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A Profile on Wesley College

Greenville, Texas

by Joshua V. Chanin

In regards to the COVID-19 Pandemic, which has already threatened to permanently close the doors of smaller schools nationwide, I found it suitable to examine the life of Wesley College, once a prosperous junior college in Greenville that, like other academic institutions in the 1930s, came to a tragic end.

North Texas University School, the predecessor of Wesley College, was established on the family property of Robert A. Terrell in Terrell, a rural community southeast of Dallas, in June 1905. The institution, originally a high school, opened with 125 male and female students (that number significantly increased to 230 a couple of months later). Its president was Reverend Joseph A. Morgan, previously the pastor of Garland's Methodist Church. Students enrolled in preparatory classes in classical languages, history, mathematics, English, and music. The school was a success from the start, primarily due to the overwhelming support from Terrell's citizens-who had donated 13 acres of land-and the North Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South-the governing board over Methodist colleges in the region which gave large amounts of money to establish Morgan's school. In 1909, the school changed its name to Wesley College (in honor of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism) and relabeled itself as a "high-grade literary school," aimed at preparing pupils for admittance to Texas's best Methodist schools, including Southwestern University in Georgetown.

Greenville, TX - Wesley College Physical Plant, 1918
Wesley College Physical Plant, 1918
The McLean Administration Building, center,
is flanked by two dormitories (named Wesley and Delaney Halls)
Click on image to enlarge

After their local elections in 1910, the City of Greenville launched a fund-raising campaign in an attempt to lure Wesley College to their community. The townsfolk offered the Methodist Church $125,000 and 20 acres of land south of the city. On September 17, 1912, Wesley College opened its doors in Greenville, and attracted an average enrollment of 400 students per year over the next two decades. The campus physical plant consisted of the McLean Administration Building and two dormitories. During the presidencies of David H. Aston, Reverend Seth E. Green, and George F. Winfield, faculty with strong Christian values were hired and the college received national junior college standing. Student life flourished-students would either ride the public bus into downtown Greenville or join the on-campus Astonian and B.J. Williams Literary Societies and partake in cordial debates. Moreover, the college had student-led home county clubs (including Collin, Dallas, Hopkins, and Hunt Counties). The YMCA and YWCA were highly active in the 1920s and it was common to see students engage in yoga on the lawns. The college's philosophy of developing the whole man-physically, mentally, socially, morally, and spiritually-was wholeheartedly supported by the City of Greenville. This admiration is evident by the city's $38,000 donation to the college after the administration building burned down in November 1922.

Greenville, TX - Wesley College,  B.J. Williams Literary Society, 1916
B.J. Williams Literary Society, 1916
This academic society was named in honor of Mrs. B.J. Williams,
a major benefactor of the college in the 1910s.
Click on image to enlarge

Wesley College attracted a large number of talented faculty. Coach John W. Rollins, a Texas A&M college graduate, was hired as the school's P.E. instructor in the 1920s. Coach Rollins (or named by students as 'Dough' since the instructor often bragged about his money) trained hundreds of award-winning athletes and steered the basketball and football teams to a string of victories (the students chose the panther as their mascot). Also, Coach Rollins introduced athletic scholarships at the college in 1924 and traveled thousands of miles across Texas recruiting the top high school athletes. Coach Rollins would later lead the East Texas State Teachers College Lions to several Lone Star Conference titles in the 1930s. Another faculty member who left a lasting impressing on her students was Mrs. Ruth B. Jackson, instructor of English and wife of the seventh president. One of her classes, English I, was regarded by many as the hardest course at Wesley College since the assignments included reading a dozen books and writing 300 pages of journal entries. Neita Flennikan recalled her time as a student in Mrs. Jackson's English class: "She was very demanding, just gave you good, strong, long assignments-some of them were so long you thought you'd never get them done…she really had strong courses."

Under the guidance of a first-class faculty, students at Wesley College excelled in their studies and careers. Fladger Tannery is one of Wesley College's best known alumni; he attended the school in the 1920s and graduated as president of the B.J. Williams Literary Society. He continued his education at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and then joined the University of Texas at Austin faculty in 1933 as an assistant professor of accounting. Following a stint in the U.S. Air Force, Tannery was president of the H.W. Lay & Co. from 1962 to 1965. Tatsuzi Tacheuchi (who named himself 'Sterling') was Wesley's first international student from Japan in 1921. After participating in the ministry program and graduating in 1923, Tacheuchi took his teachings overseas and served in the Japanese Diplomatic Corps during the 1930s. His post-studies successes inspired a small group of international students from Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela to enroll in the college in the late 1920s.

Despite the challenging coursework, strict instructors, and regimented schedules, students at Wesley College credited the school for giving them a well-rounded academic foundation. G.C. Randolph, a 1926 graduate and an active minister in North Texas for over 45 years, credited the college for guiding him towards God's word: "It prepared me for a beginning in life that I wouldn't have had otherwise." Another student, who had enjoyed observing plants at Greenville's park during class outings, said, "My years at Wesley gave me some idea about what life was all about-the real values in life." Edith M. Taylor, daughter of the college's business manager, harped on the fact that she and the student body, "All feel that Wesley College was one of the great influences in our lives because we had such wonderful teachers, such wonderful faculty, good Christian atmosphere, and good disciplinarians." When Dr. George Bernard Jackson assumed the presidency in 1925, he made great strides to continue the work of his predecessors in making Wesley College a home for critical thinkers by strengthening Christian values in classrooms, reinforcing the importance of global citizenship in excursions, and increasing enrollment to over 520 students. Wesley College was prospering by the end of the 1920s.

