Emory & Henry dedicated a memorial Saturday that reminds its students and its alumni of the part they play in the institution's exalted past and exceptional destiny (Photo Photo Album | Watch Video).
Approximately 200 people gathered near the newly constructed Emory & Henry Alumni Plaza to honor the College's alumni through the extraordinary examples of four graduates who made historic contributions to their country.
"My hope is that every alumnus who comes here will draw from the Plaza an increased measure of devotion to Emory & Henry and a deeper sense of pride in the traditions of 'Increase in Excellence' represented by these four graduates," said Tom McGlothlin, a member of the E&H Class of 1968 whose generosity made possible the construction of the Plaza.
"I wanted the Alumni Plaza to enhance the beauty of the College; to serve as an inspiring magnet for prospective students, as a dignified monument to show young people who might come here what the College could make possible in their lives," McGlothlin said. "I dreamed of an Alumni Plaza as an open forum, a favored gathering space in the center of campus."
Located on the walls of the Plaza are the images and biographies of four distinguished individuals. They include Dr. Robert Humphreys, who developed the method for distilling gasoline from oil; Bishop Walter Lambuth, a world leader in ecumenical causes; Frank Rowlett, who helped crack the enemy code during World War II, and Harley Staggers, an influential congressman whose landmark legislation made it possible for railroads to survive.
Tom Rowlett, the son of Frank Rowlett, and Harley Staggers Jr., the son of the late Congressman, were on hand for the dedication and to express their gratitude for the honors given to their fathers. "My father spoke all the time about this College, which had done so much for him," Staggers said. "And still it honors him."
The Plaza sits midway between Wiley Hall and Memorial Chapel, structures that symbolize the College’s namesakes Bishop John Emory and Gov. Patrick Henry. The Plaza thus symbolizes the ampersand that links the two great sacred and secular traditions of Emory & Henry.
Emory & Henry alumni are the living legacies of "a great and immortal institution, the products of an ancient and remarkable academy," said Dr. Charles Sydnor, a member of the E&H Class of 1965 and the 18th president of the College. "Until today, there was no dedicated ground and no physical structure where the College might symbolically honor and celebrate its alumni, and no one place where alumni might return to reflect upon the legacy we all share from Emory & Henry. Now the College and all of us have both."
Sydnor praised McGlothlin for his vision in creating the Alumni Plaza. McGlothlin ranks "among the most devoted sons and greatest benefactors in the history of Emory & Henry," Sydnor said. "The Alumni Plaza is his most recent major gift to the College – a unique gift – a benefaction that brings with it the special summons for us to create for the College a future truly worthy of her past."
Biographies of the Honored Alumni
DR. ROBERT E. HUMPHREYS (1868-1962) EMORY & HENRY COLLEGE, CLASS OF 1889
Born in West Virginia and raised on the campus of Emory & Henry College, Robert E. Humphreys' father was a carpenter who worked on building the Sam Small Gymnasium, Byars House, and the William Morrow Science Hall. Humphreys graduated from Emory & Henry with a major in chemistry and taught for several years before enrolling at Johns Hopkins University, where he received his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1900.
From Johns Hopkins, Dr. Humphreys joined the Standard Oil Company in Whiting, Indiana as a research chemist in what was then the newest oil refinery in the United States. By 1910, he was the Chief Chemist for Standard Oil, engaged in research to increase the yield of gasoline extracted from crude oil. In 1912, by a process of distillation, Dr. Humphreys perfected and patented the thermal method of cracking the molecules of crude oil to yield much larger, more cost effective quantities of gasoline.
By inventing the method to produce vast supplies of inexpensive gasoline, Dr. Humphreys’ helped pave the way for the mass production and sale of automobiles affordable to the public. His revolutionary discovery made possible the automotive age that distinguished 20th century America, and his success prompted companies throughout the petroleum industry to create corporate laboratories and invest heavily in research.
