December 15, 2015 Leave a comment
When Elizabeth (’58) and Charles Seaver decided to endow a scholarship in her grandfather’s memory, it was to honor a man Elizabeth loved and admired. It was also a way to keep alive the memory of a man whose impact on Madison began on the opening day of classes in 1909 and continues today. Earlier this fall, I sat down with the Seavers to learn more about the man described by many as “the historian of the Shenandoah Valley.”
A grandfather’s legacy
It’s a beautiful, crisp, blue-sky Sunday morning in September. Campus is quiet and sleepy — just waking after Saturday’s football victory. Elizabeth (’58) and Charles Seaver, guests of President and Mrs. Alger, had watched the game with their granddaughters, Jacqueline Herrick (’17) and Katrina Seaver (’17).
For Elizabeth, visiting with her granddaughters must have felt a bit like déjà vu. While she was a student, studying toward a degree in mathematics, Elizabeth often walked the few blocks off campus to Weaver Avenue to visit with her own grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. John W. Wayland.
Dr. Wayland had been a member of the first faculty of the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg and a significant player among the intrepid scholars who created the blueprint for what became Elizabeth’s Madison College — and eventually become James Madison University.
Although Dr. Wayland had retired by the time Elizabeth enrolled at Madison College, he was an inspiring and welcoming figure to her.
“I would go visit. Sometimes I’d take a friend,” Elizabeth remembers. “He had a little book of unbound poetry….He would give one to my friends. I’d ask him to autograph it.”
Elizabeth remembers her grandfather as a modest man, who was highly disciplined and dedicated to his work. He was humble and “very down to earth,” she says. “I enjoyed being around him. You’d never have known he had done all that he had done.”
By the time Elizabeth visited him on Weaver Ave., Dr. Wayland was renowned throughout the valley. In fact, he was widely regarded as the historian of the Shenandoah Valley. Today, up and down the valley, his name and the impact of his scholarship are still visible. A highway, an elementary school, a building on JMU’s campus all bear his name.
An accomplished man
Elizabeth’s grandfather — and Katrina and Jacqueline’s great, great grandfather — was born near Mt. Jackson in 1872. He was the son of an accomplished cabinetmaker and a teacher, who educated their youngest son at home until he was 8 years old. It must have been a rich season of learning. John and his parents embarked on cross-country trip that — before the advent of the automobile — took them a full year. Many years later, as an adult, Dr. Wayland would travel widely throughout Europe.
Once he enrolled in school, John Wayland’s life of scholarship and teaching began. At age 18, he taught in a small log school on the western slope of the Massanutten Mountain, beginning a period of 17 years during which he interspersed teaching with his own education. He earned a bachelor of arts from Bridgewater College, taught at a boys’ school in Charlottesville and Bridgewater College, and he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, teaching there briefly as well.
As a doctoral student, he embraced life with enthusiasm — the same kind of enthusiasm he later brought to Harrisonburg. He was a charter member of the University of Virginia’s Raven Society, editor of the Raven Book, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Washington Debating Society. It has been said, one biographer wrote, that he received nearly every academic honor given at the university.
In 1909, he joined the faculty of the brand new school in Harrisonburg — a place with unparalleled opportunities to shape the future.
A new school to build
One need only read Dr. Raymond Dingledine’s history of Madison College* to catch a glimpse of the excitement with which the first faculty embraced the mission of building a school from the ground up. Not surprisingly, it was a season of firsts, and John Wayland was right in the mix.
As a member of that first faculty, he was the first history professor, the first secretary of the faculty, the first to offer a prayer at the first assembly, the first to lead hikes up the Massanutten Mountain, father of the first faculty children — and the first faculty member to own an automobile (a Ford touring car). He drove the first editorial staff of the first Breeze to Mt. Jackson to collect the first copies of the first student-run newspaper.
Dr. Wayland was also instrumental in shaping policies and precedents, working closely with President Julian Burruss. The two 30-somethings and a close-knit faculty carefully considered each step they took — always with an eye on the future and the great responsibility their opportunity presented.
According to Dr. Dingledine (who knew Dr. Wayland and sought him out when he wrote his book), he was “a brilliant young historian,” who was also much loved by his students and his colleagues. It was John Wayland who supported students when they asked for some degree of self-governance, a cornerstone of Madison that remains strong today.
Despite his towering intellect and the gravitas of the first faculty’s task to build the new school, Dr. Wayland was not above being — in the vernacular of the day — a “sport.” He was a ready vocalist, often twanging a tuning fork to grab the correct pitch before singing a lesson. He won a Halloween show one year by singing his own biscuit recipe to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.” He wrote the first Madison alma mater, “Blue Stone Hill.” He also wrote a song for the Commonwealth that was submitted for the last competition for a state song. And when the whole world celebrated Shakespeare in 1916, Dr. Wayland donned a period costume and joined a parade through the streets of Harrisonburg.
A renaissance man
All this squares with Elizabeth Seaver’s memories of her grandfather. “He didn’t seem interested in materials things,” she says. “His whole life was dedicated to his work, but as intensely as he worked, he always had time for me when I wanted to visit.”
“He was a tall, rawboned man,” remembers Charles, then a Virginia Tech student, who met Dr. Wayland when he began dating Elizabeth. “He impressed me.”
Even when Dr. Wayland retired from teaching in 1939, he continued to study and write.
He was “a renaissance man,” Charles says, marveling at the extent of his knowledge. “…. He was involved in everything — to do that before the age of computers!”
His interests and writings covered a remarkable breadth: art, music, geneology, biography, history, songwriting, poetry, pedagogy, religion, ethics and citizenship, world history, travel, military campaigns, gardening, and American presidents.
He had two interesting hobbies. He made canes out of wood he collected from historic places, and he collected nicknames. He had a list of thousands.
In a lifetime of work that spanned half of the 20th Century, John Wayland authored 40 books, compiled 21 volumes of personal diaries that he called “every-day books” and helped found the Rockingham Historical Society. He was among those instrumental in founding a memorial at Germanna to honor the first people to settle there during Virginia’s colonial period.
All that — plus inspiring hundreds of students.
To everyone who knew Dr. Wayland, he was a consummate gentleman, a definition he not only lived but wrote. When the Baltimore Sun conducted a contest in 1899 to define a “true gentlemen,” Dr. Wayland’s entry was so strong there was virtually no competition at all. He won. His definition has been published widely and even today, more than a century later, his words still hold sway.
Amazing as his career and impact was, though, to Elizabeth Seaver, Dr. John W. Wayland was a kind grandfather who once gave her a small box of chocolate covered cherries and loaned her a card table that served as her desk for a semester. He also gave his granddaughter a legacy of life and learning and that she now passes on to her own granddaughters.
And through the gift of the Seavers’ generous Wayland Scholarship, Elizabeth’s grandfather’s legacy of scholarship will impact Madison students for generations to come.