William Urban: Monmouth in 1980

Everyone at Monmouth College was delighted: we had a new president; moreover, he seemed to bring a bit of class to the office. Everyone had respected DeBow Freed, but he was still a little distant; everyone was happy with Bill Amy’s year as interim president, but I don’t know if he was even a candidate. Bruce Haywood brought an air of British scholarship, with a strong American academic background. It was an instant hit with the community, ACM presidents and alumni.

I had missed the hiring process, having been with my family on a sabbatical in Germany to write my sixth book (The Livonian Crusade). But I was happy with the choice.

After: William Urban: Presidents I’ve Known – Bruce Haywood

There were a few who were appalled. A newly promoted tenured professor immediately resigned and moved on. Another tenured professor said he would have nothing to do with the college other than teaching its classes; indeed, he even stopped attending faculty meetings, and he thought rules were made to be broken. A former student was so shocked by Bruce turning his back on her, a mere teacher, to rush to greet someone more important than she has ever forgotten. But these were exceptions. Overall, the faculty thought the college was back, meaning that DeBow had stabilized the situation and restored order and trust. Now we were ready to move forward.

Bruce was a hugely popular speaker, his deep voice and British accent making his shrewd commentary on politics, education and morality impressive, and his stature and demeanor reflecting his time in the British Army in Germany. German literature was his field and I was the only person in the faculty who had read all the authors he was interested in. Jackie spoke perfect German too, but she was modest about letting people know.

Bruce’s first task was to determine what Monmouth College should become. (It was a task DeBow had felt beyond his powers—he had saved the college, the first of three he would pull out of trouble, but he wasn’t convinced he could do more.) He It’s not easy to remember what the plan was, but Bruce went on the road, meeting alumni and raising funds, with the arrangements all made by his talented and experienced secretary, Eileen Loya.

I had finally been tenured, in my 13th year on the job. Seven was usual, but given the choice between promotion and tenure, or a sabbatical in Germany, I took whichever meant more money or another research and writing opportunity. I also learned that if I wanted to know what was going on, I just had to talk to a secretary or someone from the Green Army. Many teachers spoke in their presence as if they did not understand what they were saying.

University yearbooks, the Ravelings, can only really be understood if you have been there as an undergraduate student. There were lots of good pictures, but almost no text. One can understand why the football scores weren’t listed (it was a really bad year), but sometimes the photos of the students didn’t even have the sly references to something that might be embarrassing 40 years later. An editor apologized for the omission, noting his office had been flooded twice and the photographers had forgotten to write down the names. There for the purpose of naming faculty photos, but I was omitted from the 1980 yearbook and incorrectly identified in 1981.

The presidential mansion, Quinby House, was slowly deteriorating, but Bruce and Gretchen did their best to keep it presentable. I sacrificed my pachysandra bed to fill a neglected patch of garden in their front yard, thinking they would grow back. Oh, alas, no. This is what previous generations would have perceived as an omen.

It would be my last year as a football coach. George Converse and I informed the administration of our intention to retire, but it seemed like they expected us to coach another season without pay or time off. We had a good season, only marred by the last minute loss to Knox 3-4. There was a certain sadness in that – I would miss seeing Knox coach Jorge Prats on a regular basis, who had become a good friend.

When asked to write about Monmouth for a new journal at WIU, I found “Wyatt Earp was born here”. My discovery that his father had returned to Monmouth 1856-1859 was the first of several that showed how local mythology mirrored what the books and TV shows had said. It was reprinted in 2019 in an award-winning publication.

We had left for new frontiers. Monmouth College and I were about to have some exciting times, ups and downs, and neither really understood where we were going.

William Urban is Lee L. Morgan Professor of History and International Studies at Monmouth College.

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