Saturday, August 18, 2007

Family History

Students from Northwestern used to chant, “This is the place of the destitute, Garrett Biblical Institute!” Could our student loans prove otherwise? More recently and more kindly, the students of our sister institution would distinguish Garrett-Evangelical from Seabury as “Jesus Tech East” and “Jesus Tech West,” respectively. That Garrett and Northwestern are sister institutions to one another should be remembered. Like real family members their presence is sometimes forgotten, they blend into each others’ normalcy of life. Each takes the other for granted.

Though the Northwestern charter was established earlier, Garrett started classes a few months before. For a brief time the charter members even considered the name, Northwestern Biblical Institute – clearly they made for the better decision. For years the two schools shared students, faculty, and trustees, and many recognized Garrett as meeting the needs of Northwestern’s theological department, though this may not be the case today.

As all family members, each is in debt to the other. And, so, over the years each institution has helped the other. During the great depression Northwestern saved Garrett from financial insolvency. In 1933 Garrett foreclosed on its properties, and during that time Northwestern, unbeknownst to the trustees or president, secured the properties and resold them back to Garrett far below their value. After the ordeal an article in the Garrett Tower stated, “No words can ever quite acknowledge the debt which Garrett owes to Northwestern University for the part it played in this reorganization. In the darkest day of all, that institution threw its vast resources back of its sister school and prevented the educational home from falling into unfriendly hands…. Without that friend Garrett would probably be a homeless institution.” Certainly, there is more than geographic proximity that binds these two institutions, there is a shared story.

In the 20’s, either sadly, or appropriately, Northwestern changed its mascot from the Fighting Methodists to the Wildcats. Of course, it may be argued that a more rich rivalry between Notre Dame and Northwestern could have been preserved without such a change. And yet, do names matter? Sisters often take their husbands’ names, but the familial relationship isn’t lost. Garrett, too, has changed its name over the years, and still its essence is preserved.

There is no political message hidden in this article, no impetus for action, only a gentle reminder that human memory is brief and institutional memory even more so. As there is always a value in reveling in the nostalgia of the family history, so too is it for the shared story of these two great institutions. Perhaps students from both schools would gain from recognizing the contributions of each to the other.

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