In 1851 Christian College became the first woman’s
college chartered west of the Mississippi River. It remained a
two-year junior college for women for more than a century.
President Edgar Lee’s son, some male drama students and a
few part-time enrollees, including our son, Walt Gerard, were day
students before the college accepted its first male dormitory
student in the late 1960s. That fellow had his own
"dorm" in a two-room suite near the auditorium.
President Merle Hill asked me to help solve one problem: All
students were required to take four semesters of physical
education classes, but we offered few activities that could
accommodate one man.
Basketball, field hockey, volleyball, softball, tennis, ballet
or even modern dance were poor choices for a fellow. Even the
aquatic sports weren’t suitable. In addition, we were
especially anxious to have activities in which men and women
could participate together because more male students were
expected to enroll as time went on.
When I suggested a class in bicycling, president Hill fairly
shouted, "There’s nothing to learn about riding
a bike once you can stay up." I almost shouted back,
hurriedly mentioning various kinds of bikes, correct size and
adjustment for individual riders and skills such as
"ankling." I was just getting started when he
interrupted me, and I made my point by what happened next.
"Sue, how fast can you ride?"
"I don’t know," I said. "Last Saturday I
rode to Mexico to have lunch with my cousin and
"Mexico? WHAT?" he shouted. It was Mexico, Mo., of
course. "That’s 40 miles from here! You didn’t
ride 40 miles!"
"I did," I said, "and I’m 58 years old. I
stopped in Centralia to get out of the sun a bit and to drink a
Pepsi before heading east to Mexico." Calculating the
mileage, he figured I was riding about 10 mph.
Hill changed his tune! "Make a list of what you think
you’ll need," he said.
A week later he had the business manager secure prices from
the two local bike shops. Our son, Walt, owned and operated a
bike shop nearby and offered the bikes for less than retail
because he was anxious to help get this class started. Christian
College was pioneering, offering bicycling for physical education
They bought nine 10-speed Peugeots, three 3-speed Raleigh
bikes with brakes in the hub and two tandems. The students were
eager to enroll and Hill approved Walt’s offer to help me
teach the first semester. I could do it alone afterwards. Each
student paid a small fee for the class, and we scheduled two
classes each day, four sections per week.
The early classes got the bikes out and topped off air in the
tires. The classes that followed checked to see that all the
bikes were working properly and put them away. Students soon
learned to do minor adjustments and repairs. More men enrolled at
Christian College and for bicycling; in two years the fees had
paid for the bikes plus replacement parts and repairs.
One day I was pushing a white Peugeot to Walt’s for
repair and leaned it against a brick wall, placing my own bike in
front of the disabled one while I went inside an office for a few
minutes. When I returned I found that someone had stolen the
Later it came to Walt, black instead of white. The chain was
off because the thief had removed it to paint. He didn’t
know how to replace the chain! Walt discovered that the paint was
still wet under the bottom bracket and the bike’s
serial number was issued to Christian College.
The police arrived minutes before the thief came to claim it
and pay his bill!