Monthly Archives: February 2010

Mr. Chairman

It is rightly declared that behind every great man stands a great woman. Considering the academic community, it is also a fact that behind every man and woman, great or not – whether president, provost, professor, registrar, student, janitor or cook – stands the chairman of the board of trustees, quietly holding all operations with a determined hand. Often his name is not recognized by the larger campus.

Herman A. Fischer, Jr.At Wheaton College this position was held for a remarkable 43 years by Herman A. Fischer, Jr. Herman was one of twelve children born to Herman A. Fischer, Sr., who instructed math at the college for 50 years, and Julia Blanchard Fischer, daughter of Jonathan Blanchard, first president of Wheaton College. Fisher, Jr., after graduating from Wheaton, taught mathematics for two years at Wabash High School in Indiana before enrolling at Harvard Law School, receiving his Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1908. Returning to Chicago with his license, he practiced for 65 years with the firm Campbell, Clithero, Fischer and Guy. Dr. Charles Blanchard, second president of Wheaton College, shortly before his death in 1926, proposed that his nephew, Herman, be appointed as a trustee. A year later he was elected chairman, heading the board until his retirement in 1970 when it awarded him a plaque stating that he had “…demonstrated uncompromising fairness and integrity, shared unusually wise counsel, manifested consideration for varying viewpoints and showed exemplary faithfulness to Jesus Christ and the cause of higher education.” Robert E. Nicholas, fellow trustee, added that the venerable chairman was “…a man of action, who wastes no time in getting down to business…[he] is one of the most capable men I have ever known.” Herman exhibited durable leadership elsewhere, as well. From 1932 to 1953 he served as president of Gary-Wheaton Bank, continuing as chairman of its board until 1966. He led as officer and director of the Cuneo Press from 1919 to 1973. He was a member of the board of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and also the Billy Graham Crusades. For relaxation, he enjoyed membership at the prestigious Union League Club and the Chicago Golf Club. Fischer Hall dormitory, on the campus of Wheaton College, is named in honor of both senior and junior. A lifelong bachelor, Herman died in 1974 at Delnor Hospital, St. Charles, at age 91. Billy Graham sent condolences:

There was a glorious reunion in Heaven when Herman Fischer swept through its glorious gates. His powerful leadership was possibly the greatest single factor that kept Wheaton College spiritually balanced, financially sound with academic excellence during the last half century. All of us who have benefited from Wheaton’s influence owe him an enormous debt. Please convey to his personal family and to the Wheaton family my appreciation and thankfulness for the life of Herman Fischer.

The funeral, conducted at College Church where Herman Fischer, Jr. served as chairman of the board of trustees, adult Bible class teacher and Sunday School superintendent, was officiated by Chaplain Evan Welsh, Dr. Hudson Armerding and Pastor Nathan Goff.


Though in hockey “deke” is used to describe a fake or deception, at Wheaton a deke is all about telling the truth — of Wheaton’s history and campus. These sophomore students have been selected to provide tours of the campus to prospective students. Short for “diakonoi” (Greek for “ones who serve”), the dekes love getting to know prospective students and helping those students get to know Wheaton! A soon-to-be famous Deke-alum (a Archives staffer) is Wheaton’s president-elect, Phil Ryken.

Dekes, 1985-86

All in the Family

Wheaton College is proud to have one of its own participating in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. Speedskater Nancy Swider-Peltz, Jr., the daughter of Jeff Peltz ’81 (college postmaster, football coach), sister of Jeffrey Peltz (Class of 2013), granddaughter of Donna Peltz (financial aid), and niece of Mike Swider ’77 (Head football coach) will be participating in the Women’s 3000m and Team Pursuit [WATCH quarterfinal win against Canada and semifinal loss against Germany]. The Peltz family is no stranger to the ice as Nancy follows in the footsteps of her mother and coach, four-time Olympian and 1981 Wheaton alumna Nancy Swider-Peltz, Sr. who was a member of the U.S. Olympic Speedskating Team in 1976 (Innsbruck, Austria), 1980 (Lake Placid, New York–USA), 1984 (Sarajevo, former Yugoslavia), and 1988 (Calgary, Alberta–Canada).

