If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Another: Pat Neff’s Efforts to Raise Baylor University’s Endowment Amidst Unique Challenges and Concurrent Priorities in the 1940s

Jeff Strietzel

Baylor University withstood a variety of financial challenges during the 1940s, limiting the growth of her endowment.  Pat M. Neff, Baylor’s President at the time, rightfully understood the endowment was not sufficient when he took office in 1932. His sentiment was unchanged at the midpoint of his Baylor career where this historical account begins.  What follows is a brief financial overview of Baylor from 1941-1947, focusing on the fundraising efforts for the endowment and particularly Pat Neff’s role as he also juggled the responsibilities of Baylor’s other operational and financial priorities.  Neff would see Baylor’s endowment, which he declared as “dangerously short” at the beginning of the 1940s, grow by the time he retired in 1947.  Neff accomplished this in a number of ways: He sought funds from different audiences, made decisions behind stage, and delegated fund raising projects to worthy constituents, all the while facing new challenges and working toward the success of a variety of other worthwhile causes that needed funding like student housing and campus buildings.

Setting the Stage

Pat Neff’s predecessor, Samuel Palmer Brooks, began his term as president in 1902 with less than $15,000 in endowment (Blodgett, Dorothy, Blodgett, Terrell, & Scott, David, 2007).  That amount had grown to approximately $1.1 million by the time Neff took office in August of 1932 (Neff, “President’s Report,” 1947).  During Neff’s first nine years as president, he tirelessly and successfully fought to unyoke the university from its significant debt-load, in spite of the Great Depression (1929-1932) and other challenges intrinsic to a private, tuition-driven institution.  Neff not only kept the university solvent, but he provided stability throughout the 1930s.  This success, however, would be followed in the 1940s by new challenges during World War II and significant fluctuations in student enrollment.  Yet, Neff provided the energy and leadership Baylor needed to provide quality education to thousands of students during those years.

One important figure in the early development of Baylor’s endowment fundraising efforts was Josiah “J. B.” Tidwell.  During Pat Neff’s term as Baylor’s president, Tidwell served as secretary of the Baptist Foundation of Texas. The Baptist Foundation kept funds for the Baptist churches and colleges in Texas.  Tidwell, then, was the person who oversaw and managed Baylor’s endowment money and provided reports to Pat Neff regarding the endowment. This “savings account” of invested money was used to provide scholarships and endowed professorships funded by the interest made on the sum total managed by the Baptist Foundation.  Baylor University was (and remains) the oldest and largest Baptist institution in Texas, as such, they often received larger percentages from the Baptist Foundation’s return on invested dollars.  J. B. Tidwell was not only serving in an administrative capacity for the Baptist Foundation of Texas, but he had written two pamphlets to create a context for generous giving among Baptists and assert the value of giving toward endowments.  The first pamphlet was The Baptist Doctrine of Giving.  In this booklet Tidwell argued for the “Need of a Bible Doctrine,” “Bible Doctrines of Money,” and having a “Right Spirit in Giving.”  Tidwell felt it was important for Baptists to cultivate a common understanding of generosity because “the needs of the Kingdom are too great to be left to chance contributions” (Tidwell, n.d., p. 4).

Tidwell’s other pamphlet was Baylor University Endowment: Why, How, and Who (n.d.).  Tidwell thoroughly built a case for why the reasons for giving to an endowment fund were real and pressing.  Some reasons were religious or spiritual in nature.  Readers were called to give “because of the education of our preachers…in order that a chair of Biblical [sic] instruction may be established,” and “because of the Spirit of evangelism that prevails in the school” (n.d., p. 6).  Other reasons, Tidwell argued, should prompt generosity; and thus Tidwell also targeted his readers’ denominational pride: “That our [Baptist] doctrines, which are the best, may be matched with the best school” (p. 6).  Tidwell also targeted more general motivations like the readers’ character, urging readers to give to the endowment so, “we may not do the unchristian thing of putting off a sham education on the people” and “because money put here will do good all the world over,” and further, “because we have long promised endowment” (p. 7).  With each reason, Tidwell’s clear conclusion –echoed throughout his leaflet—was that the only fair and satisfactory way of accomplishing the goals of Baptist college education was “by endowing the school” (p. 6). Both booklets were distributed to Baptist churches throughout Texas and Tidwell’s persistence resulted in approximately $90,000 added to The Baptist Foundation endowment in only two years (Hawkins, 2010).  As important as Tidwell was to the endowment campaign, his work was largely done in the background.  The central figure of Baylor’s fundraising efforts during the 1940s was Pat Neff.

