The School That Vision Built: The Consolidation Years 1919-1939
The Consolidation Years: 1919-1939
By 1919 Nyack College had sprung from one man’s vision to an established and honored school, from a class of twelve students and two teachers to an academic center with over 400 students and professors, from an abandoned theatre backstage to a suburban campus.
The passing of Dr. Simpson, founder of the movement and of the school, seemed to signal that a breathing spell was in order. Robert Ekvall characterized the following twenty years as a period of “measured approach and carefully weighed decision, wise adjustment and careful, farsighted planning, with a minimum of sudden change.”
That “measured approach” did not apply to the fervent spirit of the Institute. Even in death, Dr. Simpson urged the people on. Dean Turnbull recorded how the entire student body lined the path from chapel to gravesite on the day of the founder’s funeral. It was a final expression of tribute to the man whose vision had become their own.
“We all feel,” he wrote, “that the examples and teaching of our great leader have been made more influential than ever since he has gone from us.”
If the school did not register rapid advances in numbers and facilities, still it weathered a world war, a crippling depression, a militant era of theological liberalism, and the critical transition from founder to followers. Nyack emerged from two decades of severe testing with its character and objectives intact, matured.
Dr. Simpson had built well.
Worthy Line of Successors
He also was served well by his successors. During those days, the president of The Christian and Missionary Alliance was head of the Nyack school as well. Only three men shared that distinction over the next twenty-one years. Dr. Paul Rader (1919-1924); Dr. F. H. Senft (1924-1925); and Dr. H. M. Shuman (1926-1949).
While pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago from 1914 to 1921, he attracted 5,000 people to the Sunday evening services to hear his witty, vivid and stirring messages. His pulpit ministry became even more powerful for missions after he toured the Alliance fields of Asia.
Rader’s appeals for foreign missions were no doubt his greatest contribution to the Mission Training Institute. Because he continued to live in Chicago, he had little direct contact with the school.
Long distance, however, did not dim his keen appreciation for the Institute. “I am delighted,” he wrote, “to serve in connection with the greatest Missionary School in the world. There are many Bible schools in the land, but few like Nyack, where young lives meet the Lord Jesus in His all sufficiency, go down before Him in full and glad surrender, and then go out to live the message that the world so sorely needs. May God ever keep Nyack true to its calling as a Training School of Faith, Prayer, and Sacrifice.”
The school year of 1919-1920 was a critical crossroad for the Institute. The founder was dead and his successor lived a third of the continent away. Would a vacuum of leadership develop? Would the institute falter? Flounder?
Nothing happened of the sort happened.
School life continued normal in every respect, including growth pains. Dean Turnbull placed great importance on the need of a new men’s dormitory to alleviate the crowded conditions that scattered the men to whatever housing was available on campus.
In some respects, the graduating class is the measure of the school. On this point Dean Turnbull reported, “We thank God for the thirty-nine out of 102 graduates who are definitely appointed to sail this year, all but four being under our Board. Many others will follow next year or later.
“Perhaps we may seem to missionary in character, but if this be a fault it is the fault of every Alliance worker. We must all plead guilty together … So far as we know, 100 percent of our graduating classes are going into Christian service, and if any of our graduates are lost to us it will not be because of any lack of desire to enter the ranks.”
Turnbull repeated without apology his admission of “too missionary in character” a year later when he noted that eighty out of 101 students in the class of ’21 applied for foreign service.
Flux and Flow of Campus Life
This glowing report was flawed by a serious imbalance. More women than men were applying for ministry, aggravating an already difficult shortage that had been created by World War I. The lack of men to do pioneer missionary work seriously hampered the advance of the gospel.
An Unexpected Tragedy
Dr. Turnbull, dean of the school for years, was the center of a Hillside drama several years later. He had given the final message of the Friday night missionary meeting in the 1929-30 school year. He offered the prayer during the baccalaureate service on Sunday, two days later. On Sunday night he and some students were driving back to the campus after broadcasting a gospel radio program in Schenectady.
Faith and missions were Dr. Senft’s greatest impact on the Institute during his brief term as head of the school. He had as his favorite motto “Have faith in God,” and he always exercised it.
A young lady who lived in the Senft home recalled that there was no sentimentality shown in running the home. “There was no arm of flesh to hold on to, no natural means to trust. It was no child’s play. You either went all in or got out. It was really ‘walk by faith, work by faith and go on in the Master’s name.’”
That kind of functional faith made sense to many of the Nyack students who had to trust God for their tuition.
Dr. Senft’s love for missions also made an impact on the students. Paul Milburn wrote, “It is said that he would walk the streets of Philadelphia, sometimes for an entire day, to get the most money he could for a collection of old jewelry that some person had given for a missionary offering.
“He would return tired and weary, but saying, ‘You see, it is for missions, and the more I get, the better it will be for the Lord’s work.’”
