The Queen Elizabeth docked in New York on March 21, 1947. It was good to be back on solid ground.
We returned to Eugene, Oregon, March 25. Immediately I plunged into preparations for establishing the new Ambassador College in Pasadena. All thought of the European branch of the college was of necessity shelved for the time being. The financial situation dictated that.
Appointing a President
I have recounted, earlier how I had first approached my wife’s brother, Walter E. Dillon, as prospective president of the college when the conviction to found the college was first conceived.
At first mention, he had only laughed.
“Me become president of a Bible college?” he had exclaimed. “Why, I know almost nothing about the Bible. That would be out of my field.”
But I had hastened to explain that Ambassador was not to be a “Bible college,” but a straight coeducational liberal arts institution.
“Do you think I could teach the theological classes?” I had asked.
“Why, I think you know more about the Bible than anyone living,” he replied.
When I explained that there would be a course in theology, along with other usual liberal arts courses, and that I would personally teach the Bible classes, the whole idea began to make sense to Walter.
“You see,” I explained, “you are an educator—I am not. You’ve devoted your life to education. You are head of the largest school in Oregon, outside Portland. You have a master’s degree from the University of Oregon, with work toward a Ph.D. You are familiar with academic requirements, organization and procedures. You are an experienced academic administrator. You have proved your ability to direct teachers. In these things I am not experienced. I will organize and teach the Bible courses, but I need you to help me plan and organize the college as a whole, and supervise the academic administration. You’ve had the academic experience. I’ve had the business experience. Don’t you think we’d make a good team?”
“I certainly do,” he replied, after hearing my explanation.
We talked over all the details, and policy plans generally. I explained that I was bent on founding a new kind of college, consistent with tried and sound organizational and administrative practice. Ambassador, I said with emphasis, was not to be a rubber stamp. I was well aware that colleges had fallen into a dangerous drift of materialism. He agreed. I also realized that mass-production, assembly-line education in universities of 5,000 to 40,000 students resulted in loss of personality development and much that is vital in student training. To this he also agreed.
The Foundational Philosophy
I explained how the Bible is, actually, the divine Maker’s instruction book He has sent along with His product—the human individual. It reveals the purpose of life—the purpose for which the human mind and body was designed and brought into being—the directions for operating this human mechanism so that it will perform as it was designed to do, and fulfill its intended purpose, reaching its intended goal.
In other words, that the Bible is the very foundation of all knowledge—the basic concept as an approach to the acquisition of all knowledge—whether academic, scientific, historic, philosophical or otherwise. The Bible provides the missing dimension in education. Therefore, it must be the basis for all academic courses.
The Bible does not contain all knowledge—it is the foundation of all knowledge. It is the starting point in man’s quest for knowledge, and equips man to build on that foundation.
The Bible, alone of all books or sources of knowledge, reveals basic purposes. It alone reveals the inexorable, yet invisible laws that regulate cause and effect, action and reaction—that govern all relationships—that produce happiness, peace, well-being, prosperity. The Bible is a guidebook of vital principles, to be applied to circumstances, conditions and problems.
God has equipped man with eyes with which to see; ears with which to hear; hands with which to work; minds with which to reason, think, plan, design, make decisions; and will to act on those decisions. Man has capacity to explore, investigate, observe, measure. God enabled man to invent telescopes, microscopes, test tubes and laboratories. Man, of himself, is enabled to acquire much knowledge. But without the basic knowledge—that foundation of all knowledge, revealed only in the Bible—man goes off on erroneous tangents in his effort to explain what he discovers.
Only in the Bible can he learn the real purpose being worked out here below. Only through this revelation from God can he know the real meaning of life—what, exactly, man is—or the way to such desired blessings as peace, happiness, abundant living—the spiritual values.
The biblical revelation provides man with the true concept through which to view and explain what he can observe.
How Ambassador Was to Be Different
But the educational institutions of this world have rejected this foundation of knowledge. They have built an educational structure on a false foundation. They left God, and His revelation, out of their knowledge. They have built a complicated and false system composed of a perverted mixture of truth and error.
Ambassador College was to correct these ills and perversions in modern education. That was to be its basic policy.
The board of trustees of the Radio Church of God, of which I was chairman, would set all policies until the college could be incorporated in its own name with its own board of trustees. Until that time, it would be operated as an activity of the Radio Church of God. Mr. Dillon would administer these policies.