 “Dangerously Short of Endowment”

Patt Neff’s relentless efforts from 1932 to 1940 allowed the university debt free in spite of the greatest economic depression ever seen in America.  Yet, Neff would go on to face financial other formidable financial challenges in the second half of his term as president. Known to some as a “showman,” and around Texas as a capable orator and politician. Neff also proved to be a man whose dogged determination was matched by his realism and, when needed, directness (Baylor University Report, 1980, p. 7).  In his 1941 President’s Report to the Board of Trustees, Neff declared, “Baylor is dangerously short of endowment” (p. 4).  In fact, as a result of its financial instability, Baylor had nearly been removed from “the approved list” of the Association of American Universities – an institutional “black eye.”  Neff went on to list for the Board of Trustees specific reasons to expand the endowment and enhance the university.  An excerpt from his report provides insight into Neff’s tenor of concern.

…we must have more endowment to provide activities for the enrichment of student life, to provide for much needed buildings, for an enlarged faculty of increased schaolarship [sic], for new and better equipment, and for increased library facilities, in order to meet fully the standards set by A. A. U. for an institution of Baylor’s size. (Neff, 1941, p. 13)

Neff closed this argument by tugging on their sense of greatness and loyalty to the institution.  Baylor would need this type of leadership and commitment from its constituencies.

The centennial year is fast approaching…. Baylor is moving but we need [another] million dollars endowment if the institution is to come to her Centennial Anniversary with any assurance that she will be able to meet the challenge of her motto Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana, in an enlarged program for service in her second century commensurate with her opportunities and obligations as the largest Baptist institution in the whole world. (underlines in original, Neff, 1941, p. 13)

References to Baylor’s centennial would become a refrain toward progress before and after 1945.

Financing – Behind the Scenes

Neff, along with the support of individuals and Baptist churches around Texas, were able to grow the endowment over the next few years.  Most personal gifts from individuals or families ranged from hundreds of dollars to a single dollar bill (“Receipts,” 1944).  Perhaps an encouraging component of the arduous endowment campaign for Pat Neff was correspondence with individuals and families who appreciated Baylor.  At times, people were willing to give their personal resources above a normal tithe at a local church to contribute to Baylor’s financial health, and accompanied their gift to Neff with a note.  In a letter to Pat Neff, Mr. and Mrs. G. W. Waldrop send a $300 gift, “wishing to have a part in your Endowment Fund that has recently been started” (Waldrop, personal communication, 1942).  Of the letters of this type available, it appears that Neff replied to every letter written directly to him.  However, Neff did not personally receive most of the money raise for endowment or buildings.  Most gifts came through local churches with a few large gifts along the way.

For those individuals who could give large gifts, it was not always simple to receive the funds.  For example, in January of 1943, a Mrs. Fulbright, through a trust her late husband had set up, endowed a “Professorship of Pathology in the Baylor University College of Medicine at Houston, to be known as the ‘Fulbright Professorship of Pathology’” (Lariat, 1943).  This was exciting, but when J. W. Bruner, Baylor’s Endowment Secretary, assembled a list of receipts, including a $300,000 “gift” from a Mrs. Fulbright, a clarification needed to be made.  Earl C. Hankamer, Baylor Trustee, wrote a letter to Bruner explaining, “In fact, this is not yet a gift and the amount also is indefinite.  Mrs. Fulbright has agreed to provide in her will that her property shall go to our College of Medicine…. No one knows how long she will live, and incidentally she is in excellent health and should have a good many more years to live” (personal communication, June 10, 1944).  This is just one instance where the work of those managing money was more complicated than expected.

