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Remembering Lombard through Sandburg

A Personal Essay

By Brian Gawor '98

Carl Sandburg attended Lombard College from 1899 to 1902.I recently had an opportunity to read first-hand a description of life at Lombard by Galesburg's favorite son and Lombard graduate Carl Sandburg in the posthumously published Ever the Winds of Chance.

Sandburg enrolled at Lombard in 1898 after returning as a veteran of the Spanish and American war. He writes that he had "walked barefoot over all sidewalks, paths and corners of its 13-acre campus" growing up in Galesburg; however, his experiences as a student gave him a new appreciation of Lombard.

"I went to college and learned what it is they do at colleges. I learned about professors, how many kinds there can be of professors," Sandburg writes. One he remembered fondly was the Rev. Nehemiah White, who Sandburg called an "antique," who shepherded more than just the divinity students. "The gist of our learning with the guidance of Nehemiah White was this: Civilization rests upon diversity of opinion."

Lombard College itself was an example of this diversity for Sandburg. "The Lombard students came from plain folks mainly, from the working class and middle class. There were daughters of bankers and merchants who mixed freely and easily with the children of farmers and mechanics."

Perhaps the most influential faculty member on Sandburg was Phillip Green Wright, who among other subjects, taught poetry. He organized a writer's club, and Sandburg writes that Wright had an enormous impact upon him. In his honor, the Phillip Green Wright Lombard prize still recognizes outstanding faculty at Knox.

And Sandburg spent some time at Knox as well. Along with other Lombard students, he attended a lecture series that included many contemporary notables, including Booker T. Washington. Rev. White's "diversity of opinion" is strongly evident in the speaker choices.

Sandburg writes at length about his work as a student journalist, including work on the Lombard Review and the production of The Cannibal, a college yearbook for Lombard's 50th anniversary in 1901.

From his descriptions of the Lombard faculty and even his time as a call man for the fire department, it's clear that Sandburg loved Lombard and loved Galesburg. He links his college experience to his successful start as a writer. And that's a tradition that's still continuing today in Galesburg many years after Lombard.

Originally written for the Knox-Lombard Fifty Year Club Bulletin.