number of other tumbling maneuvers.

The tennis team was coached by Samuel Kistler, too. I made the team for only a few matches. One I played in against West Virginia Wesleyan on their courts is memorable. I did not win a point in the first game. From then on in the match I won the next eleven games–several of them going to deuce over and over. My opponent conceded the match to me when it began to rain. It is interesting to note that in the period up to college graduation I played endless hours of tennis. Since college I have seldom had a racket in my hand.

I was close to Salem College sports and athletes from childhood through college. Several outstanding athletes boarded at our home and ate Mammals cooking during their college careers. A few of them I remember were: Matthew Bowers, “Peely” Hogue, Doy Neville and Irving Menzel. I’m sure there aren’t many Salem College fans who witnessed more athletic contests than I in the years from 1925 to 1935.

In October 1932, early in my sophomore year, I was elected head cheerleader for Salem College. Sandford Randolph, my cousin, nominated me for the position and after “trying out” for the assembled student body I was surprised and elated to be elected. The Salem College “S”, with a megaphone on it is a treasured memento from many thrilling experiences of yesteryear. How exciting the pep rallies were, with bonfires and snake dances, on the nights before home football games. The Salem College songs still ring in my mind.

Now let me interject some memories of the summer work project that covered my tuition for the four years of college. Okey Davis was head custodian at the college, in charge of all janitorial and maintenance work. I consider it a real privilege to have worked for four summers under his direction. He became my friend as well as boss. He had a hearing problem and I remember him telling me, “One advantage of being deaf is that you can’t hear a mosquito buzzing before he bites you”. We worked on many assignments in the course of a summer: lawn mowing, window washing, floor maintenance, painting and varnishing and miscellaneous other projects. The most physically exhausting work I remember was mixing mortar at ground level and carrying it in buckets to plasterers on the third floor of Huffman Hall.

One summer experience is unforgettable. Nelson Tully and I, with girl friends, attended the summer school picnic on a river near Clarksburg. When we went to our car–after most of the picnickers were gone–we found a girl waiting for her boyfriend in a car. Concerned, we checked in the bathhouse and found his clothes. Quickly getting into our bathing suits, Nelson and I went into the river to search for the man. I carried a good sized rock so I could walk on the bottom of the river between coming up for breaths. It was a shock to step on the body as it drifted along on the bottom of the river. Calling for help, we lifted the body into a boat and brought it to shore. A rescue squad tried resuscitation but it was futile. The summer student’s name was Bailey. I had played tennis with him but didn’t know him well. The memory lingers.

The experience of falling from a window of the physics lab on the top floor of Huffman Hall is still vivid. Roommate Reece Burns and I were washing the windows at the end of a work day. I was standing on the window sill washing the outside of the pane, holding on with one hand on the top of the window. Reece finished the inside of the window and pushed it up briskly, knocking my hand from its grip and causing me to fall backward. I went into a crouching position and landed on my feet on water-soaked ground. I was stunned by the impact and could not see for a brief time. The first sound I heard was Reece flying down the stairs to my side. lost two days work from the soreness of my ankles, knees and hips but did not check with a Doctor. The distance of the fall was about thirty feet.

Twice during the summers I went on B. & 0. railroad weekend excursion trips to Washington, D.C. We got on the train on the night after the Sabbath; arrived in Washington in the morning; walked around the capitol area all day Sunday; came back on the train Sunday night and arrived home–very tired–Monday morning. On one trip I was with Bob Wise. Nelson Tully was on the other with me. I do not think it the ideal way to tour Washington.

It was certainly not unnatural that I should have “an affair of the heart” during college days. Helen McCullough was a classmate from Hole Hill, West Virginia. (The town has now taken the name, “Mountain”–proving that a mole hill can be changed to a mountain.) Helen’s brothers, Tom and Harold, were in college with her. I have forgotten how our friendship started but it grew into a serious relationship over a two year period. We studied together, were a formidable bridge team and enjoyed shooting bows together. Helen transferred to West Virginia University for her senior year and we parted company. I have speculated that her family decided I was not the man she should choose.

