Eighty-two years ago in a tiny coastal town in Florida — while the DOW reached its lowest point and the Lindbergh baby dominated the headlines and national unemployment surged to 33% — small town Florida life was just fine. Or at least that’s what they insisted.
St. Andrews Bay itself was working hard to stir up optimism to draw tourists, its primary industry. Booster journalists called it the “Eden of West Florida” with 400 miles of ocean water front and resort accommodations. Sportsmen should love the fishing (both fresh and salt water), the press gushed, and the “surf bathing” too. The county seat had a population of 7500 and bragged about its 15 miles of paved streets. Tourism was the largest industry. It still is. The $10 million freshly-built paper mill guaranteed steady jobs alongside the area’s turpentine production. The Atlanta and St. Andrews Bay railroad had promised for 20 years to bring more Northern business to the little town. The area is still waiting for that boom 100 years later.
Bob Jones College was a badge of honor and respectability for the Bay. Locals still talk about the school with fondness. The little conservative high school and junior college on “College Point” was just as flush with possibility as its surrounds. They had formed a new organization that Spring, “Young People’s Fellowship Club,” not because enrollment was low, Bob Jones Sr. insisted. Everything is just fine, remember? No, the Clubs were for people “from the ages of 14 to 25” and were designed “be a factor in the social life of Christian people everywhere.” Ultimately, however, the hope was to boost enrollment, a marketing plan to sell the school to prospective students week after week in a church environment. The clubs started in two states: Monroe Parker and Henry Grube ran the Alabama clubs, and 973 miles away national president Clifford Lewis ran the Pennsylvania club. At the opening convention in Montgomery, Bob Sr. gushed typically: “I have never been in such a religious gathering.”
In Fundyland, superlatives are always a sign of trouble.
1932 Commencement Week was the characteristic festival atmosphere that Bob Jones alumni remember all too well. Miss Rowena Chason was named the “Queen” of the 1932 Commencement Pageant. Her dad, Jefferson D. Chason, was a prominent dentist in the Bell Building in Montgomery. It’s important, you see, to keep large donors connected.
The BJC Speech Department presented Taming of the Shrew one afternoon, but that evening’s featured performance was Hamlet with Bob Jones Jr. returning fresh from the University of Chicago to assume the title role. Everything seemed to be perfectly respectable about that little college that Spring. Like St. Andrews Bay, everything was just fine.
In the summer the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism branded Bob Jones Sr. and Billy Sunday “fanatics” and proposed joining with “Modernists” to fight the fundamentalist religion. Jones relished the label and lobbed back a similar public rant. The fight seemed staged, a Depression-era reality show for summertime attention. Both organizations justified the other’s existence, like a Cheesecake Factory built next to a bariatric clinic.
While the ocean breezes turned just a tad cooler that 1932 Fall, the local papers praised the beginning of the school year. “Possibly no institution in the South carries a clearer message of goodwill, or extends a more cordial welcome to newcomers in ‘the flowery land of Florida,’ than Bob Jones College.” Yes, if you want tourists to come, Bob Jones College will draw them since BJC is “a growing monument to the highest ideals of the South.” Not American ideals, of course, since those had fallen into disrepute during the Great Depression. But true, Southern ideals are memorialized at Bob Jones College in Florida’s flowery land.
And why does BJC succeed? True religion? God’s blessing? Prayer? Qualified faculty? The creed? No, BJC succeeds for one reason only — its Founder:
Dr. Jones is widely known over the entire United States as one of our nation’s greatest evangelists. He stands four-square for the ‘old-time religion,’ and has never trimmed his sails to suit the favoring breeze of popular ‘isms.’ Hence the college is deservedly popular with Christian parents who wish their sons and daughters trained in the highest qualities of Christian citizenship with a view to heavenly citizenship hereafter. It may be safely said that the whole country recognizes it as a fountain-head of Christian education.
The whole country recognizes Bob Jones College’s fine reputation because everybody knows Bob Jones’ popular unpopularity. Bob doesn’t follow the winds of fashion, but everybody admires him for it. Christian parents, too, trust “Dr. Bob” with their children since “Bob Jones College students bear the stamp of sincerity and uprightness and are noted for their fine characters.” No formal accreditation is necessary for these alumni because BJC’s fine reputation supersedes any bureaucratic rubber-stamps. While the North is failing to feed its citizens in the soup kitchens and bread lines, there’s not a whiff of failure at beautiful College Point.
From the beginning the college has been a success. The past year exceeded all previous records in attendance and scholastic achievements. The courses of study are so graded that the credits of Bob Jones College are accepted by the leading universities of the country.
But there’s more! Don’t forget why exactly Bob Jones College is flush with optimism, citizenship, and popularity in the midst of our country’s greatest Depression. The press release, which by this point sounds must have been written by Bob himself, reminds us again of the solitary reason:
Aside from being considered one of the greatest evangelists of the country, Dr. Jones may also be considered one of the greatest citizens, in that he is building character in the Southland by constructive Christian forces — forces that have made our nation honored and respected in the past.
BJC’s success comes not from biblical orthodoxy or Jesus or hard work or fine Christian homes or fine Christian young people. No, it’s Dr. Bob. And not to be outdone in its supremacy, the newspaper hagiography concludes with a final flourish:
Bob Jones College is a strong and noble pillar on which the foundation of the State of Florida may stand secure.
Yes, everything is just fine. Bob Jones College is the load-bearing wall supporting the fine culture of the South for Florida itself. If Bob Jones College is strong, Florida is strong. You need Bob Jones College, St. Andrews Bay. We support you, drawing in the finest, sincerest Christian young people from around the country. Everyone can look at College Point and see our sterling character which is the finest known to humankind. Everybody loves us. And we are just fine. Everything is fine. Remember that, now: everything is just fine.