Edward Everett Rall1916-1946, Fifth President
Edward Everett Rall grew up in the Iowa conference of the Evangelical Church, where his father was a minister. However, Rall did not attend an Evangelical college.
Instead, he went first to Iowa State Teachers’ College, then to graduate school at Yale University. After receiving his Ph.D. in education, Rall taught at the University of Texas and the University of Tennessee, where he was chair of the education department.
Rall was part of a new higher education profession, but had grown up in, and maintained strong ties to, the Evangelical Association. He knew “many of the older preachers” when he came to North‑Western College in 1916.
Rall was a bachelor with a well-established career as an education professor when he arrived in Naperville. Within a year he returned to Knoxville to marry Nell Platt. In the meantime he wrote reassuringly to her, saying that she would “like Naperville and all the good people here… And I know you’ll like the students and could be a very great help to me in my work.”
In 1930 the Ralls moved into the president’s house, purchased by Charles Rall, brother of the president.
Rall saw the College through the difficult years of the world wars and Great Depression. He directed the construction of several new buildings on campus, including Merner Field House and Pfeiffer Hall, as well as the acquisition of other properties that became the first women’s dormitories (Bolton Hall and Johnson Hall).
Many of Rall’s relatives attended North Central during his tenure, including his sons. The Ralls participated in a family round robin throughout all 30 years of his presidency. Every five to six weeks, they received and read a stack of letters from family members, then added a new letter of their own to the packet (while taking out their previous missive) and mailed the whole to the next recipient.
In these letters, Rall shared some of the things that he liked to do beyond being president. He very much liked to swim. When he first came to Naperville, Rall lived at the YMCA and was quick to mention its indoor pool. Fifteen years later, he noted the swims he and his family had taken in Aurora as well as a “fine swim in the lake at Evanston.” He was most proud of the beautiful new pool that was part of the Merner Field House, completed in 1931.
Rall was also fascinated with automobiles and many other consumer items coming on the market in the 1920s. On arriving in Naperville, one of the faculty members took him out for an automobile ride, something he very much enjoyed. By 1923, the Ralls were thinking about buying their own Ford “4-door.” They bought the car in Knoxville from Nell’s brother and drove back to Naperville instead of taking the train. The next year, the Ralls bought a radio and like many other Chicagoans enjoyed a variety of programs, including the “Sunday Evening Club.”
When Rall retired in 1946, he and his wife moved back to Knoxville. However, Rall remained connected to North Central. He attended Arlo Schilling’s inauguration in 1961 and returned to campus in 1965 for the dedication of Rall Hall, named in his honor. He died in 1975 at age 99 and his wife Nell died four years later at the home of their older son in Maryland.
The couple raised two sons, Joseph Edward “Ed,” class of 1940, and David Platt, class of 1946. Ed earned his M.D. from Northwestern and his Ph.D. in medicine from the University of Minnesota. He married Caroline Domm, class of 1942. He was the deputy director for intramural research at the National Institutes of Health and was an internationally renowned research scientist before his death in 2008. He inspired the College’s annual Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research, named in his honor.
President Rall’s younger son, David, earned an M.D. and Ph.D. from Northwestern University. He had a distinguished career as a cancer researcher who simultaneously headed both the federal National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. At his death in 1999, Rall held the rank of assistant surgeon general in the U.S. Public Health Service. Both sons received Outstanding Alumnus Awards from North Central College.