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  • Jack Bowerman

Baker's Four bishops

Baker University has historically had an influence on the history of the Methodist Church and other religious organizations. This can be demonstrated by the importance of the founding of Baker to those pioneers who established Methodism in Kansas, but also by the role played by religious leaders who were educated at Baker. We know for sure that four Baker graduates became bishops in the Methodist and Episcopal churches, and it is possible that we are missing one or two more. This the story of those individuals.

William Quayle

We have already written about William Alfred Quayle in another post in this blog and we recommend you read that article to know more about him. To summarize, William was born in 1860 in Parkville, Missouri while he and his family made their way west as a part of a wagon train. They ended up in Colorado where his father worked the goldfields in search of wealth. In 1863 his mother died, and William was sent to live with his uncle, Edward Gill, in Kansas where Gill worked a farm near Auburn, Kansas. In those days William was known as “Willie Gill” and he worked as a plowboy on the farm and attended a rural schoolhouse when he could. His father returned from Colorado and began farming and when there was enough money, William attended Baker Academy, a preparatory high school connected to the University. He had to quit Baker numerous times when funding ran out, but he eventually was able to find work in Baldwin and was admitted to the University. He graduated from Baker in 1885 and was immediately hired as Adjunct Professor of Ancient Languages. In 1886 he married Allie Hancock Davis the daughter of Baker’s first president, Werter Renick Davis. He became a Methodist minister and was made a full professor at Baker. In 1890, at the age of 30 he was named President of Baker. In 1894, he left Baker to devote full time to the ministry and quickly became known as a popular preacher and orator. He was the senior pastor in large churches in Kansas City, Indianapolis and Chicago, but he always found time to return to Baldwin where he had a farm just north of where Signal Oak once stood and built a house which he named “Dreamhaven” which still stands today on North 6th Street just north of Highway 56. He was an avid collector of books, particularly valuable bibles, and upon his death his bibles became the Quayle Bible Collection which is today housed in the Baker Library on campus.

Schuyler Garth

Schuyler Edward Garth was born September 1, 1898, in Saffordville, Kansas to Christian and Lura Ream Garth. Schuyler’s’s father was an immigrant from Norway arriving in the US with his family in 1872. Schuyler grew up on his family’s farm near Saffordville until the family moved to Emporia. He served as a YMCA secretary while in Emporia and at the beginning of World War I he entered the Army YMCA serving two years. He attended Baker University, majoring in philosophy. He was a member of the Biblical Literary Society, on the Student Commission and the YMCA Cabinet. He was also a member of the Student Volunteer Movement which was a national organization whose members have as their life work goal the foreign mission field. At the time Schuyler was a member in 1922, Baker had already sent 78 volunteers to the foreign field, more than any college in the state. While he was at Baker, he was ordained in 1920 and he served as the pastor of the Methodist church in Welda, Kansas. He graduated in 1922.

That same year he married Lola Stroud who had graduated from and worked for the Kansas State Normal School (later Emporia State University). Schuyler entered Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, Illinois and at the same time became pastor at Henning, Illinois. He graduated from Garrett in 1924 with a bachelor’s degree in divinity. That same year he became associate pastor at Miami Parish, later called White Temple in Miami Florida. In 1930, he became pastor at the First Avenue Methodist Church in St. Petersburg and in 1933 he moved on to Christ Church in Pittsburgh, PA. Three years later he took over at Trinity Church in Youngstown, Ohio. Schuyler served as a member of the Board of Missions and as a trustee of Mount Zion (Georgia) Seminary. He was a delegate to the 1931 Ecumenical Methodist Conference and to the 1936 and 1944 General Conferences. In the midst of their frequent moves Schuyler and Lola had three children, a son, Lynn, born in 1925, a daughter, Lura, born in 1927 and another daughter, Doris, born in 1930. All the children were born in Miami.

