Founder’s Day next year will mark the 175th birthday of a place we like to think is the most special on Earth—Bethany College.
Something I enjoy relating to our guests and visitors—even to some of our closest campus friends who know us very well—is Bethany’s notable status in West Virginia higher education. Founded in 1840 and chartered by the Commonwealth of Virginia—23 years before West Virginia was established—Bethany is the oldest degree-granting institution in the Mountain State. That’s why two banners hang proudly among the others in our Commencement Hall, that of Virginia and its flagship institution, the University of Virginia, by which our application as a college was sanctioned.
The College’s founder, Alexander Campbell, had begun his career as a Bethany educator with his Buffalo Seminary, a preparatory school which initially operated for five years and flourishes today as a source of continuing education and spiritual renewal for pastors and laity of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in our region.
But in antebellum America, Campbell had a larger vision. He understood that the transformational power of education was meant to develop the whole person. As noted in our new institutional history Bethany College: A Liberal Arts Odyssey by Dr. D. Duane Cummins, “the development of physical, intellectual, and moral human powers stood as a key feature” of Campbell’s “towering devotion to education.”
Coupled with Campbell’s well-known career as a religious reformer, his establishment of Bethany College stands as one of the landmark events in our state’s history. Yet as Dr. Cummins suggests, Campbell’s greatest personal influence was as a teacher, in his ability to “shift the level of a student’s thinking and change the direction of a life.”
That legacy is expressed in the enduring impact of our faculty on the lives of our alumni. Visiting Bethanians around the country, I am always rewarded with their questions and stories about favorite professors, the mentors whose influence continues to shape and inform their lives. Our faculty members are among the reasons that Bethany enjoys exceptional loyalty from alumni who continue to give back to their alma mater. Bethanians mentor our students, advocate for the College in a myriad of ways, and give generously through The Bethany Fund. Their love for Bethany is often the envy of other institutions.
We are grateful for you, our alumni ambassadors, who keep in touch throughout the year and continue to shape the history of the College.
Loyalty knows no better practitioner than one special alumnus who stopped by campus recently. It was good to visit with Dr. Rodney Hurl ’52 and his daughter Megan ’77 who drove in from Ohio on June 19th for a day at Bethany. Dr. Hurl, Trustee Emeritus of the College, has a special love for libraries, and has generously donated many volumes from his personal collection. On hand to provide a personal update on the changing nature of libraries and librarianship was Heather Ricciuti, The Mary Cutlip Director of Libraries and Learning Resources.
In this age of digital data, college libraries are not only about books anymore. But as Dr. Hurl correctly points out, such facilities remain the essential “laboratories” for the academic enterprise. We express our appreciation to him for his wise perspective and many years of service to his beloved alma mater.
As we look ahead to the celebrations marking our 175th year, please watch for special commemorative features in Bethany Today magazine and online in the months to come. Proud of our service to our community, state and nation, we’ll be taking a look at some of the special moments that have shaped and defined Bethany College over the decades. If you have memories you would like to share, please let us know.
In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer. If you’re in the area, please stop by. You’re always welcome at Bethany, A Small College of National Distinction.