Lord Byron may, or may not, have been sensitive to his own accomplishment which so often captivated and held the lingering attention of old and young alike, when he wrote those truthful lines:

"The devil hath not, in all his quiver's choice,
An arrow for the heart like a sweet voice."

The impenetrability into the human soul of a voice that is sweet and musical is a psychological art worth developing. Through such a voice friends are made, lovers are won and audiences are swayed. It is that full, round, deep, yet mellow, bass voice of Dr. Gunsaulus', more than it is the depth of thought and the fluency of his tongue, that draws to him at Central Church, Chicago, every Sabbath morning an audience of over six thousand.

Thus has nature blessed our preacher educator, Dr. Samuel Fletcher Kerfoot, president of Dakota Wesleyan University, at Mitchell. When one sits before hirn in an audience and watches him straighten up in the pulpit that pale, slender form of his, and then listens to those deep-toned diapason words coming forth in such fascinating, musical resonance he is led to marvel at the unexpected combination.

Young, scholarly, eloquent and devout; tall, slender, graceful and erect; at ease in the pulpit, fluent and possessed of a cultured vocabulary, he is a platform orator of unusual charm and power—at present, second to none in the state.

Like his distinguished predecessor, Dr. Thomas Nicholson; his faithful vice president, Dr. Samuel Weir, and many others who have achieved distinction in our state, Dr. Kerfoot is a Canadian by birth and an American by adoption. He entered life at Ontario, Canada, February 11, 1865, just three days before the fatal bullet of Booth entered the brain of Abraham Lincoln.

Kerfoot, is therefore, comparatively a young man—just the kind that is needed for a great college president. To break in an old man for such a position is the height of foolishness. To be a success, he must be chosen, in the language of John De Mott, "while his brain is plastic and his blood is rich and ripe."

Realizing, even at an early age, that success in life is proportioned quite largely in accordance with one's preparation to succeed, young Kerfoot entered Hamline University, St. Paul, and began to lay the educational foundation that has since brought to him such an honorable career. He was graduated as an A. B., in 1889, was granted his A. M., in 1892, and was honored with his D. D., in 1904. Meantime, he attended Drew Theological Seminary, Madison, New Jersey, and received from this institution also in 1892 his B. D. degree.

In addition to the two degrees which were conferred upon him in 1892, this same year saw him ordained in the M. E. ministry. His first pastorate was in Minneapolis where he remained five years. From there he went to Winona where he occupied the same pulpit for eight years.



The church had its ever-watchful eye carefully upon him. His tenure of service at the two points where he had preached, and the abiding confidence and affection of his church membership, invited attention and command respect. A quarter-million endowment fund had to be raised for the support of superanuated ministers of the M. E. church. Who would undertake the giant task? All eyes turned instinctively toward the pale-faced young pastor at Winona, who had but a short time before been elected superintendent of the Winona district. He accepted the call, and instantly a new star arose in his firmament. In two years he had not only completed the giant undertaking, but he had gone far beyond it. The church stood aghast. Nicholson had just resigned the presidency of Dakota Wesleyan, at Mitchell. A successor must be chosen. The school was $41,500 in debt. What qualifications must the new man have? Many, indeed; but above all he must be a money-raiser. At such moments boards of trustees search for a man with a record. Kerfoot had it; he was chosen. And momentarily the old school on the hill at Mitchell began to vibrate anew with that confidence which arises from financial gain.


Prior to Dr. Kerfoot's ascendency to the presidency of Dakota Wesleyan, the city of Mitchell, by voluntary contributions, had just completed the erection of a new $65,000 M. E. church, the Catholics had just finished their magnificent $68,000 granite structure, the Presbyterians had enlarged their church, the Congregationalists had subscribed money to erect their beautiful new building, several smaller congregations of other denominations had done likewise. Mitchell had also just passed through an expensive capital campaign. To ask a city of its size to come forward with $10,000 for Dakota Wesleyan, seemed like madness. The board said, "Let's try for it."

