Students, community celebrate founder’s birthday

Hadley Jolley

Photo Credit : Cornelius

Martie Schilling and Laura Maier, two Walla Walla residents, stopped by Reid Campus Center while running errands and instead ended up talking to “Cushing Eells,” founder of Whitman College, and perusing old yearbooks and copies of The Pioneer.

Tuesday, Feb. 16, students and community members gathered for birthday cake in Reid to honor Whitman’s founder, Cushing Eells, who would have turned 200 years old. Though Eells himself could not show up, Rogers Miles, senior adjunct assistant professor of religion and general studies,  was on hand in costume, portraying Eells and answering students’ questions. Miles plays Eells for the Living History Troop of Fort Walla Walla in the summers as well as during Founder’s Day.

“Originally I got some help with my costume from Harper Joy. I also think I look a lot more snazzy than Cushing Eells. Cushing Eells lived simply,” said Miles.

Besides the birthday cake and Cushing Eells double, this year Whitman celebrated Founder’s Day by posting trivia questions about Whitman’s history around campus. The answers to the questions can be found in this week’s Feature section.

“It’s good that they recognize those who went before,” said Schilling.

The Founder’s Day celebration also included a display of old photos of student life, old copies of The Pioneer and yearbooks.

“We decided we wanted something fun and interactive that would get current students thinking about the Whitman that was,” said Nancy Mitchell, associate director of alumni relations.

Photo Credit : Cornelius

The point of the celebration, however, was not just to eat cake and learn about Whitman’s history: it was to inspire Whitman students to participate in the historical records. The idea for Founder’s Day came from an alumni board program called Documenting the Past, which is designed to convince both alumni and current students to donate Whitman-related documents to the archives so that future Whitman historians have a better understanding of the past. The documents would also be available for students returning for reunions, so that there are records of their college days.

“In 2005, the Alumni Association Board of Directors put together a five-year plan, and from that a committee was formed, called Documenting the Past. One of our goals is to document what is happening on campus now and to educate the students about Whitman’s history,” said Mitchell.

The committee has spoken with Greek system officials as well as ASWC about collecting documents. Currently, they are discussing a plan with ASWC officials  to get records of meeting minutes from ASWC-funded clubs for the archives.

“It started as a result of not having yearbooks. We are looking for a way for students of the future to have a way of looking back at what they were doing, at the everyday student life,” said Cathy Williams, chair of the Documenting the Past committee for the Alumni Association.

Williams found a cache of photographs from her aunt’s days at Whitman, and those photos became part of the display on Founder’s Day, but she worries that future students won’t have that experience.

Both Williams and Mitchell stress that their goal for Founder’s Day was to inspire a sense of connection to history in current Whitman Students. Mitchell believes that the Founder’s Day event was a big success.

“It’s been great; we’ve talked with a lot of students,” said Mitchell, “I just think there’s not normally much of an outlet for this type of information, so this has been a fun way to do it.”

The Documenting the Past committee hopes that life at Whitman will continue to be well-documented, and that students will participate in the effort.

“We want students to be aware of Whitman’s rich history and know that they are also a part of it,” said Mitchell.