It was announced by the
Evangelical Church that it would make Western Union College a
seat of learning of which both Le Mars and Iowa would be proud.
In order to accomplish this, it was deemed essential that an endowment
fund of $100,000 should be raised. It was proposed to secure the
amount by popular subscription, and the citizens of Le Mars and
vicinity quickly pledged the amount apportioned to them. The
board of trustees then selected the faculty and pushed forward on other
arrangements for making the opening in September of 1900 a successful
one from every point of view.
In the selection of the president of the college the board
was very fortunate in securing the services of Reverend Herman Henry
Thoren, Ph.D. He was well fitted for the type of institution now
envisioned, for he was both a highly educated and accomplished
Christian gentleman. Reverend Thoren was a native of Germany,
where he was raised and educated until he was nearly eighteen years of
age. He arrived in Le Mars in July, 1900 and immediately entered
upon his duties, shouldering the arduous task of completing
arrangements for the opening of classes in September.
The catalogues had been issued, the courses of study arranged,
and everything progressing well when a blow fell that would have
blighted the hopes of those whose faith was less strong than that of
the worthy president and his coadjutors, the board of trustees.
On the night of August 24, 1900, during a terrific rain storm, the
college building was struck by lightening and in a remarkably short
time completely destroyed by fire. The citizens of Le Mars were
awakened by the harassing fire alarm and hurried to the south end of
the city where stood the stately college building wrapped in
destructive flames. In one short hour the fire had consumed all
preparations and annulled the work of months. It was a remarkable
coincidence that the building was burned just eight years to the day on
which it was dedicated, August 24, 1892.
Before the flames had ceased their work of devastation, the
president of the college was busy mailing mimeographed circulars to the
trustees and others with the information that was saddening,
indeed. Many prophesied that the burning of the college building
would be the end of Western Union College. But they
underestimated the determination of the supporters of the school.
With courage and trust in Providence, Le Mars and President Thoren rose
to the occasion.
There had been nothing in the agreement between the newly
incorporated college and the Normal School Association to restore the
building destroyed by the fire. Therefore if the college was to
be rebuilt, an estimated $10,000 would have to be raised for that
purpose. Reverend Jonas, presiding elder of the United
Evangelical Church, believed that the church would not be able to take
on the additional burden, so all concerned looked to the people of Le
Mars for aid.