A Brief History of Judson University:
In the Beginning
By Lynn Hammerlund, Judson Librarian
It is not an exaggeration to call Judson University “the miracle college.” Throughout its forty-plus years of existence, Judson University has had to face almost insurmountable difficulties just to survive, and then great challenges to endure. And yet, through the grace of God and a dedicated core of people who believed in “the Church at work in higher education,” Judson is poised to proceed to its half-century anniversary—not just surviving, but thriving.
Judson College got its start as the four-year undergraduate division of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago. When the seminary’s neighborhood changed and became a high-crime slum area, the trustees looked to move to the suburbs as a matter of survival and safety. The seminary president was able to negotiate a great deal with Bethany Seminary, and they made plans for a new campus in Oak Brook in the western suburbs. The NBTS board of trustees, however, did not want the undergraduate division to move with them. The college division could not stay in the Chicago location. The administration had to find another site quickly.
Dr. Benjamin P. Browne (president of the college division), Dr. Edgar Boss (academic dean), Dr. Amos Barton (trustee), Attorney William Brady (trustee), and Dr. Willis Reed (NBTS alumnus) were instrumental in finding and securing the Elgin campus location. The story of how the property was purchased is an amazing one. Indeed, Dr. Browne, in his history of the college, titles the chapter “How to Buy a College Campus Without Any Money.”1
On November 30, 1962, Dr. Reed tipped Dr. Browne to the availability of an estate on the Fox River known as Braeburn-on-the-Fox, owned by a doctor’s widow. The owner, Mrs. Margaret Deuterman, was ready to sell the estate to a business concern that was planning to convert it into an entertainment club. She was willing to listen to the men from NBTS in their pitch to use the estate for a college, but all parties involved knew that it would happen only if the buyers could meet Mrs. Deuterman’s price of $150,000. Her real estate agent was present at the meeting—ostensibly, to offer advice, but most likely, to keep her resolve firm at that price. Dr. Browne knew that he did not have $150,000, and he had to have the approval of the NBTS trustees to secure any financing.
Through some adroit persuasion and a healthy dose of inspiration from the Holy Spirit, the college leaders managed to get Mrs. Deuterman to agree to a price of $100,000. All she required was $500 earnest money to seal the deal. Dr. Browne pulled out the last $5 bill in his wallet. No one else had any cash. But Dr. Amos Barton, who owned a construction business, had his company checkbook. He agreed to “loan” the college the $500 needed to secure the property. The college had to present to her a formal written plan of how the estate was to be used by Dec. 18. Then, as they discussed financing the purchase,¬¬ Mrs. Deuterman told them that she expected the remainder of the purchase price to be paid over twenty years. This was unheard of—and exactly the kind of miracle the college needed to get started. Judson College was able to get financing with this extended payment period.
Things began coming together in rapid fashion. The core college leadership secured enough money to make the down payment at the closing. The college received a charter from the State of Illinois, dated March 11, 1963—to “Judson College, a Baptist Institution.”
Moving to Elgin
The only buildings on the estate were the manor house (the current Weber Administrative Building), a carriage house, and a maintenance shed. Dr. Browne knew that he needed another building in order to bring students here, with a targeted opening date of September 1963.
Through another miracle of financing and donation of services by people who believed in Judson College’s mission, a multipurpose building was constructed in the low area west of the manor house. The board of trustees was still not sure that this college would survive, so the building had to be the kind that could be sold for apartments, should the college fail. On an aggressive construction schedule, the new three story building (Volkman Hall) was opened on September 19, 1963, a few weeks late. Students were housed in the apartment dorms. The library, bookstore, and classrooms occupied the first floor. Faculty members had to share one tiny office. The manor house had a huge air-conditioned dining room and kitchen facilities, and the students ate in shifts at the new Administration Building. The carriage house had a second floor apartment which became the new home of the family of Paul Thompson, the Building and Grounds Supervisor. Eventually, the carriage house became classroom space, as well as rehearsal space for the Judson College Choir, and makeshift chapel for daily services.
Members of the administration did double duty, having at least two titles with their names. Thus, the President was also the Director of Public Relations, the Academic Dean was also the Admissions Counselor/Recruiter, etc. Several faculty members taught classes outside of their discipline; for example, the art professor, an avid bird watcher, also taught ornithology. The wife of one of the college professors became the college nurse.
