Jan 29

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Sojurn ‘Mid The Pines: A Requiem in East Texas Flat (Part 4)


(This is the final installment in a four part series on my days at Lon Morris. In order to fully understand this epilogue, I beg you to please read parts 1 through 3 first. You will not regret it. I promise. Really, do yourself a favor and read part 1, part 2, and part 3 now.)


Meanwhile, back in Dr. Thornton’s office, before we discussed our future plans, and before he gave me my last assignment, he had some business to discuss with the both of us. My friend and I both owed some money that would prevent us from participating in commencement exercises. For me, it amounted to a simple library fine, which Dr. Thornton gladly waived. My friend still owed money for tuition, which the Vice President took care of as well.

The next day we were allowed to participate in the commencement exercise. As part of his duties, the President stood at one end of the modified stage to shake hands with each graduate, after the Chairman of the Board handed out the diplomas. Kregg and I were the only two from our group participating, but the chapel was packed with our friends and family.

I feel confident in saying the chapel never was a loud as it was the moment the Academic Dean read Kregg’s name off the list. After receiving his diploma, he walked towards the President and performed a full-on Elvis bow, before rising to shake his hand.

When my name was called, I walked over to the Chairman of the Board who just looked at me and said, “you and Kregg sure do have a lot of friends.” I just smiled and kept on walking towards the President. Somewhere, I have a photo of the President and me shaking hands at graduation. I really wanted to find it to share as part of this post because words really can’t describe the defeated look on his face.

After graduation, the President issued an edict in effect banning several members of our group, including myself from campus. Of course this didn’t stop us from conspiring with our friends still enrolled.

Kregg and I moved on to the University of Texas—Tyler and got an apartment together. Several times a week we made the trip down Highway 69 to Jacksonville to socialize at Erin’s or raise hell on campus. On nights when we didn’t feel like making the drive, we invited our Lon Morris friends to our apartment.

P.O. rented a house with Cheyenne and another LMC alum in Kilgore and often hosted events for current students and alums.

I even worked for Cheyenne for a short time period.

When I got married, everyone I invited to our wedding was either family or someone I met while at Lon Morris. When my wife and I found out we were pregnant, the first people I contacted outside of my family were my LMC friends. While I haven’t stayed in touch with all of my Lon Morris friends as I should have over the years, they remain my closest friends in the world. Clearly, Lon Morris left an indelible mark on my life.

From a distance, I continued to follow the news out of Lon Morris College, long after the last Smellbread member graduated.  For a while, it appeared that a new President would lead Lon Morris out of the darkness and into a much brighter future, but the mess he inherited from his predecessor was far too great, which when combined with his ambitious planning proved dreadfully unsustainable.

Looking back, I wish we had been a bit more persistent and chosen to focus not only on the President, but also members of the Board of Trustees and Texas Annual Conference. Both parties played a major role in the demise of Lon Morris College. We warned them; they chose to ignore us, which makes them negligent at best. Even so, we came to the school’s aide when it became apparent that these two entities were incapable of helping the school themselves.

As I met with old friends this past weekend to say farewell to the institution that brought us all together, I looked in their eyes and saw the hurt and pain one feels when they lose a friend to a careless accident. I saw the sense of betrayal one feels when they discover their partner’s infidelity. I sensed the despair a family feels when they learn their employer has gambled away their retirement, the anger one feels when they learn their government lied to them. I felt the anguish of knowing that I could change none of it. Indeed, emotions ran high.

In eulogizing the school, some turned to the Prophet Isaiah for comfort, while I chose to turn the Prophet Jerry.

 Some come to laugh their past away

Some come to make it just one more day

Whichever way your pleasure tends

If you plant ice you’re gonna harvest the wind

This will be the last I write of my time “mid-the pines” for quite some time.  I forgive all those responsible for the hurt, pain, betrayal, despair, anger, and anguish they brought upon all Lon Morris alums. In doing so, I choose to hang on to what remains.

Lon Morris College no longer exists at 800 College Avenue; however, that does not mean the school is gone for good. Let us remember, Lon Morris never specialized in offering terminal degrees, but rather providing the foundation for success, through the friendships we made, the experiences we shared, and the lessons we learned, both in and out of the classroom. This foundation made us who we are today and it’s something that cannot be ripped away by any ecclesial body, regional accrediting agency, or self-indulgent chief restructuring officer.

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  1. Flo Trantham Renta

    I certainly share your love of this beloved college LMC. Some of my fondest memories were made here at this school in Jacksonville, Texas. I was born and raised in Jacksonville but when it came time for me to go to college my parents moved to Dallas and I resided in the girl’s dorm at Lon Morris the next year. We were blessed to have Dr.Peebles as our President – one could never forget him. I was in the class of 1946-47. My oldest sisters (2) attended Lon Morris as did my youngest sister. I met my future husband aty LMC. We have been blessed with a family and 63 years of wedded bliss. We still maintain contact with students that attended when we were there. It is devastating to learn that the school has been sold but nothing can make me lose the memories that I shared with those I love “mid the pine hills of East Texas.” I enjoyed your story so much.

  2. Jamie McDowell

    I have enjoyed your website from afar. I must say that I share your passion for Lon Morris.. I went to school there a few years before you graduated but during the same era. My ideas about the purpose of college were directly influenced by that tiny place in Cherokee County Texas. I now have the opportunity to talk with students about college. I always tell them that college is not about learning a vocation, but becoming enlightened about the human experience. One will learn a vocation in time, but can you take part in a conversation at a coctail party among doctorates? It was my liberal arts education that gave me this.
    To give you some background, I attended Lon Morris as a Scurlock Scholar. I was not your typical Scurlock Scholar. I spent too much time hanging out in Craven Hall for less than virtuous reasons, took too many trips too Cuney, hung out with the theatre majors and attended many a ‘strike party’. I regret absolutely none of this. Lon Morris is what the college experience should be. My president was Faulk Landrum. I think he despised me at the time. He almost expelled me. He and I have since become friends and I think fondly of him. After Lon Morris, I went on to University of Houston. I loved college so much that I spent four more years at UT Health Science Center Medical School. I now am a surgeon in Nashville Tennessee.
    Three years ago Miles McCall called me out of the blue. He said that Dr. Landrum suggested I be on the board of Trustees. I had no idea about the financial stress the college. I think that because I was so passionate about the place, they thought that I could somehow change the course of what was inevitable. The truth is that I gave every impassioned plea that you have brought up on this blog. I tell you that if I had the personal money to pull the college out of debt, I would have given it. In fact, I gave as much as I could afford without depriving my children. The simple truth is that small liberal arts junior college in east Texas has never been a money making business model. Dr. Peebles was assigned to Lon Morris College in the spring of 1935 to close the college because of debt. The reason it stayed open was because he was able to generate benefactors in a time of economic surplus. We attended at the very end of the grand years. In the 1990′s, there was just not a great marketing strategy for a small liberal arts college in Jacksonville, Texas. As you know, clergy are not the best at making business decisions. Unfortunately, loans were taken against the endowment to keep the lights on and the can was ‘kicked down the road’. Eventuallly the debt burden was too much. Every attempt was made to renegotiate the debt with Amegy to no avail. I hated and dreaded every board meeting. I attended religiously. The reason is that I knew that I was seeing my Lon Morris die. I am happy to talk with you any time about the end. I saw it and participated in it first hand. I have many classmates that ask me the same questions you ask. My email is jmcdowell@tsclinic.com.

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