Schuyler was obviously a rising star in Methodist church circles. Baker honored him with a doctor of divinity degree in 1933 and Garrett and Ohio Wesleyan in 1935 and 1944 respectively. In 1944 he was named bishop and assigned to the Wisconsin area. Three years later, he had his first chance to experience work in the foreign missions field. In line with a new policy of the Council of Bishops. under which all members of the episcopacy will be sent to foreign fields for visitation and education, Bishop Garth was an official representative to China Methodism of the Methodist Council of Bishops. On December 15, 1946, Schuyler and Lola sailed with a group of missionaries from San Francisco on the SS Marine Lynx. Upon arrival in China, the Garths visited the churches in Shanghai and environs. Late in January they started up the Yangtze toward Chungking. Traveling by airplane they landed at Hankow (part of the metro area now known as Wuhan), refueled. and took off again. A short distance from the airport the plane burst into flames. As it fell, the Garths and several other passengers leaped to the ground. One of these. a young Baptist missionary. survived long enough to recount the experience. His own child. which he carried as he plunged to earth. was the sole survivor of the crash. The bodies of Schuyler and Lola were attended by British Methodist missionaries in Hankow. and were buried temporarily in that city, deep in the heart of China. on February 3, 1947.

In eulogizing Schuyler, by one of the church leaders that “I believe that we might summarize his outstanding characteristics as follows: courageous leadership, adaptability, brotherliness, a keen sense of humor, a passion for justice and fair dealing and an appreciation of life’s highest values”. In his address at his inauguration as bishop, Schuyler began by saying: “It began when I was a boy on my father’s farm near Madison, Kansas. Whatever I did whether I was plowing or cultivating, I was always thinking about people. All races, all creeds and all classes are welcome to the Church at all times. That is the thing I have stood for, and, in my judgement, it is the heart of the thing we must work for in this day. Religion will have to make its contribution to democracy through interracial inter-creedal and inter-class cooperation and the Methodist Church must take its place in the practice of the fundamentals of Christian democracy.”

Don Holter

Don Wendell Holter was born March 24, 1905, in Lincoln, Kansas the youngest son of Henry Oliver and Lenna Dale Mater Holter. Don’s father, Henry, was a distinguished minister and served churches all over the State of Kansas. Henry first served as a school teacher after having attended a normal academy (a teachers academy first named Harrison Normal Academy and later Central College) at Enterprise, Kansas. In 1895 he married Lenna in Caldwell, Kansas and the couple moved to Brookville, Kansas. In 1898, the couple was living in Ada, Kansas where their first son, Paul Dee Eugene Holter was born. As a Methodist minister, Henry moved his family frequently to take on new ministries. The family lived in Salina, Olathe, Kansas City, Kansas, Topeka, Coffeyville and Fort Scott. He also served as the district superintendent of the Emporia district and was pastor of the Quayle Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church while in Kansas City. All three of his sons, Paul, Harold and Don attended Baker University and Harold and Don were members of Delta Tau Delta. Paul graduated from Baker in 1921 and married Hazel Luella Stephenson, a graduate of the University of Denver, in 1926. He became a Methodist minister and served churches in Colorado and Kansas. Harold graduated from Baker in 1925 and became a physician. He was chief of the obstetrical and gynecology staff of Providence Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas for more than 25 years and was past president of the hospital at Bethany Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri. He married Martha Louise Lowder in 1933.

Don graduated from Baker in 1927 and decided to follow in his father’s and brother’s footsteps to enter the ministry. He attended Harvard University and Garrett Theological Seminary and received his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Garrett in 1930. Garrett is located on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and was founded by the same group of Methodist clergy who founded Northwestern. While attending seminary he served as assistant minister of the Euclid Avenue Church in Oak Park, Illinois. In 1931 he married Isabelle Emma Elliott who had also graduated from Baker in 1927 and then taught junior high school English in Atchinson, Kansas, for four years. Isabelle was a member of Alpha Chi Omega while at Baker. Don then went on to earn his Ph.D. in Church History at the University of Chicago. in 1934 while Isabelle worked as a case worker in the Unemployment Relief Service. In 1935, Don and Isabelle made the decision to dedicate themselves to the mission work of the church.

