This article appeared in Southwestern College's alumni publication, The Southwesterner, Winter 2001, and later on the College's website.
HER DAY AT SOUTHWESTERN COLLEGE
MAY 4, 1962
By Jerry L. Wallace
Suffice it to say that if all the people of the world cherished the same goals and practiced the same brotherhood and love of fellow man [as does Eleanor Roosevelt], there would be no need for the ministry: the millennium would be here.
--"Bouquets and Brickbats," Southwestern
Collegian, April 13, 1962
The attached photo shows Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt during her visit to Winfield, Kansas, in the Spring of 1962. Larry Hatteberg took this shot, which is of a reception held at the Student Center at Southwestern College. Mrs. Roosevelt is greeting his parents, Merle and Mary Hatteberg. Dr. Strohl is hidden away in the background.
On a bright Spring day in 1962, Eleanor Roosevelt—one the most prominent and influential women of the XXth Century—visited Southwestern College. No one was more pleased than Dr. C. Orville Strohl, President of Southwestern College (1954-72), for it was his policy to seek out and bring onto the Builders' campus leaders in all fields of American life. It was not enough, however, for students to see these movers and shakers of our world only at a distance on the stage of Richardson Auditorium. Dr. Strohl wanted students also to have personal contact with them and see them interact with faculty, students, and townfolks as they moved about their campus. In this regard, the visit of this exceptional woman to the SC campus was perhaps his greatest success, and one that he still recalls with pleasure and satisfaction to this day.
At the time of her visit, Eleanor Roosevelt was a 77-year old widow. Her health was weakening. In early 1960, she had been diagnosed with aplastic anemia. Determined to carry on, she ignored, as best she could, the illness that came and went. The Spring of 1962 found her still fully engaged in public life, including writing her daily newspaper column, "My Day." There was no slow down, physically or mentally, as was noted frequently during her stay at Southwestern. Yet there were signs, according to her biographer, Joseph P. Lash, that by early 1962, she sensed that Death's call was not far off. When not traveling, she resided at her comfortable home, Val-Kill, at Hyde Park, New York, surrounded by friends and family members.
It had been 17 years since the death of her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States (1933-45), who had led the Nation through the dark days of the Great Depression and then on to victory in World War II. For 12 years, she had been an exceptionally active and often controversial First Lady: F.D.R.'s eyes and ears….his good angel….beloved by many, hated by some. Never in our history had there been a First Lady like her. She was known to all Americans.
But Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was much more than the wife and widow of a former President. She was a remarkable lady in her own right, having overcome personal misfortunes and difficulties to become a noted writer, speakers, political and social activist, and supporter of humanitarian causes. The post war years found her working on behalf of the United Nations, first, as a U.S. delegate (1945-51), heading its Commission on Human Rights, and then, as a vigorous supporter of its work through the American Association for the United Nations. She became identified with that institution and its good works. By 1962, as one can sense during her Southwestern visit, most Americans no longer thought of Mrs. Roosevelt as an embattled New Dealer. Instead, looking beyond past political battles and her social and political ideas, which were not always popular, the public saw her primarily as a women of good will, warm-hearted, kind, with a deep sympathy for the underprivileged of all nations. As Dr. Haywood notes, Eleanor Roosevelt had become one of the most respected and admired women in the world. Upon her had been bestowed the title of "The First Lady of the World."
What had brought Eleanor Roosevelt to Southwestern's campus on Friday, May 4, 1962? She had accepted an invitation extended by the "Friends of Finley," Wes Syler, chairman, to participate in the opening of the campaign of the Reverend S. Ben Finley, of Conway Springs, for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.
Why this show of support for Rev. Finley, albeit a popular minister and powerful speaker, but a political unknown, who would, in fact, eventually abandon his primary campaign? Rev. Finley, while pastor of the Tisdale Methodist Church (1952-59), located a few miles east of Winfield, had initiated in the mid 1950s a program called the Little United Nations. It was successful and received considerable publicity. The United Nations itself had formally recognized it. The Little UN brought together Heartlanders and foreigners living in the area to discuss world issues. Southwestern faculty and students were participants. Rev. Finley, who shared many of Mrs. Roosevelt's views, described the purpose of the Little UN as "[b]ringing the world to the grassroots of Kansas so that we might understand all nations and our own domestic needs." The Little UN had attracted Mrs. Roosevelt's attention, expressing as it did her ideals while building support for the UN in America's Heartland with its isolationist past. She undoubtedly welcomed the opportunity offered by the Friends of Finley's invitation to express her support and respect for Rev. Finley, a like spirit.
