Mission Matters #55 – “Marvin Henricks ’39: ICC Student-Teacher-Interpreter”

For most of the 2018-2019 academic year, I have been exploring the student experience of different generations of alumni at Indiana Central College/University. In this final Mission Matters reflection on this topic, I reintroduce Marvin Henricks ’39, beginning with his student years, before I reprise a remarkable essay that he wrote about the mission of a university.

by Michael G. Cartwright, Vice President for University Mission and Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religion, based on previously published writings of Prof. Marvin Henricks ’39 with alumni reflections from Eugene Lausch ‘60 

This past academic year, I identified several different patterns of the student experience from across the past century of our university’s history. Some of the experiences are quite foreign to the current folkways. But not all are! Indeed, there is always a mix of the strange and the familiar. Some things simply don’t translate across the decades. (Imagine explaining the “Six Degrees of Separation” party game to someone who did not live in the world of the internet.) And yet, in ways that can be quite delightful, sometimes things do translate. (Imagine alumni stories about stunts staged in Good Hall or pranks that took place during the required Chapel events.)

The difference, I suggest, has much to do with the notion of “a sense of place” – that mysterious way in which different people can inhabit spaces in which they have diverse kinds of memories and yet share a common feeling of affection, pride, and loyalty.  To play “Six Degrees of Separation,” you need to know a fair bit about popular culture (i.e., who the actor Kevin Bacon is) but you don’t have to live anywhere in particular. But to appreciate the story about the time when a group of students lets a chicken loose in the chapel while Bishop Reuben Mueller was speaking, it helps to know the spaces in Good Hall (even if Kephart Auditorium no longer exists) where everyone gathered for regularly scheduled events.

As I shall explain, it also helps to have an interpreter who can help orient you to how it is that some things can feel familiar despite the fact that you don’t know specifics.  Professor Marvin Henricks (1917-1988) has been that kind of guide for me. I never had the privilege to meet him, but I work with colleagues who knew him. There are still a few faculty and administrators at UIndy who served alongside Marvin Henricks. And there are many more alumni from the 1950s to the 1980s who vividly remember taking courses from him.

What I find even more amazing is that if you can connect with Marvin Henricks, then you are only one generation removed from the founders, because when Marvin was a student there were members of the faculty and administration who participated in the founding of Indiana Central University. Given this diachronic contiguity of person, place, and time, perhaps it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Marvin Henricks had a wonderful capacity to interpret the student experience of multiple generations. And I have found that some of the alumni who knew Henricks are also remarkable interpreters of their alma mater. I do not pretend to understand why this is the case, but I do marvel at what it says about UIndy then and now. And I think it is worth exploring further in this preface to the 2019-2020 series of reflections about some intellectual traditions of our university.

For the convenience of readers, I have divided this reflection into three parts. I begin with a brief biography of Henricks that focuses on his own student experience. In the second part, I offer perspectives that I have gathered from a few alumni who studied with Professor Henricks at different points during his three-decade-long tenure as a member of the Indiana Central faculty.  In the last part, I provide an overview of the book that he wrote (1977) about Indiana Central University, based on his experience as a student and faculty member as well as his own scholarly analysis as a sociologist.  From Parochialism to Community displays the searching intellect of a scholar who loved his alma mater deeply enough to subject it to critical scrutiny and whose own vocation as a teacher made him an icon of intellectual integrity for his students and colleagues alike.

Marvin Henricks, the student at ICC: 1935-1939

Henricks p 17Our story begins with Marvin’s own experience as a student. His senior photograph in the 1939 Oracle displays the face that is strangely familiar – the same direct unpretentious countenance, but sans wrinkles, no furrowed forehead, no mustache or glasses.

The young man from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who enrolled at Indiana Central College in the mid-1930s arrived with an already existing interest in Christian vocations. Marvin Henricks served on the Student Volunteer, Christian Endeavor and YMCA “cabinets” his sophomore year. At some point, he determined that he would seek ordination in the United Brethren Church. This was one important focus of his college years that crops up in both formal and informal ways.

Of course, Marvin also had other interests. He was involved in intramural sports throughout the four years. Apparently, he was particularly fond of the game of basketball because he organized his own team. “Team Henricks” had mixed success during his senior year, winning only two of the five games they played.