*Born and raised in Park Ridge, IL, Nancy Swider was introduced to speedskating at age six and by twelve was racing competitively across the state. During her time at Maine South High School she won national championships in both short and long track pack-style racing. After spending the fall quarter of 1974 at Wheaton College, Nancy pursued her Olympic aspirations by taking time off from school to train and compete in Europe. The experience paid off in an Olympic team berth the following winter and a seventh place finish in the 3000-meter race at the 1976 Innsbruck Games. The difference between Olympic gold and Nancy’s seventh place finish was two-and-a-half seconds. Shortly after the Olympics, Nancy cemented her place among the sport’s elite by breaking her first world record in the 3000 meters by four seconds. Nancy continued her involvement in skating for the next three years by attending Wheaton College during the fall, spring and summer quarters, and traveling to Europe to race in the winters. She secured her second world record in the 10,000m during 1980 and made her second Olympic team to Lake Placid as an alternate. Nancy retired from skating and returned to college to finish her education. She soon emerged from retirement and returned to full-scale training to secure a spot on the U.S. team at the 1983 World Championships.

An incident during that come-back year gives insight into her character and determination. On the morning that she was to fly to Europe for six weeks of training, Nancy squeezed in a final work-out on roller blades in a large parking lot near O’Hare Airport. As she glided around a makeshift track, marked off by tennis shoes, she was distracted and caught a roller blade on one of her markers, taking a nasty fall onto bare asphalt. Her injuries were diagnosed as a fractured chin and jaw and several broken teeth, but after receiving a few stitches, she still caught her flight, three hours after the accident. With the condition of her jaw, Nancy was forced to mash her food the entire six weeks, waiting until after her trip to have her teeth fixed.

Nancy Swider-PeltzSwider’s perseverance was rewarded with an Olympic-sized prize as she competed in two races in the 1984 Sarajevo Games, finishing eighteenth in the 1500 meters and tenth in the 3000 meters, and again, Nancy retired from skating after the Olympics. In 1985 she married Jeff Peltz ’81, who had become an active member of her support team. While Jeff was running the Wheaton College Post Office and coaching football, Nancy began to work with the U.S. Speedskating Association. By using her experience to coach young skaters, two of her own pupils would become her 1988 Olympic teammates. When Jeff and Nancy’s nine-plus pound daughter, Nancy Jr., arrived by cesarean section in January 1987, a spot on the Olympic team and coming out of retirement (again) seemed out of the question. The Olympic team selection was only eleven months away, nevertheless, Nancy (Sr.) began to bicycle and swim, placing third in the Crystal Lake Triathlon later that August. By October she had lined up financial sponsors and, with her recently retired father as coach, was off to Calgary with the baby to get in some ice time on the world’s only 400-meter indoor skating oval.

Upon her qualification for the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Nancy Swider-Peltz became the first American in history to qualify for four Olympic Winter Games. In between world-class competitions and breast feeding Nancy Jr., mother and daughter were one of the frequent human interest stories of the 1988 Calgary Winter Games featured on ABC’s Olympic coverage, “Good Morning America” program and in Time magazine, USA Today and numerous other publications.

In 1992 Nancy, Sr. was inducted into the Wheaton College Athletic Hall of Honor where in addition to her Olympic accomplishments; she was recognized for earning All-American honors in five swimming events during her senior year (the only complete year she spent on campus). Nancy Swider-Peltz is also a member of the National Speedskating Hall of Fame.

[*excerpted from Wheaton Alumni magazine, May 1988]

Twenty-two years later, Nancy Swider-Peltz, Jr. has returned to Canada as a first-time Olympian herself, as part of the United States Speedskating Team. On Valentine’s Day she placed 9th in the Women’s 3000m in her Olympic debut. Exceeding her own expectations, she was the top American in the event. In her own words “It’s a great accomplishment…All that hard work paid off. It was the best race of my life.” [Watch]

Go and make disciples….

Wyeth Willard served as Assistant to President Edman while at Wheaton (1946-1951) and came to the position right after serving in the military as a chaplain. His personal recollections reveal how much the military influenced him and shaped his view on life and responsibilities.

