Nature they say,
And cannot make a man
Save on some worn-out
Repeating us by rote:
For him her Old-World moulds aside she threw,
With stuff untainted,
shaped a hero new. Lowell
Dr. Lloyd Fenneben, Dean of Sunrise
College, had migrated to the Walnut Valley with the
founding of the school here. In fact, he had brought
the college with him when he came hither, and had
set it, as a light not to be hidden, on the crest
of that high ridge that runs east of the little town
of Lagonda Ledge. And the town eagerly took the
new school to itself; at once its pride and profit.
Yea, the town rises and sets with Sunrise. When
the first gleam of morning, hidden by the east ridge
from the Walnut Valley, glints redly from the south
windows of the college dome in the winter time, and
from the north windows in the summer time, the town
bestirs; itself, and the factory whistles blow.
And when the last crimson glory of evening puts a
halo of flame about the brow of Sunrise, the people
know that out beyond the Walnut River the day is passing,
and the pearl-gray mantle of twilight is deepening
to velvety darkness on the wide, quiet prairie lands.
Lagonda Ledge was a better place after
the college settled permanently above it. Some
improvident citizens took a new hold on life, while
some undesirables who had lived in lawless infamy
skulked across the Walnut and disappeared in that
rough picturesque region full of uncertainties that
lies behind the west bluffs of the stream. All
this, after the college had found an abiding place
on the limestone ridge. For Sunrise had been
a migratory bird before reaching the outskirts of Lagonda
Ledge. As a fulfillment of prophecy, it had arisen
from the visions and pockets of some Boston scholars,
and it had come to the West and was made flesh or
stone and dwelt among men on the outskirts
of a booming young Kansas town.
Lloyd Fenneben was just out of Harvard
when Dr. Joshua Wream, his step-brother, many years
his senior, professor of all the dead languages ever
left unburied, had put a considerable fortune into
his hands, and into his brain the dream of a life-work even
the building of a great university in the West.
For the Wreams were a stubborn, self-willed, bookish
breed, who held that salvation of souls could come
only through possession of a college diploma.
Young Fenneben had come to Kansas with all his youth
and health and money, with high ideals and culture
and ambition for success and dreams of honor and,
hidden deep down, the memory of some sort of love
affair, but that was his own business. With this
dream of a new Harvard on the western prairies, he
had burned his bridges behind him, and in an unbusiness-like
way, relying too much upon a board of trustees whom
he had interested in his plans he had eagerly begun
his task, struggling to adapt the West to his university
model, measuring all men and means by the scholarly
rule of his Alma Mater. Being a young man, he
took himself full seriously, and it was a tremendous
blow to his sense of dignity when the youthful Jayhawkers
at the outset dubbed him “Dean Funnybone” a
name he was never to lose.
His college flourished so amazingly
that another boom town, farther inland, came across
the prairie one day, and before the eyes of the young
dean bought it of the money-loving trustees body
and soul and dean and packed it off as
the Plains Indians would carry off a white captive,
miles away to the westward. Plumped down in a
big frame barracks in the public square of twenty
acres in the middle of this new town, at once real
estate dealers advertised the place as the literary
center of Kansas; while lots in straggling additions
far away across the prairie draws were boomed as “college
flats within walking distance of the university.”
In this new setting Lloyd Fenneben
started again to build up what had been so recklessly
torn down. But it was slow doing, and in a downcast
hour the head of the board of trustees took council
with the young dean.
“Funnybone, that’s what
the boys call you, ain’t it?” The name
had come along over the prairie with the school.
“Funnybone, you are as likely a man as ever
escaped from Boston. But you’re never going
to build the East into the West, no more’n you
could ram the West into the Atlantic seaboard states.
My advice to you is to get yourself into the West for
good and drop your higher learnin’ notions, and
be one of us, or beat it back to where you came from
Dean Fenneben listened as a man who
hears the reading of his own obituary.
“You’ve come out to Kansas
with beautiful dreams,” the bluff trustee continued.
“Drop ’em! You’re too late for
the New England pioneers who come West. They’ve
had their day and passed on. The thing for you
to do is to commercialize yourself right away.
Go to buyin’ and sellin’ dirt. It’s
all a man can do for Kansas now. Just boom her
“All a man can do for Kansas!” Fenneben
“Sure, and I’ll tell you
something more. This town is busted, absolutely
busted. I, and a few others, brought this college
here as an investment for ourselves. It ain’t
paid us, and we’ve throwed the thing over.
