Saturday, June 12, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 13

Cecil Peeples Named President of Lon Morris College June 14, 1935

On June 14, 1935 the Board of Trustees of Lon Morris College, meeting at the Palace Café in Jacksonville, Texas, offered the presidency of the struggling institution to a thirty-two year old preacher from Livingston. Cecil Peeples accepted the offer. He was to remain president until 1972 and remain active as a fund raiser for years after that.

Peeples had been in eastern Texas only four years. He and Mrs. Peeples were teaching school at Texline when he received a call to preach at Garrison. He accepted the call, and served at Garrison, then Weirgate, and then Livingston, all in the Texas Annual Conference.

Meanwhile Lon Morris was feeling the effects of the Great Depression. Many young people could not afford to continue their education past high school. Many donors to church institutions could no longer afford to help out. Lon Morris, like most other private colleges of the era, had debts that seemed overwhelming at the time. Some colleges failed, and closing Lon Morris became a topic of discussion.

Peeples accepted the offer of the presidency and threw himself into the new task. He knew he had to deal with the debt. He wrote personal letters to the creditors and enclosed a portion of the amount owed with a promise that he would pay off the entire debt. Such an approach brought good will to the college.

He wore many hats. He was the development officer (fund raiser). He recruited students. He counseled students with personal, academic, and vocational advice. He taught classes. He crisscrossed the Texas Conference building support for the college.

His typical approach was to load up his car with a student musical group and drive them to some church in the Texas Conference. The students would sing, he would preach, and then he would solicit donations from the congregation and recruit prospective students. Hundreds of East Texans owe their college education to the encouragement Cecil Peeples gave them in such settings. Naturally many prospective students were held back by finances. Much of the encouragement was along the lines of “You come, and we’ll find a way to pay for it.” Many of these trips were held at Sunday night services. That often meant a long drive back to Jacksonville, getting to bed late, and then hitting the ground running on Monday morning with his characteristic energy.

Slowly but surely Peeples chipped away at the debt. He solicited donations from philanthropists. He and his family took meals in the dining hall as part of his salary. The College operated a dairy and grew vegetables. That saved money, provided work for needy students, and furnished the dining hall with fresh produce and milk.

When Peeples retired in 1972, he was named President Emeritus and Chairman of the Permanent Endowment Fund Committee. His total service to Lon Morris thus amounted to more than fifty years. It all began on June 14, 1935.


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