To this he agreed. But I was to learn later that, not possessing a real grasp or understanding of the Bible, he apparently never did really comprehend what I meant by this basic concept of education.
Mr. Dillon was the product of this world’s education. He was imbued with its concepts. He never did quite grasp the real meaning of my continuous emphasis that Ambassador College was definitely not to be a “rubber-stamp college.” I assumed he was in complete harmony with our basic purpose. I feel sure he thought he was.
Had I, too, been indoctrinated with the prevailing educational concepts, there would be no Ambassador Colleges today—but God saw to it that I came up through different channels.
Starting Active Preparations
The special January 1947 number of the Plain Truth, announcing the future college in Pasadena, brought applications from both prospective faculty members and students.
One application came from Dr. Hawley Otis Taylor. He was chairman emeritus of the department of physics at Wheaton College. Dr. Taylor had a Ph.D. from Cornell University; had taught at Cornell, Harvard and mit; had been a consultant of the Navy in the war; had been a member of the U.S. Bureau of Standards. His scientific publications were voluminous. And he was a professed Christian.
This all seemed too good to be true!
Dr. Taylor had reached Wheaton’s retirement age—70. He had once lived in Pasadena and wanted to spend his retirement years here. He felt he had several active years of service left, and Ambassador College offered the opportunity to add his salary here to his retirement pay from Wheaton. After due correspondence, and, I believe, a personal interview in Pasadena, we appointed Dr. Taylor dean of instruction and registrar of the new college.
Other applications arrived. Mr. Dillon and I were anxious to get on the job in Pasadena immediately. The very next morning, early, after our return from Europe, he and I started the long drive from Eugene to Pasadena.
We stopped off at a small town in southern Oregon to interview a woman, a Dr. Enid Smith, teaching English in a high school. She had Ph.D.’s from two universities. One was from Columbia University—the other from the University of Oregon. We had received an application from her. We hired her as our first instructor in English.
We Buy a New Home
We arrived in Pasadena Thursday night, March 27. Things now were moving into high gear. Friday morning I contacted Mrs. C. J. McCormick, the real estate broker through whom the purchase of the college property had been made. I had been looking at a number of places, before the trip abroad, for a home. She had said she would try to have a few places lined up for me to inspect on my return from Europe.
She said she had three places for me to see, which she felt might fit the requirements. Chief requirement was the fact that I lacked even enough money for a down payment. We were going to have to manage to purchase a place, as we had the college, with no down payment.
Mr. Dillon went with me. The first place she showed us was an ill-arranged, two-story Spanish home.
I didn’t like the second place. The third place was three miles from the college, in the California Institute of Technology district. At first glance from the street, I said, “That place exactly reflects the character of Mrs. Armstrong. She’d like it.”
But on the entrance sidewalk, I stopped.
“Look, Mrs. McCormick,” I said. “It’s no use looking at this place. It’s the most homelike-looking place I’ve seen—but we could never afford a place like this. What we’re looking for is a small, modest-type house—something inexpensive. This place is sufficiently modest in appearance, but it’s too big.”
“Mr. Armstrong,” she promptly replied, “this is the only kind of place you can afford. That’s why all three of these places I had chosen to show you are larger places. You can’t afford to buy a small place. If it is a new tract place, the company selling it will demand a down payment which you don’t have. If it’s an older place lived in by the owner, such people are selling because they need the money, and they would have to have a sizable down payment. These people are financially well-to-do. They don’t need the money. If they like you and Mrs. Armstrong, and you like the property, they can afford to let you have it without a down payment.
“These people love their home. The only reason they want to sell it is that Mrs. Williams is unable physically to walk up and down stairs any longer, and doctors have told her she must move to a place of one floor only. They have found a lovely one-story place in South Pasadena. They paid cash for it. I’ve already briefed them on your financial position, and how you are starting a cultural college, and that you are people of the character that would take the best of care of this property. That’s important to them. They do love this place, and want to be sure the family moving in will take the best care of it.”
We went on inside.
The home reflected character and charm. It seemed even more homelike inside than out. It was a 14-room house, 14 years old, but of quality construction and had been well maintained. It was a frame colonial house, two stories, and a half-basement of three rooms in clean, excellent condition.
We examined the construction from underneath, in the basement. It was substantial. Mr. Dillon had spent a summer selling real estate. He had learned how to appraise the quality and value of a house.
“This place,” he whispered to me, “is so desirable that if you don’t buy it, I will. Don’t ever let this place get away from you.”
