Inaugural Address: The Women and The Men of Lake Erie College
President Michael T. Victor - September 21, 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon.
Let me say to the students, the faculty, the staff, the Board of Trustees, the Alumni, Chancellor Fingerhut, Congressman English, College and University representatives from throughout the nation, community leaders, friends, and to the members of my family gathered here today, what a combination of joy and humility I feel as I officially accept the Presidency of Lake Erie College.
My mother, Betty, my wife, Craige, my daughters Courtney and Sloane, my stepsons Wade and Bowman, and I thank you for the remarkably warm welcome you have given to us in our new service to Lake Erie College and the extraordinary encouragement you have given to us as we began this service one year ago. We are energized by all of you. Let me say to my family: I thank you for being by my side as I could not have done it without you.
History is a personal passion of mine, and this College has a plethora of it. Lake Erie College is, at its very core, an idea - a wonderful, bold, noble, and powerful idea. The idea came about when our founders fought to relocate the Willoughby Female Seminary that burned to the ground in 1854 to the sandy soil of Painesville. These august gentleman, whom I like to call the Men in Black with their black coats and long beards, had a goal of educating women and to model the new institution after Mount Holyoke. Wouldn’t it be outstanding if they were here with us today to see their legacy 151 years later?
Many others, both women and men (and I say women first), have nurtured, shaped and added substance to the idea of Lake Erie College over the past 151 years. There are so many who contributed so much…but I didn’t think you would mind if I only mention a few today.
A woman – Mary Evans was one of the early presidents of Lake Erie College. Her grand oil portrait hangs above the fireplace in my office. She served as president from 1868 until 1909 – an incredible term of 41 years. At her memorial service, a former student said this: “President Evans, with that quiet and fine dignity which was so distinctly hers…carried on the duties and responsibilities of president of the College with a grace all of her own. She saw in every pupil the potential woman – the life and life-work after college years. To all of these (students) it was hers to open the view of larger values in life.” --I hear these words today.
What about the words of Eva Quier Egbert, Class of 1878, who wrote on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Lake Erie College:
“The older I grow the more I realize and appreciate the College discipline, whether in meeting the petty trials of life or in bearing its heavy burdens; and every day of my life there is more gratitude in my heart for all that was done for me at Lake Erie College, and I am more interested in its advancement and success.” –I hear these words today.
What about Dawn Powell, Class of 1918, author of fifteen novels, numerous short stories and plays. Her friends included Ernest Hemingway, the young Gore Vidal and Edmund Wilson. John Updike favorably compared her work to Willa Cather and Vidal once called Powell America’s best comic novelist during her most popular years from the 1930s to mid-century. Dawn said this of her characters: “I give them their heads. They furnish their own nooses.”
Let’s fast forward to October 29, 1936, nearly 71 years ago, when famed aviator, Amelia Earhart, spoke in this very building on this very spot to the Aviation Club of Lake Erie College. Ms. Earhart said, “Hamlet would not have been a good aviator. He worried too much.”
Ms. Earhart inspired many across the nation including Ms. Phoebe Ford Hamlin, Class of 1939. Ms. Hamlin was an aviatrix, one of the Lake Erie students to receive her pilot’s license at the Lost Nations Airport. “Not afraid, but lonely” was the way Phoebe described her feelings when she flew a plane alone for the first time, 1,000 feet above the airport. Lake Erie College inspired her love of aviation at a time when women were limited in their pursuits.
One final note about Phoebe, at age 89, she still swims laps at least twice a week in her hometown of Highland, Illinois! Some of you may recall, swimming a lap in our College pool was, for many years, a requirement for graduation at Lake Erie College.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Dr. Paul Weaver, the first male president of the College who served from 1952 to 1977. Dr. Weaver said, “I came because they (the trustees) gave me freedom.” Dr. Weaver brought a new approach to Lake Erie College. During his tenure, the College became known as “the Radcliffe of the Midwest.” He enlisted the charitable support of many wealthy friends of the College to build the programs and the infrastructure of our campus. I have to add, he was driven to work every day in a chauffeur-driven car and held numerous parties on our College yacht, the Terra I, or the presidential mansion, the Manor House, where students danced to the strains of the Peter Duchin Orchestra from Manhattan. Dr. Weaver made this College exclusive and highly selective.
In his convocation address from 1961, Dr. Weaver said “So as we walk ahead with the light of the past falling over our shoulders, with our Pilgrim eyes and with our deviations, with exhausting diligence and constant inquiry into new sources of material, let us toil unrelentingly of the task of helping this generation of young to develop their full powers.” --I hear these words today.
Let’s fast forward again. I would like to share some present day examples of the women and the men of Lake Erie College, shall we?