Dr. Strohl and Southwestern's Trustees were pleased for the College to participate in the visit. Dr. Strohl was acquainted with Mrs. Roosevelt from his days in Iowa with the Commission on Christian Education, when she spoke to groups he sponsored. He also knew Rev. Finley, as well as admired and approved his work with the Little UN. Moreover, his son, Dennis Finley, had attended Southwestern, graduating in 1957. Dr. Strohl recognized that Mrs. Roosevelt's visit offered an opportunity for students to hear and met one of the outstanding figures of the Century. The College itself, of course, would benefit from favorable publicity and gain prestige.
While the initiative for the visit was political, the visit itself, given Mrs. Roosevelt's prominence and standing as a world figure, took on a broader and nonpartisan aspect. Indeed, given both hers and Rev. Finley's focus throughout the visit on the United Nation, the affair can almost be characterized as an effort on its behalf, rather than the Finley candidacy. Individuals, present at the time, with whom I have spoken, often tend to forget the political nature of the visit. She did, of course, speak kind words about the candidate, who was with her throughout the day, along with a bevy of Democratic Party officials, but she addressed in a nonpartisan manner (as the press noted) students and the public on the pressing issues of the day. While clearly a political affair, it is difficult to think of it as such.
As for the times, Mrs. Roosevelt's visit took place during the Cold War, long before the "Evil Empire" was sweep into the dustbin of history. Hanging over the world was the threat of nuclear war and mankind's annihilation. On the very day of her visit, as Mrs. Roosevelt lunched with the Southwestern faculty, the United States set off a middle-sized nuclear device in the atmosphere near Christmas Island in the Pacific. John F. Kennedy had moved into the second year of his Presidency. The Peace Corps had been launched; Judith Carlton ('60) and Janice McKelvy ('62) would soon answer the call for volunteers and in September depart the Heartland for Ethiopia and the Philippines, respectively. At the time of her visit, the President was attacking Big Steel's price-increases. Before the end of the month would come "Blue Monday," the so-called "housewives panic" on Wall Street, which sent the Dow-Jones Averages into its sharpest drop since 1929. Later that year, just before Halloween, the Cuban Missile Crisis developed, with our nation and the U.S.S.R. moving to the brink, some say, of nuclear war. It was truly, as one of my college textbooks from that time described it, using W. H. Auden's perceptive phrase, "The Age of Anxiety."
What follows is a chronological account of Eleanor Roosevelt's activities during her visit to Southwestern.
Arrival: Mrs. Roosevelt's plane touched down at the Wichita municipal airport at 9:30 p.m., on Thursday evening, May 3, 1962. A large and enthusiastic crowd greeted her. Among the welcoming party were Mayor S. Andrew Swoyer of Winfield, officials from Cowley, Sumner, and Sedgwick Counties, and a host of Democratic Party officials. Escorted by Mrs. Eugene (Betty) Graham, Cowley County Democratic Party chairman and her official hostess, Mrs. Roosevelt motored to Winfield, where she spent the night at the Sonner Motel. She was not the first Roosevelt to visit Winfield; her uncle, Theodore, had done so earlier in the Century. As Mrs. Roosevelt had no Secret Service protection, local police officers were detailed to provide for safety and were always nearby. On campus, during her stay, there were always three officers present.
Friday, May 4: This was to be a full and busy day for Mrs. Roosevelt. It began with breakfast with Mrs. Graham and women officials of the Kansas Democratic Party, including Mrs. Georgia Neese Gray, former Treasurer of the United States and national committeewomen, and Mrs. Marie Vickers, State vice-chairman.