Behind the scenes, Neff made the necessary financial decisions to keep the institution operating.  In the first decade of his leadership he had not only eliminated Baylor’s debt, but, as a matter of principle, Neff had avoided borrowing any money.  Neff held out as long as he could, but on a few occasions, he reluctantly borrowed money and chose to do so at Waco banks.  For example, in 1942, in correspondence with J. H. Frost, owner of Frost National Bank, Neff stated, “We do not at this time and have not for some time owed anything to any one of the three banks here in Waco with which we do business.”  Still, Neff needed $35,000 (Neff, business communication, 1942a).  Neff followed this letter to Frost with another clarifying that not only had Baylor previously repaid debts, they had built their campus up and out, increasing the value of Baylor’s assets by “nearly one million dollars’ worth of property” (Neff, business communication, 1942b).  Neff (1942c) would go on to pay that loan off on schedule as evidenced by a September 16 letter to Mr. Frost. “We thank you most cordially for this loan.  You tided us over a financial hill” (1942c).  At the end of the following month, Neff wrote Mr. Frost, “According to our records we owe you a note of $50,000, due May 1, 1943…We are therefore availing ourselves of the privilege of paying the note in full” (business communication, 1942d).  By his own admission to Mr. Frost, Neff as “rejoicing in the fact that we are paying if [sic] off [8 months] ahead of time” (business communication, 1942d).  Perhaps, part of Neff’s motivation to pay down the aforementioned loans in September of 1942 was related to his annual report to the Board.  In President Neff’s October, 1942 President’s Report, he was able to report an endowment of $1.77 million (1942).  This was a significant amount.  In fact, it increased 64% since he had started as president of Baylor.  “Generous benefactions and [Baylor] friends” in the 1942 academic year had given nearly $65,000 and  $45,625 had come from the Baptist General Convention (Neff, “President’s Report,” 1942, n. p.).  After the turbulence of the 1930s Baylor was doing well, financially.  Their total assets at the close of 1942 were over $5 million (1942).  Yet, Neff acknowledged that while there had been “generous gifts” to the endowment and this pleased Neff, it was “still short of the standard for an institution of Baylor’s size as stipulated by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools” (1942, n.p.).

Effects of War

World War II had a significant effect on Baylor University’s student enrollment and finances.  In November of 1942, the draft age was lowered to 18 and Baylor saw “a great reduction in student enrollment among the men for 1943-1944″ (Neff, President’s Report, 1943, p. 2).  In fact, the law school was closed due to a paucity of applicants.  Neff, looking for the “silver lining,” reassured the Board, “The suspension of the Law School was made with the approval of the American Bar Association and will in no way affect the standing of the law school” (p. 11).  That news, however, did not change the reality that Baylor’s enrollment had dropped to 1,314, which was bad news for Baylor whose main source of income was student tuition and fees (p. 7).

As the saying goes, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” President Neff had to become creative during the war.  The Baylor Lariat on April 27, 1943 announced: “Scholarship Loan Fund Invested in War Bonds.  Baylor University last week invested $25,000 from the endowment capital of its scholarship loan funds in U. S. War bonds, it is announced by President Neff.”  In his President’s Report to the Board of Regents in October of 1943, Neff affirmed,

This, my tenth report to you covers the ninety-eighth year of the history of Baylor University. During the near-century [sic] Baylor University has had many vicissitudes. Opened during the Mexican War (1846 to 1848) Baylor University has survived four wars, and now faces a fifth which rages on battlefronts around the world. (Neff, President’s Report, 1943, p. 1)

The war also affected another important scholarship.  Up to that point, Baylor’s ministerial students had been afforded full tuition remission.  Due to the increasing costs of education and the decreasing applications, this assurance of “free tuition” to ministerial students would finally meet its end in 1943.  In the previous academic year Baylor had covered $37,973 in tuition for young ministers and their families, but these students would begin joining “the laymen in paying tuition” (Neff, President’s Report, 1943, p. 16).  While this compromise signaled a loss, Pat Neff would not be dispirited.  He concluded his remarks to the board in October of 1943,

In spite of the war and changes incident thereto during the past year, the University continues to grow.  The campus acreage was enlarged during the last year by a gift from the city of Waco of land valued at approximately $5,500 adjacent to the Brooks Hall grounds at the corner of 7th and Dutton Streets, formerly the John C. West property…. The campus now covers something more than thirty acres. (President’s Report, p. 18)

In fact, Neff would go on to declare, “Baylor University is in the best financial condition of her whole history.” Gifts as large $31,125 had come in and Baylor’s income for 1942-43 was over $840,000.  The total assets of the University had still grown incrementally to $5.2 million (Neff, President’s Report, 1943, p. 19).

