Ambassador College had been saved. The property originally acquired was now secured—as long as we kept up the monthly payments.
We were “over the first hump” in the struggle to establish and perpetuate this forward-looking college of tomorrow! The nerve-shattering intense ordeals were behind us. Continuous problems were to be encountered in the path ahead—but we would cross each of these bridges as we reached them.
The decision, born of necessity, to operate the college on a half-time schedule through the 1948–49 school year proved a blessing in disguise. It was one of those occasional self-imposed temporary setbacks.
This half-time operation reduced the college budget by almost half. Together with the miraculous 15-day inpouring of income in December, we were off to a comparatively good start by January 1949. Of course that providential downpour of funds of the first half of December did not continue. After December 15, the financial income was back to normal.
During 1948 we had been able to print the Plain Truth only twice, prior to September. We had gotten out an abbreviated eight-page issue in March. But then we were put off the air on our one big station, and we managed only one more—a June number—prior to September.
By holding publication down to eight pages, we were able to issue a Plain Truth every month for the remainder of that year—September, October, November and December.
In 1949, I felt we should get back to the 16-page size. This was possible only by combining the first issue as a January-February number.
It still was a tight financial struggle through 1949 as evidenced by the fact that I was able to print only two more editions that entire year—one in July, the other in November.
Part of the difficulty, however, was due to the fact that more and more duties were demanding my time. I had no editorial help whatever. Up until this time, and even another year or two in the future, it had been necessary for me to do 100 percent of the writing for the Plain Truth.
Our Second Land Purchase
During those first two school years of the college we had no dormitory facilities. The seven students enrolled that second year—1948–1949—were obliged to rent rooms around town. But in May 1949, the first addition to the original 2¼-acre campus came our way.
Adjoining this original bit of campus grounds, on the north, was the stately 28-room Tudor-style building called “Mayfair,” with 200 feet of frontage on Terrace Drive. It added about 1¾ acres, giving us a campus of four acres, with magnificently landscaped grounds.
The Mayfair grounds were not in the most desirable condition. Soon after acquiring them, we completely relandscaped them. Most of the work was done by our students, using a rented bulldozer to completely recontour the sloping grounds, bringing them into harmony with the original plot.
For some two years, Mayfair had been used as a rooming house. Most of the tenants had leases running another year. We were able to obtain only partial possession during 1949.
But by that autumn, after two years of rooming off campus, our students were able to take up residence on campus! We began to feel like a real college!
That autumn the student enrollment increased to 12. I have said quite a little heretofore, about 12 being the number of organized beginnings. For one thing, that was the first year the college had an organized student council. The first student body president of Ambassador College was my son Richard David (Dick).
Among the five new students that fall was Roderick C. Meredith. Although he was a new student with us, he was a transfer from a college in Missouri, and consequently rated as a sophomore.
Our men students took up residence on third floor Mayfair in September 1949. We were not yet prepared to feed students. During that school year the men really “roughed it,” preparing their own meals in a dark, depressing, foreboding basement room in Mayfair. It had been painted in a conglomeration of deep yellow, dark green, red and black. In a later year, that room was modernized into a new-looking office, and served as an editorial room for the Plain Truth for some years.
Mrs. Annie M. Mann, who had moved to Pasadena from Eugene, Oregon, had been pre-appointed to become our house mother for girls. She had been awaiting the time when we would have girl students and a girls’ student residence. During the 1948–49 school year she and Betty Bates, our only girl student the first three years, had roomed together off campus. Now, however, they took up residence in one of the vacant ground-floor rooms in Mayfair. Most of the other Mayfair rooms still were occupied by lease-holding guests.
During 1949 we continued on our one superpower station, xeg, the program beaming out over most of North America at 8 p.m., Central Standard Time, seven nights a week. We had also added another border station, xemu, with the time of 6:30 p.m. every night. But though this station had a splendid dial-spot, 580, it never brought much of a response. But by November that year, the program had gone on a good 5,000‑watt Chicago station, wait. It was only once a week—10 a.m. Sundays, but the response was good. The rating agencies showed The World Tomorrow the second-highest rated program in Chicago during our half hour.
