When the idea of founding a college to provide the future trained personnel for the expanding Work was first conceived, I thought immediately of my brother-in-law Walter E. Dillon. My wife’s brother had been a lifelong educator. Those who have read the Autobiography from the beginning will remember the episode of the oratorical contests at Simpson College, in Iowa, back in 1922–1924. I had worked with him in oratory when he was a college freshman. He won the state contest. Walter and I had been closer together, from that time, than with our own brothers.
He held a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon, and had done additional work toward a Ph.D., or an Ed.D. He had started teaching school upon graduating from college, later becoming a principal, and finally principal of the largest public school in Oregon outside the city of Portland. Thus he had had considerable executive and administrative school experience, in addition to being a natural-born and experienced teacher. He was thoroughly familiar with college and university life, methods and procedures. He had the technical experience for academic organization I lacked.
Choosing a President
Immediately when the conception of the college entered my mind, I had contacted my brother-in-law, asking if he would join me in the venture, as president of the college.
“I hardly think I could do that,” was his first response. “I don’t know much about the Bible. Administering a religious college, I’m afraid, is altogether out of my line.”
“But this is not to be a Bible school, or religious college,” I quickly explained. “It is to be a straight liberal arts college, although it will offer a course—as one of the majors—in Bible and theology. You won’t need to have theological experience. Do you think I would be able to teach that course?”
“I think you have more Bible knowledge and understanding than anybody on Earth,” he smiled. “You know, I think we’d make a good team in getting this college started. With your business experience and ability, your religious knowledge and experience, and my academic experience—well, I’ll think about it.”
He did think about it. Often we talked about it. Of course it was a weighty decision for him to make—he had been established since his own college days in Oregon. Finally he decided he would come to Pasadena to help me get the new college started.
Before presenting the lease-option contract as an offer to Dr. B., Mr. Dillon had come to Pasadena to inspect the property and help me decide whether this was the right location. He had been immediately enthusiastic over it.
So now that we had the first segment of the future campus under contract, preparations began in earnest for organizing the thousand and one things required before it could swing open its doors as a going educational institution.
Special Magazine Edition
The very first thing to be done was to produce a special edition of the Plain Truth. The problem of recruiting students had been brought up by Mr. Dillon. That is a major problem of colleges and universities.
“The Plain Truth and the broadcast will provide us with students,” I had explained.
The first thing to do was to let people know about it. The Plain Truth was still an eight-page bimonthly. The next issue was to be the January-February 1947 number. With it we went up to 16 pages. I made this a very special, more attractive edition. For the first time, it had a front cover, instead of starting the lead article on the cover. It showed a picture of the entrance to the new college-to-be. The center spread—pages 8 and 9—had a large four-column picture showing a portion of the new campus. The article announcing the new college began on that page, with a four-column headline: “And Now … our own new college!”
The article explained that “an amazing new setup has come into our hands that is unique and, we believe, without parallel! Prospective students learning of the unusual program are thrilled!”
Policies were announced. The article said: “Ambassador offers superior advantages in location, beauty of campus, nature of courses of study, high academic standards … advantages in our special recreational and social program, cultural advantages, physical education, as well as in religious instruction.
“Ambassador is to be a general liberal arts institution—not a Bible school, ministers’ college or theological seminary. It will fit students for all walks of life, offering a general and practical basic education. … There is no other college like Ambassador. It is, in a sense, a revolutionary new type of college … a forward-looking, progressive institution built on soundest principles, having highest goals and objectives, yet employing the best of proven methods of administration and maintaining highest academic standards.”
The reader will be interested in a little further explanation of the college, which appeared in that article.
“But why should we establish and conduct a college in connection with this, God’s Work?” the article continued. “The reasons are concrete and vital …. The Work has grown to a scope where called, consecrated, properly educated and specially trained assistants, ministers and evangelists to follow up this Work in the field have become an imperative need. The time has come when we must lay definite plans for carrying the gospel of the Kingdom of God into all nations, in many languages! Never, until now, could we foresee just how this was to be done. But the time has come; God has given the answer and moved miraculously to open the way before us. The only answer was a college of our own!”
But why, then, was this not to be a Bible school or theological seminary?
The article, continuing, explained that: “Yet the active ministry is different from every other profession in one very important respect. No man ever should enter it of his own volition …. A true minister of Jesus Christ must be specially called of God. And how may we know whether one is really called? Experience has shown human nature to be such that most who think that they are called are mistaken, and those who really are called invariably try to run from the calling! Jesus gave us the only test. ‘By their fruits,’ He said, ‘ye shall know.’ But the fruits are worked out by experience, and that requires time. For that very reason, our college cannot be a ministerial college—though it is being designed so that, should we be fortunate enough to find one out of 20 really and truly called to the ministry, that one will have been prepared and properly trained …. These considerations led naturally to the policy of making Ambassador a general liberal arts institution for all young men and women, regardless of future vocation, occupation or profession.”
The article continued to show what is wrong with this world’s education today—what has happened to it—how it has drifted into materialism. It showed that the revelation of God—in the Bible—is the very foundation of all true knowledge—the right approach to knowledge—the concept through which to view and explain what is seen, measured and observed. But in this world’s education, the false theory of evolution has been substituted as that basic concept and foundation.