A woman – Marcia Hemphill, Class of 1940, the former owner of an extraordinarily successful travel agency that helped the College launch the International Study Abroad programs in the 1950s; Marcia has also left an indelible mark in her volunteerism by making the Mathews Alumni House, the Morley Music Hall, and the Morris Skinner organ what it is today;
A man – James F. Lincoln, Chairman of the Board of Lincoln Electric and one of the great board chairmen of the College who served in this role from 1938 to 1951; his legacy of leadership and service is with us today in his granddaughter, a woman, Cathy Lincoln, philanthropist, Class of 1978, now serves as a member of our board;
A man – Dana Dennis, Vice President and Controller of Parker Hannifin Corporation, Class of ’76. His words and personal mantra, “Patient, but never satisfied” appeared on the back of the T-shirts worn by the first football players ever at Lake Erie College when they arrived last month;
A woman – Tracy Harrington Dickinson, Class of 1978, granddaughter of Farleigh Dickinson - founder of the university by the same name, Ms. Dickinson’s generosity knows no bounds; Tracy chose Lake Erie College and she is forever grateful for her experiences here;
A man – Dr. Morris Beverage, Class of 1976 and a 1986 MBA graduate of Lake Erie College, who started his career in accounting and went on to become a respected community leader and is now the President of Lakeland Community College;
A woman – Doris Roach Bray, Esquire, Class of 1959, who went on to graduate first in her law school class, was the first woman appointed editor-in-chief of the North Carolina Law Review and was the first and only woman to serve as the chairperson of the Lake Erie College Board of Trustees;
A man – Tom Offut, philanthropist, a resident of Little Mountain, who has adopted a countless number of our equestrian students (and their horses) over the years and contributed greatly to their experience as a student;
A woman – Mary Novak, real estate developer and alumna, who died last year and surprised us by leaving $800,000 from her estate for scholarships;
A man – George Farrell, professor emeritus, who taught our students for 38 years and continues to build a special legacy we all admire and respect;
A woman – Deborah Goodrich Royce, Class of 1980, film and television actress and producer who starred on Beverly Hills 90210 and movies from the 80s such as Just One of the Guys; she and her husband, Wall Street’s Charles Royce of the Royce Funds have given generously for scholarships for our students; Deborah wrote this of her professor, George Farrell: “Over the years, whenever I return to Lake Erie, it is with great pleasure that I see Professor Farrell. I offer him my profound thanks for helping me in my college years. Professor Farrell, thank you for all that you have done for Lake Erie College and for students like me.
A man – Tom Dempsey, student, Class of 2011, a graduate of Western Reserve Academy, a top 10 boarding preparatory school, and member of the first Lake Erie College Storm Football Team; who said “It was difficult in choosing a college because I wanted a college that embodied the same values as my high school, which were excellence, integrity and compassion. I believe Lake Erie College embodies all three of these and more.”
And finally, A woman - Loni Sargent, student, Class of 2008, from Youngstown, Ohio. Loni never thought it would be possible to attend a private school, but she got in and stood out. Over the last three years, Loni has grown to be a student leader and a leader on the soccer field, basketball court and softball diamond. She maintains a 3.5 gpa and is graduating early. Loni plans to plans to pursue a doctorate degree in physical therapy. She considers her story "fairly average" among her classmates...this sounds like the making of another Greatest Generation to me;
I love these stories – they inspire me! You see…it is the women and the men (and I say women first) of Lake Erie College, across the generations that make our institution so great. We can never forget we began as a female college nor can we forget the wonderful traditions of this institution such as Mountain Day, our beloved Tiberius, the class dinners, and our beautiful alma mater and hymns. We must realize and accept now that to bolster our long-term viability, we must be more co-educational than ever before in our history. Ladies and Gentleman, I promise that I will maintain this healthy balance of respecting our history while diligently charging ahead to ensure our successes in the future.
The charge I accepted one year ago and reaffirm today is to make sure Lake Erie College will be stronger at the end of my service than it is now at the beginning. I know that the only way to fulfill this responsibility is to find the way for each of you to join me in this effort. A united Lake Erie College will endure and prosper.
Since my arrival, countless individuals have said to me "There's just something about this place that gets into your blood." I now know what they mean after one year and many of you do as well. So let us work together.
Together, we will continue to be highly selective with a national reach and recruit the best and brightest students while maintaining our limits of no more than 1500 total students…for now. Together, we will continue to grow the academic reputation of this institution through the efforts of our talented faculty and staff. Together, we will take on the hard projects, like renovating and constructing new buildings and starting new programs. We will never forget our goal is to enhance the student’s experience. Together, we will continue to make Lake Erie College known as one of the crowned jewels of the Western Reserve.
Ladies and Gentleman, it is the single and highest honor of my life to accept this responsibility as your President. To all members of the College community, I embrace this sacred trust with the full knowledge that you will join me to advance Lake Erie College and reach our exciting future together.
When past president Dr. Sue Dreitzler placed this Badge of Honor upon my shoulders more than a year ago and again today, she asked me if it felt heavy. I responded “I feel privileged and humbled to wear it, but it is as heavy as a 150-year old institution.”
Let me close with a personal statement. I am fortunate to have my family, fortunate to have been successful in business, fortunate to be a survivor of a serious illness, fortunate to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a college president and, indeed, fortunate to be named the 11th president of Lake Erie College. Considering all of these things, I know a good thing when I see it and when I have it.
Finally, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said during his inaugural address “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.”
Ladies and Gentleman, nothing is holding us back as we look ahead and it is now and again our time at Lake Erie College. May those who follow us remember the contributions made during our generation – WE are the women and the men of Lake Erie College – the green and the white.