"An honest report by a most successful educator [and] a tribute to a great university and to a man with foresight who also had the courage to act on his convictions." —The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette
Being Lucky: Reminiscences and Reflectionsby Herman B Wells
In this absorbing autobiography, Herman B Wells, the legendary former president of Indiana University, recalls his small-town boyhood, the strong influence of his parents, his pioneering work with Indiana banks during the Great Depression, and his connection with IU, which began as a student when the still provincial school had fewer than 3,000 students. At the end… See more details below
In this absorbing autobiography, Herman B Wells, the legendary former president of Indiana University, recalls his small-town boyhood, the strong influence of his parents, his pioneering work with Indiana banks during the Great Depression, and his connection with IU, which began as a student when the still provincial school had fewer than 3,000 students. At the end of his 25-year tenure as president, IU was a university with an international reputation and a student body that would soon exceed 30,000. Both lighthearted and serious, Wells’s reflections describe in welcome detail how he approached the job, his observations on administration, his thoughts on academic freedom and tenure, his approach to student and alumni relations, and his views on the role of the university as a cultural center. Being Lucky is a nourishing brew of the memories, advice, wit, and wisdom of a remarkable man.
Indiana University Press
"Much more than the title might suggest [this is] a heart-warming account of a young boy and his parents determined that a son should have a college education, a classic and detailed account of his widening involvement with every aspect of higher education, and a stirring story of a wise administrator. [Wells’s] life is an astonishing success story.... He was not just lucky, he was careful and courageous." —Journal of Higher Education
"Wells’s humor, wit, and humanity pervade every chapter." —Indiana Magazine of History
"A tribute to a great university and to a man with foresight who also had the courage to act on his convictions." —Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette
"Being Lucky is as entertaining as it is informative. Wells' biographer, James H. Capshew, called it 'a manual of higher education management.'... Reading Wells' fascinating autobiography shows why it is no wonder that Indiana University is so proud of the great man and honors his accomplishments." —LOUISVILLE COURIER JOURNAL
"Much more than the title might suggest [this is] a heart-warming account of a young boy and his parents determined that a son should have a college education, a classic and detailed account of his widening involvement with every aspect of higher education, and a stirring story of a wise administrator. [Wells’s] life is an astonishing success story.... He was not just lucky, he was careful and courageous." Journal of Higher Education
"Being Lucky is as entertaining as it is informative. Wells' biographer, James H. Capshew, called it 'a manual of higher education management.'... Reading Wells' fascinating autobiography shows why it is no wonder that Indiana University is so proud of the great man and honors his accomplishments." LOUISVILLE COURIER JOURNAL
"Wells’s humor, wit, and humanity pervade every chapter." Indiana Magazine of History
"A tribute to a great university and to a man with foresight who also had the courage to act on his convictions." Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette
"An honest report by a most successful educator [and] a tribute to a great university and to a man with foresight who also had the courage to act on his convictions." The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette
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Reminiscences and Reflections
By Herman B Wells
Indiana University PressCopyright © 1980 Herman B Wells
All rights reserved.
Growing Up in Jamestown and the County Seat
I'm A fifth-generation Hoosier, a native of a small town. Jamestown, founded in 1832, was and still is a typical agricultural trading center located in Boone County about halfway between Indianapolis and Crawfordsville. Indiana at the time of my birth was mainly an agricultural state with Indianapolis its governmental, commercial, and financial hub.
Within two decades, however, Indianapolis became the national center of the automotive industry, its lead closely followed by the development of component-parts manufacturing plants in the whole of the central part of the state—in Kokomo, Anderson, Marion, Richmond, and elsewhere. Thus central Indiana grew highly industrialized and dependent upon the motor industry, symbolically celebrated in the gala week of the Indianapolis 500.
It was the thrust of the steel and refining industries that turned the northern part of the state into a great industrial complex in the first quarter of the century, while in southern Indiana, along the Ohio River, agriculture remained a major economic and social factor even though furniture manufacturing and shipbuilding brought national awareness of that part of the state.
