CALVIN H. FRENCH
AN EDUCATIONAL FINANCIER
Dr. Cavlin H. French, president of Huron College, was walking down the streets of Cincinnati,
when he met a wealthy friend to whom he imparted his plan to raise an endowment of $250,000 for the Huron school.
In a satirical manner, as if to poke fun at the undertaking, the fellow interpolated: "Why dont' you make it a
"I believe I will!" responded the doughty president, and from that very moment the big financial
fight to raise $500,000 for Huron College was on.
ELEMENTS OF SUCCESS
After all is said and done, there are, from a common-sense, practical standpoint, only three
primal elements to success in life selection, preparation, determination. The latter will overcome a
mistake made in either or both of the first two. It brought victory to the venture of Columbus, crowned
Washington's efforts with success, triumphed at Appomattox, and made Bob LaFollette governor of Wisconsin. It
gave to Calvin H. French of Huron, an unprecedented victory in college financing. Two years! Think of it! Two
long years away from home. Two years of incessant struggle. Not one brief effort like Jacob wrestling all
night with an angel at Jabbock's Ford, but 730 days and 730 nights of relentless struggle. Determination?
What else? College presidents all over the country told him it couldn't be done. Preachers and philanthropists
advised against it. Calvin H. French, alone, had faith in the task, faith in himself, faith in his fellowman,
faith in God. It was undertaken. It was done. And today Huron College has been placed upon a Gibraltar basis,
financially, where the storms of adversity, arising from short crops and political disturbances of the money
market, will die into oblivion as they beat against the threshold of her buttress.
THE CLOSING SCENES
On the morning of the last day, this telegram was received from Dr. French, who was at that time in New York City, making the greatest effort of his life to raise money:
"New pledge of Fifteen Thousand, on condition Huron guarantees the last Ten Thousand."
Now, Huron had already given beyond her ability. But, $475,000 had been pledged on condition
that the total amount, $500,000, should be subscribed before midnight, November 11, 1911. Thus $150,000 was
now depending upon another home pledge of $10,000. Yes, more than that! $475,000 plus $15,000; total, $490,000,
was hanging on that last $10,000, to be subscribed by Huron.
"Will they do it!? Dare they do it? Oh! God grant they won't refuse!"
Thus the words of the poet, put into the mouths of the patriots in Liberty Hall, in good old
Philadelphia on the morning of July 4, 1776, were suddenly revived by the students and faculty of Huron College.
It was a challenge to heroic endeavor, to self-sacrifice, to build beyond the grave.
It was about nine o'clock p. m. November 11, last President Abel of the board of directors of
Huron College, who had given lavishly of his own hard-earned funds, and who had struggled all day in personal
interviews with the citizens of Huron to rise to the occasion and make the best investment that had ever
confronted them, had gone out to the college to await news from Dr. French. The latter's faithful secretary,
John I Pasek, a product of Ward Academy, was standing with one hand on the telephone receiver which had not as
yet been lifted from the hook, debating with President Abel about the wording of a telegram to be sent to Dr.
French, when, at that very moment, the phone, as if inspired, gave a sharp ring.
Jerking down the receiver, slamming it tightly against his ear, Mr. Pasek, while an anxious
crowd rushed forward to hear, shouted into the mouth-piece:
''I've a telegram for you," said the operator at the Western Union.
"Repeat it! Quickly!" demanded Pasek.
Huron College was organized and established in 1883, at Pierre, S. D., with Rev. Thomas M.
Finley as president. Two years later, Rev. William M. Blackburn D. D. LL. D., succeeded to the presidency.
The "dry time" in Dakota came on. After struggling for thirteen years against the adverse tide of conditions,
he resigned in 1898, and Dr. Calvin H. French, a local preacher at Scotland, this state, and who had made an
enviable record as president of the old Scotland Academy, was chosen as his successor.
The Spanish-American war was in progress. Times were just beginning to "limber up." The vast
gold fields of Alaska had begun to give forth their rich ores. Money was becoming more plentiful. Weather
conditions changed. Bountiful crops began to yield their rich treasures. The citizens of Huron, through private
subscription, bought for $5,000 the old Royal hotel at that place, which originally cost $50,000, and made a
present of it to the school. It was the awakening. French was the man of the hour.
