Library Fund Drive
The Library Happening at Eastern Mennonite College:
A Modern-day Miracle in Three Acts
by James O. Lehman, reference and serials librarian
PART II: The Drive Unfolds
Thursday: The Weekend is Born
December 4 was the crucial birth of the spectacular weekend. Student Pastor, Truman Brunk, met one of the librarians in the hall that morning. “I really believe that we’ve lost our library,” she told him. Truman heard the same theme from several others that morning.
At 11:30 a.m. he attended the regular meeting of the Religious Life Committee. At the end of the meeting Truman mentioned the threatened library building. He voiced concern that students had not been given adequate opportunity to really get into the spirit of the drive.
He referred to a Christian radio station at Newport News, Va., that annually held a marathon fund-raising effort. Committee members began kicking ideas around. How about holding a telethon (students calling home for money), and holding an auction Monday evening?
Campus Church leader, Everett Ressler, especially responded to the ideas. Brunk and Ressler resolved to explore them further after contacting Bruce Yoder, SGA President.
They finally located him in his dormitory room ill. He had lost his voice. Bruce responded coolly and requested time to think it over. An hour later he knocked on Pastor Brunk’s door to inform him that he was all for it and ready to go.
Early in their planning strategy the trio decided to work through student resident assistants in the various dormitories.
At 3:00 p.m. Brunk assembled an ad hoc committee on the top administrative level to discuss the possibility of a last-ditch effort to save the library. The Director of Development and the President, however, were both off-campus.
Administrative personnel were not “overly enthusiastic about Truman’s ideas,” it was later recalled.
Reluctantly the ad hoc committee gave their consent, provided that this matter be taken up with the faculty at the regular 4:00 p.m. meeting that afternoon, and that the drive stick as closely as possible to the Mennonite community. They further suggested that a goal of $20,000 be set rather than the $10,000 Truman and Bruce were proposing. Dean Miller granted permission for students to be dismissed from classes if needed.
The faculty also reacted coolly at first. Truman Brunk’s enthusiasm soon won them over, however. Professor G. Irvin Lehman turned the tide by offering to go home to clean out the attic and bring his valuable souvenirs and mementos from the Middle East.
Others responded in kind vocally and silently to throw their support behind this desperate last-minute attempt.
Stuart Showalter, Public Relations Director, permitted his earlier skepticism to be turned into a daring faith. After the faculty meeting he wrote a story for the next morning’s local Daily News Record, in which he announced a Saturday workday, a weekend telethon, a Monday night auction, and other activities - all ideas that had been batted around but not completely finalized yet.
Late that evening student leaders, Bruce Yoder and Everett Ressler, Pastor Truman Brunk, and another young faculty member, John Henry Hess, met with the student resident assistants of the various dormitories.
This group of about 30 people laid strategy from about 10:00 to 11:30 p.m. Ideas snowballed and the group caught the spirit of a possible exciting weekend. Students volunteered readily for various leadership positions.
Student leaders later recalled, “The ideas were just multiple and the tremendous aspect was the spirit of this thing that as we talked we just became one.”
Sleep came slowly that night to some. Beth Eby, who took charge of the bake sale, called her girls together at midnight to lay plans. Bruce and Everett also met at midnight to hammer out further strategy.
Friday: Kick-off Day
The Friday December 5 chapel had been planned long in advance, but Truman Brunk and student leaders requested time at the end of the service to present their cause.
Chapel that morning featured two veteran churchmen, Orie O. Miller and Paul Erb. Students heard the witness of Miller as Erb questioned him. Here were two fine examples of unselfish service to church institutions. Miller spoke of his frustration that he had only one life in which to serve. “So much to do - so much challenge and I’m only one,” said Miller.
Pastor Brunk and student leaders then took the podium. Truman still exercised the leadership at this point because student leaders felt that students “were identifying with him at this time very strongly.”
Brunk indicated that hopefully his comments would be an extension of the kind of dedication students had just seen in Orie O. Miller.
“$111,000 was still needed to meet the $400,000 goal,” announced Brunk. “We need to put our faith into action. Since yesterday about four o’clock we’ve been devising some schemes to raise the money for the library. And I have the faith to believe that God is going to give us the $111,000 by Monday night!”
Everett Ressler followed Truman and with his infectious humor and enthusiasm he bubbled, “I’ve figured it up and it’ll only take 532,578.9 Jess’s hot dogs to meet the need.” He promised coverage by national news media and announced work and auction plans.
Bruce Yoder and others followed with short speeches, throwing out dozens of ideas for work and fund-raising. Students were told that 2400 meals had been skipped, that some were considering taking tuition money to spend at the auction, that faculty members were borrowing money, and that class excuses were available for library fund-raising.
Truman capped the half-hour kick-off session by telling students that today “if your teachers talk about something other than the library, walk out!”
The ensuing burst of applause indicated that students had dramatically tuned in on the daring plans. That session between 11:30 and 12:00 following the scheduled chapel exercise provided the spark that ignited the student body for the weekend extravaganza.
