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Clark considers University’s Brethren influence

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Al Clark, professor of humanities, discusses the Church of Brethren’s heritage at the University of La Verne and the shifting 129-year relationship between the school and the church Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room. Clark explained how the Brethren church helped fund and expand the University campus, with buildings such as Miller Hall and Brandt residence hall. / photo by Litsy Tellez

Liliana Castañeda
News Editor

Al Clark, professor of humanities, presented a lecture called “Brethren Heritage at ULV: 129 years of Shifting Interpretations” as part of the weekly La Verne Academy Lecture series at noon Tuesday at the Quay Davis Executive Board Room. 

The lecture recounted the University’s history with the Brethren Church and those values that continue  in the University’s current culture.

About 35 people attended the in-person event, which was also available on Zoom. 

“I want to emphasize that the University’s heritage is really, in most respects, the heritage of the local Church of the Brethren,” Clark said. “The Brethren heritage of the University…has mirrored the local progressive values here.”

Clark highlighted that there were three main beliefs that remained constants throughout the University’s growth that connected it to its Brethren roots: simplicity, community and peace. 

“As an outsider looking in or an insider looking out, it seems that the Brethren took delight in creating new service projects that met unmet needs,” Clark said.

He brought up examples in which the University practiced each of these. 

By repurposing buildings, the University was practicing simplicity because there was no purpose in constructing buildings for the sake of vanity, but there was for the sake of need, Clark said. 

In some cases, this meant creating minimalist buildings where education could take place without asbestos being a potential danger. 

The University of La Verne used to be the Lordsburg Hotel before it became an educational institution. Miller Hall was once a women’s dormitory, and Woody Hall was a men’s dormitory. These buildings were upscaled to become classrooms, laboratories and offices. Even the newest building, the Ludwick Center, was partly constructed and partly repurposed. The red brick part of that building used to be Brandt residence hall.

Clark said Brandt Hall was named after Jesse Brandt, a student who was imprisoned for refusing to serve in the military when World War I broke out because, as a member of the Church of the Brethren, he was a conscientious objector.

Though the original dormitory has been demolished for the most part, some of it was integrated into the Ludwick Center. 

There is a plaque on the building honoring Brandt, his resistance to war and protest for peace near the main entrance.

To live simply was a core value of the Brethren Church that was repeated throughout the lecture.

Mathew Sazma, assistant professor of psychology who attended the lecture, said that simplicity is great, but it only works when there is a purpose behind it.

“I think it’s great if things are simple as long as you say ‘OK, when you conserve here, we can then see the benefits to the community here’ as opposed to a random new shiny building that people may or may not know about,” Sazma said.

Clark said that Woody Hall was named after a custodian and that this reinforced the sentiment of simplicity and community because being a custodian is a modest job that is not always recognized, however it was at  La Verne. 

Clark said that the community value of the Brethren Church was upheld throughout the years, in respect to the fact that the primary financial donors to the college for the first 77 years were part of the church.

“I think also as a younger faculty member it is good to know where the values came from because I think that there is a lot of implicit institutional knowledge that builds up,” Samza said.

“Service has been the consistent theme for the Brethren (and)  the University,”  Clark said. “It’s that service that ties everything together.”

Clark said that although the University has gone through struggles to survive in the past – during the Great Depression, World War I and World War II – these consistent core values of simplicity, community and peace have endured.

Zandra Wagoner, university chaplain, said that knowing something about the University’s Brethren heritage and the values that were practiced is a source of pride. 

“Because the founders of this institution are predominantly white, predominantly Christian, and certainly Brethren –  these may be identities that don’t resonate with many of our students, (but) by learning actually who the people of the Church of the Brethren were, students can feel a resonance,” Wagoner said.

Liliana Castañeda can be reached at liliana.castaneda@laverne.edu.

Liliana Castañeda, a senior communications major, is the Fall 2022 news editor of the Campus Times. She has previously served as editorial director, arts editor, copy editor and a staff writer.

Litsy Tellez is a junior photography major and a staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine.

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