In my little town a flour mill, a tile factory, and a grain elevator were the sole industries, and the important business establishments were blacksmiths' shops, general stores, wagon repair shops, and hardware stores. Roads were so poor that a country hotel, the Phoenix, still flourished. The community had to be largely self-sustaining and also had to satisfy the needs of farmers living within horseback and wagon distance.
The time, between the Civil War and World War I, was one of relative stability and calm, giving no inkling of the great wars yet to come in this century. People still believed in the inevitability of progress and firmly upheld the Puritan ethic of hard work and thrift. It was prior to the rapid rise of the evangelical sects so visible now, and church life in Jamestown still centered in two denominational groups, the Methodists and the Campbellites. Between the two there was considerable debate as to which offered the better and surer route to heaven. My dear grandmother, who believed devoutly in the Methodist route, beginning with baptism by sprinkling rather than immersion, had grave doubts about the inevitability of salvation for the Campbellites.
Both the Methodists and the Campbellites regularly sponsored series of meetings under evangelistic leadership at which the town drunkards and other malefactors, real or fancied, were received at the altar to repent their sins in public, much to everyone's righteous satisfaction. Supplementing the churches in their role as social and ritual centers were the lodges. The Oddfellows, the Knights of Pythias, the Modern Woodmen, the Red Men, and Masons, the Eastern Star, the Rebeccas were all very active and absorbed a not inconsiderable amount of the time, effort, and thought of good, responsible citizens. In fact, these fraternal groups wielded political as well as social influence in the community.
Despite the primitive roads, Jamestown was not isolated. Both passenger and freight trains of the Peoria division of the Big Four made a station stop there and helped make the town a good trading center. Telephones were not as yet common enough to provide a communications network, but there was a weekly newspaper of fifty years' standing that was a reliable source of local information and of little else. Mail came by train and news traveled by telegraph line, courtesy of the telegrapher posted at each station.
Residents of Jamestown were dependent upon the professional services of men and women based in the town. There were six doctors, several lawyers, and a dentist or two. Along with these esteemed citizens, the oldest descendants of the town's settlers were also held in special respect, as were the Civil War pensioners.
In this rather complacent community with its bustling weekday activity and important social and church life there lived two people of central importance to my story.
Following a brief courtship, Joseph Granville Wells and Anna Bernice Harting were married on June 26, 1901, in a very simple ceremony conducted by the Methodist minister in the parsonage at Jamestown. They chose not to invite any guests and departed immediately by train for Buffalo and Niagara Falls on their honeymoon. Such an extensive honeymoon, although popular in that day, I am sure must have been the idea of my father, the groom, who always believed in doing things properly. My guess is that Mother considered it extravagant.
Niagara Falls was an especially strong magnet for honeymooners in 1901 because of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. The feature of the exposition was millions of small, twinkling electric light bulbs illuminating the fairgrounds. Most of the visitors had not seen electric lights before, nor would they soon again see them used on such a scale. The memory of that occasion remained vivid in the minds of my parents throughout their lives. In her later years, when we would drive through the countryside at night and could see the electric floodlights in the barnyards of brightly lighted houses in between the glare of passing automobiles, my mother would frequently remark on how much lighter the world was then than it had been when she was young. In her youth the country roads had been pitch-black at night, the darkness broken only by an occasional feeble glow from a farmhouse or by the light of a swaying lantern on a buggy.
My father was the eldest son of Isaac Wells and Jane Emmert Wells, of whom I shall say more later. The Wells line migrated from the southeastern United States—the Carolinas and Georgia—into Tennessee and Kentucky before the Civil War, settling a while in each of these areas. The family's original emigration from Europe is thought to have taken place in the eighteenth century. The trek to Indiana was in keeping with the tradition of westward migration: families moving, settling, again moving and settling until a permanent location was found—in their case, Indiana.
My mother's mother was an Endicott, a direct descendant of Governor John Endecott, who in 1628 emigrated to the United States, sailing on the Abigail from Weymouth, Dorset, England. He became the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company's plantation in New England and a member of the first Board of Overseers of Harvard.