Of course I wanted Mrs. Armstrong to see it. And the Williamses wanted to see her, before deciding whether to sell to us. After we left, I called my wife long distance. She had just an hour to catch the evening train for Los Angeles. The next evening she arrived—or, more probably, it was Sunday evening.
On Monday morning I took her out to see it. It was love at first sight with her. It had seemed to me that this home and my wife simply belonged together. It was just her type—her character. It had quality, charm, character. Yet it had simplicity. It was not a showplace, not ostentatious. Just quiet, modest, with charm, beauty and character. The Williamses, we learned later in the day, fell in love at first sight with Mrs. Armstrong. Immediately they felt she was the woman who would take good care of the place.
Mrs. McCormick contacted us in the early afternoon. “It’s like a miracle,” she said. “They want you to have it. They will sell to you at just half the price the property has been listed for, for over a year. They will sell it to you on quarterly payments, no down payment, no interest, and will give you possession and the deed, taking a trust deed (mortgage), in 90 days when the second payment is made.”
We couldn’t believe our ears! I did some quick figuring. We had been living in motels, forced to eat at restaurants. The money we were spending at restaurants for ourselves and two sons was almost exactly the amount of the payments. Mrs. Armstrong is a very economical cook, when we could have a home where she could do the cooking. With her management over grocery buying, I figured the food would cost no more than we were spending for motel rent.
In other words, it was going to cost us absolutely nothing to step into this beautiful home and start owning it! It would involve no increase in our cost of living!
I went immediately to the office of Judge Russell Morton, our attorney, asking him to draw up the agreement. When I told him the terms, he looked at me with a strange look.
“I never heard of such a deal,” he said. “Why, I ought to refuse to write up the agreement! That’s the second important property that has come to you without even a down payment.
He did write up the agreement, and the next day, Tuesday, April 1, 1947, the Williamses, Mrs. Armstrong and I signed, and I gave them a check for the first quarterly payment. We were to have possession and the deed July 1, the same day we were to take possession of the college property.
First College Office
Mr. Dillon was anxious to get into an office, and get started with the preliminary work of organizing the new college.
There were the two buildings on this original property we had purchased for the college. One was the present library, which we then called “the college,” for the simple reason that it housed all classrooms, library, music department, assembly—everything, except business office. And besides this was the former garage. It was a four-car garage with apartments occupying the second floor and each end of the ground floor, and filled with tenants. We managed a deal, at a premium cost, by which the people in the apartment at the rear upstairs and the rear downstairs vacated. The center of the downstairs, garage space for four cars, already was vacant. The building originally had been stables—way back in b.c. years—before cars!
In the rear ground-floor room, later to become our printing shop until 1958, we opened the first Ambassador College office. We purchased desks and office equipment and supplies. Mr. Dillon employed a secretary—a Miss Ruth Klicker. He began work of planning a curriculum.
One day he said a man had walked in, while I was out, and applied for the job of professor of French. He was Prof. Emile Mauler-Hiennecey, French-born and educated, with degrees from a university in Paris. He had moved to New Orleans and done private French tutoring, and in recent years had lived in Pasadena, He had taught in high schools, and continued private tutoring. Mr. Dillon wanted me to interview the professor—even then a year or two past 70.
After my interview, we appointed him our first instructor in French.
We employed two other women teachers—Mrs. Genevieve F. Payne, with an M.A. from Colorado University, and graduate work in history at other universities, as instructor in history and Spanish; and Miss Lucille Hoover, with a B.M. from Chicago Musical College and considerable additional study in America and abroad, as head of our music department.
And then, about June 20, after Mr. Dillon had gone to New York to study at Columbia for the summer, Mrs. Lucy H. Martin came in for an interview. She was an experienced librarian—had served on the staff of the Library of Congress at the nation’s capital. I did not know until later that she had degrees in music equal to or higher than Miss Hoover. I employed her as librarian. It was then a part-time job. She was teaching in another private school in Pasadena.
We also appointed a Mr. Krauss, with an M.S. from the University of Southern California, who had been officer in charge of the Navy physical fitness program, as director of physical education.
All in all, we felt our new college faculty rated very well in degrees and previous experience.
I had wanted Mr. Dillon to earn a Ph.D. from Columbia University. He already had graduate credits from the University of Oregon. So he and his wife departed, about mid-June, for New York City for summer work toward his degree.
Dr. B. Balks
After signing the papers for purchase of our new home on April 1, 1947, I began to think about how we would furnish such a large house. Of course we had some furniture in storage in Eugene, Oregon. But most of it was old and worn, and there was not enough to furnish even a small part of our new home.