During 1949, The World Tomorrow was still being heard over only nine stations. Yet the Work as a whole continued to grow that year, its usual 30 percent over the year before.
1950—Still Tough Going
Although we had gotten over what I called “the first hump” by January 1949, the upward climb of this Work of God was still “tough going.” It was not easy. Jesus Christ never promised “easy going.”
Through 1950 I do not remember any crises so severe that the very existence of the Work hung in the balance. I had, at last, learned the lesson of relaxed faith. I no longer let the problems we met put me under such an ordeal as I had gone through previously.
Now I was able to cast the burdens on the livingChrist, meanwhile leaping to action to pray intensively for guidance, and to energetically do whatever was in my own power to do—but in a faith that was relaxed and confident, trusting God with the results.
During 1950 I was able to publish only four issues of the Plain Truth—in February, March, April and August. As an evidence of the tight financial squeeze of the year, all four editions had to be reduced to a mere eight pages once again. Of course, as stated above, part of this was due to the heavy load on my shoulders of doing all of the writing, in addition to the many other responsibilities, now fast increasing.
For those first three years of the college, I taught all of the Bible and theology classes—and that meant three classes the third year!
And Now, fourth College Year
When college classes began, early September 1950, 10 new students had enrolled. For the first time, we had a full four-year college. The first year we had only a freshman class. The second, a freshman and sophomore; and the third, we added a junior class. There had been the pioneer four students the first year. There were seven the second, and 12 the third.
September 1950 brought five new girl students. Until then, we had had only the one girl student—Betty Bates. Now we had six girls and 16 men. Now we had an enrollment of 22!
And that autumn, for the first time, we had a real student residence on the campus. Yes, the college was growing up! To officials of any other college or university it would have seemed still to be smaller than almost any college had ever been. But to us, with only four the first year, and only an even dozen students the third year, the 22—with, at last, six girl students—seemed like we were becoming a real college!
Now Mrs. Mann was our full-fledged house mother, with six girls under wing. We had brought down from Oregon a “nutritional cook,” as we called her. Now we had fullpossession, for the first time, of Mayfair.
We had closed off the rear stairway so that it bypassed the second floor, and proceeded from ground floor to the third. All our men were housed that year on third-floor Mayfair. It was like a separate building altogether from the second floor. Our six girl students, and, in addition, the apartment we had done over for Mrs. Mann, occupied the second floor. The ground floor was dining and lounging.
Since we had operated on half-schedule in the 1948–49 year, it had been made virtually impossible for students to graduate in four years. However, by taking a heavier-than-normal load the last two years, both Herman Hoeh and Betty Bates graduated in June, 1951—completing their college work in four years.
That was another milestone attained. Our first commencement exercises were held, in our beautiful Garden Theater, on the last Friday of May, in 1951.
In order to qualify to confer degrees, the college had to be separately incorporated, show a minimum of $50,000 invested in college facilities, equipment and library, and be officially empowered by the state of California to confer degrees. This, too, was hurdling another major milestone.
Until this time, Ambassador College had been operated as an activity of the Radio Church of God. But by May 1951, we had managed to meet all of the state’s requirements, and to be approved, and empowered by the state to confer degrees.
Small as we really were, we ourselves began to feel that our college was growingup! It was a real thrill!
Athletic Field Acquired
In November 1950, our third property acquisition was achieved in a rather dramatic manner.
For some time, we had had our eyes on a camellia nursery, across Terrace Drive to the east of our original campus plot. I had visualized it as someday becoming our athletic field.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hulett C. Merritt, the multimillionaire capitalist who owned the second estate north of Mayfair, had been moving onto several properties he owned in our immediate vicinity, a number of large old houses.
Several large houses, or frame apartment houses, along the right-of-way then being cleared for the new Hollywood Freeway, were being condemned. Mr. Merritt had been able to buy them at a very low sum. For some months large-scale house movers had been moving several of those monstrous frame structures to Pasadena, setting them on these vacant lots. In one or two cases, the structures had been actually cut in two, moved, and then joined back together again.
