Eastern Mennonite University

Library Fund Drive

The Library Happening at Eastern Mennonite College:
A Modern-day Miracle in Three Acts
by James O. Lehman, former reference and serials librarian
written for the EMC Bulletin, 10/1971

PART I: Background to the Drive

The most dramatic fund-raising event in the history of Eastern Mennonite College unfolded on the weekend of December 5-9, 1969. It came at the end of a decade marked by increasing national anxiety and frustration about student power. Too often the riots and demonstrations had resulted in destruction.

EMC’s “demonstration” turned into a display of constructive student power. In one brief crisis-inspired weekend, students, faculty, and the community-at large rescued the threatened $1.3 million library.

It was a grass-roots movement. Students basically furnished the ideas, the enthusiasm, the leadership, and the muscle. A responsive faculty, community, and church-at-large helped to turn the unforgettable weekend into a “happening in unity.”

In one whirlwind weekend students ignited an infectious school spirit so pervasive it could be felt and breathed, and so effective it raised $111,000 in four days!

Library Plans Develop

Planning for a new library building began nearly a decade earlier. “To envision a new library at Eastern Mennonite College is an act of faith,” Sadie Hartzler, EMC’s veteran librarian, told her colleagues in a faculty meeting in the spring of 1961.

Considerable time elapsed before this faith flowered into substantive action. Two years later the Trustees authorized a science building and a library as special projects on which to proceed.

A library Planning Committee was not formed until the spring of 1966. Opportunity came to apply for a Federal grant from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. This was done September 30, 1967. The following month, at the 50 th anniversary celebration of Eastern Mennonite college, the new library was announced as the special anniversary project.

News arrived in June, 1968, that EMC had been awarded a grant totaling $388,629. With it came a deadline 18 months away – December 11, 1969.

Finding finances for the recently completed $1.3 million science center kept solicitors on the road well into 1969. Meanwhile, a massive alumni drive for the library was triggered in early 1969.

In June, 1969 a major reorganizational shift resulted in a new full-blown Development Department. Immediately they swung into action. With one eye on the December deadline, they considered all possible options. Hastily-planned dinner meetings, elaborate case statements, and follow-up visits proceeded at a frantic pace.

A year before the deadline for signing the contract the Trustees had set a fiscally responsible stipulation that $400,000 cash be on hand in addition to the Federal grant before the contract would be signed.

The 1969-70 school year opened quite ordinarily. The college community rejoiced in an enrollment increase of nearly ten percent. A live topic of discussion that fall in the faculty conference and among students was the phenomena of student activism.

Students enjoyed a new freedom at EMU. For the first time students sat on nearly all major faculty committees. Readily observable were an innovative campus church and a revitalized Student Government Association (SGA). The student community basked in the unique kind of trust in young people that the administration had increasingly evidenced in recent years.

Students early sensed the underlying current of concern about the fate of the library. The December deadline loomed only several months away and little more than half the $400,000 cash had been obtained.

In mid-October the Weather Vane editorialized about “salvaging the library.” It called for 900 students to “turn on the money reservoirs with dedication and school spirit.”

When Trustees met November 7, in spite of the expressed faith of administrative personnel, they demurred on a decision, calling instead for a special meeting prior to December 11 deadline.

By now it had become clear that the college was indeed fortunate to have secured the federal grant when it did. To many came the haunting fear that to pass it up now would mean years until a new library building would materialize.

The dilemma deepened. Many still had faith that a rapid influx of contributions at the last moment would save the library.

Thanksgiving Drive

Actually, two student drives occurred to help save the library building. The first one at Thanksgiving, initiated by administrative and faculty personnel, turned out to be relatively unsuccessful.

Students were reminded of the seriousness of the situation in chapel exercises on November 21. With a hastily-prepared brochure in their hands and some last-minute instructions, they left for Thanksgiving vacation.

Richard Benner, Director of Development, reported the results in chapel on Tuesday, December 2. One hundred and sixteen students had brought back $22,950.74. Results were considered less than heartening in light of the $126,005 that needed to be obtained in less than ten days.

The following day President Myron Augsburger called for a prayer meeting after chapel to “pray for God’s answer to our need.” Some still had faith that God would provide a positive answer.

The first inklings of that answer came on Wednesday and Thursday. SGA officials called for students to skip meals, even take tuition money for the library. Another student, John Weber, described his success in raising $1200 in the Thanksgiving Drive. He made it clear that he was one student who refused to “believe the fallacy that things would take care of themselves.”

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