Dr. George Bernard Jackson, 1918
Dr. George Bernard Jackson, 1918
Dean (and then President) Jackson would later be on the faculties at Austin College and Lon Morris College.

The Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed caused many schools in the South to dig deeper into their coffers, panic, and abruptly close, including old-time rival Burleson College in December 1930. Several Wesley trustees contended the idea of merging the remnants of Burleson's student body and faculty with the operations at Wesley College. They argued that collaboration between the schools would financially work for both parties, despite religious differences, citing the initial success between two higher-education institutions in Sherman as an example: Kidd-Key College, a Methodist school for women, and Austin College, its Presbyterian sister (ironically, Kidd-Key College would close its doors in 1935 due to financial problems and low enrollment numbers, while Austin College endured). In contrast, Wesley College alumni strongly opposed the suggested merger, claiming that religious schism between the institutions was "too great for a consolidation." Shortly after, hardships also hit Wesley College.

The college was financially struggled by the fall semester of 1931, and the budget was cut significantly. Faculty were unpaid for several months between 1931 and 1932, provoking low morale among the teachers; a couple of disgruntled fine arts teachers left Wesley and established their own schools in Dallas. After Mr. 'Skipper' Wright's bus broke down, briefly ending student transportation to downtown, President Jackson decided to eliminate the football program and allocate those funds to repair the bus. Moreover, the student body morale declined when many pupils were unable to provide for their unemployed parents and find employment in the region (only a small group of students were offered a job in the dining hall canning produce from the Rio Grande Valley). To make matters worse, President Jackson struggled to receive money from the North Texas Conference and had to constantly reinforce the legitimacy of Wesley's junior college status since Charles Claude Selecman, president of SMU, strongly believed that his four-year institution be the sole recipient of the conference's annual monetary allocations. Amidst the stress, Dr. Jackson angered several Board members, was dismissed from the college in May 1934, and became "crazy as a loon," regretting his decisions in not saving the college.

During the brief presidential tenure of John E. Blackburn (1934-1937), enrollment dropped to its lowest point in more than two decades (200 students, most hailed from Greenville), and students were required to purchase their own class materials since faculty were given no money to. When Joseph Garland Roach, an alumnus and former principal of Greenville Senior High School, arrived to take the reins in fall 1937, the mood on campus was somber. Wesley College was barely afloat. According to that semester's records, the number of student clubs had decreased, and the college's Greyhound yearbook and Pilot newsletter were both discontinued. In 1937, the ministry program was depleted of resources and interest, 58% of the student body in 1937 were non-Methodists, and the college owed $39,000 to the church and other local businesses. Wesley College received little funds from the Conference that year. Also, much to the surprise of the administrators, local long-time benefactors discontinued their support-Mrs. Mason, college registrar, recalled that, "Greenville slipped by not helping Wesley College and keeping it here. It really is a shame…It needed more support."

There were some efforts by Dr. Roach's team to make Wesley a state school, yet those failed. Aware that time was disappearing, and despite the frequent criticism they had received from the SMU president, Jess Morris, the Wesley Board's president, addressed a letter to Dr. Selecman in February 1938, "concerning Southern Methodist University's becoming the repository of the credits of Wesley College after it ceases to operate as such…"-indeed, several small Wesley artifacts were placed in the SMU library after 1938. The final commencement occurred without fanfare in May 1938; students and faculty knew the college would not hold classes in the fall. In July, President Roach, exhausted from the financial burdens that had plagued his sole year in office, met with his faculty for the last time, distributed the remaining money among them, and quietly departed from the school. Wesley College, once a titan of education in Northeast Texas, closed its doors in pitiful ruin.

Why did Wesley College close when it proved to be initially successful? The financial hardships from the Great Depression and gradual disinterest from local benefactors and sponsors played key roles in the college's demise. Furthermore, the North Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South made a grave mistake by focusing a majority of their time and money in the development of large, four-year institutions instead of smaller junior colleges. By the start of the 1930s, the Conference threw their weight behind Southern Methodist University while the little schools in North Texas like Wesley College were little more than afterthoughts. Albert Deems Betts, president of Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, noted that Southern Methodists have "buried one hundred and five institutions of learning in her educational century…Had the church long ago founded a General Board of Education with proper financial power, we would be far better off today and many costly mistakes would have been saved." Unfortunately, Wesley College fell as a victim of ignorance.

© Joshua V. Chanin May 30, 2020 Guest Column
Harrison, W. Walworth. History of Greenville and Hunt County, Texas (Waco: Texian, 1976).

McMullin, William C. "A Descriptive History of Wesley College." Ed.D. diss., University of North Texas, 1987.

Stolz, Jack. Terrell (San Antonio: Naylor Publishing Co., 1973).

Various records from the college, Greyhound yearbooks (several are also found at the Bridwell Library on the SMU campus), Pilot newsletters, and photographs from the Northeast Texas History and Genealogy Center at W. Walworth Harrison Library, 1895-1930, James G. Gee Library, Texas A&M University-Commerce.
Author Biography:
Joshua V. Chanin is adjunct instructor of history and community director of Whitley Hall at Texas A&M University-Commerce. He received his M.A. in history from the University of Texas at Arlington, and specializes in the history of women and education in Texas.

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