Hopelessly Missionary Concern
That “hopelessly missionary” concern shown by Turnbull and Senft, and shared by the students, expressed itself during the school year in numerous ways. Daily noon prayers for foreign and domestic needs in the ministry led up to Friday, when an extended prayer time was conducted by prayer bands representing the major geographical regions of the world.
The Student Missionary Society committee and school administrators worked hard to line up the finest speakers for the Friday night meeting. In 1922, for example, Dr. Oswald J. Smith, the missions-minded pastor in Toronto, and Dr. Samuel M. Zwemer, called “apostle to the Muslims,” and over a score of carefully selected missionaries from different fields addressed the students.
The missionary pledge of the students always received special mention in the annual report to General Council. The pledge offering received during the 1923 school year amounted to $6,312.95 – an average of $16.35 for each student, an amazing amount when recalling that most of the students had to work hard and trust God to meet their bills. In 1929-1930, first year of the Great Depression, the students still gave about $5,700.
The Annual Highlight
The annual Congress of Bands Missionary Rally was the high point of student missionary activities. It was to the school year what the Friday evening service was to the week.
Ministering At Home
The Institute, however, was not so farsighted for missions that it would not relate to the needs at home. The School of Training in New York, opened in the city October 1919, provided types of ministry needed in North America.
Although the Alliance had other Bible schools, Nyack had the distinction of being the Alliance “finishing school.” Students from the other schools had to attend Nyack for their senior year in order to qualify for ministry with the C&MA.
Dr. Shuman was noted for a quality rare in some of the untested, over-confident young people at the Institute: humility. After Dr. Senft died, he offered to resign as vice-president so the Alliance could elect a man more qualified for the office.
In a letter to the Board of Managers he wrote, “after a leadership like that of Dr. Simpson, the office [of president] symbolizes much more than the mere performance of duty. It will require courtesy and courage, humility and force, tenderness and firmness. There will be needed fairness, impartiality, tact, a consistent following of clearly defined policies and a loyalty to our original vision and work. I do not feel that I am the man for this important place.”
The Board of Managers rejected his offer, and wisely so. The very virtues he outlined in his letter were the qualities many Nyack students remember most clearly about him.
With his vision ultimately establishing a missionary university, Dr. Simpson would never have contented himself with a school whose standard fare was a three-year course. The founder’s vision for the highest practical education possible for God’s servants must have influenced a special educational commission set up in 1931 by the Board of Managers. The commission was instructed to present “suggestions of a complete revision and improvement of our educational system” to General Council in 1932.
Dr. H. M. Shuman commented on this action in his next presidential report: “In the recent decision of the Board and of the Council to maintain The Missionary Training Institute distinctively as a Bible training school, we believe that there was a permanent policy which was wise, and at the same time consistent with the purpose of the Founder. A first-rate Bible training school is greatly to be preferred to a second- or third-rate theological seminary or college.”
The cautious hold-the-line policy applied to construction as well as curriculum. No major building program highlighted in the twenty years after Simpson’s death. The Board of Managers, however, did make an effort in 1937, when it authorized architectural plans for an administration building and two dormitories – a courageous step since the great Depression still had not run its full course.
Simpson Hall, still called “the Institute building” by some, already started getting its knocks in the 1930s in an effort to demonstrate the need for new construction. A 1938 editorial in The Alliance Weekly noted “the passing years have not dealt kindly” with the old building and other wood structures on campus.
The Board of Managers did stipulate that no new building would be erected unless there was “in hand first special gifts sufficient to cover practically the whole cost.”
That condition made sound fiscal sense in view of the prostrated national economy, but it was asking too much of an impoverished constituency, many of whom were struggling to save their own homes. The three proposed buildings got no further than the planning stage until dynamic new leadership came to the Institute in 1940, the first year of economic recovery for the nation.
Faculty People of Quality
The Missionary Institute may not have made startling leaps forward in construction or enrollment, but it scored solid gains in the teaching department. The faculty made available education of the highest quality because they were people of quality.
Dr. Walter A. Turnbull: Dean of the school from 1915 to 1922, may have become a president of the C&MA, had he not died prematurely in 1930.
After graduating from the Institute and serving as a missionary to India with the Alliance, he entered McMaster University, where he earned high scholastic honors and a B.S. Degree, and was chosen president of the student body.
In addition to his academic vocation, Dr. Turnbull served with distinction in such offices of the Alliance as vice-president, education and foreign secretary, treasurer, and the editor of The Alliance Witness.
Rev. A. E. Thompson: A Canadian who served as a missionary in Palestine before teaching at Nyack, he was a close friend of Dr. Simpson and wrote a lengthy biography about him. He died in 1924 on the same day as Mrs. Simpson.
Dr. Fant, who knew him, recalled, “Thompson was the dignified type. Tall, prepossessing in appearance, he had the friendly touch and kindly eyes that drew others to him.