"Nonsense!" interposed the confident Kerfoot. "People love to give. Why, when you once get them started, you can hardly stop them. Let's not make it less than $50,000 from the city of Mitchell alone."

They did it. Kerfoot undertook the campaign. And the city of Mitchell, with her accustomed big heartedness, not only came forward heroically with the $50,000, but in harmony with Dr. Kerfoot's prediction, she could not be stopped until she had given over $54,000.

"It's hard work," said Kerfoot, "but I enjoy it. Now let's go into the field and bring it up to $250,000, for an endowment fund and $100,000 for a building fund." Everybody caught the spirit! Kerfoot led. Three years passed by; and, think of it! for this entire period, this gifted, faithful, confident money-getter averaged $300 per day that he raised for Dakota Wesleyan University. The old debt was wiped out, the new funds were subscribed, a new $75,000 science hall is now nearing completion, the faculty has been strengthened and everything is at high tide.


But halt! Right on the heels of this victory, the president of Hamline University resigns. It is Kefoot's Alma Mater. The air of Methodism is perfumed with the scent of his achievement at Mitchell. And Hamline University calls to her presidency an Alumnus of her own halls, a product of her best endeavor, and the Rev. Dr. Samuel Fletcher Kerfoot, still in the prime of life, has left Dakota Wesleyan, to take up the administration of the school that gave to him his awakening.

"True worth is in being, not seeming,
   In doing each day that goes by
Some little good, not in dreaming
   Of great things to do by and by."

This is Kerfoot, a man of action. There is none of the superficial about him. He does things instead of dreaming about things to be done. His heart is large. He catches a vision of possibility, draws the curtain aside, and changes it into reality. Again, Dr. Kerfoot is one of the most modest men that ever lived. Reserved in the extreme, it is impossible to get him to talk about his own achievements. This intelligent modesty is what makes him "wear" so well.

He has the widening influence that comes through travel. Nothing educates, nothing broadens, nothing develops a man like travel. President Elliott, of Harvard, said: "I would rather have a young man make a three years' tour of the world than to take a three years' college course." Thus has President Kerfoot broadened out his horizon of life by taking a trip through the Holy land; basking in the shade of the Cedars of Lebanon, drinking at the Pool of Siloam, viewing the tomb of David and the crumbling structures of Bible lore, standing in silent meditation at Golgotha and climbing the sun-kissed slopes of Olivet. Like-wise he has traveled through southern Europe, placed flowers at the door of Virgil's tomb, scanned the shimmering Bay of Naples from the top of proud Nisida where Brutus kissed the beautiful Portia a last farewell, enriched his fund of classic information by viewing the sculpture of the Old World; drank into his life the physical aspects that gave rise to the paintings of Raphael and the songs of Homer, and had his faith quickened by standing momentarily in the dark, damp dungeon in which St. Paul was confined before he was beheaded.

Thus equipping himself for success in life, through his double standard of scholastic preparation and travel, Dr. Kerfoot's name will pass into history as one of the greatest educators, preachers, college presidents and financiers of this century. And so with him,

"These struggling tides of life that seem
   In wayward, aimless course to tend,
Are eddies of a mighty stream
   That rolls to its appointed end."


Dr. Kerfoot was united in marriage December 28, 1892, to Miss Margaret Share, a little brown-eyed, rosy-cheeked college girl of Farmington, Minnesota, who fills the trying position of a president's wife in splendid fashion. Their union has brought into being four charming sons and a handsome daughter, each of whom is now giving rise to great promise for life. Although a very busy man, one whose life is freighted with multiplied responsibilities, Dr. Kerfoot always finds an abundance of time to look after his family. His home-life is ideal; his boys are his companions; Mrs. Kerfoot is jovial and entertaining; and all who call are made to feel at ease as they catch the true spirit of simple, Christian democracy that pervades their home.

Dakota Wesleyan, Mitchell and South Dakota, will miss them. Nevertheless, let Hamline rejoice.


©2002, Virginia A. Cisewski
All Rights Reserved