The article concluded with detailed, but brief, facts about the new college—its location, courses offered, tuition.
Planning a College in Europe
It may come as a surprise to many readers, but the conception of a second college abroad actually was generated in late December 1946 or early January 1947.
I had gone back to Pasadena at the end of December 1946. On New Year’s Eve, I spent the night as Dr. B.’s guest, in the building still occupied by him and his sister, which was to become Ambassador College. In those days, Dr. B. was very friendly. About 4:30 a.m., New Year’s Day, I was awakened by crowds trudging up the hill in front of the building, carrying blankets, camp chairs and stools.
The world-famous Tournament of Roses Parade starts each year just one block south, on Orange Grove Boulevard. This first of our college buildings is only a half block east of Orange Grove Boulevard.
This was my first opportunity to see the fabulous Rose Parade. I found the excitement of the throngs lining up along the parade course, beginning on South Orange Grove, and then making a right turn into Colorado Street—the main business street of Pasadena—was even more exciting than the parade—if that were possible. In order to secure an advantageous position along the curb and parkway, vast throngs begin to assemble long before daylight.
It was during this visit that the idea of the second college in Europe came about. It was during a conversation with Dr. B. I was quite concerned about our future foreign language courses. I knew we had to have people trained in many languages to get the gospel to all nations. I felt the average foreign language course, as taught in most colleges, was inadequate. I wanted our young people to be taught to speak these languages as the natives of those countries do—without a foreign accent. This was almost impossible as taught in an American classroom. I felt students needed to actually live in these foreign countries, learning the languages there.
I knew, of course, that Switzerland is peculiar in that it has no one native language of its own. In northern Switzerland, the official language is German. In central and western Switzerland, French is the official language; and in southeastern Switzerland, it is Italian. Yet I knew most Swiss people speak all three, and a very large portion speak English besides.
In Switzerland, children are taught the official language of their district from birth. Then at age 6 most children start to learn a second language, and at age 10 or 12, a third—and often one or two more later.
As we were discussing this situation, Dr. B. mentioned that he had a very close personal friend, a Madame Helene Bieber, of German birth, the widow of a very wealthy Frenchman, who owned the newest, finest, most modern villa in southeastern Switzerland, at Lugano. Mme. Bieber, he said, had lost all her money during the war. It had been in Paris banks and had been confiscated when the Germans occupied Paris. She had some money in New York banks, but wartime regulations, not yet released, apparently tied it up and prevented transmission of it to Switzerland. She was left with this ultramodern and super elegant five-story villa, facing beautiful Lake Lugano, yet without funds even to employ a single servant.
“She still has all her fine clothes, dozens of mink wraps and coats, and her villa, but no money,” Dr. B. explained. “Since you would not want to start your college over there for about three or four years, I believe you could effect a purchase—if you can stretch to it—on a basis similar to the one between you and me on this property here. You could begin making payments now, which would provide her with an income to live on. She could continue living in her villa for the next three or four years, with an income—sort of eating her cake and having it, too, these first few years. Then, when you take possession and start your school, you will have a very sizable payment made on the purchase. By that time she will have her money from the New York banks and will continue to receive regular sizable monthly payments from you for a few more years.
“I think she might be willing to make such a deal—and it would make it possible for you to acquire your second college without capital—just monthly payments, beginning now.”
I was intrigued. I did not realize that the “good doctor” actually had designs on marrying the rich widow—surmising that she probably would also get her money from the Paris banks someday—and that he probably had no more thought of allowing us to actually ever gain possession of the Lake Lugano villa than he did of allowing us to actually gain possession of this property in Pasadena!
I thought over the idea for some time. Finally, about February 10, 1947—or a day or two later—I talked further to Dr. B. on the telephone from Pasadena about the Switzerland idea further. He suggested we go over and see it. He offered to go along. We decided to go immediately. There was a sailing of the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth from New York on February 19. Dr. B. said he would meet me aboard ship.
There was no time to obtain passport or steamer reservations before leaving the West Coast. Dr. B. already had his passport. Under regular routine it required 30 days to obtain one by mail from Oregon. But I knew the press officer of the State Department, and felt confident he would be able to get my passport issued immediately at Washington.
Mrs. Armstrong and I had discussed the matter of her accompanying me. But there not only was the added expense, she had such fear of the water, she felt afraid to sail.
As a young girl her grandmother, born in England, had told her of a terrible shipwreck on her voyage to America. The grandmother was 12 years of age, when her widowed mother, with her 11 children, sailed to America. Some distance off the banks of Newfoundland, the sailing vessel was torn apart by a hurricane. Six of the children, lashed to a mast, were picked up by another vessel—but the mother and five children were drowned. Hearing the vivid, stark details of this tragedy while a very young girl had put fear of the ocean into my wife’s mind. So she had decided not to sail with me to Europe.
Accordingly, on February 12, after my telephone conversation with Dr. B., I procured round-trip tickets and Pullman reservations to New York for myself alone.
I had decided to make the trip to New York this time via Portland, Seattle and on the crack train of the Great Northern Railway—the Empire Builder—to Chicago, thence on the B & O line to Washington, D.C., then to New York. The cost and time was the same as going straight east from Portland on the Union Pacific.