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The men were the circuit riders. It isn't pejorative to call them macho. They had to be macho, or something very close, to spend the greater part of a lifetime wending along trails where no roads existed, subject to attack by Indians and desperadoes, crossing mountains, fording rivers, enduring sleet, heat, downpours, blizzards, poverty and saddle sores without complaint; without letup; and with joy ("Live or die, I must ride!" exclaimed John Wesley's American right hand, Bishop Asbury, who calculated that he itinerated at least 275,000 miles in his career, crossing the Allegheny Mountains 62 times.)

These ardent and hardy men visited the faithful at stops along a regular route-the circuit. They customarily visited and preached to small groups. If there was an established church, it was called a station; the riders bypassed it. Usually stations were found only in larger towns. The faithful awaited the circuit riders in settings more remote, and less grand-"friendly farmhouses, commodious barns, carpenter shops, courthouses, taverns, warehouses."

Consider these circuit riders, then. They were, one, highly dedicated. It isn't hard to say the same thing about those called to the secular faculty at DePauw. If they don't have a dedication to teaching-as opposed to a wish to sequester themselves with scholarly research, leaving the teaching to graduate degree candidates-they are well advised to look elsewhere for employment. This is a teaching institution.

Two, the circuit riders dealt with very small groups. DePauw necessarily began on a small scale-22 enrolled that first year. All males, I regret to say. In 1837 the conventional wisdom not only denied an education to women, it proclaimed that they couldn't absorb it if they got it. They said it, I didn't.

In any case, I see a resemblance between the circuit rider's tiny wilderness congregation and the traditionally small teacher-student groups at DePauw. Over the years, while the school has certainly gotten bigger, it hasn't gotten that much bigger. Neither have classes. (In my freshman year, spent at Northwestern, one of the the main English survey courses played to a hall that held over 1,200 bodies; I say played because class size made it more like a performance than an educational experience.)

Third, and lastly, because they dealt with small groups of people whom they saw regularly, the circuit riders were naturally involved and familiar with almost every aspect of the lives of their charges. The preacher not only taught, he broke bread with his listeners. He advised, he sympathized, he came to share a good part of the life of each person to whom he ministered. A similar sort of relationship exists today between many a teacher and pupil at DePauw, because DePauw is small enough for it to happen.

I can testify that it does happen; it happened to me. I had just that sort of fine, close, interactive experience with any number of professors ... Virginia Harlow, Fred Bergmann, Ermina Mills, Oliver Robinson, Edna Taylor, and the beloved bulldog, Raymond Pence.  (I regret I was never fortunate enough to have a course with the other giant of that era, Jerome. Hixson.)

That faculty knew me well enough to help me survive á bumpy first year on the campus, discover and exploit my few strengths and minimize my many weaknesses (which included a wretched inability to memorize German vocabulary; I did it, but just barely).

So there are the two traditions: the liberal arts ... and an almost perfect environment for teaching them.  Shorthand the whole process as "large ideas, served small." For me, the traditions are the heart of DePauw, and the reason for her, excellence.

Having said that, let me commend to you the pages that follow ... a remarkable visual journey through DePauw's first century and a half.

As with any institution which lasts that long, there were good times and not so good times. Washington C. DePauw had to be brought in with a bunch of bail-out money he earned in the Civil War and was willing to use to save the struggling little Indiana Asbury. The deal cannily worked out was the exchange of Washington's cash for the attachment of his name to the college.

More recently,the school seemed to draw in upon itself for a while. Good students still came here, but from a steadily shrinking geographic area. I count as one of the outstanding accomplishments of Dick Rosser's administration the recognition of this threat to DePauw's status as a national university, and the steps taken to nullify that threat.

Such ups and downs are to be expected. What's lucky, and remarkable, is that our two most important traditions have not been eroded or blown away by the winds of time. I trust they will remain strong, the underpinning of the university, for the next 150 years, too.

But now, instead of forward, look backward with Professors Phillips and Baughman and your other highly expert guides.

I promise that you're going to love the trip.

John Jakes
Hilton Head Island
April 6, 1987
Copyright © John Jakes 1987

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