Address to Students: A little before 11:00 a.m., Mrs. Roosevelt's car drove up the drive (which then existed) to the front of Christy. There, wearing a lavender dress and a black beret-type hat, with eyeglasses with hearing aid, she was welcomed to the campus by Dr. Strohl and members of the Student Council. The party then proceeded into Richardson Auditorium, where she spoke to an assembly of 800, composed of College and area high school students. As she entered, all present rose and greeted the great lady with "thunderous applause." Jim Glenn ('62), Student Council president, escorted her; they were followed by Rev. Finley and members of the Student Council. Merwin E. Mitchell ('62) extended the welcome and Shirley Roberts ('63) presented her with a gardenia corsage. Mrs. Roosevelt, introduced by Rev. Finley, gave a 30-minute talk entitled "Youth Takes a Look at the World." The Courier described the scene:
Talking in the relaxed manner of one who does not require note cards, but speaks from the mind and heart, Mrs. Roosevelt gave the assembled youth of this community a look at their nation in relationship to the rest of the world.
She stressed the importance of knowledge of the language, problems, customs, and habits of other countries. In this regard, she also spoke of her high hopes for the Peace Corps, especially a better understanding of other peoples that the volunteers would bring back home. She pointed out that as the world grows smaller and is tied more closely together, many problems within the U.S. cannot remain domestic; as an example, she cited the food surplus problem. To the students, she stated her hope that "you will be given the courage to study and look without fear at the problems of the world." An informal question-and-answer period followed her talk, ending at noon. She departed the auditorium as she entered it, to a standing ovation.
To insure that students had close contact with Mrs. Roosevelt, Dr. Strohl had placed the Student Council in charge of this event; the three chief participants had previously taken part in the Washington Semester program. The May 18, 1962, issue of the Collegian had this to say of their performance:
Jim Glenn [president of the Student Council] has won many honors in his four years at Southwestern, but perhaps he is deserving of no higher accolades than those due him and the Student Council for the fine manner in which they handled the appearance on our campus of the first lady of the world, Eleanor Roosevelt. The gracious courtesy and the fine hospitality accorded this wonderful lady reflect credit to our council and to our student body.
Private Luncheon: At 12:30, at the Student Center, Mrs. Roosevelt lunched with a group of professors and Democratic Party leaders from over the State. There were no empty seats in the tri-dining room that noontime. Judith A. Huffman ('62), accompanied by Jo Anne Bockhaus ('64), sang two vocal solos, "Romance" and "Love Is Where You find It." During the meal, Mrs. Roosevelt talked informally on a number of topics:
I tell young people that instead of just security they should really try to live life to the maximum—to do something for the world to the best of their ability. They should feel that their country and the world has profited some from their efforts.…
We should make sure that young people understand the difference between the communist and democratic forms of government [state focus vs. people focus].
Communists have confidence that they can win the struggle for world domination. It will be a long struggle, and it is up to us whether we win or loose. Each individual must carry his share.
Following the luncheon, Mrs. Roosevelt rested.
Press Conference: After an hours' delay, from 5:00 to 5:30 p.m., Mrs. Roosevelt held a press conference in the Pounds Lounge, which was arranged by Glenn Newkirk, assistant professor of journalism and director of Southwestern's news bureau. It was well attended by the media from Winfield and nearby communities, as well as college and high school journalism students. Although Mrs. Roosevelt had some trouble with her hearing aid, she was not disturbed and answered all questions, quickly and spontaneously. Topics included problems of youth, Peace Corps, food for peace, training for diplomatic service, threat of atomic war, reviving the CCC, and the position of women in the field of political science. In response to a question about the youth of the country "becoming demoralized and going off on such tangents as 'the twist' [former President Eisenhower had just criticized the dance]," she expressed confidence that they would met crises and challenges as had all those who had gone before….She also noted that youth faced so many more and such different problems than in the past and that youth could not turn to their elders for guidance because their elders themselves lacked answers….She did not believe there would be nuclear war because the U.S.S.R. realized the strength of U.S. retaliatory power. She urged Americans not live in fear of it: "Who knows what will happen tomorrow, so why live in fear?"