It was around this time, during World War II, the Baptist Foundation chose to launch “The Texas Baptist $3,000,000 Endowment Campaign.”  The money raised was to be divided among the Baptist colleges and universities in Texas of which Baylor would receive the principle sum, as much as $1 million (Neff, President’s Report, 1944).  Soon after the launch of the campaign John and Mary Hardin gave a substantial gift to the Baptist Foundation of Texas.  Their gift of $400,000 was able to produce approximately $32,000 in interest, annually.  As President, Pat Neff would do significant fund-raising for the campaign, but he would not be alone in his efforts.

Help Along the Way

The list of people who helped Pat Neff raise funds for Baylor during the 1940s is lengthy but a few are particularly noteworthy.  One such person was Dean David Andrew Weaver.  In speaking to a Baylor Club banquet in Dallas, celebrating Baylor’s 98th birthday, Weaver highlighted a “distinctive feature” of Baylor: forming leaders with the ability to provide a hurting world a “human touch.”  He also spoke confidently of Baylor’s future in the field of education, but strategically added, “Baylor’s postwar needs will include a greater endowment fund” (“Dallas Baylor Club Hears Dean Weaver, The Daily Lariat, 1943).

Although the call for more endowment was not new and efforts to raise endowment were underway, funds were also needed for buildings on Baylor’s growing campus.  President Neff selected H. L. Kokernot, San Antonio businessman, Baylor Trustee, and generous donor to Baylor, to represent the Tidwell Bible Building project.  He chose Dr. A. J. Armstrong of the English faculty to represent the Browning building program (The Baylor Lariat, March 24, 1944, p. 24).  Armstrong was a logical candidate because he was owner of the largest collection of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning writings and memorabilia and wanted an appropriate place to maintain them.  The academic sanctuary would not be completed until soon after Neff had retired, but it bear the name Armstrong-Browning Library.  Neff also enlisted G. H. Belew, a Waco native, and Trustee, to focus renewed energy on rallying alumni and friends of the university to accrue $250,000 for the construction of a Union building.  Fund raising for Union building had begun several years prior, but was slow in accumulating.  Other notable recruits are captured by a reporter for Baylor’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Lariat:

The appeal for these [endowment] funds will be tied in closely with the Baptist $3,000,000 endowment campaign for the schools and hospitals owned by the denomination in Texas, and will be directed by Horace Jackson of Gatesville, president of the Baylor Ex-students Association, assisted by Earl C. Hankamer, Houston oil man and Baylor trustee…. (March 14, 1944, p.  14)

For the $3 Million campaign, Pat Neff also asked D. K. Martin, Baylor alumnus and successful San Antonio businessman to lead a state-wide effort to raise $500,000 for Baylor’s endowment.  Martin was joined by Dr. J. M. Dawson, pastor of Waco’s First Baptist church and over half a dozen other committee members, including Trustee Grady Yates, as chair of the “Local Committee (“$500,000,” The Daily Lariat, March 24, 1944).

Although a few large financial gifts  were given over the next few years, the majority of the gifts given toward Baylor’s endowment were through the weekly efforts of Texas Baptist congregants.  As part of the $3 million campaign, J. W. Bruner, Endowment Secretary, was able to report to President Neff that “the major part of our churches are co-operating [sic] not only in the use of the Sunday School lesson but also in giving their entire offering of June 25 to the movement” (Bruner, personal correspondence, 1944).  June 25th was the last day of “Endowment Emphasis Week when Texas Baptist churches would “pass the plate” in an effort to raise funds for all Texas Baptist colleges and universities.  Bruner’s opinion was that this type of program was worthwhile for at least three reasons.  First, it was important for Baylor and its Board of Trustees to “properly [care] for our institution” (1944).  Second, Bruner felt strongly that the need for an endowment must be presented “in a vivid way” (1944).  Lastly, those who would participate in the campaign(s) would need “concurring courage to complete the challenging task (1944).  As 1944 came to a close, regardless of modest gifts and slow gains, Pat Neff declared, “In spite of the vicissitudes of war, the year, 1943-44, has been a very successful one for Baylor University’” (Neff, President’s Report, 1944, p. 1).