Most of my ancestors had emigrated to the United States prior to the nineteenth century, according to our best information, and all had entered the state of Indiana by the middle of the last century. The last arrival was my great-grandfather Harting, my mother's grandfather, who emigrated as a lad of sixteen from a little farming village south of Bremen, Germany, called Klein Bokern, a typical peasant village consisting then, as now, of only a few houses with surrounding fields. I visited it just a year after the centennial of my great-grandfather's departure. He came as a bound boy in 1846, a time of political unrest in Germany and of heavy emigration to the United States. Prior to his departure he had bound himself to work for a farmer south of Richmond, Indiana, for five years in return for having his passage paid to America. All his worldly possessions he brought with him in a small box. When at the end of five years he had gained his freedom, he possessed a horse, a new suit of clothes, and twenty-five dollars. With these modest assets he married Willa Jane Small, of old New England stock, and came to Boone County, where in time he became a highly successful farmer.
Our family had its share of vivid and interesting personalities. One of the most intrepid and imaginative was my great-great-grandmother Fanny, about whom I learned a great deal from my father. Her maiden name was New, and she was reputed to have been a Mayflower descendant. Fanny lived throughout most of the last century. She was brought to Indiana by her parents as a baby in 1808. She married William Emmert in 1832 and the two moved to Boone County, where they purchased government land. From that date until her middle life they accumulated a substantial amount of land, and then her husband died, leaving her with six children. Deciding that the land in Boone County would not be enough for all the children, she gave that land to the older children and set out again in a covered wagon, this time for Iowa to homestead more land so that the boys whom she had taken with her would have some property with which to build their security and, perhaps, prosperity. In her later years she made the trip back to Boone County occasionally and remained for extended visits.
Fanny was the one who encouraged my father to study and protected him against interruptions and the taunts of the other, more carefree children; she procured books for him and kept them safe from loss in her room. Remarkably, although her travel up until the time she settled in Iowa had been by horseback, covered wagon, and riverboat, she lived long enough to retrace part of that trek, this time in a Pullman and dressed, not in calico, but in black silk.
My maternal grandfather Harting started his career as a schoolteacher. Then, upon inheriting a sizable farm from his father, he became a rather progressive farmer, interested in innovations, new kinds of crops, and experimental methods of operating. He was an avid student of agriculture and read agricultural publications and magazines, newspapers, and literature of a general nature. Unfortunately, he developed hypertension early, retired, and died not long afterward.
My grandmother Harting, Ida Belle Endicott Harting, was the mother of nine children, the first of whom died young. The other eight lived to adulthood, and my mother, Anna Bernice, was the oldest of the surviving children, all bearing middle names beginning with B. This tradition, though somewhat diminished by my parents' inability to agree on a name, resulted in the B that is the whole of my middle name. Grandmother was the matriarch of the clan, vigorous, industrious, and strong, and our family gatherings in my early years were always at her farm. There I enjoyed the lively companionship of my Jamestown cousins, Helen and Esther Heady, and of my mother's youngest brother and sister, Earl and Aletha. Grandmother Harting lived into her mid-eighties. It was she who insisted upon our attendance at family reunions and traditional festivals, especially Christmas.
When I was a child Christmas was celebrated at Grandfather and Grandmother Harting's farm with all their sons and daughters and their families. Somehow or other everyone was accommodated in a not overlarge farmhouse, filling it from kitchen to attic. Many of the children had to sleep on the floor. In the living room there was always a tall Christmas tree standing beside the massive fireplace full of huge, brightly burning logs. The tree was decked out with homemade decorations and popcorn strung into garlands. Gifts were inexpensive, simple, and often handmade, but the Christmas dinner was altogether lavish. Even for the "second table," which accommodated the smaller children after the "first table" had finished, it was a feast. Grandmother so strongly implanted this Christmas-gathering tradition into our lives that it continues to this day, and only once, when I was unavoidably abroad, did I miss the family get-together at Christmastime. Even then I shared a bit of it through a long-distance call to my parents on Christmas day.
Because she died while I was still young, I have little memory of my grandmother Jane Emmert Wells except to be conscious of the fact that she was a dutiful and hardworking wife who baked biscuits every morning of the year and made light bread regularly in order that my grandfather never need suffer the indignity of eating "store-bought" bread, which he called "punk."