While the campus had great natural beauty, there was only a one-man grounds crew to take care of it. Students themselves organized clean-up days, and pitched in where heeded to keep up with maintenance.
While trying to keep the college afloat, Dr. Browne also experienced fierce opposition from just about every side—the trustees of NBTS, other Baptist seminaries, other Baptist colleges (“the market is saturated”), and even the leadership of the American Baptists. Indeed, very few people thought that Judson College was a good idea, and several influential people hoped it would fail.
The college, naturally, was severely strapped financially for most of its first ten years of existence. There were times when the trustees delivered a financial ultimatum that, unless the college could raise so many hundred thousands of dollars to meet payroll and other obligations, the school would have to fold. Yet, the college would receive enough donations from Judson supporters before the deadline so it could remain open. Such financial “miracles” were regular occurrences.
Still, Judson was attracting students, and enrollment continued to grow. By the fifth year, Judson was sending more graduates to Baptist seminaries than all the other established Baptist colleges. It took awhile, but eventually the most vocal adversaries of Judson College were silenced by its successes, especially when times were toughest.
Changes in leadership
Dr. Browne became the founding President at age seventy, and the stress of the job took its toll on his health. He knew that he had to turn the reins of leadership over to someone else, and do it quickly. In June 1966, the trustees elected Dr. Amos Barton to succeed him as President.
Dr. Barton served his Presidency from 1967 to 1969. He, too, was plagued by ill health, and was forced to resign in July 1969.
The Board elected Dr. Harm Weber as the third Judson College President. Many trustees told him frankly that his major task would be to close the school with dignity, as it appeared ready to fail. Instead, the college underwent its greatest growth under President Weber, after Judson received full accreditation by the North Central Association, which meant that Judson College had now officially arrived, after ten years, as a recognized school of higher education. Dr. Weber served as President until December 31, 1991.
Dr. Edgar Boss came up with an innovative academic calendar based on three fourteen-week terms a year, running from early September through the last week of June. (July and August were for vacations.) Students who took all three trimesters could graduate in three years. Students who needed to work could “drop out” for that third trimester, and start earning their college money in late March. They would still be able to graduate in four years. Because students were on a non-traditional schedule, classes were designated as freshmen, middlers, and seniors. Judson eventually modified that calendar to end in mid-June, and continued the trimester calendar until June 1983.
In the 1970s, Dr. Boss was eager to take part in the spirit of educational experimentation that was rampant on most college campuses. He designed the curriculum into six divisions: Christian Religion/Philosophy, Communication Arts, Fine Arts, Human Institutions, Human Relations, and Science/Mathematics. Judson also eventually offered a Teacher Education program in cooperation with North Park College (now North Park University) in Chicago. Interdisciplinary classes became the order of the day, team taught by at least two professors of different divisions, with such titles as Arts and Man and Science and Man. Students at the time enjoyed the discussion and dialogue that such integrated courses encouraged, but the faculty had a tough time trying to deliver a quality product with so many teachers in charge of one course. After a few years, these integrated courses were abandoned as being too difficult to deliver. (The lone holdover course from this time is Faith and Life, taken by every Judson senior.) The overworked but dedicated faculty was willing to try innovative curriculum, even if it did not succeed in the long run.
In January 1994, Judson launched the AIM (Adult Instructional Model) program, a continuing education plan for adult students to complete their four-year college degrees. Using the cohort model and accelerated learning classes, the curriculum allowed a student with an associate’s degree to earn a bachelor’s degree in about eighteen months. This educational delivery system was so innovative and successful, it was adopted by several other colleges, and became known as “the Judson model.” The initial AIM program was in Management and Leadership; other programs were added in Human Resources, Human Services, Information Management, and Criminal Justice. AIM became DACE (Division of Adult and Continuing Education), and in the summer of 2008 became Adult Professional Studies. It was modified in 2009 to Adult and Continuing Education.