Response came immediately. One fellow left chapel to purchase a plane ticket for Ontario, Canada. A number of others soon left for their homes, some in neighboring states. The junior class met after chapel and pledged an $800 class gift.
A married student convinced his wife to leave her job early to go to Pennsylvania that afternoon to call pastors and solicit money.
The late Professor Ivan Lind met his 1:00 p.m. Introduction to Sociology class and acknowledged his predicament because of that chapel announcement about the library. He suggested that interested students might skip class today but they would have to pay $10 to get back into class next time.
Sensing immediate interest he added, “Wait a minute, since we have 67 students in the class, if all of you will bring $10, that would be $670. I’ll make a deal if you do that. I’ll make it $1,000 by bringing $330. Unanimously the class consented.
The news, carried immediately to the Administration building, helped to electrify the atmosphere. Psychologically, it became a strategic boost at a crucial moment.
Friday afternoon found students baking pastries, calling pastors and home folks, and lining up jobs for Saturday.
Already by evening, large paper thermometer posted in the Administration building registered $9,000, noted faculty member Miriam Weaver.
Students held a bake sale at the basketball game that evening. Local media outlets were contacted for more publicity on the Saturday work day. Several girls rode around Harrisonburg knocking on doors and came back with over $200.
Saturday Work Day
Many faculty homes turned into bake-shops as students helped produce 70 pounds of candy, 60 dozen brownies and bars, 230 dozen cookies, 65 dozen cupcakes, and 80 cakes. Local churches were contacted to furnish 250 pies. All baked goods sold out at the Monday night auction.
Car-washing and waxing occurred at several locations all day on Saturday. Student leaders carried long lists of their colleagues who were waiting for jobs on Saturday. Many completed one job and came back to headquarters for more.
Community people responded with inflationary reimbursements for services performed. One fellow chopped wood for $1000, four fellows cleaned out a chicken house for $500, one recipient of a car wax paid $200. Others worked at their regular jobs and donated wages, even convincing employers in some cases to match their wages.
Two music groups raised money in Harrisonburg. The Optimists performed at a local department store, and Rebirth set up headquarters on court square. Despite the cold weather, Rebirth performed from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. , and brought back $359 in donations.
Ingenious ways were devised to raise money. Large cardboards were lettered and placed on the floors in the girls’ dormitories. To these were fastened pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. On at least one floor it was reported that girls were charged admission to the bathroom! Some baked pastries then sold them to each other because they had skipped meals.
Eastern Mennonite High School, on the edge of the college campus, got in the act also by donating gate receipts for their Saturday night basketball game.
In a few large gifts and many small ones the money kept pouring in steadily as students reported results of the work day. Around noon time on Saturday, the thermometer registered $19,000. Soon the original $20,000 goal was topped, so the goal was raised to $30,000.
Of course, not all fund-raising efforts were successful. Some received negative answers in their solicitation. Spirits refused to be dampened. They simply called someone else or moved on to the next person’s home. Later, in the glory of victory, few students reported frustrations and negative answers.
Saturday evening at 10:00 p.m. the $25,000 mark was reached with considerable excitement. By that time approximately 200 entries were on the record books.
Professor John Henry Hess, who was in charge of receiving and recording receipts, felt at that time that the campus was witnessing the tip of an iceberg. By now it was common knowledge that many churches were planning for special offerings the next day for the EMC library.
Leaders upped the goal to $50,000 and began to think of expanded news coverage.
Sunday Churches Respond
Quiet reigned on campus Sunday morning, December 7. However, fund-raising proceeded at a furious pace off campus. All throughout the East and Midwest Mennonite churches responded nobly and sacrificially at the request of students and faculty members who had called pastors.
At least 67 congregations took offerings or collected money for the drive. Total money collected from churches exceeded $25,000 and averaged $375 per church. A Pennsylvania congregation set the record with a $3,051offering. More than half a dozen others sent $1,000 or more. An equal number gave between $500 and $1,000.
Churches as distant as Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Arkansas, and Ontario and Saskatchewan, Canada, sent word before Monday evening of their offerings. Most district conferences of the (Old) Mennonite Church were represented in this united effort.
In some cases an individual contacted by students turned into a solicitor. For example, a grandfather got busy after church on Sunday and “easily collected $300 in cash and pledges.”
Students eagerly identified with home churches as reports rolled in. “Hey, that’s my church!” responded one student when news came of the large gift made by his home congregation.
Faculty members assisted students in giving spontaeous speeches at Sunday morning services. In one case three such spontaneous talks sparked a $1,000 offering.
By Sunday evening, one question was uppermost in everyone’s mind - “What does the thermometer show?” The weather had become inclement. A cold foggy drizzled failed to discourage a large attendance at the chapel to hear a presentation of excerpts from Handel’s Messiah. The offering, of course, went to the library.
Excitement climbed dramatically after that program. At 9:30 p.m. the thermometer showed $34,500. In the next two hours it climbed another $15,000. At times a line formed as people waited to report more funds called in by congregations or brought them in personally.
By midnight a huge crowd of students and a few faculty members packed the lobby of the Administration building to cheer wildly as the $50,000 mark was reached.
