Recovery and Growth—Tennessee, 1933-1947
In the middle of the Great Depression a bankrupt Bob Jones College (and Academy) was forced to announce that it had sold its Florida campus. Some predicted that BJC would follow the path of many other schools of the time—that it would just close.
But immediately after the 1933 graduation ceremonies at College Point, members of the administration left for Cleveland, Tennessee. A vacant building that had seen vandalism for the past several years awaited. In spite of massive amounts of effort, naysayers expected the school to flounder, enrollment to decline, and the doors to BJC and BJA to eventually close for good. Moving to Tennessee was just the final death knell of Jones Sr.’s optimistic educational idea.
God, however, had other plans. The September of the first year in Tennessee saw a 50% increase over the Florida enrollment. That was only the beginning.
Cleveland, located between Chattanooga and Knoxville, had a population of 10,000 when BJC moved to the sleepy southern town in 1933. It had but one industry—the Hardwick Stove Company. Near the middle of town were the abandoned buildings of Centenary College, a junior college run by the Holston Methodist Conference. The Depression had forced the Conference to close the school in 1929, and the buildings had fallen into disrepair. The Conference had not made payments on the property and owed $66,000 to local businessman and property owner, George Hardwick.
A deal was struck. BJC would pay $33,000 and the Conference $33,000 by 1936, and Hardwick would deed the property to BJC. The Conference saw their debt being cut in half—and expecting BJC to fail—they could reclaim a restored property. By 1936, BJC had paid their share, and Dr. Jones had even helped the Conference to raise money to pay their share. BJC once again owned a campus (Turner, 55).
Pinkston, W.S. (2016). A History of Bob Jones Academy.
Turner, D.L (2002). Standing Without Apology. Greenville, SC: BJU Press.
Although Bob Jones College was forced to close its doors at College Point, Florida, during the Great Depression, God was not yet done with BJC. His hand of blessing remained on the school as He opened the door to new opportunities in Tennessee.
This past week, Mr. Gene Fisher, principal of Bob Jones Academy from 1964 to 1968, went home to be with the Lord.
After graduating from BJU in 1952, Mr. Fisher began teaching Bible and social studies at BJA and served as assistant principal and disciplinarian before becoming principal. As principal he established new registration procedures for the Academy and personally printed many of BJA’s materials, including a schedule of classes and registration instructions. Mr. Fisher was known by his students to be positive, friendly, and, even, jolly. One former student said he always remembered his students’ names and reflected the love of God in his kindness.
Mr. Fisher left BJA to become dean of the College of Arts and Science at BJU. After pursuing an advanced degree, he returned to the University’s social studies faculty until his retirement. His legacy at BJA includes family members also serving at BJA: son, David, former social studies teacher and former principal; a granddaughter, Lorna, former social studies teacher, and daughter-in-law, Rachel, current speech teacher. Mr. Fisher is survived by his wife, Lucille Fisher.
Thank you, Mr. Fisher, for your faithfulness to BJA, BJU, and to the Lord.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4). Bob Jones College and the Academy faced difficult times during the Great Depression. It seemed that Satan would have his way in closing the school; but even through the dark days, God’s hand of blessing rested on BJC. This segment of Bill Pinkston’s compilation recalls the last days in Florida—in spite of great struggle, God did not forsake the school.
The Great Depression hit everyone hard. Well-to-do people became penniless. The working class became jobless and homeless. The value of real estate plummeted. Bob Jones College was doing well to merely survive, and it was doing that by cutting back and sacrificing.
At one point Dr. Jones asked the faculty to voluntarily take a 10% pay cut. As the financial situation worsened, he addressed the faculty: “We are broke, and we can’t continue to pay the large salaries we’ve been paying. We will give you a place to live and something to eat for all members of the family, plus a little cash.” One faculty member responded, “Did you say that you would give us a place to live, plus the food we eat, plus some cash? I have never been any better off than that. I will take it.” So did the rest of the faculty, starting an employment system that would basically continue until the 1980s (Turner, 48).
Dr. Jones cashed in his life insurance policy and sold the land of his boyhood home to pay the school’s debts. He appealed to the bondholders to sell the bonds back at face value. Some did. Others were willing to put off claiming their payments until later.