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Presidential candidate spoke here 101 years ago

William Jennings Bryan's visit was part of the 1922-23 college series;

and some thoughts on why Bluffton succeeds in these ventures


Few Bluffton residents today realize that one-time U.S. presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan spoke here in 1923. His visit to Bluffton was one of six programs on the Bluffton College Music and High School Lecture Course in the 1922-23 season.

The following musicians performed on the series that season: •The Zoellner String Quartet - performed thousands of concerts, in North America and Europe, for kings and queens and presidents, and Helen Keller, who was brought to tears by their playing of Tchaikovsky

• Thomas Chalmers, baritone – frequent performer with the Metropolitan Opera, appeared in several TV dramas including Westinghouse Studio One, CBS Television Workshop, Kraft Theatre

• Edna Swanson Ver Haar, contralto – singer who presented recitals around the world

Lecturers: • William Jennings Bryan – ran for president three times, in 1896, 1900 and 1908, served as Secretary of State from 1913 to 1915

• Pennsylvania Governor Martin G. Brumbaugh – his background as a pacifist with connections to Quakers and Mennonites, certainly was a reason for his invitation to Bluffton

• Captain James (Grizzly) Smith – Unable to location information about Capt. Smith




The Bluffton Community Association was a major sponsor of this series.

This association was a forerunner of several village organizations created to promote Bluffton.

Going further, this association helps answer the question, "Why does small-town rural Bluffton continue to succeed when other rural communities fight for survival?"

One could argue that these associations are one of the reasons of Bluffton's success in several areas, including a cohesive Main Street business district.

The lesson here is that when the early community saw a need, it came together to see the matter resolved in a successful fashion. And that idea continues today.

Perhaps the earliest of such groups formed to raise funds to successfully attract two railroads to come through Bluffton. These organized as early as the 1870s.

Another such group successfully persuaded the committee selecting a location for a Mennonite college to land in Bluffton.

On the heels of that decision, perhaps the same group assisted in making the dream of a Bluffton Community Hospital a reality.

Among later groups includes the Bluffton Business Men’s Association, which is today the Bluffton Area Chamber of Commerce.

In the early 1920s the Bluffton Community Association also  succeeded in obtaining a significant grant from the Harmon Foundation to create Harmon Field as a community park. Bluffton was among the smallest communities awarded a Harmon grant.

Put in another context, these things didn't just happen here. They happened because the community came together make things happen.

The series program offers a summary of the Bluffton community high points, carrying the motto “Bigger Better Bluffton.” The "bragging rights" on this list are well deserved for a village of 2,000 residents 101 years ago.




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