What could I do for my “Commanding Officer?” First, during those years immediately following WW II, I traveled throughout the country, preaching on Sundays in pulpits such as those of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City [and] Moody Memorial Church in Chicago…I lectured at Princeton University, Brown University, Ohio University at Bowling Green…Second, as Mid-Year Evangelistic Preacher at Wheaton College chapel mornings and evenings of February 10-17, 1946, I emphasized social action and work among the blacks of the area. I urged all students to read Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver by Rackman Holt. Several college classes followed my suggestion and made special studies of these two books.

Perhaps by coincidence, but more likely by the moving of the Spirit of God, shortly thereafter two students from the college visited the black ghetto of Chicago, hired a hall in a needy area, and started a work which grew to such proportions that within a few years every Sunday afternoon several hundred Wheaton College students, at their own expense, traveled back and forth between Wheaton and Chicago. Christian Service Council - Chicago Sunday SchoolIn dedicated gospel teams, they would arrange to meet in suitable halls or buildings, where Sunday Schools could be organized and developed. In order to relieve poor folk of the black ghetto of any financial burdens, by doing without the luxuries which many young people associate with college life, the “lads and lassies” from Wheaton raised their own funds among themselves…These projects which later developed into independent self-supporting churches, not only involved preaching from a pulpit in the conventional manner, but also going up an down the streets of the ghetto, ringing door bells, climbing up back stairs into dark hallways, to bring the message of Christ’s love to the black community…This movement in the ghetto of Chicago, one of the most noteworthy and enduring projects in the history of the college, has received little if any publicity. Five hundred students, more or less, who might have been having weekend drinking parties and sex debauching revelries, were quietly and without fanfare, obeying Christ’s command to bring the gospel to all peoples. For the wee part I was permitted to play in helping to spark this chapter in the college’s history – thank you, Lord!

Just as Jonathan Blanchard spurred students to consider how the gospel influences society, so were students spurred to such considerations nearly 100 years later.

The length and breadth and height of it are equal…

Begun by Clifford Barnes over 100 years ago, The Chicago Sunday Evening Club (CSEC) held its first Sunday evening service in Orchestra Hall on February 16, 1908. (As a side note, Barnes was the first resident male worker at Hull House in Chicago). With a non-denominational orientation, the services were intended for business persons traveling through Chicago by train as many trains were idled on Sunday leaving many individuals in the city until Monday. Barnes and other leaders worked hard to develop a strong reputation for interesting speakers and well performed music, so much so that it began to attract Chicago residents as much or more than business people passing through. It was not unusual for the Club to average 2000-2500 people at Orchestra Hall every Sunday night. There was a different speaker every week, but some speakers were invited to return year after year.

Martin Luther King, Jr.In those early years, some of the best-known names in American religion and public life were speakers on the programs, including social worker and reformer Jane Addams, William Jennings Bryan, Rabbi Stephen Wise, Booker T. Washington, and Reinhold Niebuhr.

By the middle 1960’s one of the repeat speakers was Martin Luther King, Jr. King’s first visit to the CSEC was in January 1958 as he preached a sermon titled “What is Man?” This visit was followed by April 1959 (“The Dimensions of a Complete Life”), February 1960 (“Going Forward by Going Backward”), January 1961 (“The Man Who Was A Fool”), April 1962 (“Remaining Awake through a Revolution”) and January 1963 (“Paul’s Letter to the American Christians”).

Speaker Index Card - Chicago Sunday Evening Club Archives (CHS)

In his 1962 speech, Dr. King said too many Americans were like Rip Van Winkle, snoozing through the changes happening around them. During two of these visits to Chicago the young Hillary Rodham made her way downtown to hear King speak. Though there has been some very minor controversy over her recollections of those visits, Rodham Clinton has spoken of the deep influence King had upon her social and political thinking.