Marvin served as the “Yell Leader” all those years as well as being a member of the Booster Club for most of his time as an ICC student.  According to the 1939 edition of the Oracle yearbook, the main purpose of the latter group was “to raise funds to provide, not necessities, but desirable additions to athletic equipment and recreational facilities.  These funds are raised mainly through the sale of pop, ice cream, and candy at the ball games and in various dormitories. The past two years the Booster Club has purchased thirty pair of roller skates to supplement those furnished by the ‘Y’ organizations. It purchased brilliant new ‘warm up’ jackets for the basketball squad, provided heavy ‘C’ sweaters for all new lettermen, and has purchased almost seventy dollars worth of archery equipment for the girls.” We do not know if Marvin Henricks exercised a strong leadership role in this group, but his participation in the Booster Club does offer evidence that he displayed an active interest in promoting the common good on the ICC campus at a time when students had to shoulder many of the burdens of making provision for the sports teams given the perpetually fraught financial condition of the college before World War II.

Amid continuing interests in sports, Christianity, and campus leadership activities, Marvin’s interests also developed in new ways. For example, in his first three years, he was part of the Glee Club. But during his senior year, he switched to the dramatic club.  That was the year the group put on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. We don’t know what role Marvin Henricks may have played, if any, in that particular production, but I imagine that whether it was on stage or behind the scenes, he participated with enthusiasm and relish.

Marvin also joined the Zetagathea literary society his sophomore year and as a senior served as president of that group. According to the Oracle yearbook, the group gathered “every Monday . . . to appreciate the aesthetic side of life which deals with literary art and speech.”  Along with developing the capacity to operate meetings according to parliamentary procedure, the group encouraged “a wide variety of literary accomplishments. Whether it be essays, poetry, book reviews, addresses or debates, every true Zetagathea strives to bring forth the best that is in him.”  Judging from the kinds of essays that he later wrote, Henricks may have had a particular affinity for this aspect of his college experience.

Marvin also majored in philosophy, which meant that he took most of his classes from Prof. Cummins, a campus fixture for almost four decades (1905-1941), who had been one of the founding faculty at ICU. Henricks was by no means the only philosophy major in those years.  No fewer than five other graduates in the class of 1939 joined Marvin in that status, but it would be a mistake to think of this as a pre-professional track. Rather, it was a small cluster of courses within a still largely unitary curriculum based in the old literary paradigm framed by the classical languages.

This resume of his student experience with a few photographs represents a time before . . . prior to Marvin going to seminary at Bonebrake Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, where he met his future wife Sylvia . . . before Rev. Henricks served as a United Brethren pastor and teacher during World War II . . . before he returned to his alma mater in the early 1950s to teach where he would spend the next thirty years of his life. . . . before he entered graduate school to train to be a sociologist (ultimately completing his master’s degree in 1964, but never his doctorate).

And for his alma mater, it was a time of gradual growth before the eventual transformation into a university.

Marvin Henricks – ICU Teacher and Mentor: 1952-1982

Because only a few people on our campus today in 2019 knew Professor Henricks, I contacted several alumni to get their impressions.  Rev. Glenn Howell ‘78, a sociology major who later became a United Methodist minister recalled Henricks as “the archetype of the absent-minded professor.”  Sr. Mary Luke Jones, OSB ’71 took his introductory sociology class and recalls the hospitality that Prof. Henricks showed to her and other novices from Our Lady of Grace Monastery.

Eugene Lausch ’60 described Marvin Henricks this way: “On a personal level Henricks carried himself in an informal manner; his garb was tweedy — slightly disheveled in a charming way — and he laughed easily with a deep laugh.  Henricks was superb in the classroom.  He was articulate.  He was skillful in illustrating points and he incorporated humor in his lectures, which seemed to be spontaneous and were often delivered walking around the classroom.”

In another recent conversation, Gene Lausch mused, “Henricks said things so well, and could be so stimulating as a classroom teacher, that students sometimes underestimated the subtlety and depth of this thoughts. He had intellectual traits of open-mindedness and acceptance of complexity.  I don’t think he felt the need to ‘tie things up’ in neat packages.”