Monday morning at 2:00 a.m. the total had reached $54,000. Though central headquarters stayed open all night, little came in until the next day.
Monday: “All Stops Pulled.”
All classes had been called off. Unfavorable weather plagued the entire day. However, the tremendous crescendo of school spirit that had mounted over the weekend could not be decelerated by such an insignificant matter as the weather.
One could clearly sense a supercharged school spirit of togetherness, brotherhood, and unity pervading the campus. By chapel time at 11:00 a.m. the thermometer had climbed to $60,000.
“We are One in the Spirit” sang the student body. President Augsburger walked into chapel late, having just returned from fund-raising activities in Canada and with little inkling what had happened on campus. When his plane arrived at Washington D.C. that morning he talked to Mrs. Augsburger by phone. She only told him, “Get ready for a surprise!”
President Augsburger made a few perfunctory remarks in chapel and students snickered. Obviously, he didn’t know what had happened over the weekend. His jaw dropped in amazement when informed the $60,000 in cash was already in and more was on the way. “I was completely floored,” he later admitted to Trustees.
Feverish preparations for the auction characterized the rest of the day. Plenty of willing hands were available. Difficult problems arose in planning for the auction, then vanished into thin air. By late afternoon some began to worry that not enough people could be jammed into the gymnasium to purchase the huge influx of goods that had seemed to come from all over.
Monday afternoon central control headquarters were moved to the gymnasium. Now it took a ladder reach the top, the red thermometer had climbed so high. At 4:30 p.m. it stood at $74,000.
At this point an old dinner bell entered the scene. About 30 years ago Professor M. T. Brackbill had borrowed and repainted the old bell for use in physics. Believed to be over 100 years old, it came from a log building on a farm formerly owned by Bishop Mahlon Blosser, now a member of the college Trustees.
The physics department of the college decided to have the bell auctioned. Someone suggested that it be rung each time a significant amount was added to the total. Immediately it became a symbol of unity, a rallying point for applause every time it rang out the news of another $1,000 added to the fund.
Throughout the day the gymnasium had become the depository of hundreds of items - valuable antiques, personal mementos, guitars, coffee mugs, motorcycles, furniture, stamp and coin collections, souvenirs from around the world, and other treasured items. This was not a sale of junk; most articles were of value to the donors.
Already on Saturday a faculty member offered an 1893 cello. Considerable publicity developed around this item. Quietly a student movement arose to buy the cello and return it to its former owner. Over $700 was pledged for this project. However, it sold for $350, then was promptly returned to the donor, who was overwhelmed by surprise.
It was nearly 6:30 p.m. when the auction began. At that point the thermometer exceeded $75,000. More and more people began to think that it might indeed be possible to reach the $100,000 mark or even the magic figure of $111,000.
Few believed anymore that with such a demonstration of student power, unity and spirit, that the Trustees would be able to decide negatively the next day at their special meeting to consider the library.
John R. Mumaw, former president of EMC, did the honors of opening the auction. Assisted by local auctioneer, George Heatwole, they worked hard to get the audience into the enthusiastic buying mood they wanted. Before long, with more spirited bidding, the huge audience settled down for a marathon auction that was to last over seven and a half hours.
Soon the dividing wall in the gymnasium was pulled and two auctioneers simultaneously hawked the hundreds of items. On one side were concentrated many items furnished by student donors; the other side contained the more valuable antiques. Gradually the crowd gravitated to the student side where the bidding was more spirited.
Thus developed the amazing phenomenon that students, who had already worked hard and sacrificed heavily in donations, now went out on a limb even farther and paid exorbitant prices to buy each other’s articles.
Meanwhile, in adjoining rooms to the gymnasium the bake sale, Swiss cheese, doughnuts, ham , pies, candy, Christmas greetings and other items enjoyed a brisk business.
College radio station WEMC set up facilities in the gym to keep the radio audience posted on progress throughout the evening.
Notch by notch the thermometer pushed upward as the bell tolled every $1,000 to the lusty cheers of the audience. One estimate was that 3,500 people crowded the gymnasium, but this figure is believed to be inflated.
As the money indicator kept rising the spirit and mood of the crowd rose. Wild applause erupted at 10:16 p.m. when the $100,000 notch was chalked up. Amateur auctioneers tried their voices - students, staff members, even President Augsburger, who had the honor of auctioning off the last item, the bell.
About 1:40 a.m. it was determined that, having passed $110,000, and with only a few assorted odds and ends left to sell, that if the bell could be sold for $800, the goal would be reached.
Student leaders had plotted beforehand to purchase the bell and donate it to the school. Another bidder, unaware of this plot, also determined to bid it up to the amount needed. A large crowd was still present, mostly comprised of students and faculty members.
The air became charged with the electricity of school spirit as President Augsburger called the bids. At $800 he cried, “Sold!” and bedlam broke loose in a standing ovation. Students, many of whom had little sleep in the last 48 hours, dragged back to their rooms, exhausted but jubilant that they had put a new library building on campus.