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  • Jack Bowerman

Dean Gessner Prank

Updated: Jan 11, 2020

Speaking of pranks, here is a story contributed by Jerry Weakley, long-time Vice President of Development at Baker.

Dean Benjamin A. Gessner was not only Dean of Baker University, but a highly respected professor in the field of Psychology.  So, each semester he taught classes in Psychology in addition to completing his duties as Dean.

This story was shared with me 2-3 times through the years by different individual alumni who were perhaps the perpetrator of the prank or who purported to have been eyewitness to the prank/or who had intimate knowledge that it in fact did happen as related to me.

The story:

Dean Gessner was always punctual to class and expected all the students to be in their seats ready for the lessons of the day when he entered.  And, he was extremely precise in his entrance and preparation for wit...he would enter the room and walk smartly to the teacher’s desk at the front...set his briefcase down on the desk, open it and remove his lecture notes and place them to the right side of the briefcase before closing it.  He would remove his signature black wool fedora and place it atop the now closed briefcase. Then, should the weather be cold outside, he would pull out the chair at that desk, take off his wool topcoat and place it neatly over the back of the chair.   He would then pick up or glance briefly at his lecture notes and begin the days lessons.

Shortly after beginning his lecture he would stroll slowly around the outer perimeter of the class beginning in a clock-wise fashion and with his hands clasped firmly behind his back he would slowly walk up and down each aisle in the classroom pausing every once and a while to ask a question or respond to an answer to a question.   During his passage through the room, should an empty seat be found to be even a tiny amount out of line either with the seat in front or to either side of it, he would stop and adjust it such that the room would have passed a military inspection in regard to order.

As the story night a student snuck into Dean Gessner’s classroom and moved one single chair in a middle row ever so slightly out of perfect alignment with the others in its rows to the front, back and sides.  And then, using a hammer and nail, secured a wooden leg of that chosen chair to the wooden floor in the Case Hall classroom.

That next day, Dean Gessner arrived as per normal and went immediately into his everyday ritual and routine preparing for class.

This day, as the Dean strode up the aforementioned aisle he stopped and placed both hands on the back of the targeted and out of line chair nailed to the floor, gave a visible tug in an attempt to move it into “dress-right-dress” with its chair brethren.  Some say that perhaps one additional tug was noted that failed as had the initial attempt. At that point, the walking and lecture continued and there was never any mention or other outward show of concern for what had just occurred in that class that day.

It was the thought by the reporter of, or, perhaps the perpetrator of the prank, that “Dean Gessner knew he had been had” and that acknowledging the prank in any manner would have been tantamount to admitting his own frailty and psychological need for preciseness and order...a condition now often referred to as having O.C.D. (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

The next day it was noted that the target chair was once again loosed of its impaling nail and had been reset in perfect order within its given row.


Dr. Benjamin Aberdeen Gessner was born September 20, 1901 in Harvey’s Lake, Pennsylvania. He attended Kingston High School in Kingston, Pennsylvania, and when his family moved to Enid, Oklahoma, he attended Phillips University there. He transferred to Baker where he graduated with an A.B. degree. He then moved to Boston where he attended the Boston University School of Theology and received an S.T.B. degree. He went on to receive a Ph.D. degree from Boston University and did graduate work at the Universities of Marburg, Halle and Berlin, Germany and at Harvard University. He entered the ministry and served at Vinland, Kansas, West Chesterfield, Massachusetts and York Village, Maine. He was hired as Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at Baker in 1930 and became Dean of the College in 1940. Dr. Gessner married Muriel Minty Moore in 1935 and had a daughter, Emmalie in 1940. Emmalie also attended Baker. He retired in 1970 and died July 22, 1983. (1)

Biographical Sources:

1. Ebright, Homer Kingsley, “History of Baker University”, 1951

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