On March 14, 1965, in the recent wake of the Selma marches, several Wheaton College students made their way to Chicago to hear King preach at the Chicago Sunday Evening Club in Orchestra Hall. Speaking from the Book of the Revelation (21:26ff), King spoke of balanced human fulfillment, comparing the symmetry of the Holy City (equal in length, breadth and height) to well-developed individual. This complete individual has a true sense of one’s relation and duty to one’s neighbor and to God. Students commented later that they believed the sermon would have been “perfectly appropriate in any evening service among the churches in Wheaton.” However, the student’s perspective was not that of the FBI. Taylor Branch, in At Canaan’s edge: America in the King years, 1965-68, notes that at this time FBI agents were monitoring King’s travel and activities, including the press conference held at O’Hare airport upon his arrival in Chicago and his televised CSEC sermon. Updates were reported to Washington throughout the visit. His sermon was characterized as “primarily religious sermon, no reference Bureau or government, and only passing reference racial matters. Military and Secret Service advised” (p. 801). King’s only reference to the events of Selma during his sermon was noting that the key to racial harmony was not through external coercion but internal reawakening to the necessity of the New Testament ethic of love.

Even though the Club continued having an impressive list of speakers, including names like Paul Tillich, Ralph Sockman, and Elton Trueblood, the Orchestra Hall programs after 1965 saw average attendance in the range of 200-300 people, rather than the 2000-2500 that King saw. This put financial strains on the Club’s resources because a long-term lease had been signed. In 1968 when the lease expired the Club ceased its meetings there. The CSEC took advantage of new color television technology. Retaining the original format of its program the Chicago Sunday Evening Club became a televised service on Chicago’s WTTW, where it remains today.

Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections houses one of two archival collections of Chicago Sunday Evening Club records and measures over 9 linear feet. This complements a collection housed at the Chicago History Museum (1908-1975, primarily speaker files from 1940-1965). The Wheaton collection contains corporate records, publications, speaker’s addresses, broadcasting information, correspondence, and a small amount of secondary information.

Some Enchanted Evening – Sesquicentennial Snapshot

In celebration of Wheaton College’s 150th anniversary, a Sesquicentennial Gala is being hosted on campus. *The tradition of the Washington Banquet dates back to 1909, on the centennial of Lincoln’s birthday. From then on, it was held on Washington’s birthday, as was originally intended. Dr. Benjamin VanRiper, head of the chemistry department at that time, suggested the banquet. The impetus behind the idea was to have one time each year when faculty and students would get together as a family for an evening of fellowship and festivity. The programs of the early banquets included class speeches, yells, songs, toasts, and dinner. The February 23, 1927, issue of The Wheaton Record reports that the “banquet is a time for exhibiting a maximum amount of class spirit.” The highlight of the banquet was to see which class could decorate the gaudiest and yell the loudest. So serious was the competition between classes, and so prime was the time for pranks that often the class orator would mysteriously disappear before the banquet. The identity of the orators had to be kept secret, lest they be kidnapped by members of another class. The Washington Banquet of 1912 has gone down in history as one of the more memorable. Coach Harve Chrouser & wife Professor Homer Helmick of the chemistry department oversaw the decorating committee that year. He turned the College into a brightly-colored city of lights, collecting and decorating with all the Christmas tree lights in the neighborhood and on Woolworth’s shelves. In 1938, the character of the Washington Banquet changed, taking on a more dignified air. Class talks were eliminated, there was less class rivalry, and dress became more formal. It was that year that the tradition of having a faculty member and his spouse dress up as George and Martha Washington was started.

*[first published in Wheaton Alumni magazine, Spring 1995]

The Gospel in word and deed

This time of year college students around the country are thinking about Spring Break. While some are thinking of parties in warmer climates, hundreds of students at Wheaton College are thinking about the ministry opportunities that await them on their upcoming break. Whereas many college-aged men and women will spend hundreds of dollars to fly here or there for pleasure, Wheaton students will be spending hundreds of dollars to minister to those in need through various programs like the BreakAway. Another program that will draw students is the Honduras Project. Begun in 1979 as a student-run missions project, the project opens students eyes to holistic ministry through the Global Church. In its first year students had focused their attention to the Dominican Republic after the terrible effects of Hurricane David, the strongest hurricane to hit the republic in recorded history. Students responded well to this form of ministry that coupled faith and deeds and allowed students to love their neighbors as themselves. In 1982 similar devastation visited Honduras, where flash floods and mudslides killed eight hundred and displaced tens of thousands. From the organizational efforts of Honduran missionary-kid and Wheaton student, Peter Clark, sixty-nine students joined the National Association of Evangelicals’ World Relief and Comite Evangelico de Desarrollo y Emergencia National (CEDEN) to provide relief. Honduras ProjectDuring this first trip to Honduras in March 1983 students were divided into three groups with some going to Choluteca, Catacamas and Mocoron. The following year Wheaton president J. Richard Chase visited the sites where students had worked and gained an appreciation for this ministry of compassion-in-action. As the project grew efforts were made to be sure that it was a strong program with a good foundation. This required regular evaluation, a faculty advisory committee, and, at times, a slowing of progress to allow for proper communication and completion of prior work. The Honduras Project began to focus upon clean water projects through gravity-fed wells and water distribution systems. A six-person cabinet administers the project, which is self-supporting, and coordinates the fundraising ($60,000 in 2010). The Honduras Project seeks to couple the gospel in action and proclamation.

