North Central College - Naperville, IL

Herman J. Kiekhoefer

1889-1910, Third President

Herman J. Kiekhoefer was born in northern Germany in 1849. His family emigrated to the United States in 1862 and settled in the western part of Wisconsin in Trempealeau County.

Kiekhoefer entered Galesville University some 20 miles from home in 1869 and graduated with distinguished honors in 1872. This institution was run at the time by the Methodist Episcopal Church, Wisconsin.

He enrolled immediately thereafter at North-Western College to continue language studies. His knowledge of German was put to good use by German professor Frederick William Heidner, who hired him as an assistant. Kiekhoefer returned to Galesville University in 1874 to teach classical languages and serve as a minister in Wisconsin.

After marrying Sarah Saline Scholz from Racine, Kiekhoefer joined the faculty at the Union Biblical Institute in Naperville to teach Hebrew and systematic and practical theology. He was elected acting president of North-Western College in 1889 by the board, which confirmed his appointment in 1892.

Kiekhoefer believed “character is more than knowledge, but they ought to sustain a reciprocal relation to one another. Knowledge should minister to character, and character give dignity to knowledge.”

During his tenure as president, the south wing of Old Main was completed and electricity was introduced. Kiekhoefer also supervised construction of four new buildings: Nichols Gymnasium, dedicated in 1902; and Carnegie Library, Goldspohn Science Hall and the Boilerhouse, all dedicated in 1908.

Kiekhoefer resigned in 1910 and returned to parish ministry in the Illinois Conference. In 1929 he moved to California, where he died in 1937. He is buried in Naperville Cemetery.

Henry H. Rassweiler

1883-1888, Second President

Henry H. Rassweiler was born in Pennsylvania to a German family that moved to Illinois in 1857. He taught at a district school when he was 17.

He entered Plainfield College in 1862 and was hired as a professor of mathematics and natural science immediately after his graduation with a bachelor of science degree in 1868. His cousin, Charles F. Rassweiler, graduated two years later and served on the faculty until 1886.

Henry Rassweiler met his future wife, Susie Victoria Harlacher, when both were students at the College. They were married in 1868. Together, they lived in a house on Brainard Street on property later acquired by the College. Active in the community, Rassweiler was central to the organization of Grace Evangelical Church and became president of the Naperville Temperance Union.

Rassweiler served as the president of North-Western College from 1883 to 1888. While very popular among students and faculty at the College, he was dismissed by the board for his support of an Illinois amendment that would have required a major change in the composition of the trustees on the board.

Rassweiler opened an insurance business after leaving the College and later served as a College trustee for five years. He spoke at the inauguration of President Seager in 1911 and died in 1928.

At the College’s memorial service, Dr. Albert Goldspohn commented that Rassweiler was “one of the very few men whom [he] had met in his life who seemed to be born to instruct.” President Rall read a message that former President Rassweiler had left for the College: “The warp represents the limitations of heredity and environment. These cannot be changed. However the power lies within each individual to weave within this warp a beautiful pattern of life.”

Augustine Austin (A.A.) Smith

1861-1883, First President

Augustine Austin Smith was born in 1806 on a farm in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.

One of 11 children in a Calvinist family, he grew up valuing hard work and strict discipline. Work on the family farm allowed him to attend school for only two or three months in the winter. He supplemented his formal education with self-study and, at age 17, started teaching at the North Colebrook district school in Connecticut. While there he also attended Lenox Academy to enrich his education.

In 1828 Smith sought new opportunities in northeastern Ohio, an area known as the Western Reserve, where a large number of transplants from Connecticut had settled. He took up residence in Austinburg, where he met Eliza Cowles. They married in 1833. Eliza came from a family whose members had served as trustees and teachers at Oberlin College and other Ohio institutions; the family was also active in the abolitionist movement. Smith and his wife had five children.

Smith held the position of supervisor of accounts at Oberlin College, then taught mathematics and served as principal at the Grand River Institute in Austinburg between 1837 and 1857. He became president of Greensburg Seminary (Evangelical Association) in Summit County, Ohio, in 1857.

Smith was elected president of Plainfield College in 1861, but delayed his arrival in Plainfield until 1862 in order to honor his commitments to Greensburg Seminary. The honorary degree of Master of Arts was conferred upon him by Oberlin College before his move to Plainfield. He supervised the move from Plainfield to Naperville and the construction of Old Main.

Smith shaped the educational principles on which the College developed. “A college,” he said, “should be a great moral lighthouse, sending out a clear and steady light upon all subjects that pertain to the well-being of man in this world and the world to come. An institution of learning should be the creator of public sentiment upon all the moral questions of the day, and not the follower of a corrupt public sentiment.”

Smith also cultivated music at the College. He believed that “good music, both secular and sacred, has a refining, elevating, purifying power.” Smith also encouraged students to exercise their bodies as well as their minds, opining that “a sound body is the condition for a sound mind.”

Throughout his tenure, Smith worked for the education of women as well as men: “Woman needs substantially the same education as man; the same physical, intellectual and moral training. She needs it for the same reason that man needs it, for the perfection of her own being, and for preparation for usefulness… I have no fears that woman, if thoroughly educated, will wander far from her proper sphere. I would have her prepared to fill any station she can well fill, and to perform any service which she can well perform.”

Smith retired from the presidency in 1883, but continued to participate in the College’s affairs as president emeritus. In addition to duties as president, Smith served as professor of mental and moral science from his arrival in 1862 until his death on December 8, 1891. Throughout their lives, A.A. Smith and his family actively supported abolition, temperance and women’s rights while fighting racial discrimination. Frances Willard, who headed the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, was a close friend of the family and often visited the Smith house in Naperville.

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