I’ve just closed a deal with a New Jersey syndicate
that gets me rid of every foot of ground I own here.
The county-seat’s goin’ to be eighteen
miles south, and it will be kingdom come, a’most,
before the railroad extension is any nearer ’n
that. Let your university go, and come with me.
I can make you rich in six months. In six weeks
the coyotes will be howlin’ through your college
halls, and the prairie dogs layin’ out a townsite
on the campus, and the rattlesnakes coilin’ round
the doorsteps. Will you come, Funnybone?”
The trustee waited for an answer.
While he waited, the soul of the young dean found
“Funnybone!” Lloyd repeated.
“I guess that’s just what I need a
funny bone in my anatomy to help me to see the humor
of this thing. Go with you and give up my college?
Build up the prosperity of a commonwealth by starving
its mind! No, no; I’ll go on with the thing
I came here to do so help me God!”
“You’ll soon go to the
devil, you and your old school. Good-by!”
And the trustee left him.
A month later, Dean Fenneben sat alone
in his university barracks and saw the prairie dogs
making the dust fly as they digged about what had
been intended for a flower bed on the campus.
Then he packed up his meager library and other college
equipments and walked ten miles across the plains
to hire a man with a team to haul them away. The
teamster had much ado to drive his half-bridle-wise
Indian ponies near enough to the university doorway
to load his wagon. Before the threshold a huge
rattlesnake lay coiled, already disputing any human
claim to this kingdom of the wild.
Discouraging as all this must have
been to Fenneben, when he started away from the deserted
town he smiled joyously as a man who sees his road
fair before him.
“I might go back to Cambridge
and poke about after the dead languages until my brother
passes on, and then drop into his chair in the university,”
he said to himself, “but the trustee was right.
I can never build the East into the West. But
I can learn from the East how to bring the West into
its own kingdom. I can make the dead languages
serve me the better to speak the living words here.
And if I can do that, I may earn a Master’s
Degree from my Alma Mater without the writing of a
learned thesis to clinch it. But whether I win
honor or I am forgotten, this shall be my life-work out
on these Kansas prairies, to till a soil that shall
grow men and women.”
For the next three years Dean Fenneben
and his college flourished on the borders of a little
frontier town, if that can be called flourishing which
uses up time, and money, and energy, Christian patience,
and dogged persistence. Then an August prairie
fire, sweeping up from the southwest, leaped the narrow
fire-guard about the one building and burned up everything
there, except Dean Fenneben. Six years, and nothing
to show for his work on the outside. Inside, the
six years’ stay in Kansas had seen the making
over of a scholarly dreamer into a hard-headed, far-seeing,
masterful man, who took the West as he found it, but
did not leave it so. Not he! All the power
of higher learning he still held supreme. But
by days of hard work in the college halls, and nights
of meditation out in the silent sanctuary spaces of
the prairies round about him, he had been learning
how to compute the needs of men as the angel with
the golden reed computed the walls and gates of the
New Jerusalem according to the measure
of a man.
Such was Dean Fenneben who came after
six years of service to the little town of Lagonda
Ledge to plant Sunrise on the crest above the Walnut
Valley beyond reach of prairie fire or bursting boom.
Firm set as the limestone of its foundations, he reared
here a college that should live, for that its builder
himself with his feet on the ground and his face toward
the light had learned the secret of living.
Miles away across the valley, the
dome of Sunrise could be seen by day. By night,
the old college lantern at first, and later the studding
of electric lights, made a beacon for all the open
countryside. But if the wayfarer, by chance or
choice, turned his footsteps to those rocky bluffs
and glens beyond the Walnut River, wherefrom the town
of Lagonda Ledge takes its name, he lost the guiding
ray from the hilltop and groped in black and dangerous
ways where darkness rules.
Above the south turret hung the Sunrise
bell, whose resonant voice filled the whole valley,
and what the sight of Sunrise failed to do for Lagonda
Ledge, the sound of the bell accomplished. The
first class to enter the school nicknamed its head
“Dean Funnybone,” but this gave him no
shock any more. He had learned the humor of life
now, the spirit of the open land where the view is
broad to broadening souls.
And it was to the hand of Dean Fenneben
that Professor Vincent Burgess, A.B., Greek instructor
from Boston, and Vic Burleigh, the big country boy
from a claim beyond the Walnut, came on a September
day; albeit, the one had his head in the clouds, while
the other’s feet were clogged with the grass