Concerted Efforts, Concurrent Priorities

The response to simultaneous efforts to raise endowment funds and buildings can be perceived by a brief review of Baylor’s financial records.  Anecdotally, in November and December of 1944 Baylor University received 12 gifts toward the endowment.  Of these 12 gifts, nine were from Baptist churches and three individuals gave gifts directly to Baylor.  The average of these 12 gifts was $74; the three direct being $25, $10, and $5, respectively.  During the same period, 22 gifts were given to building projects on Baylor’s campus.  Two gifts were from individuals ($5, and $10, respectively); 20 gifts from Baptist churches, averaging $125 and totaling $2,522.  Additionally, in the 1943-44 academic year, Baylor received a little over $11,000 for endowment while money received for the Union, Bible, and Browning buildings totaled nearly $270, (“Receipts,” 1945).  It seems clear that people were more interested in giving to building projects than the endowment fund.

Aside from all that was going on during this time, 1945 marked Baylor University’s centennial.  Not only was this a milestone for Baylor, but it again served as a rallying cry for fund raising.  This refrain found its way into the October, 1945 edition of The Century, a publication by The Ex-Students Association (later renamed the Alumni Association), which would become The Baylor Line.  This group felt that since the nation was wealthier than it had ever been and Texas was “one of the wealthiest states…. Baylor can maintain [its] distinguished position by adding sufficient endowment. This can be done. The new century demands it” (p.  38).  Indeed, Baylor’s 100 year anniversary was a call to thrive as an institution and increase funding to all areas of the university.

This enthusiasm helped those entrusted with the work of recording gifts and seeking out the fulfillment of pledges endure their arduous tasks.  In a letter to Dr. Roy McKnight, then Secretary of Baylor’s Board of Trustees, J. W. Bruner, Baylor’s Endowment Secretary, took the time to update him about a $20 pledge and a church that was $38 shy of their $1000 goal.  Every dollar mattered and some of the money had to be sought out.

Throughout the 1940s, attention was given to the buildings that were started before the war and to be finished later that decade, but Baylor’s endowment was still in the background of the minds of a few students.  This is briefly illustrated by the exhortation of a Lariat editor given to fellow students; “If you are not yet wise to the facts of Baylor’s endowment campaign, we recommend slight research into the matter; a student in the university should be well informed along that line” (The Baylor Lariat, March 24, 1944, p. 24).

Although President Neff saw resources only trickle in during the war, he did not sit idly.  He worked with the board of directors of the Waco Chamber of Commerce to create the Waco Baylor Foundation.  The purpose of the organization was to acquire Waco property adjacent to the Baylor’s campus so that when the financial pipeline began to flow again, presumably after the war, the property could be used for new buildings.  On more than one occasion, Neff touted adding $1 Million in new buildings “immediately upon materials being made available following cessation of hostilities or such time as Wartime regulations will permit such construction (The Baylor Lariat, December 15, 1944, p. 15).

Post-War Scramble

The end of World War II marked a precipitous increase in the number of male students who enrolled at Baylor.  Housing these students became a main focus for Pat Neff during what would be the last three years of his presidency.  Neff and his team scrambled to buy land and build, refurbish, and transplant a variety of structures to house the students, many of them married, coming to live on campus.  Neff saw Baylor’s campus quickly grow from 30 acres to 40 acres, largely for student housing (“Notes on Building Program,” 1947).

The university would go on to have 400 two- or three-bedroom apartments built from 1945-1947, along with “50 homettes (pre-fabricated houses formerly used at the Blue-bonnet Ordnance [sic] Plant at McGregor), 100 trailers, and 140 housekeeping units” (“Notes on Building Program,” Baylor University Press Release, January 14, 1947). Thankfully, some of the housing materials were able to be “secured from the government, complete with equipment” (1947). Soaring enrollment was a boon for the university, but the homettes and trailers, specifically, did not make Baylor any money. A Lariat writer explains,

Homettes and trailors [sic] are owned by the government and leased to Baylor on a ‘bailment’ contract which provides that ‘the bailee (Baylor) will realize no profit from the operation and management.’ If any profit accrues after costs are removed [sic] the government receives the profit; if there is a loss. Baylor pays the loss.” (“Homette,” The Baylor Lariat, May 2, 1947, p. 4)

In all, Baylor spent approximately $200,000 of its own money on the 540 units, which was to be recouped through rent and fees.