Dr. Humphreys' laboratory from the oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana is preserved as a permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
WALTER RUSSELL LAMBUTH (1854-1921) EMORY & HENRY COLLEGE, CLASS OF 1875
Born in Shanghai, China as the eldest son of pioneering Methodist missionaries in Asia, Walter Russell Lambuth was raised by relatives in Tennessee and Mississippi. Lambuth graduated from Emory & Henry in 1875, and earned advanced degrees in both medicine and theology from Vanderbilt University in 1877. Ordained an elder in the Tennessee Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, he returned to China with his wife Daisy Kelly as a medical missionary.
From 1877 until 1885, with only a brief period for further study in America, Lambuth worked as the most notable western medical figure in China, founding an opium treatment center in Shanghai, opening the Soochow Hospital, and establishing what became the Rockefeller Hospital in Beijing. In 1887, he and his parents founded the Methodist Episcopal Church, South mission in Japan, and Lambuth turned from practicing medicine to educational and evangelistic work.
From 1892 to 1910, Lambuth served as Secretary of the Board of Missions and became a world leader in ecumenical causes, leading the church to establish missions in Cuba and Korea. In 1910, Lambuth was elected Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South for Brazil and Africa. He opened Methodist missions in Latin America, the Belgian Congo and central and west Africa and carried the work of the Church into Siberia, Manchuria and Korea.
Bishop Lambuth, the greatest medical missionary in 19th century Methodism, was commemorated by the naming of Lambuth University in Jackson, Tennessee in his honor.
FRANK BYRON ROWLETT (1908-1998) EMORY & HENRY COLLEGE, CLASS OF 1929
Born at Rose Hill in Lee County, Virginia, Frank Rowlett graduated from Emory & Henry College in June 1929 with majors in mathematics and chemistry and the Byars Medal in Science. In April 1930, he became the first junior cryptanalyst in the U.S. Army Signal Intelligence Service in the War Department in Washington, D.C. Eventually, he led a War Department group in writing ciphers for the U.S. Army, and breaking foreign code systems—notably Japanese codes.
Rowlett's group solved the first Japanese system for encrypting diplomatic communications, which they called Red. In 1940, in a step ultimately critical to American and Allied victory in World War II, Rowlett's group solved the more complex and sophisticated Japanese code they named Purple. Unaware their code had been broken the Japanese used Purple throughout the War, enabling American and Allied leaders to know to know important Japanese and German secrets by reading all messages passed between Tokyo and Berlin.
Working with the U.S. Navy, Rowlett designed communications codes that German, Japanese, and Italian code breakers never solved. Rowlett's work saved the lives of thousands of American and Allied soldiers. Honored by President Johnson and by the U.S. Congress, Rowlett retired from federal service in 1966 as a founding father of the National Security Agency, which created a distinguished achievement award in his honor and named the Agency's academic center for training cryptanalysts Frank B. Rowlett Hall.
HARLEY ORIN STAGGERS (1907-1991) EMORY & HENRY COLLEGE, CLASS OF 1931
Born at Keyser in Mineral County, West Virginia, Harley Staggers became the patriarch of one of the most prominent political families in the Mountain State. Staggers graduated from Emory & Henry in 1931, pursued graduate studies at Duke University, and then taught and coached football in Virginia and West Virginia.
He served as Sheriff of Mineral County, West Virginia, and in 1942 became State Director of the Office of War Information Services. Following outstanding service from 1942-1946 in the U.S. Naval Air Corps, Harley Staggers was elected to represent West Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 1948.
He was subsequently re-elected to the U.S. House fifteen times, retiring in 1981. During a distinguished career that spanned three decades of American history, Staggers served as Chairman of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. On October 14, 1980 President Carter signed into law The Staggers Rail Act to de-regulate the American railroads and replace the outdated structure that had governed pricing and rail shipping in America since passage of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. This landmark legislation made it possible for American railroads to survive as private industries, and laid the foundation for the systems of domestic and international trade and shipping critical to the nation's economy.
The crowning achievement of his congressional career, the Staggers Rail Act honors Harley Orin Staggers as one of the great visionaries in 20th century American transportation.