It could be said of my life during college that I did not let academics interfere with extra curricular activities. When I tried out for the Men’s Glee Club I made it as the first second tenor. Professor Clark Siedhoff was our director and we were proud to represent Salem College by performing concerts in a number of West Virginia communities. Wearing a tuxedo made me feel sophisticated and debonair. One of our favorite numbers, “Give Me Some Men Who Are Stout Hearted Men” still resounds in my memory. “Creation Hymn” was a real test of our musical competence.

I was fortunate to be chosen by the college as a delegate to a Rural Life Conference in Washington, D.C. On the bus trip to Washington I met Margaret Herndon. She was a harpist and director of music for the Clarksburg Presbyterian Church. A friendship between us blossomed as we walked and talked far into the night on the streets of Washington. The year was 1933 or 1934. We would not walk at night in Washington in 1994. During the conference I rode in an elevator with Secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace. Later he became Vice President with President Roosevelt.

Margaret and I continued to see each other after the conference. She was generous in agreeing to give harp recitals I arranged at the college and at our Salem church. The church recital was a benefit for the choir robe fund. Mrs. George Trainer’s large contribution made purchase of choir robes possible. No doubt Margaret was several years older than I. Our rather brief relationship was a happy one. I have wondered what has happened in Margaret’s life.

The spiritual life of Salem College students was not neglected. Daily chapel was mandatory and, for the most part, students appreciated the Christian emphasis. Area ministers and educators brought chapel messages. Our singing was heartwarming. Number 17 in the song book, “In My Heart There Rings A Melody” was a favorite. My theme hymn in that period was, “I Would Be True”. For some reason, that hymn doesn’t appear in current hymnals.

President S. Orestes Bond often led the chapel services. He was a dedicated Christian gentleman who successfully guided Salem College for many years. The students of those years remember that his prayers were eloquent and moving but sometimes overly long. The life of President Bond blessed us all.

YMCA and YWCA organizations were active on campus. It was inspiring to attend Christian Student Conferences on other college campuses. One such experience at Bethany College–founded by Alexander Campbell of the Church of Christ–made a deep impression on me.

The fellowship of our Seventh Day Baptist college youth was wonderful. We often gathered for parties and a number of us sang in the church choir. Dean Van Horn taught our college Sabbath School class. We met in the back pews of the church. I recall how Dean Van Horn stood with one foot up on the pew in front of us, ingling the change in his pocket as he spoke and taught. His teaching was always forward looking and positive. We respected and loved him.

The Christian influence of Pastor George B. Shaw and members of the congregation of the Salem Church was greater and richer than we knew then. And the friendships made in those college days will never be forgotten.

Matthew Bowers, Fisher Davis, Claude Nagel and Reece Burns each had a turn as my roommate during our college years. Matt distinguished himself in football and basketball. While he roomed with me I had a nightmare one night, dreaming that Matt was falling out a hotel window. In a desperate effort to save him, I grabbed him around the neck with both hands. Waking up rudely, he hit me a sharp blow on the chin with his fist. My nightmare ended abruptly.

Fisher Davis, “Eph”, was from Bridgeton, New Jersey–the son of Elizabeth Fisher Davis who wrote the Seventh Day Baptist Young People’s Song. “Eph” was very tall and a good tennis player. He graduated in the class of ’32.

Claude Nagel was also a New Jersey product, from Plainfield. His father was a successful New York artist. Claude was a sophomore in 1935 and wrote in my Dirigo, “Elmo- I can’t adequately express my appreciation for my stay in the Randolph cottage on the hill. I leave here as though I was leaving home.”

Reece Burns roomed with me for our last two college years. Vie became more brothers than roommates. He was sincerely Christian, serving at times as a Methodist Protestant minister. Because Reece’s parents were dead, he came to think of my mother as his, too. Mamma accepted that role graciously. She sewed pajamas for both of us out of feed sacks. She kept a length of rope that she whipped us with to get us out of bed mornings. It was a contest to see who could pull the covers off of the other when Mamma was swinging the rope.