The main building we had purchased, as “the college building” from Dr. B., had always been used as a large residence. It was, however, more institutional than residential in appearance. Dr. B. and his elderly sister were living in it. The building was completely furnished. Most of the furniture and furnishings were somewhat old, but of the character usually found in larger mansions. He probably had bought it all secondhand at one of the auction markets. We were not going to be able to use this furniture in the college, when we turned the rooms into classrooms.
I approached Dr. B. about moving the furniture and furnishings to our new home on July 1. Immediately he refused. For tax reasons, he had itemized the purchase price, segregating the furnishings from the real property. By placing a higher value on the furnishings, he avoided a portion of the capital-gains tax on the real estate.
But the wily, scheming Dr. B. suggested that, for a separate cash payment, he would agree to removal of the furniture. I think his price was $2,000, to apply on the last two months’ rental on the 25-month lease. The reader will remember that we purchased this first college property on a lease-and-option basis. We were to pay $1,000 per month rent on a 25-month lease. At the end of 25 months, the $25,000 thus paid was to become the down payment on the purchase. The contract included an option to purchase at that time, with the $25,000 down payment thus accumulated, and $1,000 payments per month, plus interest.
So Judge Morton drew up a legal contract, by which, as a result of advancing this last two-months’ rental under the lease part of the contract, Dr. B. agreed we might move the furniture and furnishings to our new home address—but to no other location.
We became convinced before July 1, however, that Dr. B. had no intention of ever giving us possession of the property. Our contract called for nine months’ rental payments at $1,000 per month, before possession. After this $9,000 had been paid, we were to take possession.
It had been a real headache of a problem to raise that extra $2,000. It probably took some 30 days, but I think it was managed by mid-May. But as July 1 approached, Judge Morton, his associate attorney, Mr. Wannamaker, and I had become convinced that Dr. B. did not intend to give possession—that his intention was to keep the money we had paid—which now would be $11,000 by July 1, and to keep the property too! We went into a huddle at the law offices about strategy for peacefully taking possession.
Dr. B. had always made me a welcome guest, personally. Mrs. Armstrong and I had spent the night there on New Year’s Eve, so we could view the 1947 Tournament of Roses parade. This world-famous parade starts just one block south of this property, on South Orange Grove Boulevard—and this original property is less than a half block off Orange Grove.
We worked out a strategy.
So on the morning of July 1, Mrs. Armstrong, our two sons and I parked our car, filled with our luggage, a block away—out of sight from Dr. B.’s building. Then I walked over to the front door and rang the bell. Dr. B. came to the door and, as I suspected, looked carefully to see that no luggage or other members of the family had come with me. Seeing no one, he allowed me to step inside, as I had so frequently done.
We went inside and chatted. Nothing was said about our taking possession. Then, after about 10 minutes, the front doorbell rang. I beat Dr. B. to the door, opened it, and before Dr. B. grasped what had happened, in walked Mrs. Armstrong, and our sons, carrying our luggage. We were inside. But so was Dr. B. and his sister!
We took over two bedrooms. We planned that not more than one or two of us would ever leave the building at one time—always keeping at least two of us inside, to admit any who left.
Some two weeks went by. Dr. B. and his sister made no move to leave. We were in. But so were they—and they seemed to have no intention of moving out or turning over possession.
Of course, he was violating his signed agreement. We could possibly have taken it to court and forced them out. But that was the last thing we wanted to do. We wanted to keep the peace.
So we had another strategy conference at the attorneys’ offices. We remembered the legal paper he had signed agreeing to removal of the furniture and furnishings to our new home on or after July 1.
It was decided to inform Dr. B. we had set a date for removing the furniture, and that on that date, set about three days ahead, house movers would come and remove the beds on which they were sleeping—and in fact all, except the one Mrs. Armstrong and I were using. Dr. B. protested, when I informed him.
“I have a piece of paper here,” I said, “which you signed, which says these beds are going to be moved on that date. You have three days to get your own things packed, and to vacate and turn complete possession over to us. I don’t want to have to resort to legal means or force.”
“Oh, well,” he answered gruffly and angrily, “All right! All right! We’ll get out!”
The strategy worked. We had possession. But Dr. B. still thought he was not beaten. He still thought he could outsmart us and keep the property. We were to learn that when the time came to exercise our option to turn it into a purchase, in December 1948.