I think that Mr. Merritt had not quite counted the total cost. He probably obtained the houses for almost nothing. But he was not able to simply put them down on his vacant properties for nothing. He ran up against the very stiff Pasadena building codes. By the time he had constructed solid foundations under them, and brought plumbing and electric wiring and other services up to Pasadena codes, he probably had a lot more money invested in them than he had expected.
In any event, I learned that the owner of the camellia nursery was receptive to selling. Immediately we almost shuddered at the thought that possibly Mr. Merritt might purchase that plot of ground and move more of those old houses on it—thus wrecking our hopes of an athletic field.
One Sunday morning I happened to be in our administration building, and a real estate broker, who had a listing of the camellia nursery, came in. The afternoon before, he said, he had been informed that a $50,000 check had been deposited with another real estate broker who also had the property listed, as full purchase price for the nursery plot, plus four other houses and lots. Three of the houses were over on Green Street, just across Terrace Drive from Mr. Merritt’s fabulous mansion. One was on Camden Street to the east of Terrace Drive.
This $50,000 cash was to be put into escrow at a bank on Monday afternoon. The real estate broker said he would like to see the college acquire it if we were able. However, if we needed terms, and lacked the cash, we’d have to pay a higher price, and move fast.
“I’ll pay you $60,000,” I said at once, “with $5,000 now, to go into escrow tomorrow morning, as soon as the bank opens, and the balance on terms we can work out. Is it a deal?”
“It’s a deal,” he said. “I’m sure the owners will accept.”
“All right then,” I said, “let’s move fast. I will have a quorum of our board of trustees here in this office by 2 o’clock this afternoon, and I’ll have a $5,000 check ready. Can you have the necessary papers drawn up to put the deal into escrow by that time—and can you get the owner and his wife here to sign?”
He felt sure he could.
He did. In our hurried special board meeting the transaction was approved. The owners signed the papers with us.
Next afternoon, when the other broker went to the escrow department with his $50,000 check, he found the property had been bought right out from under him.
I was expecting a furious call from Mr. Merritt.
I was not disappointed.
Late that afternoon he was on the telephone. “Now you look here, Mr. Armstrong,” he said. “You’re the first man that ever got the jump on me and beat me in a business deal. I’m glad you got that nursery property, because I know you wanted that for an athletic field. But what in blazes do you want with these lots down here on Green Street?”
“Why, it was simply just one complete package deal,” I said. “We had to take the whole thing to get the athletic field.”
Mr. Merritt wanted me to come over to see him.
“Those fellows charged you too much for these Green Street properties,” he said. “Now I’ll take them off your hands. You paid $30,000 for them. You shouldn’t have paid over $25,000. So, tell you what I’ll do. I will donate to your college $10,000, and my wife will donate $10,000. We can deduct that on our income tax report. Then you sell me those four properties for $10,000 cash. That way you get your entire $30,000 back, and you’ve paid only $30,000 for the athletic field.”
“I’ll consult my tax attorney,” I replied, “but I’m sure the Internal Revenue people will not approve a $20,000 deductible donation from you, when, in actual fact, the entire $20,000 reverts back to you, in the form of this property.”
But Mr. Merritt remained adamant.
This was in November or December. Along about the following March or April, a real estate salesman came into my office.
“I understand you own those houses down on Green Street,” he said. “Would you be willing to list them? I think maybe I could find a buyer.”
Immediately I deduced that Mr. Merritt sent him.
“No, I wouldn’t sell them,” I replied. “We need them for college dormitories. And besides, if I ever sold them to anybody it would be to our neighbor Mr. Merritt.”
“Well,” he said a little sheepishly, “to tell you the truth, it was Mr. Merritt who sent me here.”
For years we used those houses for men’s dormitories, then we tore them down. They were getting too old for use. Today those properties form a beautifully landscaped entrance to our new four-story Hall of Administration.