Reece and I worked together at the college one summer doing maintenance and janitorial assignments. His influence on my life–especially when I was considering entering the ministry–was of great import. After college Reece became a minister in the United Methodist Church and was elevated to the position of District Superintendent in southern West Virginia. (I was honored to have him serve as “Groom’s Man” at my wedding.)

My room in our little house during college years was a happy haven for me. I rigged a chinning bar that hung from the ceiling. On the walls of the room I pasted favorite poems and quotations. “The House By the Side of the Road” was one of the poems and I believe “Invictus” was another. Psychologist Coe was popular in that period. A quote from him on my wall amuses me now: “Every day in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

A poem I wrote is illustrative of my darker moods of college days:
Sweep down on me, oh wind!
Why waste thy roaring on the darkened sky
Or on some tempest-twisted tree
From whose lean boughs the leaves were lately torn?
Sound not thy wrath against the silent hills
For naught but echoes will avail thee thus.
But rather, seek thy vengeance to allay
With merciless and unrelenting blasts
Designed to buffet and to purge
My soul, ill-steeped in worldliness.

Reflecting now, I understand that I often felt insecure and inadequate as I struggled through the stresses of college life. However, they were good years.

The experience I record now happened at the beginning of college spring recess in April, 1934. I began hitch-hiking from Salem to Sutton–about a one hundred mile trip–planning to spend the vacation week with Dad on the farm. At four o’clock in the afternoon I was still thirty-two miles from Sutton and wasn’t catching any rides so I began walking. Is it ironic that the name of the town where I started the trek was Walkersville?

During the day the temperature was warm and springlike. With sunset it cooled off rapidly. I wasn’t dressed for cool weather and I was carrying a small suitcase. That stretch of road was through hill country and was sparsely populated. I was not carrying a flashlight. Traffic was very thin.

I walked a few miles until after dark and decided to make a bed in a field beside the road and try to get some sleep. Cushioning the ground with a layer of broomsage (a West Virginia grass) I tried sleeping without success. The only option seemed to be to walk. So I walked all night long. Infrequently a car would approach me and pass, dousing my hopes. As I passed one home near the road I thought of stopping but a dog barked viciously and I kept walking.

Toward morning I came upon the site of a crosstie fire set by railroad workmen the day before. There were still hot coals and the ground was warm. It was restful to lie down for a while. I may even have fallen asleep.

I believe I walked up a final steep hill to brother Brady and Mary’s home at seven or eight o’clock in the morning. A hot tub bath was refreshing and sleep was welcome. When I awoke my knees were so stiff it was difficult to walk for some time. The miles I have covered walking in my life are many but at no other time have I totaled thirty-two miles on a cold spring night carrying a suitcase.

Being elected president of the college junior class in 1933-35 was thrilling for me. The other class officers that year were: Vice president Milton Van Horn, secretary- Virginia Thompson, treasurer- Abby Brent. I must have had a successful year because the class elected me president again for our senior year–1934-35. Arthur Bland was vice president, Leah Virginia Davis was secretary and Fred Early was treasurer. It was another good year. Our class gift to Salem college, for which we raised a sizable amount of money, was improving the electrical system in the administration building.

Following college tradition, our senior class presented a class play near the end of our college days. Miss Nannie Lowe directed THE YOUNGEST for us. I played “the youngest”. Milton Van Horn was my elder brother in the play and Wilma Keys was the female lead. It was fun doing the play and it was well received. (In earlier college years, Shakespearean plays were the tradition.)

There were two “happenings” for me during my senior year that impacted strongly on my life and future. At our Seventh Day Baptist General Conference in Salem in August, 1934 I met Helen Mae Button. Her home was on a farm near Friendship, New York and she was preparing for her freshman year at Alfred University. After our brief introduction in Salem we carried on correspondence through the school year that was heart-warming and exciting for me. (It’s odd that I remember she dotted her i’s with little circles.)

