The Threefold Advocate in the 50s

I first arrived on campus for the spring semester in 1948 as a Navy veteran. My college career had been pre-empted for World War II service and a couple years in Navy and VA hospitals recovering from tuberculosis. While in the VA convalescent ward for a few months before discharge, I was editor of the patient publication. So I soon associated with those students who were publishing The Threefold Advocate every two weeks, and eventually wrote a “gossip” column.

What became apparent was that because the paper had been so closely associated with the university’s PR publication since its founding about ten years before, some of us believed the campus needed a weekly student newspaper. In fact, a renegade publication called The Student Voice and subheaded “The News While It’s News” appeared in April. And the following month a student wrote, “When is the Advocate going to become a paper instead of a periodical? And when is it going to print student news that interests students instead of other stuff that is for old fogies?”

Not that successfully publishing weekly was a foregone conclusion. There were those in the administration and the student body who didn’t think it could be done, given the size of the school and the “threefold” responsibilities of head, heart and hand education. But officials gave us the go-ahead, and the Advocate’s final issue of 1947-48 included a half-page ad with the promise of “a bigger and better weekly student paper” with “new size, style and staff” and “serving every student.”

That new staff entrusted me with the job of fulfilling that promise as editor for the 1948-49 school year. However, the year got off to an inauspicious start when the VA decided I needed a two-week checkup in the Springfield, Missouri, hospital, starting October 1. Since a print-shop problem had delayed the first issue until October 2, I wouldn’t be around to enjoy the paper’s debut.

Dave Showalter, the Advocate’s business manager, wrote me that it was necessary to work until late Saturday night to get it out. In the second issue, the “We Advocate” box included “that Harry Waterhouse will hurry up and get back to the campus and run this paper… we are going crazy without him.” I was able to mail in an editorial for the third issue, but missed working on it otherwise. But I learned that both the second and third papers were out on time Saturday morning, as was my personal first Advocate October 23rd.

It was gratifying early to receive a letter from an Illinois assistant superintendent of schools citing “the distinctive Christian flavor” of the Advocate. He added, “I surely praise the Lord for your faithfulness to Him in making it known in your publication what JBU stands for.” It was even more gratifying to go to lunch and find so many students reading it, even to combining their reading with their eating! A few issues later, we quoted favorable comments from several JBU administrators. And one student wrote, “The way that we get to that table piled faithfully each week with the news sheet should be a tribute in itself to the Advocate staff who have worked so hard to make it the prime factor it is in furthering our school spirit.”

Of course, favorable reception from officials and students is only one indicator of success for a publication. At the risk of becoming a gadfly, I tried to use the pages of the Advocate for campus improvements of one kind and another. In December of that very first semester I wrote an editorial that questioned the large number of letters issued to students by the academic office for their seeming under-achievement. Unfortunately, neither history nor my memory tells me what, if any, good that did.

Nor do I have a measure for the weekly feature mentioned above, “We Advocate.” This listed a few things we thought the campus needed or students wanted, but only rarely was there any indication that someone was paying attention and fulfilling the need or granting the desire.

Throughout that first year we carried reader letters and articles posing questions about strict dormitory rules, lack of attention to energy conservation and uncoordinated fire alarms. My own views about dining hall etiquette and other campus practices led to two successive editorials. In the first, I lamented the problems of “Hearless Joe Jaybee” who couldn’t make out the dinnertime announcements because conversations continued. The second concerned difficulties experienced by other “Joes,” including “Mailess, Sightless, Speechless, Mindless, Helpless, Chowless” and “Sleepless.”

I was even responsible for needling “higher-ups” on occasion. Once I named a faculty member “Scoop” because he gave an announcement in chapel about an event before the Advocate could print it. When he did it again a couple of months later, I proclaimed in a headline that his name was “Mud.” This drew some negative reaction from some administrators, but others dismissed it as just a college prank of sorts.

I should probably mention the spirit of the times. I was far from being the only veteran returning to college, and as such, had enough regimentation to last a lifetime. And looking back, it was probably also the start of the somewhat rebellious culture that would mark later times.

In February, a group of us from the Boosters Club met with a representative from the North Central accrediting association. He rather surprised us by asking what was wrong with the school and, of course, we were reluctant to respond. But eventually we told him we would like to have some influence on campus operations. The following week I was able to write a front-page article announcing that a faculty-student committee was being formed to discuss problems and reach solutions.

Whatever force the paper exerted, we knew its first year was an almost unqualified success in terms of its acceptance by every element of John Brown University. Also, whatever personal influence I had, my staff thought I should continue as editor for another year.

A preview of the 1949-50 Threefold Advocate as far as editorial impact is concerned came October 22, 1949, when a front-page article prescribed club meeting times set by university administration. In that same issue, I wrote an editorial outlining what I thought were the responsibilities of the Student Council members toward its constituents and of the students toward its council.

On page one of the next issue, I could report that a council committee was charged with investigating what prompted the administrative action and see if there was a better alternative. A week later, another front-page article indicated that a council committee was appointed to help the dean with revision of the Student Handbook.

Unfortunately, I damaged my own cause—trying to reconcile the desire for more student input into campus rules and regulations—by writing an overly sarcastic page-one editorial about some proposed dining hall regulations. This from one of the participants in an earlier attempt to relax the requirement to wear ties to supper. Many male students wore paper ties proclaiming, “We protest!”

Anyway, the powers that be wrote our advisor suggesting that “the editorial policy of the paper does not always support the school’s program nor some of the plans made to improve the program.” This issue had been withheld from off-campus distribution, and I had to tone down the article and publish a retraction.

By year’s end, however, the Advocate had also actively joined the discussion of shortcomings in Student Council representation, resulting in a 113-107 vote to revise the bylaws in favor of a more equitable system. Unfortunately, time has erased any indication of how much influence we actually had in the outcome!

It IS interesting to note that in February, 1951, “The University administration in connection with the suggestions of the Student Council announced a new set of regulations for the dining hall.” Men were no longer required to wear ties at the evening meal but “all should attend properly dressed.”

It didn’t really matter, because my staff and I were more elated about the awards received at the annual Arkansas College Press Association convention. Out of a dozen or so school publications, our paper tied for third in the overall “sweepstakes” competition and also received third place in makeup and typography and in advertising and display. Three staffers received individual awards.

The Advocate also increased its stature with Associated Collegiate Press. The first year it only rated third class but made second class the second year. With my longtime friend and co-worker George Pearson as editor, the 1950-51 paper earned a first-class rating among only 12 nationwide. In 1951-52 its rating score was the highest ever, but because of reclassification it missed first-class by 25 points.

On a personal note, I continued on the staff as sports editor my junior year and then business manager, while helping as much as possible otherwise. After a summer with a radio station in my native Massachusetts, I returned the fall after graduation to become operations manager and vocational supervisor for KUOA-AM-FM.

Because of that I was on campus to see, sorrowfully, The Threefold Advocate suspend publication in March of 1953 due to a seeming “lack of student interest” and financial difficulties. But it came back the following year and has continued to serve Jaybees until today, with very few lapses. May it ever be so until the Lord calls us home!