Biography traces early years of church, college

Fri, 2012-07-27 08:18 -- univcomm
[Book review written by Jim Bailey, reporter with the Anderson Herald-Bulletin] Among those who lived during the formative years of both the Church of God and its flagship institution of higher learning, no one alive today has been more involved in their development than Robert H. Reardon. Minister, educator, family man and master storyteller, Reardon’s life and observations are chronicled by his colleague, Barry Callen, in “Staying on Course: A Biography of Robert H. Reardon,” recently released by Anderson University Press.

Reardon has spent most of his life in Anderson. But he was born in Chicago, where his father, Eugene A. Reardon, pastored and operated Faith Missionary Home. The elder Reardon soon gained a widespread reputation within the young movement and ultimately became pastor of Park Place Church of God in Anderson, where he pastored two separate terms.

Eugene Reardon, the book reveals, was the picture of dignity. His son, on the other hand, tended to be normally mischievous. Bob Reardon recalled the time his squirming during a sermon became too much for his mother to handle, attracting his father’s attention on the pulpit.

In Bob Reardon’s words, his father “paused, closed his Bible and, as about 800 people watched, he walked down off the platform, lifted me firmly from mother’s arms and headed for the vestibule. It was in the sanctity of the vestibule ... that I got my first instruction on what kind of behavior was appropriate in church. It was punctuated with several whacks that resounded clearly in the awful silence of the assembled saints. ... Father carried me back to mother’s arms, restored and in my right mind, whereupon he walked sedately back to the pulpit and finished his sermon.”

Bob himself grew into a leadership role, first as a minister, then invited by then-Anderson College President John A. Morrison to become his assistant.

Eugene Reardon had himself been a strong supporter of the college in the days when the Church of God was sorting out its stance toward Christian higher education.

As Morrison neared retirement age, it became more and more clear he was grooming young Reardon to step into the presidency. That happened in 1958, 11 years after he had joined the administrative staff at the college.

Under Reardon, Anderson College experienced its greatest growth, essentially doubling the number of students on campus, multiplying the number of buildings and expanding its academic offerings. It was for his successor, Robert A. Nicholson, who had served as his longtime dean, to take the next step to become a university.

“I didn’t want a fight when I was leaving,” Reardon quipped later.

And indeed, there were a few bumps in the road. Several longtime faculty members died or retired. The Vietnam War disrupted lives in the 1970s, although Anderson avoided many of the disruptions that plagued college campuses across the country. The college did its part to promote racial awareness as societal changes swept the country. There were never-ending fund-raising demands every college president faces.

Through it all, the book shows how Reardon managed to maintain a balanced approach to academic, spiritual and social emphases that promoted a healthy learning atmosphere while preserving the spiritual foundation on which the institution was built.

AU today remains as closely tied to the church body that founded it as any in the state. It also has stronger relations with the surrounding community than it has ever had. A debt of gratitude for the strength AU now possesses is owed the man who presided over it for a quarter of a century.