W. Wyeth Willard, Leatherneck

W. Wyeth WillardAmong the extraordinary individuals who have contributed to the soul of Wheaton College, few were as seasoned as Warren Wyeth Willard. His first book, Steeple Jim, about an alcoholic brawler turned born-again Christian, appeared in 1929 when he was twenty-four. Graduating from Brown University and Princeton Theological Seminary (where he studied under Dr. J. Gresham Machen), Willard had already distinguished himself as an author, businessman, pastor and founder of Camp Good News in Forestdale, MA, before volunteering as a chaplain during WW II. Ministering to spiritually needy soldiers, he landed in 1943 with the 2nd Marine division at the battle at Guadalcanal, and was awarded the Legion of Honor Medal for his service to them during the battle at Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. According to one report he was “…credited with serving more consecutive days under constant enemy fire than any chaplain in the history of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.” In 1944 he was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Navy’s highest honor. Lieutenant Willard’s stirring wartime chronicle, The Leathernecks Come Through, brought him national fame; and in February, 1944, he was invited by Wheaton College to deliver its mid-winter evangelistic services. So impressed were staff and students with this heroic 39-year-old, that it was decided to hire him as Director of Evangelism and Assistant to President V. Raymond Edman. Willard, moving his wife, Grace, and their children from Cape Cod to 821 Irving Avenue, settled easily into his administrative responsibilities. He offers a candid glimpse:

I could write another book entitled, “My Five Years at Wheaton College”…What were my duties as “Assistant to the President?” Just that – assisting the president. And believe me, by the grace of God, I was a faithful one. Modesty prevents me from using more descriptive words.

As I came to know him at private devotions held each morning in his office, then through conferences which followed these devotions, by observing his far-reaching influence on the student body, I was glad to give him my whole-hearted support. I had been indoctrinated in the Navy with the slogans of “Loyalty up and loyalty down” and “All for one and one for all.” It was easy to be loyal to Dr. Edman. As we daily walked together across the campus for the college chapel worship services, he would greet a hundred students and call them by their first names. He counseled with them in his office as would a father. There was a quiet dignity, sympathy and pathos in his voice as he led them into the deep things of God. He loved them all as though they were his sons and daughters. After they had graduated, he followed them as a guardian angel…

Aside from preaching challenging messages to the campus, Willard raised funds for Wheaton Academy and recruited members for the Board of Trustees. Edman also tasked him with writing the first formal history of the college, Fire on the Prairie (1950). In 1951, the self-described “old goat of 46 years,” seeking to sharpen his reasoning skills, departed Wheaton to study law at Northwestern University in Chicago, there earning his Doctor of Jurisprudence. But the pulpit called him away from a legal career, and he returned to the ministry as pastor of Third Baptist Church in Barnstable on Cape Cod. “What a delightful four years were spent serving in this quaint little church!” he recalls. Then, in 1960, he was unanimously called to First Presbyterian Church of Waltham, MA, where he served for 22 years before retiring. The concluding sentiment of his memoir, Confessions of a Minister (1975), humbly recognizes the immovable northstar of his life:

In my early teens, when I began to read daily from the New Testament and understand its message, something happened in my heart. I fell in love with Jesus Christ. From that day to this, I have loved him and attempted to serve him with all the passion and intensity of my soul. So may it be until the day I die – a death that will have no sting, a grave that will have no victory. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21 RSV).

He died in 2000 at age 94 in Sandwich, Massachusetts.