Blossoming romantic interest in Helen Mae led me to borrow Ashby and Ruth’s Plymouth car to drive to New York State for Christmas vacation, 1934. Betty and Ed Bartley and Ruth Sarah Davis made the trip with me and I was Betty and Ed’s guest in Bolivar, New York. We attended Christmas Eve Midnight mass in a Catholic church in Portville, my first experience in a Catholic III church. I visited my aunt Cleo–Dad’s sister–in Olean.

The overnight visit to Helen Mae’s home completely captivated me. If I was falling in love with Helen Mae, I was immediately charmed by her parents and her home. I would call her father, Lon Button, an entrepreneur farmer. He had trout ponds and in the winter trapped foxes. Strawberries were a successful crop in the summer. Amelia, Helen Mae’s Mother, was a quiet, white haired lady who was an immaculate housekeeper and an altogether charming person. They were sincere, committed Christians. Mr. Button was a Deacon in the Nile Seventh Day Baptist Church. I was awed by my visit with the Buttons.

I made a pair of moccasins for Helen Mae as her Christmas present. Here are the verses I placed in the moccasins:

These moccasins I fashioned with a prayer
That they might lead you in your eager quest
For happiness unbounded, wild and free.

O moccasins, like Indian maids did wear,
Thy steps must not stray, thoughtless, like the rest
For in thy trust I leave one dear to me.

Suffice it to say that Helen Mae and I corresponded frequently through the rest of my year in college. It may have been a case where “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.

The second “happening” that occurred during my senior year in Salem college gave a new direction for my life that has marked all my days since. Rev. A.J.C. Bond had accepted the deanship of the School of Theology in Alfred University and was visiting Salem College to recruit students studying for the ministry. He visited with me on campus, between the Administration building and Huffman Hall, saying that his daughter, Wilma, had suggested I might be a candidate for the ministry. He urged me to consider the ministry as my life “Calling” and join his first class at the School of Theology.

This invitation was something of a “bombshell” of an idea for me. I had pursued my college course with the assumption that high school teaching would be my life work. Working toward that end I acquired the necessary education credits including practice teaching for six weeks in Salem High School. It was interesting to get the reaction of other people on my entering the ministry. An interview with Rev. Herbert Van Horn, Milton and Elston’s father, was very encouraging and helpful for me.

After serious consideration and soul-searching, I made the decision to study for a Bachelor of Divinity degree–a three year course–at the Alfred University School of Theology. At this point in time I was not certain of a “Calling” to the ministry and so made my decision on an exploratory basis.

Graduating from Salem College with the class of 1935 was the ultimate in achievement an excitement at that point in my life. I was the first member of our family to earn a college degree. (Brother Ashby graduated the next year.)

Dr. William L. Stidger, noted radio preacher, was our Baccalaureate speaker. His sermon title was: TITANS OF THIS TUMULT. He highlighted the current roles of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini in 1935. Then he made the point that Dr. Albert Sweitzer, the Japanese Christian, Kagawa, and Mohandas Gandhi were the real Titans of This Tumult. His prophetic message has stood the test of time.

As president of the graduating class, it was my privilege to be at the head of the receiving line for President Bond’s reception following the commencement exercises. Several years previous to this Mrs. Bond had employed me to keep the punchbowl filled during the reception for the graduates. I carried the punch from the basement of the president’s home up to the reception table. I must be the only person who ever served in both roles.

My family members–including cousins, aunts, etc.–presented me with a gift of money. I had to decide whether to use the gift for buying a class ring or a new suit. Reluctantly, I chose the new suit–I needed it more.


  1. Erika Ng
    December 28, 2017 @ 8:30 pm

    I am the great granddaughter of Dr. Ferdinand Ruge, referred to on this site as a professor at Salem College in the early 1930s. I found your site while researching my great grandfather for our family history. I’m trying to refer to the writer of this page, but I don’t know the first name of my great grandfather’s student at Salem College. From your site, the last name is clearly Lewis. Please help with any information you might have on my great grandfather and/or the name of his student from your family. Thank you for your assistance.


    • Mark Lewis
      January 1, 2018 @ 12:59 am

      The author was my late Uncle Rev Elmo Fitz Randolph, one of many family members who went to Salem College.


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