Expansion of curriculum
Judson College renamed its academic divisions in the late 1980s: Christian Religion/Philosophy, Communication Arts, Business Administration, Fine Arts, Human Relations, Physical Education, Science/Mathematics, and Teacher Education. Human Relations later became Social Sciences; Fine Arts branched into Fine Arts/Music and Visual Arts; Physical Education became Exercise and Sport Sciences, which then became part of Teacher Education. New programs were added in Youth Ministry and Adolescent Studies, Architecture, and Worship Arts. With the arrival of Architecture, Visual Arts was renamed the Division of Art/Design/Architecture (DADA). In 2004, Judson’s architecture program received full accreditation from NAAB (National Architecture Accrediting Board), right on schedule and with glowing praise from the accreditation teams.
The Division of Graduate Studies was established to oversee the master’s degree programs. In 2003, Judson awarded its first master’s degree in architecture. In 2005, Judson awarded its first master’s degree in education. In January 2007, the AIM program launched its first cohorts for the master’s in organizational leadership. Over the summer of 2008, the first cohorts started for the master’s degree in literacy.
Judson also began a program that enabled students who already had bachelor’s degrees to earn a teaching certificate in about a year’s time.
During the 2008-2009 academic year, Judson was reorganized into schools and colleges with their own deans. The first deans in the reorganization: Dr. Kathleen Miller (Teacher Education); Dr. Lanette Poteete-Young (College of Arts and Sciences); Dr. James Rohe (Graduate and Adult Professional Studies); Dr. Curtis Sartor (School of Art/Design/Architecture).
In 1997, the college purchased a hotel building on River Road across from the campus, which became the Lindner Center, and is now the Lindner Tower. The Lindner Tower houses the Registrar, academic offices, the Center for Adult Professional Studies, the Learning Center, classrooms, computer labs, and several dormitory floors.
Judson started offering classes in Rockford for adult students and purchased space in the former IBM building on Featherstone Road to become the Rockford satellite campus. In August 2006, Judson held a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of its new Rockford campus building next to the IBM building. It opened in the summer of 2007.
Fortieth anniversary celebration—and beyond
Beginning in January 2003, the college kicked off its fortieth anniversary celebration, which included a bridal fashion show that showcased Judson brides among faculty, staff, and alumni over forty years. The Weber Administration Building was featured in the 2003 Elgin Historic House Walk, remembering its beginnings as Braeburn-on-the-Fox. A short dramatic presentation re-enacted the meeting between Mrs. Deuterman and Dr. Browne that secured the purchase of the campus.
In November 2003, Judson announced a major government grant from the Department of Energy--$7.5 million to fund the construction of the Harm A. Weber Academic Center, which would house the new library and the DADA program, and was touted to be the most energy efficient, greenest building in the Midwest. This grant was orchestrated by the architects, several trustees, administrators and faculty members through the office of former Speaker of the House, the Honorable Dennis Hastert, who represented the Elgin area in Congress. A celebratory Thanksgiving chapel announced the grant to the world. The monetary award hastened the construction of the new Weber Academic Center, with groundbreaking scheduled for Founders Day 2004.In spring 2006, a major anonymous donor gave the money to finish the building so that it could open with both the library and DADA components completed. DADA and the library offices moved over the summer, and the ribbon-cutting took place on August 27, 2007.
The Judson community came together to mourn the passing of one of its beloved founding professors in February 2004. Dr. Ed Thompson founded the Music Department and molded the Judson College Choir into an outstanding musical group that has toured all over the world, spreading the Gospel and promoting Judson College. At Dr. Ed’s funeral, alumni filled the chapel platform, coming back as choir members to say good-bye to their beloved Dr. Ed, their voices raised in Handel’s ”Hallelujah Chorus.”
In the changing climate of academia, the word “college” was becoming blurred in meaning, as many community colleges deleted “community” from their names as a marketing tool. This would cause confusion among prospective students: Was a college a two-year or a four-year institution? Did only universities offer graduate degrees?
Judson College studied and debated this question for several years. With the addition of three master’s degree programs, Judson could call itself a university. But would that distort the atmosphere of Judson as a place with small classes and great faculty involvement with their students? Judson College polled its constituents—faculty, staff, students, alumni, trustees, donors, and supporters—to find out how feasible it would be to change the name to Judson University.
