History (Part III)

Westmar Alumni and Friends Association

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Seal of Westmar College
Devastation Strikes! (1900)
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.












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