In retrospect, Gene Lausch realizes that Henricks became an intellectual mentor for him and other students: “In one-on-one conversations on personal matters he was insightful and genuine.  He came across as older and more experienced but did not hold himself above or all-knowing because of his academic position.

“I got to know several Indiana Central faculty members well (e.g., Cramer, St. Clair, McBride) but my relationship with Marvin Henricks was the most personal (in addition to being academic) of those relationships. I was in his home many times and thought his life of books, music, and meaningful conversations was something I wanted to have as a part of my life.”

Based on my conversations with Gene and Carolyn Lausch, Robert Frey, from the class of 1960 as well as Tyron and Fran Inbody ‘62 and other alumni, I have developed a composite portrait of Marvin Henricks as a man who displayed the capacity to raise critical questions without being cynical.  He was an ordained Evangelical United Brethren minister but he was not known for acting pious. He was an intellectual but he did not complete his doctorate. Henricks was certainly an independent thinker, but he was also fond of wrestling with ideas in conversation with students and faculty.  This occurred, often in quite compelling ways in the Senior Colloquium, which Professor Henricks co-led with his friend and colleague Prof. Robert McBride, who taught philosophy. This semester-long conversation was a probing exploration of contemporary issues.

Gene Lausch and other seniors at Indiana Central College recall watching the two men argue with passion and rigor about questions of war and peace as well as the meaning of human existence in a world of change. Lausch recalls: “Marvin Henricks and Bob McBride were friends, but were very different.  If forced to come up with a single word for each of them, I would say ‘literary’ for Henricks and ‘logical’ for McBride.  Henricks understood how power was secured and exercised, but he wanted to stand outside that arena.  In this, he was different than McBride, who wanted to gain power to do good things.”

Gene Lausch may have come as close as anyone I know to capture the rich blend of intellectual sensibilities of Professor Henricks. “As I write about Henricks I realize how important he was to me at ICC and the affection I felt for him.  In some ways Marvin Henricks and I are opposites, but as I think about it just now, I realize I carry deep within me some of what I absorbed from him, and it makes me more tolerant, humane, and insightful about people and events (and skeptical of proffered easy answers).”

I love the way Gene Lausch takes the measure of the similarities and differences between Prof. Henricks and himself. The patterns of influence are real but by no means total. There is plenty of room for naming the differences without permitting the similarities to be crowded out by anxiety of one kind or another. This is part of what I believe it means to stand within an intellectual tradition, to be able to notice the effects of mentoring and shared loyalties and the deep affection that sometimes accompanies an education at a university.

Toward the end of his life, Henricks wrote a poignant piece about his own teacher and mentor, Prof. Cummins. Henricks recalls that by the latter half of the 1930s Prof. Cummins was no longer at his best, and he was humble enough to describe his lectures as “wool gathering.” Even so, in this memorial article Henricks displayed intellectual generosity in testifying that the old pedagogue was “still capable of communicating with younger minds.”

In retrospect, Marvin could see the ways in which Prof. Cummins had been influenced by the writings of the 19th-century philosopher Herbert Spencer, a social thinker who was known for his optimistic assessment of human prospects. (Henricks may not have had access to the lecture notes of Prof. John A. Cummins when he wrote that article, but interested readers can find these materials in the Frederick D. Hill Archives. They offer a fascinating portal into faculty-student engagement at Indiana Central College before World War II.) 

Prof. Henricks had a different disposition than his teacher and one-time mentor, but he also could see some of us own intellect information in the iconic visage of his professor. To borrow an image from another Henricks essay that has influenced my own understanding of our university, Marvin Henricks and John Cummins were part of the same “procession.”  That is to say that these two men were part of an intellectual tradition in which commitment to universal access to (higher) education was a strongly held conviction, in which the effects of mentoring were powerful, however informal in nature, on a campus where poverty of facilities coexisted with the moments of enriched learning amid tenaciously held aspirations for excellence.

Interpreter – Henricks’ From Parochialism to Community (1977)

Professor Henricks died in 1988 more than a decade before I arrived on campus. My connection with him has been mediated by texts that he has written as well as conversations with alumni like Gene and Carolyn Lausch as well as Sr. Mary Luke Jones OSB and Rev. Glenn Howell. I have come to believe that Professor Henricks is the most astute interpreter of the evolving culture of our university across time. I think he may also be our best storyteller to date.