My grandfather Isaac Wells was a bit of a character—a vigorous farmer but fun-loving and a great storyteller. He retired early from farming allegedly to have more time for fishing and even in his late years he went fishing nearly every day year-round. I do not recall seeing any evidence of large catches, but the stories about the fish he caught were prodigious. An upstanding, forthright individualist, he liked to take a swig of alcohol from time to time and to smoke big, black cigars. As his years stretched into the mid-eighties, he took mischievous pleasure in planning a last word to spite the pronouncements of some meddlesome, small-town ladies belonging to such organizations as the Women's Christian Temperance Union: "When I die," he would say, "I hope that the Jamestown Press will say that Ike Wells died early from the lifelong use of alcohol and tobacco."
I enjoyed traveling with Grandfather Wells, and on two occasions I had what was to me the rare privilege of driving with him to Barbourville, Kentucky, in the Cumberland Mountain region to visit his distant relatives—those who had remained there when others in his branch of the family migrated to Indiana. They lived in an area so isolated that they still spoke with the English accent of their forebears, and a few Elizabethan phrases colored their speech. Each time they welcomed Grandfather and me royally within the limits of the resources available on their mountain farm.
Our headquarters on the first trip was the Faulkner Hotel, a family establishment with austere bedrooms but bountiful board. The guests were all fed around a long table laden with huge platters of ham, beef, chicken, and vegetables galore. Since my secondhand Packard Phaeton—silver with maroon fenders—was too low-slung for the mountain roads, we had to be driven to the Owens' home. Aunt Polly, an angelic-looking, white-haired mountaineer, was sitting on the front porch of her unpainted farm house in a colorful apron and gingham sunbonnet. After only a moment's hesitation, having not seen Grandfather for forty years, she said, "Ike, is that you?"
In some magic way word of our visit spread, and friends and relatives began gathering from all around to join in welcoming us. The younger women set about preparing a huge dinner, huge by their standards, and as a mark of special attention they used some of their precious white flour to bake a small cake. Normally they used only cornmeal for baking. Dinner consisted of home-cured pork, beef, chicken, and a variety of garden vegetables. Grandfather and Aunt Polly visited the whole day until it was time for us to bid a reluctant goodbye, warmed by having shared this simple way of life for a day, yet relieved that we were spared its hardships.
As I look back, it seems to me that I was born in the best of all times and under the best of all possible circumstances. With no shadow of a major war, past or on the horizon, and with opportunities all around, the new century began in an atmosphere of calm, stability, and confidence. I was also extremely fortunate to have been born in a little country town that afforded me as a youngster growing up a wonderful chance to explore nature and to know people. My best fortune of all was to have had for parents an ambitious young couple who were wise, encouraging, and loving.
My father was a studious young man and, as there was no high school in his community, he continued his schooling after the eighth grade at Central Normal College, located in Danville, about nineteen miles away from his farm home. The college program was comparable to present-day high school training but in addition prepared him to teach the first eight grades. He was taken there by his father in a horse and buggy, so he once related to me and went on to tell how, homesick for a weekend at home, he walked the whole distance back to the farm. Central Normal College was a noted school of that era and many of its alumni had become quite successful, particularly in the teaching profession. It continued in existence until some twenty years ago.
My father attended school there for a few terms, then transferred to the State Normal College at Terre Haute. Although he spoke of his teachers at Central Normal now and then, it was the teachers at State Normal who made the greater impression on him. Some of them were master teachers, and he continued to pay tribute to their influence on him throughout his life, quoting them frequently.
He was very fond of English and American literature, particularly the Victorian and New England poets, and he read widely and deeply. Mathematics, history, and psychology were also favorite subjects. The psychology of learning, new in this part of the world at the time, seemed to fascinate him, and I well recall his discussions with me about it in his later life. He was also very interested in geography and knew a great deal about various parts of the world, including exotic areas, gleaned in part from avidly read issues of the National Geographic or a kindred magazine. Perhaps the filtering down of this interest was the source of my wanderlust.
Excerpted from Being Lucky by Herman B Wells. Copyright © 1980 Herman B Wells. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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