Over 3,700 students enrolled in 1946, tripling the number of students three years prior.  This number would reach 5,054 in the fall of 1948 (“Baylor Shows Enrollment Increase to 5,054, The Baylor Lariat, October 1, 1948, p. 1).  While fund raising projects, including the endowment were not halted, Neff afforded little attention on the endowment and other fund raising endeavors from 1945-1947. Thus, it becomes clear that managing the influx of veterans and other students after World War II took most of the time and energy of Baylor’s primary fund-raiser.

 Neff’s Last Reports

As Baylor neared the end of 1946, Neff neared the end of his tenure as Baylor’s President.  Neff would leave the institution both on firm financial ground and in purposeful debt.  Funds, for would later be called the Tidwell Bible Building, had reached over $112,000 that fall, but would need to reach closer to half a million dollars (President’s Report, 1946, p. 4).  In the spring of 1946, nearly all of the land had been purchased and over $338,000 had been raised by Dr. Armstrong for the Browning building (President’s Report, 1946, p. 3).  Funds would also need to reach closer to half a million dollars before it could be completed. Neff had seen a three-story men’s residence hall started “at the corner of 7th and Dutton Streets, a three story building in the same general style as Brooks Hall to house 250 boys” (President’s Report, 1946, p. 3).  The men’s residence hall, later named Kokernot Hall, was one of six buildings to be built or acquired on Baylor’s campus that year for a net worth of $350,000 (p. 5).  Additionally, the university’s gross income was over $1.5 million and Baylor was once again in the good graces of the American Association of Universities (1946).

Under the watchful eye of a diligent Pat M. Neff, Baylor University had not only recovered from the Great Depression, but she had weathered turbulent societal and financial waters while Neff was her President from 1932-1947.  After his first five years, Neff was able to announce that Baylor’s main campus in Waco had completely lifted the burden of debt.  At the time of his departure, Neff did have to admit, “Present current deficit due to borrowed money in the amount of $700,000 being used to build the Student Union Building and new boys dormitory,” (Neff, 1947) as well as laying the cornerstone of the Armstrong Browning Library.  Yet, as his term came to a close, Neff reported overseeing the construction of Alexander Hall, Kokernot Hall, the Tidwell Bible building, Pat Neff Hall, Marrs McLean Gymnasium, and Studio Theater.  Regarding the Baylor’s Endowment Fund, Neff began his presidency with a little over $1.1 million in endowment and ended it with nearly $3 million (Neff, President’s Report, 1947).  Pat Neff was a tough, resourceful leader that led Baylor through the Great Depression, World War II, and its resultant influx and normalization of student enrollment.

Conclusion

From 1941-1947, Baylor’s endowment changed both incrementally and significantly.  President Neff had sought funds, made challenging decisions, and delegated fund raising projects, all the while juggling concurrent financial priorities, like expanding student housing and ongoing building projects.  Although the endowment perennially lagged behind the expectations and hopes of Pat Neff and others, it had nearly tripled since Neff took office in 1932.  At the close of Neff’s 15 year tenure, Baylor had withstood some dark days, but her future was bright.  One Baylor student professed, “Every day we hear something new about the buildings and grounds that Baylor will use [in the future]…. If the endowment campaign succeeds at all, this place is going to develop into a great university” (The Daily Lariat, April 04, 1950, p. 4).   Indeed, the 1940s were turbulent and progress was sluggish, but through the persistence of Pat Neff and support from faculty, staff, trustees, and other friends of the university, Baylor University not only survived World War II, the resultant exodus and influx of students, and concurrent financial campaigns, but celebrated her centennial and notable expansions to her campus and endowment.  Baylor University would continue to “develop into a great university” (1950).

 

References

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