From 1935 to 1940, Don was minister of the Central Methodist Church in Manilla and professor at the Union Theological Seminary there. From 1940 to 1945 he was president of the seminary. In 1938 he served as the chairman of the Philippines delegation to the International Mission Conference in Madras, India. While in the Philippines, Don and Isabelle had three daughters, Phyllis, born in 1937, Martha, born in 1939 and Heather, born in 1942. Then disaster struck. The Japanese attacked the Philippines the day after Pearl Harbor and on January 2, 1942, they occupied Manilla. Don and a number of other Protestant religious leaders were summoned to a meeting with Japanese authorities. There they were asked to sign a five-point pledge and one of one the five points of the pledge referred to the Japanese leadership in Manila as “A Will of God.” After negotiating with their captors to try and alter the language to make it more acceptable to no avail, Don was one of four ministers who refused to sign the pledge. His reasoning was: “that signing the pledge would violate the dictates of our conscience. To us, this was asking that we support one nation as a chosen or destined nation, and we did not even look upon our own nation as especially chosen by God above others. In addition, this was putting the state above the dictates of our religion and that, we knew from history, was disastrous not only to the individual but also to religion and to the state. Finally, from our standpoint, we believe that this was asking us to be unpatriotic and even anti-American and such a course of action should not be required of us. All of our arguments, however, seemed to make no impression.”

Heather Holter Ellis, Don’s youngest daughter, picks up the story from there: “Then on a Sunday morning in late January, the Japanese came to their home and told her father to pack up enough clothes and food for three days. They took him and the other three religious leaders who refused to sign the pledge to Santo Tomas , an internment camp in Manila, religious leaders who signed the pledge were told they could just go back and about their business. My mother and two sisters were under occupation or house arrest . . . then my dad was afraid we would be sent to another internment camp so he petitioned to have us come in to Santo Tomas. Luckily, they agreed to do that.” The camp was located at an old university. At one time during World War II, around 4,000 allied civilian prisoners of war, including U.S., British and Australians, were held at Santo Tomas by the Japanese military. Heather's father first lived in a gym with many cots on the first floor and later moved to the third floor at the camp. Many Americans were in the camp. Heather’s story continues: "Americans are very good about setting up committees so they had committee to run everything. They set up a school and we were able to go to school. School continued until about December 1944 and then no longer held because of air raids and weakness of the children. Food was very limited, and many were living on 800 calories a day.” Don spent 37 months at the camp and when they were finally liberated in February of 1945 he weighed 105 pounds, 60 less than normal. Several books have been written about the Santo Tomas Internment Camp where about 600 civilians died during the three years under Japanese occupation. In 2021, a documentary about conditions at the camp, “Victims of Circumstance” was released and is available on YouTube

Don and his family returned to the U.S. in May of 1945, and he spent the next year itinerating for the Methodist Missions Board. During 1946–49 he was the pastor of Hamline Methodist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1949 Don joined the faculty of Garrett Theological Seminary in Chicago as Professor of Church History and Missions. In 1958 he spent four months on a special study mission to Africa, including several days spent with Dr. Albert Schweitzer at Lambaréné. In 1959, Don became the founding president of Saint Paul School of Theology, a position he held until 1972. Don was elected a delegate to U.M. General Conferences (1964–72), serving in 1968 and 1970 as the chairman of the Legislative Committee on Ministry. He also held positions of leadership in his Annual Conference as well as on General Church Agencies. Don was elected bishop by the South-Central Jurisdictional Conference of the U.M. Church in 1972. He was assigned to the Nebraska Episcopal Area, serving four years before retiring in 1976.

While serving as President of the Saint Paul School of Theology, Don published his first book: “Fire on The Prairie: Methodism in The History of Kansas”. He documented the coming of Christianity to Kansas, first with the Spanish conquistadors, followed by the Christian missions to the Indians in Kansas and then the growth of the Methodist churches serving the white settlers as well as indigenous people. After having served as the bishop of the Nebraska area, he worked on the history of Methodism in that state and in 1983 published: “Flames on The Plains: A History of United Methodism in Nebraska.” Finally, in 1990, Don published his third book: The Lure of Kansas: The Story of Evangelicals and United Brethren, 1853-1968. Don’s wife, Isabelle, grew up in a United Brethren family and that denomination merged with the Methodist church in 1968.

Don died in 1999 in Prairie Village and Isabelle died five years later in Lee’s Summit.

Bennett Sims

The fourth Baker bishop was Bennett Sims. I have recently discovered that he wrote an autobiography, “The Time of My Life: A Spiritual Pilgrimage Grounded in Hope”, and it will take me some time to get through it. The result of this research will be included in another upcoming post in this blog.

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