“An avid student of the Scriptures, keen on prophecy, he was a teacher-professor, whether at home or abroad. At his passing the Palestine Mission characterized him as a wise counselor, scholarly educationalist, great preacher, tireless worker – one of the Society’s ablest men.”
Rev. Kenneth MacKenzi, D.D.: A friend of Dr. Simpson since the early days in the City, he was also an Episcopalian minister; he authored several books and was an authority on religious cults; he lectured at the Institute on a regular basis until the late 1930s.
Occasional lecturers at Nyack included Dr. C. I. Scofield, author of The Scofield Bible; Dr. Gregory Mantle, an Englishman who authored about ten books; Dr. Charles A. Blanchard, president of Wheaton College; and Dr. Robert A. Jaffray, missionary pioneer and statesman of the Alliance in the Far East.
Women served the school with distinction from the very start. Miss Harriet A. Waterbury heads the list, first as a student when Dr. Simpson’s first class was organized. She stayed on at the school as an instructor.
Dr. Pardington, a man of sober words, wrote concerning her: “Harriet Waterbury was a teacher in the Missionary Training Institute in New York City, and also associate editor of our weekly paper.
“By birth and early training she was a Quakeress, and for some years was a principal of a public school. Miss Waterbury was an exceptional teacher. Her courses in Bible Doctrine and Church History were among the strongest ever given in the Institute.
“Harriet Waterbury had a strong personality and a gracious and winning manner, which attracted and won hosts of friends. Of her Dr. Wilson said, ‘And dear Miss Waterbury, than whom no truer heart ever beat in sympathy with the trials and triumphs of this Alliance work.’”
Cora Rudy Turnbull was another outstanding leader and teacher. She served the Nyack Institute as superintendent of women for thirteen years. Dr. Fant described her as “a strict disciplinarian. She had rigid standards for the girls. Skirts must reach within six inches of the floor, blouse be fully lined with sleeves to the wrist, and reach to the collar bone or Adam’s apple. She kept a sharp eye for any boy-girl contact.”
Mrs. Turnbull was just as energetic and forceful in the classroom. Dr. Fant wrote of an encounter Gilbert Johnson had with her in a class on evangelism. After questioning her position on the lostness of the heathen, Johnson apologized for arguing with her in class.
She immediately responded, “Oh, that’s all right, Mr. Johnson. Contrary opinions are welcome.”
In terms of years, the women at the college easily outranked the men. Miss Marie Bell Coles continued teaching Christian education even after she retired from Hunter College; all told, she taught over forty years at Nyack.
Miss Fannie L. Hess retired after thirty-eight years. “Fannie L. Hess probably knows more about Bible geography, Bible history and all connected therewith than most of us can imagine,” acknowledged Dr. Cable.
Miss Emily M. Schluenzen, at one time dean of New York Teacher’s College, gave thirty-eight years of gratis ministry to Nyack. She finally resigned from the faculty in 1939, after a total of seventy-nine years of ministry, but continued to give occasional lectures.
Miss Schluenzen and Miss Coles contributed together almost eighty years of part-time teaching – an outright gift to the school.
Dr. Cable commented on their “generous and gracious” service in his 1934 annual report to General Council. He wrote, “It seems fitting to call attention occasionally to those who receive no allowance for services of recognized worth.” In the reserved language of the era, those words would pass for fulsome praise.
The Measure of a School
The Bottom line of any school, however, is neither the real estate value of its campus nor the blue ribbon status of its faculty. The measure of a school is its graduates.
When Indonesia opened to the Alliance, Wesley Brill and his wife were there. Walter and Viola Post, Russell and Darlene Deibler pioneered in the West New Guinea, now Irian Jaya.
Peter and Clara Voth, along with Paul and Sigrid Gunther, were among the first to penetrate northeastern Thailand.
Anita Bolden Fitts was among the first black missionaries in Sierra Leone, while to the south the Francis McKinneys pushed deep into Mali.
Herbert and Lydia Jackson pioneered among the tribes of Viet Nam. When the door to Cambodia opened a crack, Arthur and Esther Hammond slipped in; they accomplished the prodigious task of translating the Cambodian Bible.
The list could be expanded into as many directions as a compass has points, and in every major area of the Third World continents could be found graduates of Nyack. Hundreds served with the Alliance, many others served with missions of like faith and spirit.
Probably no other school in the 1920s and 1930s had as much impact on missionary effort worldwide as did the Missionary Training Institute.
How could it have been otherwise? Nyack was the extension of one man’s vision for a spiritually needy world. And those who followed Dr. Simpson – Senft, Shuman, Turnbull, Cable, and others – did not allow that vision to be altered or diminished.
The quiet decades of “measured approach and carefully weighed decision” of Nyack seem now to have produced men and women the present generation is hard put to match.
Continue to The Expansion Years: 1940-Christ's Return