Thank you for your Thursday, Feb. 15, front page article entitled “Elizabethtown College Prexy Strikwerda Plans to Retire After 8 Years.”
In the same edition of the paper an editorial entitled “In Search for New President, College Should Seek Diversity” stated, “Elizabethtown College and the greater Elizabethtown community owe a debt of gradated to Carl J. Strikwerda for his leadership at the college.” I wholeheartedly share this well-deserved sentiment of gratitude for Dr. Strikwerda’s leadership as a historical scholar and humanitarian. To say, “A quick glance at the previous leaders of the college shows a lack of diversity” does a great disservice to the character of the men who served in the office of the presidency of the college. I think that during the tenure of Dr. Stirkwerda great strides were made to promote diversity under his leadership. My knowledge of the history of the college was taught to me by Jean-Paul Benowitz a local historian, author, and professor at the college who has served honorably under Dr. Strikwerda’s leadership.
The editorial is correct that historically the college looked to its own alumni for the office of the president. It is also historical accurate that Ralph Weist Schlosser who took over in 1928, was the college’s first clean shaven president; every president before him had some form of facial hair. Historically there is a reason for this, the founders of the Elizabethtown College were German Baptist Brethren (the name was changed to Church of the Brethren in 1908) tracing their Christian heritage back to Alexander Mack (c. 27 July 1679- 19 January 1735) who was their leader and first minister of the Schwarzenau Brethren (or German Baptist Brethren). Facial hair and plain dress were both their identity of conformity with one another and non-conformity to the World (Romans 12:1-3). The college was owned and operated by the Brethren Denomination until 1993 when the Brethren entered into a Covenant of Mutual Agreement and a new board was selected to be stewards of the college. It is noteworthy that five German Baptist Brethren men (with beards) signed the Articles of Incorporation on 16 September A. D. 1899 upon which the College was founded; Samuel H. Hertzler, Joseph Rider, Benjamin G. Groff, J. H. Eshleman, and Simon P. Engle. The second article stated, “The said corporation is formed for the purpose of giving such harmonious development to the Physical, Mental, and Moral powers of both sexes as will best fit them for the duties of life and promote their spiritual interests and instruction shall be given in three departments viz. Bible, Collegiate, Academic.”
Notice the reference to “both sexes”; these men wanted both women and men to receive instruction at the newly form school. One of the first Brethren teachers at the school was Elizabeth Myers, a godly woman, for whom Myers Hall was named on the college campus.
Thank you, Dr. Stirkwerda, for continuing to lay the ground work for diversity during your tenure at Elizabethtown College so that those who follow you can build upon.