Shortly after I arrived, I found a copy of Henricks book From Parochialism to Community on the faculty shelf at the bookstore. I bought it and read it several times during my first year. I warmly recommend this volume to anyone who wants to understand the curious combination of continuity and change that constitutes the University of Indianapolis in 2019.  Fortunately, the book is readily available via the internet.

My copy of the orange hardbound copy of Henricks’ book is both dog-eared and underlined to make it easier for me to turn to favorite passages that I have quoted on many occasions over the past two decades and more.  Consider his observations about continuity and change with respect to Brown County Day and the annual tug of war. Henricks begins by noting that this feature of Indiana Central College was an adaptation of a “mountain days” tradition found in many eastern colleges.

“On one of the beautiful autumn days for which Indiana is famous, the entire school – faculty, staff, and students – made a trek to Brown County State Park for a day of informal togetherness. A feature of the day has been the annual tug-of-war, but this has changed since the days of the Good administration when those were agonizing struggles of some importance to the freshman and sophomore classes. There were practice sessions and strategies were planned. Now the tug-of-war is a spontaneous effort between the two classes and repeated as a general displacing of excess energy between any two sides that can be made up. That the occasions of Brown County Day have survived for these twenty-five years – a period known for the casting off of traditions – is a matter of note.” (109-110).

As the latter comment suggests, traditions can be traced to their origins and in many cases eventually, end where they do not evolve in new directions. Indeed UIndy’s campus tradition of Brown County Day did come to an end a quarter of a century later (in 2001).  Thanks to Professor Henricks, we had a better sense of the effects of change on our campus culture, and the fact that it was not a custom unique to our campus, but part of a wider set of traditions in American higher education in which communities of learning ventured off campus to enjoy the changing of the seasons in fall and spring.

Henricks had some very perceptive things to say about the changing character of social relationships on the campus of Indiana Central University from when he arrived in 1935 through the next four decades. In the fourth chapter of his book, Marvin provides rich descriptions of what it was like to participate in literary societies, which – he observed, “served in lieu of fraternities and sororities banned by Indiana Central.” (62)  Henricks was matter of fact about the poverty that students and faculty alike experienced during the Great Depression. “Indiana Central had a difficult time, its survival aided by ingenuity and fortitude. Morale was maintained by the supportive awareness that the condition was shared by vast numbers of people.” (58)

As Henricks explains, the sociology of ICC campus life was defined by the fact that students played crucial roles in carrying out the work of the college. “Students did all the work on the campus. There was an adult to supervise the buildings and grounds, an adult to manage the kitchen, and one house mother. I can remember no other person, [who was] not a student, other than faculty who was employed. That meant that students did all the cooking, cleaning and laundry. Students did all the office and clerical work, except for a full-time bookkeeper.” (59, emphasis mine)

This is one of the facts of the matter that I think is very difficult for 21st-century citizens of the university to fathom. Henricks and a few other student leaders led the effort to raise much-needed money for the athletics program. Co-curricular programming, such as it was, existed because students organized it.  Students served alongside faculty as co-workers in a “crusade against ignorance” (to borrow the famous phrase of an American founding father) on a campus where there was precious little infrastructure.  Higher education was a collective achievement at Indiana Central, not the experience of privileged faculty and student elites.

Still later in the book, Henricks explains the context of social change on the campus in relation to the way students and faculty inhabited buildings. “The change in personal relationships was, in part, due to the increase in physical space. The era began with all the educational activities, except physical education and home economics, in one building. The old building, (Good Hall) had a large central stairway from the first to the second floor, and everyone used the stair sometime during the day. It was possible to see everyone in school every day. When the stair was torn down in the remodeling of the old ‘Ad’ building, it was symbolic of the loss of the personal relationships that marked the old campus. The loss of intimacy was the inevitable companion of growth.” (96)

Henricks was also attentive to the social dynamics of exterior spaces on the campus:

“The multiplication of parking spaces and parking lots is a commentary on the nature of the university. The presence of these asphalt acres marks the mobility of the persons who use the facilities and emphasizes the interaction of the school with the community – its businesses, hospitals, and schools. There is a constant movement of vehicles and the population of the campus changes almost hourly. In the evening there is a quite different collection of automobiles and people. This is a great change from the isolated boarding school of forty years ago. The institution is more functional for a much greater clientele, but it is less a homogenous community, and more a gathering of strangers. Indiana Central remains a microcosm of the larger society, now reflecting the heterogeneity, the mobility, and the affluence of the community – and has some of the same attending social problems.” (120)

In passages such as these Marvin Henricks provides the kind of rigorous analysis of the dynamics of social change that one would expect from a behavioral scientist. But he does not pretend to stand outside of the history in which he was a participant. Indeed, I would argue that some of the most astute observations are those in which Henricks places himself and other participants in relation to one another within their common social milieu. For example, he plainly states that under President Esch the school was “pragmatic more than intellectual.”

The words chosen here are judicious, measuring matters of more and less. And in this instance, Marvin is registering the ways in which President Esch managed to chart a middle course between utilitarian pressures on the one hand and traditional liberal arts education on the other. Indeed, the passage cited above occurs in the final paragraph of chapter six in which Henricks offers a sly assessment that says as much about himself as Esch. “[A]lthough Dr. Esch earned his degree in theology and sociology, he never quite believed the sociologists and his philosophy was always tempered by a hard-rock Pennsylvania Republicanism. Nevertheless, he did allow Democrats to coexist, and sociologists were tolerated.” (112)

Henricks did not spare himself from the socio-historical gaze with which he surveyed the campus past and present. He admitted to a measure of nostalgia as he took the measure of the past standing near the end of his career. “The years 1955-1965 were golden years for me.” When he looked back, two reasons stood out to him. Henricks reported that students during that period “were interested in my discipline and they responded to me and I to them. I had more students who went on to be professionals in those years than at any other period.” (105) The second reason was that he had a close working relationship with Prof. Robert McBride, who he affectionately described as “the most stimulating colleague I have known.”

The synergy between the two men was on full display in the Senior Colloquium, a venture that Henricks credits to McBride, but that he “along with other some others” helped to lead. The colloquium was designed as “the capstone of the four-year liberal education. Seniors were supposed to come from the myriad threads of theory that four years in college had spun, and we were to weave for them the whole cloth of truth. We failed in this objective, much to the dismay of President Esch, for we raised more questions that they had been aware of, and provided no answers. I think the students enjoyed most to have the faculty argue among themselves, but I believe too, that they caught the excitement of intellectual controversy.” (105-106)

In passages such as these, readers have the opportunity to encounter the mind of a person whose own intellect had evolved across the decades.  He had come to ICC in the midst of the Depression, graduated shortly before the beginning of World War II, returned to his alma mater to teach during the post-war years at a time when Indiana Central burst into full-bloom, and lived to witness the beginnings of its transformation from a small Christian college to a more diverse university.  And he had been stretched and changed in the process.

The title of Henricks’ book, in which sociological expertise commingled with personal memoir reflections, was not so much a commentary about origins as it was a judicious reflection about social transition – the growth and development of an institution of higher education — in which student experience and faculty engagement with intellectual traditions were central features of a community of learners where parochialism was being left behind in the context of a quest for truth for which all were responsible.  Henricks refused to accede to those who wanted to tell the story of his alma mater as if it was all about change, and he was equally adamant in his insistence that some traditions were more vital than others.  He conveyed his sense of the place and time during the half-century of his association, and those of us who have the privilege of reading his reflections in the 21st century recognize the basis for our own sense of place.


Later this summer I will introduce the 2019-2020 series theme for Mission Matters with a piece about Marvin Henricks. That article will focus on the intellectual traditions that Professor Henricks identified when he was invited to write a piece about the University for the 75th-anniversary celebration held in 1980. In the meantime, whether your plans include playing six degrees of separation with friends and family or summertime reveries about your own intellectual forebears, I wish you well.  Please send your feedback to me via missionmatters@uindy.edu. Thanks for taking the time to reflect with me.

Remember:  UIndy’s mission matters!