The story of how a small college moved to Aurora 100 years ago and grew into Aurora University includes elements of religion, finances and location — or, as Susan Palmer puts it “intensity, politicking and shenanigans.”
Palmer, a professor emerita of history, told of the events leading up to the college's April 3, 1912 move to Aurora on Wednesday afternoon to about 500 faculty, students and alumni gathered for a centennial celebration.
Although the process of choosing a new location, raising funds for buildings and completing the move wasn't easy for college leaders, Palmer said the support they found from Aurorans, especially the business community, was a precursor to the collaboration that occurs today.
When leaders of Mendota College needed more space just 19 years after the college was founded, they chose Aurora partially because of its available jobs, transportation and city infrastructure.
Members of the Advent Christian Church founded the college in 1893, and they weren't necessarily affluent people, Palmer said.
“It also was difficult for their children to attend college without working, and jobs were not as plentiful in Mendota as they would be in Aurora,” she said.
Alternatives to Aurora were considered — mainly the northern suburb of Zion, then called Zion City. But founded in 1902 by John Alexander Dowie, Zion City was run as a theocracy, and had some strange laws, Palmer said.
Dowie outlawed all the usual suspects such as alcohol, tobacco, gambling and swearing. But oysters, politicians, doctors, whistling on Sundays and tan-colored shoes also were prohibited, she said.
The college turned down Zion City, although not necessarily because of the oddity of Dowie's laws. His death caused political division in the town, which Orrin Roe Jenks, who became the college's president once it moved to Aurora, wanted nothing to do with. Jenks “was the driving force behind the whole relocation process,” Palmer said, and always strongly favored the City of Lights.
As the university looks back on its past, officials also are fundraising for three future projects to commemorate 100 years in Aurora, President Rebecca Sherrick said.
“They all have to do with the college tradition of welcoming people and offering hospitality,” Sherrick said about the planned centennial gateway, welcoming center and addition to the Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action.
“We're really weaving those historical traditions together.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.