Barbecue: That evening, at 6:00, Mrs. Roosevelt's was the guest of honor at the "Finley for Senate" barbecued at Southwestern's Sonner Stadium. She made a dramatic appearance in a white convertible driven onto the field. This affair—a combined barbecue and speech—officially opened Rev. Finley's campaign for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. Tickets were $10.00 for couple and $2.50 for students, with the proceeds going to the campaign. The supper consisted of barbecued beef and ham, French bread, baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad, and coffee, catered by Bob-Inn. For the benefit of Catholics, Bishop Mark Carroll of Wichita had issued a special dispensation permitting them to partake of meat on this occasion. Mrs. Roosevelt declined an offer to have her plate filled for her, insisting on "going through the line just like everyone else." The Courier reported that "She chatted throughout the meal with those at her table and afterwards graciously met many of the people attending the dinner." The girls of Intermediate Scouts Troop 107 helped serve at the meal to around 1,000 attendees. Later, these young ladies had their photograph taken with the great lady herself.
Speech at Stewart Field House: Following the barbecue, at 7:30 p.m., Mrs. Roosevelt, wearing a pink crepe dress with lace bodice, spoke in Stewart Field House. Howard Elrod served as moderator for the program. Mrs. Kenneth Shively furnished organ music for the event. The Rev. C. P. Criss gave the invocation. Rev. Finley spoke briefly on the importance of working towards better world understanding and the purpose of the Little UN. Mrs. Georgia Neese Gray then introduced Mrs. Roosevelt, whose topic was "Does America Face World Leadership?". She began by reviewing of how the U.S., at the end of World War II, had been thrust "automatically" into world leadership, "without wanting or preparing for [it]." Discussing U.S. effort to save neutral countries from Communism, she observed that "sometimes we Americans are too anxious to be liked when it is often more important to be respected." Noting that many American felt there was no future for the world, which was reflected in a "what's the use" attitude, Mrs. Roosevelt made her primary point. She told of how during World War II a doctor in desperate circumstances had responded to her questions of how he carried on: "As long as one lives," he said, "one must live to the best of one's ability or one dies." She then observed, "A nation who lives by this will lead in the world and will perhaps save the world."
At the end of the talk, in a 20-minute question-and-answer period, Mrs. Roosevelt responded to a variety of questions, "quickly and profoundly." Some examples: She back President Kennedy fully in his action to roll back Big Steel's price hikes; "he had no choice" but to act….As for the John Birch Society, "They claim they are anti-Communist," she said, "but their objectives are identical."…Because of her war-like stand, Red China could not be admitted to the UN….Concerning medical care for the aged, against which the AMA was waging a bitter fight, "Of course I approve of it."
Then, it was over: The end of a perfect day—a sad time, a time for dear friends to part. Mrs. Roosevelt retired to the Sonner Motel.
Departure: The following morning, Saturday, May 5, Mrs. Roosevelt was escorted to the Wichita airport; from there she continue on to her next engagement.
Closing Words: On May 18, 1962, Dr. Strohl wrote to Mrs. Roosevelt: "It was a real privilege and joy to have had you on our campus….As you may have notice…, we are emphasizing world affairs. You could detect the interest of the students, and that they were proud, indeed, to be in charge of the assembly." Mrs. Roosevelt responded: "This is just to express my gratitude for your letter…and your kindness during my recent visit to your campus. I was happy to be at Southwestern College and note the students' interest in world affairs."
A Final Note: As mentioned earlier, Mrs. Roosevelt suffered from aplastic anemia. During her stay, according to press reports, she appeared vigorous and alert and undertook a full and rigorous schedule. In mid July 1962, her health began to decline precipitously. Death came for her on November 7, 1962, six months after her visit to Southwestern, following a recurrence of the TB she had acquired in 1919. The world mourned her passing. With John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, and Harry Truman looking on, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was put to rest next to her husband in the rose garden at their Hyde Park estate.
o o o O o o o
This account of Eleanor Roosevelt's visit to Southwestern in May 1962 discusses not only individual events, but also provides background to them. It is based on information taken from the pages of The Winfield Daily Courier, supplemented by other sources, including interviews with participants.