Lombard College, alive and wellŠ in Chicago

It was Lombard Junior High School when I knew it, arriving there, as a new 7th grader in 1958, fresh from Allen Park School. Allen Park had been a bright new shiny school, starting off its school career the same year as I did, being a member of its first, first grade class. But Lombard was different-- tall ceilings, long hallways, and a gymnasium that looked like Charles Dickens may have written about it. The old gym, built in 1913, shaped like a fortress, with a dungeon for new 7th grade boys, subject to formalized ''PE.'' The main part of Lombard Junior High, built in 1936 by the WPA-- and after the passage of Lombard College-- lacked the fortress style of the gym but its bulk was intimidating after the confines of a single grade school classroom.

If the old campus had a soul, it must have shuddered under the embarrassment of what was trying to be passed off as education in its new role. It was a long way from its more noble, groundbreaking role.

Lombard College had strong Universalist roots. Ernest Elmo Calkins attributes Lombard and its Universalists as ''Šthe first liberal thinkers to modify the tight-laced puritan pattern of the townŠ'' If that is true, it would naturally follow that Lombard and Knox would have been natural rivals.

Lombard College grew from the ashes of an earlier institution, the Illinois Liberal Institute, founded in Galesburg in 1851. John Van Ness Standish, at the age of 29, was the acting President of this new institution. This college was intended to provide a more liberal, less sectarian education than was offered by Knox. However, the new college burned shortly after opening it doors.

A new building was constructed, with the substantial financial assistance of Benjamin Lombard. It was, not surprisingly, named Lombard University, with a divinity school to justify the name.

Although Lombard did not flourish, it did have some outstanding faculty and they left their mark one way or another. David Starr Jordan was to later teach at Indiana University and later to become the first President of Stanford University. While at Indiana, he advanced the knowledge of the fishes of Indiana, describing their distribution and ecology in Indiana's rivers and streams.

Professor John Van Ness Standish, formerly of the Illinois Liberal Institute, played a key and sustained role at Lombard College-- both to its success and ultimately perhaps to its economic failure. Standish was for 38 years a professor of mathematics and astronomy. He also taught, at various times, logic, Cicero, Virgil and Livy. His wife was also an instructor at Lombard College. Standish also left a living mark in Galesburg by his efforts in tree planting, explaining the name of Galesburg's Standish Park, adjacent to Knox College and the county court house.

Standish, reported to have been the richest member of the Lombard faculty, had some sort of ''falling out'' with the school. If there is a record of the reason, it is unknown to me. The net result was that Standish left all his riches to Knox College, Lombard's local rival, including his own house that was located adjacent to the Knox campus.

This was clearly an obvious ''sour grapes'' action; Carl Sandburg hypothesized that Standish's dying words might have been ''All that I have and am I give to Knox. I have forgotten the name Lombard if I ever knew it'' (Sandburg, Always the Young Strangers). From what I have read about and of Sandburg, this sounds more like Sandburg, so perhaps it is a high tribute to the alleged ''peppery'' Standish. Sandburg seemed to hold Standish in high esteem-- not for his academic work-- but rather for his contrariness and his devotion to planting trees.

Equally unclear in this Standish snub of Lombard, is whether Standish knew how badly Lombard needed the money. Lombard was to fail in 1930 as the result of the economic depression. Knox was to sustain itself through this period of hardship. Standish's money no doubt played a role in each.

Locally, it is commonly believed that Lombard merged with Knox. It makes a nice story, keeps it tight geographically, and has the traditional merger story of two advisories-- one wins and consumes the other. The big fish eats the little fish. The role of the apparently scorned Standish adds a classic touch to the tale. Plus it has some local (incorrect) history to further the story. Calkins, in his ''They Broke The Prairie'' (1937, pages 6 and 261) states that ''Lombard merged with Knox'' and that the land (of Lombard) was sold to Galesburg. In fact, Lombard did not merge with Knox. It certainly did something with Knox, however.

Knox College reports on its own Internet home page that in 1930: ''Knox receives the alumni records of Lombard College, which had been forced to close due to economic problems resulting from 'The Great Depression.' Lombard students are allowed to complete their degrees at Knox.'' I suppose this arrangement is what gave rise to the belief that the two colleges had ''merged.'' Albert Britt was the president of Knox College during this negotiation, coming to the position in 1925. He was a ''local boy'' being born and raised in Warren County. Perhaps this had a role in shaping his interest to provide a smooth transfer of Lombard history and remaining student body to Knox. This action kept the current substance and history of Lombard in Galesburg.

In reality, Lombard College, at least in name, lives on. It can be found in Chicago, which seems to have a tradition of consuming some of the successful ideas that originated in Galesburg. One needs only to seek the ''Meadville Theological School and Lombard College,'' more often known as ''Meadville/Lombard Theological School.''

Meadville Theological School had its roots in Meadville, Penn. in 1844. It was a liberal, nonsectarian seminary. It had a charter that specified that ''Šno doctrinal test shall ever be made a condition of enjoying any of the opportunities of instruction in the School.'' Such a philosophy seems to match up well with Lombard and its predecessor, Illinois Liberal Institute, which was one of the earliest colleges in the United States dedicated to a nonsectarian education.

The Meadville Theological School moved to Chicago and began holding summer sessions in conjunction with the University of Chicago's Divinity School. In 1928, Meadville became formally affiliated with the University of Chicago.

With the failure of Lombard College in 1930, the Lombard ''charter'' moved to Meadville in Chicago. With it went a unique aspect of the charter, one of only three in Illinois granting full tax-exempt status in perpetuity for all college-owned property. Monmouth College and Northwestern University have the other two.

A single Board of Trustees sat over both Lombard and Meadville until 1964, when the two were united and the schools' name officially became ''Meadville Theological School of Lombard College.'' It can be found proclaiming itself as the ''Meadville/Lombard Theological School-- A Center for Liberal Religious Thought.''

We mourn the death of Lombard College prematurely. It was not consumed by the local rival-- Knox College. Lombard College, at least in name and charter, lives on, sucked into the upstate metropolis.

Additional Information:

Calkins, Earnest. 1937. They Broke the Prairie. Charles Scribner's Sons. New York.

Knox College homepage: http://www.knox.edu

Meadville/Lombard Theological School homepage. http:www.meadville.edu/genintro.htm

Sandburg, Carl. 1952. Always the Young Strangers. Harcourt, Brace and Company. New York.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website October 20, 1999

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