During the 2006-2007 academic year, the trustees voted to change the name to Judson University. The change became official on Tuesday, August 28, 2007, with fireworks at midnight on campus (that frightened the neighbors at Willow Lakes) and a ceremony with many local dignitaries present. The Daily Herald printed an insert to add to their newspapers on August 28, celebrating Judson’s new name and identity.
In February 2008, Judson went through an accreditation visit from the Higher Learning Commission. The University passed its accreditation for the next ten years. The HLC Site Team stated in their report, “It should be noted that this community’s faith and commitment to its mission may well be unprecedented in the experiences of the members of the site visit team.”2
In the summer of 2008, the Fine Arts Building was renamed the Alice & Edward Thompson Center in honor of the beloved long-serving music teachers at Judson College. Mrs. Alice Thompson was present at the dedication on Founders Day in October 2008. She went to be with the Lord on January 10, 2009, and her funeral was held in Herrick Chapel, with an overflow crowd of former students and faculty colleagues who came to honor her ministry in music and education, despite bitterly cold temperatures.
An added cause for celebration was the 2008-2009 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s Guide to Colleges, with Judson at number 18 among Midwest baccalaureate colleges. During the previous year, Judson University was ranked at number 21. This is a testament to the growing academic reputation of the miracle college that had to struggle to stay alive. For the 2009-2010 edition, Judson remained in the top tier, at number 26.
In April 2010, President Harm Weber passed into eternal life. A memorial service and celebration of his life of service and ministry was held on Founders Day, October 29, 2010.
At the Welcome Back luncheon for faculty and staff on August 17, 2011, President Cain announced his retirement, effective June 30, 2012.
Through the Providence of God and the fierce determination of its leaders and supporters, Judson College, now Judson University, has endured the hardships suffered during the early years. With an eye toward innovation and a commitment to be “the Church at work in higher education.” Judson has seen its enrollment expand to over 1200 students. Judson University now thrives, and in the words of namesake Adoniram Judson, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.”
1 Browne, Benjamin P. Comrades in an adventure of faith: a somewhat personal history of the beginnings of Judson College. Elgin, Ill. : The College, 1971.
2Quoted several times by President Cain and other members of the Administration since the preliminary report in March.
Primary Source Bibliography
Browne, Benjamin P. Comrades in an adventure of faith: a somewhat personal history of the beginnings of Judson College. Elgin, Ill. : The College, 1971.
Judson University. Accreditation self-study: in preparation for a site visit to Judson University on February 18-20, 2008 from the Higher Learning Commission. Elgin, Ill. : The University, 2008.
The Lantern. Elgin, Ill. : Judson College, 1964-
Self study of Judson College, Elgin, Illinois. Elgin, Ill. : The College, 1972.
Judson University Seal and Motto
The official motto of Judson University, chosen by Dr. Benjamin P. Browne, is Christus Lux Mundi—Christ the Light of the World.
Charles Waughaman, first professor of art, designed the official seal. The seal is encompassed by the circle of eternity with the threefold iris flower at the center, symbolizing the Trinity, surrounded by four crosses representing both the sacrifice of Christ and the four points of the compass to which the light shines forth from Christ, the Light of the World.
Judson College/University Presidents
The portraits of the Presidents are displayed in the Eagle Lounge, in the Lindner Tower.
|Dr. Benjamin P. Browne
|Dr. Amos Barton
|Dr. Harm Weber
|Dr. James Didier
|Dr. Jerry Cain
Judson College/University First Ladies
The portraits of the First Ladies of Judson are displayed in the Eagle Lounge, in the Lindner Tower.
