Buck Smith's '56 Remarks

These remarks were given during Alumni Weekend 2012 during the presentation of the inaugural Sara L. Patton Stewardship Award. 

The shining icon in the storied history of this treasured place we call The College of Wooster is of course Howard Lowry. The two people we honor today - and the person we celebrate in the naming of this award - bookended his 23 years as Wooster’s president: Stan and Flo Gault were here for the opening years following his appointment in 1944, and Sally Patton was a member of his final graduating class in 1967.   

Howard understood and articulated the essence of the liberal arts college nationally – and Wooster in particular – like few others. In fact, in 1966 he was invited by The Atlantic Monthly to author a definitive defense of the small college. Throughout his presidency, he embraced three principles that Stan, Flo and Sally later used to guide Wooster’s development over the past third of a century:

  1. A college rises or falls by its appointments – whether to the Board of Trustees, the faculty or the staff.
  2. Colleges do not grow by themselves – they are built by people who believe in them.
  3. There is – at any given time – a handful of people who literally hold in their hands the make or break power of an institution.

Regarding the first, Wooster has risen in stature because of many fine appointments. And the College we know today is due largely to the fact that Sally was named Vice President for Development 33 years ago, and Stan and Flo moved back to Wooster, Rubbermaid and Goodyear from Connecticut at that same time, with Stan elected to membership and soon Chair of the Board of Trustees.

Of the second principle, that the three of them believe in the College – and have drawn others into the cause by their own passion for the place – has led to #3: the handful of people – some of whom are here today – who hold the make or break power of the College. Together with these few people, and joined by literally thousands of others, Stan, Flo and Sally have been responsible for nearly half a billion dollars in private gift support for the people, programs and facilities of the College.

Stan and Flo have led by example as evidenced by the plethora of enhancements throughout the campus bearing their names – beginning with the Gault Alumni Center, and followed by the Gault Recital Hall, Gault Admissions Center, Gault Library for Independent Study, Gault Manor and most recently, the Gault Recreation Center.

What is remarkable of course is that none of these buildings was provided with any notion of self-recognition. Rather, they were named by actions of the Board of Trustees in gratitude for such exemplary leadership and generosity. Even so, these facilities represent only the tip of an iceberg: there are literally scores of projects and programs made possible by Stan and Flo about which the world will never know.

Beyond such tangible and financial measurement, these three dear persons have demonstrated something that goes to the very heart of the human enterprise. Too often, it takes a tragedy or personal travail to spark a generous response. Such was the case 110 years ago when Andrew Carnegie lifted Wooster like a Phoenix following the burning of Old Main on December 11, 1901 with his $100,000 60-day challenge. (President Holden had telegraphed him that bleak December afternoon: “Yesterday I was president of a college. Today I am president of a hole in the ground.”)

As we all know, the response to this single act of generosity resulted in not one but five buildings: Kauke, Scovel, Severance, Taylor and a new power plant. (It’s important to remember that before arriving at Mr. Carnegie’s doorstep in New York, President Holden walked three times around the block praying for God’s guidance to his appeal and the great philanthropist’s response. Wooster has always embraced at its core such a vertical dimension. Let’s hope we never lose it.)

Then, exactly seventy years later, history repeated itself: Following President Lowry’s untimely death, Foster McGaw – a man of uncommon Christian faith – again lifted the College from the black hole of despair with gifts that eventually numbered in the millions of dollars.

Shortly thereafter, Stan, Flo and Sally came on the scene. Only they built upon something quite different: rather than having to be in recovery mode, they seized on the positive promise of the human spirit that becomes self-evident when free men and free women – living in a free land - are invited by inspired leadership to follow a vision of unlimited possibilities.  

That, my friends, is what brings us to this high moment of celebration and acknowledgement. It is almost solely by the efforts of these three people – and by the Grace of God – that the College we know and love is what it is today.

It is thus with gratitude that we honor you – Stan and Flo Gault – in the name of your and our beloved friend, Sally Patton, with this inaugural Sara L. Patton Stewardship Award.

G. T. ‘Buck’ Smith