CALVIN H. FRENCH
Four years later, the Chicago and Northwestern railway company gave to the school four beatuiful
blocks of ground near the heart of the city of Huron on which to erect their future buildings. In 1904, Ralph
Voorhees of Chicago, gave them $15,000 for a girls' dormitory. The faithful women of Huron raised $5,000 more
to be added to it. This made $10,000 that Huron had already invested in the enterprise, let alone her liberal
contributions toward the running expenses. Other contributions were made by distant friends. The year closed
with $27,900 pledged.
In 1905, Mr. Voorhees offered conditionally to give $10,000 toward a central building. French
said: "We'll take it!" The building was completed two years later, at a total cost of $122,000. It is as yet
the finest school building in the state. There was an old indebtedness of $15,000. Mrs. Voorhees gave it.
Noble people! One building was named for her, the other after her philanthropic husband.
THE ENDOWMENT FUND
Dr. D. K. Pearsons, of Chicago, gave the school $15,000 in July, 1908, as the first contribution
toward an endowment fund. Jim Hill, the raliroad magnate, followed it with $50,000. At midnight, November 11, 1911,
Dr. French, through his own tireless efforts, and at the sacrifice of numerous friends, brought it up to the high
water mark of South Dakota educational endowments, $506,129. Hats off to his grit!
There are in South Dakota seven state educational institutions. As a result of some disgraceful
political operations, they were split up and every single one of them, with but one execeptionthe Madison
Normalwere placed in border counties; that is, the outside tier of counties around the edge of the state.
So, also, were all of the charitable institutions, save one, similarly located. The next generation will ask,
with appropriate curiosity, "Why didn't they finish the job and connect them all with a high wall?"
This error in judgment gave to the denominational schools of the state the very opportunity
they desired. The rich James River Valley, extending across the east central portion of the state, from north
to south lay open before them. The Congregationalists put in an academy at Redfield and a college at Yankton.
The Methodists, with equal foresight, slipped their university into the city of Mitchell. The Free Methodists
sought out Wessington Springs. Then the Presbyterians, taking creditable advantage of the situation, closed
their academy at Scotland and their so-called university at Pierre, put the two together and established them
as one institution on the bank of the Jim, in the beautiful city of Huron, which lies geographically, in the
center of the old river's fertile valley.
Today, the beautiful college campus at Huron; the magnificent, imposing bulidings thereon, and
the large endowment fund -representing a total valuation of $771,120the increase in the faculty from a
membership of seven to twenty-five, and in the enrollment, from 136 to 488, all combine to attest the wisdom of
the last maneuvers in location, and, as well, the judgment displayed in the selection of a president.
He, whose worthy deeds are feebly extolled in this article, was born in Williamsburg, Ohio,
June 13, 1862. Attaining his Bachelor of Arts at Lake Forest University in 1888, he was, three years later, honored with his Master's degree,
by the same institution. In 1891 he graduated from the Union Theological Seminary of New York, and was ordained
by the Presbytery of South Dakota the same year, and installed at once as pastor of the Scotland church. This
position he occupied until 1898. However, during 1897-8, he was also principal of Scotland Academy. In 1900,
Wooster University honored him with his Doctor of Divinity. July 28, 1897, he was united in marriage at College
Springs, Iowa, to Miss Anna Long, of that city. This brave little Christian woman has been his fortress as well
as his advance guard ever since, and much of his success has been due to her unwserving devotion.
Transferred to Huron, in 1898, as previously set forth, this determined, plucky youth from the
east, showed himself to be no tenderfoot in the race of life. Upon his return from New York, after his
successful endowment campaign, the citizens of Huron turned out en masse and gave him a banquet long to be
remembered. One of the unique and worthy features of the occasion, was the rendition of the following hymn of
welcome, in his honor, composed by H. Foster Jones:
TO PRESIDENT C. H. FRENCH
Strong Man of God, whose tireless hands
Through many a year in faith have wrought,
Thy Masterwork before thee stands
An lo, thou hast not striven for naught.
As one who, in the world's new dawn,
A temple reared to God's high Name,
In lines of fairest marble drawn,
And toiled for love. and not for fame;
So hast thou shaped with patient skill,
This nobler structure, whose intent
Trained mind and consecrated will
Shall be thy lasting monument.
And we who, wondering day by day,
Have seen the splendid vision rise
We can but bow our heads, and say,
"He knew; for God had made him wise."
Strong Man of God, whose faith serene,
Hath shamed the petty doubts of men,
Weclome to this thy triumph-scene
Dear welcome to thine own again.