|Mrs. Rachel Browne
|Mrs. Sadie Barton
|Mrs. Arlie Weber
|Mrs. Joan Didier
|Mrs. Linda Cain
|| Manor House, Braeburn-on-the-Fox (Administration Building)
|| Volkman Hall
|| Faculty Apartments
|| Science Building
|| Dining Residence Hall (becomes Wilson Hall)
|| Rachel Browne Amphitheater
|| Barton House (originally President’s House)
|| Gymnasium (becomes Plant Operations in 1990)
|| Benjamin P. Browne Library
|| Ohio Hall
|| Herrick Chapel
|| Herrick Fine Arts Building; renamed Thompson Center in 2008
|| Lindner Commons
|| Wilson Hall (rename)
|| Lindner Fitness Center
|| Weber Administration Building (rename)
|| Lindner Center, now known as Lindner Tower
|| Mobile classroom, “Moo Lab” (becomes Eastside Offices)
|| Creekside South
|| Eastside Offices (rename)
|| Lindner Tower (rename)
|| Harm A. Weber Academic Center, for library and SoADA
|| Alice and Edward Thompson Center (rename)
|| University Center, Browne Underground Student Lounge, Business Offices, Security
Named Areas on Campus
Alice and Edward Thompson Center—named for founders of the music program at Judson College (formerly the Herrick Fine Arts Building)
Barton House—named for Amos Barton, founding trustee, businessman, and the second Judson College President
Benjamin P. Browne Library (“the Ben”)—named for Benjamin P. Browne, “Founding Father,” Judson College’s first President, American Baptist leader and writer
Browne Underground—named for Benjamin P. Browne, keeping his memory in the former library building that is now the student lounge
Creekside South—built on the south banks of Tyler Creek which flows through campus; now houses the School of Teacher Education
Draewell Gallery (HAWAC)—named for Dr. David and Mrs. Betty Draewell, who donated a valuable collection of fine art prints to the Judson permanent art collection; Dr. Draewell was a long time Vice President of Business Affairs
Eagle Lounge (Lindner Tower)—named for the Judson College/University mascot, and inspired by the sculpture of an eagle on the Lounge wall
Eastside Offices—located on the east side of the campus; originally a mobile classroom that housed the computer lab
Harm A. Weber Academic Center (HAWAC)—named for the College’s third President; houses the library and School of Art, Design, and Architecture; major funding from a government grant for an energy-efficient building using green technology
Herrick Chapel—named in memory of Ray W Herrick, “a manufacturer from Tecumseh, Michigan, a Christian philanthropist dedicated to ‘making the world a better place.’” (from the plaque in the Chapel lobby)
Herrick Fine Arts Building—named for the Herrick Foundation of Tecumseh, Michigan, Kenneth Herrick, President; renamed the Alice and Edward Thompson Center in 2008
Hoffer Baseball Field—named for Robert Hoffer, founding trustee and long time Judson supporter; founder of Hoffer Plastics in Elgin member of the Judson Athletic Hall of Fame
John A. Dawson Field—named for Dr. John Dawson, a Chicago stockbroker, past president of the American Baptist Convention as well as the Baptist World Alliance, Judson Trustee (1964-1978); long time supporter of Judson athletics
Lindner Commons—named in honor of Mrs. Betty Lindner, long time trustee
Lindner Fitness Center—named in honor of Robert D. Lindner, trustee and long time Judson supporter; member of the Judson Athletic Hall of Fame
Lindner Tower—named in honor of the three Lindner Brothers, Richard E., Carl H., Robert D., trustees and long time Judson College/University supporters
Memorial Meditation Room (Chapel basement)—dedicated to the memory of J. Marcus Didier and Donna Shotwell, two students who were tragically killed in a car accident in 1975
Ohio Baptist Hall—named for the Ohio Baptist Convention churches that were the major donors for the building
Rachel Browne Amphitheater—named for Mrs. Rachel Browne, Judson College’s first First Lady, who also taught art
Reed Room (Lindner Commons)—named for Dr. Willis and Mrs. Sarah Reed, found trustees and long time Judson supporters
Thompson Fountain (lagoon in front of Volkman Hall)—named for Dr. Edward and Mrs. Alice Thompson. Dr. Ed directed the Choir, and Mrs. Ed (Alice) directed the Handbell ChoirArt & Architecture; Fine Arts; Architecture; Photography
University Center (original library building)—houses Browne Underground, Business Offices, Campus Safety, and Technology Services
Volkman Hall—named for Dr. William (Bill) Volkman, who financed and built the first dormitory/classroom building
Weber Administration Building—named for Dr. Harm A. Weber, Judson’s third President and current Chancellor; the original Manor House of Braeburn-on-the-Fox
William Brady Entrance—named for William Brady, a “Founding Father,” and first Chairman of the Board of Trustees; long time Elgin attorney and Judson supporter
Wilson Hall—named for C.D. (Cliff) Wilson, Jr., long time Judson trustee and supporter, who also donated funds for the first tennis courts