Working on Campus

One day at Torrey Bible Institute, Shawn McIntosh and Darrell Reardon were walking in a cold rain, pushing a dolly with a big desk on it across the quad toward Hargreaves Hall. Cloistered Hargreaves Hall stood as a mysterious, gated nunnery, making the coeds there more remote and exciting.  Rather than buzzing in through the double doors and stomping with wet feet through the lobby, they took the freight elevator. They rolled the table onto the platform and descended into the tunnel system with its moist wheezing steam pipes.

They elevatored up to check in with the front desk, then continued up to the eighth floor. Darrell told Shawn, “No guys enter these halls unless they’re cleaning or maintenance.”

They pushed the dolly out onto the floor and Darrell yelled, “Man on the floor!”

They heard a muffled voice, “Grab ‘im!” Then giggles.

A girl in her bathrobe walked past them down the hall, self-conscious with her hair askew and unmade-up face. What if a girl walked out partially clad? thought Shawn.

After work one afternoon in March, Shawn walked with Alex Byler to Chicago’s “L” and rode it out to the end of the line. Then they hitchhiked out to Naperville Airport just as the afternoon sun was nearing the horizon.

They each took a lesson in a J3 cub, an aircraft that has no electrical system, no navigation lights, and hence cannot fly after dark. FAA regs specified they must be on the ground one hour after sunset. So sometimes they only got in a half-hour of flying. But Shawn was thrilled. He loved the feel of the control stick in his hand, sitting behind the instructor in his canvas sling-seat. He worked hard to keep the stick still and not overcontrol.

Working at TBI on the maintenance crew took Shawn all over campus. Once he and Darrell delivered a small cherry dining room table to Dean Darla Dickenson’s apartment across LaSalle Street where she lived in a second-floor walkup. As they pushed the table through her front door, Shawn noticed the crown molding around the plastered ceiling, and the crystal chandelier. “Wow! It’s really compact, but neatly furnished,” he said as he closed the door behind him. “Old furniture, lots of polished wood.” He straightened up. The very space braced him, drew him to a higher standard.

Like Dickenson, the whole place screamed discipline—clean, sparse, organized, and classically beautiful, like an art museum. A Chippendale straight-back chair sat at a dark maplewood writing desk that held a typewriter. She only had a couple of chairs; probably didn’t entertain much. One overstuffed chair. A small kitchen adjoined the living room. Above the sink, lace curtains partially covered an opaque blind pulled half-way down. They sat the small round table down on the plush carpet at one end of the living room.

On a wide shelf next to her typewriter, a cloth concealed something bulky and angular. “I wonder what this is, Darrell?” He hesitated, then he pulled up a corner of the cloth, revealing a small TV!  No student was supposed to have a TV in their dorm room, and staff were discouraged from having them. Darrell smiled. Maybe Dickenson is human after all, Shawn thought. The discrete TV was the only visible concession to sensual pleasures.

Dickenson struck fear on campus, even among the men’s deans. She could negotiate, cajole, persuade; she could make grown men cry. I guess a Bible institute needs a few people like that, Shawn thought. But some of the students whispered that her shadow poisoned the ground she walked on.

The next afternoon Shawn hand-trucked a filing cabinet up to the President’s office. He punched the button on the Cromwell Hall elevator with its brass panel overhead reading, “Otis Traction Elevator.” Moses, the operator, opened the scissor grating and steel doors. When he reached the twelfth floor, Moses jiggled his lever up and down to level the car, then opened the doors.

Shawn pushed the cabinet down the hall, and knocked at the door with a brass plaque—–“R. Albert Clearson, President.” Shawn wondered why so many of these men used a single initial for their first name.

“Come in,” Dr. Clearson said. Shawn trundled the cabinet into the office with its dark wood trim, wainscoting and subdued sconce lighting that glowed amber on the thick carpeting.

Shawn had never met the president; he’d only heard his chapel sermons—stentorian, expository, authoritative, doctrinal, and most of all, Fundamentalist. Here he sat rotund in the rarified atmosphere of his lofty perch, working at his typewriter amidst a sea of books, many of them open, with his little desk lamp illuminating a note pad. He wore a dark blue suit, white shirt, a navy tie anchored with a little silver cross, black shoes and socks. About 60 years old, Shawn thought, with thick, graying hair. He looked like an updated version of Ebenezer Scrooge, but more pleasant.

“Excuse me, Dr. Clearson; I’m delivering your file cabinet.”

“Thank you.” Clearson stopped typing, took off his reading glasses and squinted. “Just put it in the corner there. What is your name? Your major here?”

“Shawn McIntosh. I’m pre-flight, hoping to go to flight camp next year.”

“Good; are you from the Midwest?”

“No; California.” He carefully maneuvered the filing cabinet into place, wondering what Dr. Clearson thought of profane, ungodly California.

“Well, welcome,” Clearson said. “I hope TBI serves you well as you prepare for Christian service.”

Shawn was in awe, feeling like he was meeting God’s older brother, a person different from himself, removed, a warrior of many spiritual victories, knowledgeable of arcane theologies, champion in biblical debates. He imagined President Clearson had no doubts, that he could answer any question about God, and Shawn had many questions. He also feared that some of Clearson’s best answers would not satisfy his heart and mind.

“I hope so sir.” He exited flustered, trailing the hand truck behind him.

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