In the past 89 years, nearly 100 members of the Kardatzke family have graduated from Anderson University. So in 1957, when Dr. Nyle Kardatzke was looking to attend college, Anderson would have seemed to be the natural choice. Growing up deeply rooted in the Church of God and often visiting the campus for annual North American Conventions of the Church of God, Nyle admitted that it had become a long-standing expectation of his to attend AU, but when the time came, he dragged his feet and didn’t enroll until August. “I made up my mind right before school,” he said. “I had some resistance to fitting into the family stereotype.” Nyle said his choice to attend Anderson University, then known as Anderson College and Theological Seminary, was eventually made more out of a “mystical appeal.” “I visited when my older brother was there and it looked like a lot of fun,” he said. “It was more of an adventure, being away from home and maturing.” What Nyle never realized is the impact that the university would have in shaping his life.
To keep students on the path toward learning and sustaining Christian values at AU as well as keeping the school strongly tied to the Church of God, more than half of the university’s board of trustees have direct ties to the church as well as approximately 47 percent of the faculty, according to Tom Bruce, director of university relations. Students are also required, and faculty urged, to attend AU’s chapel twice a week. Dr. James Edwards, president of the university, feels that although these measures have been established, the one place students will really get it is in the classroom.
“The classroom is sacrosanct,” he said. “How do we hold on to these values? We hire people who get it. Folks who come in who will make this place more of what it is because it has taken on their commitment. It comes down to good people who are devoted. We are in touch with the reason we are here.”
With approximately one third of the university’s students coming from Church of God ties, Edwards also said the school is constantly looking how they can be more hospitable and open to persons of different denominations, religions, backgrounds and cultures. “I want any student who comes here to feel like this is her or his school,” he said. Nyle, now the headmaster of Sycamore School, an independent private school in Indianapolis, accredits much of his outlook on what schools and education ought to be as well as what life is for to his time in Anderson.
Before graduating in 1962 with an undergraduate degree in mathematics, psychology and education, Nyle discovered the foundation that has kept Anderson University growing all these years — a perfect partnership between education and a life of service.
The Kardatzke tradition has continued with Nyle’s children, currently Matt, a 22-year-old senior majoring in biology with a chemistry minor with a pre-medical emphasis. Matt, like his father, did not choose Anderson University purely based on a family tradition, but came to Anderson because of the “broad range of majors and a good Christian foundation” with a little familiarity mixed in.
Matt is readying to graduate and echoes his father’s sentiment about Anderson University, that it has helped shape him as an individual, a Christian and has allowed him, through campus programs, to serve people all over the world.
“Being exposed to other parts and ministering to the world outside AU has been eye-opening,” he said. “AU has had a strong impact in encouraging me to (serve).”
THE AU TRADITION
Teaching truth, faith and service was the school’s original mission when it was established in 1917 and to this day that mission has not changed, with the university’s seal still boasting all three words in Latin: veritas, fidelitas and utilitas.
Anderson University first began as the Anderson Bible Training School established by workers of The Gospel Trumpet Co. nearly 90 years ago and began in a time where many Church of God ministers were suspicious of education, said Dr. Merle Strege, Church of God historian and professor of Historical Theology.
“They thought education might become a substitute for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The school promised it would not grant diplomas and offered courses such as Biblical geography, sermon construction and evangelistic piano playing. It was very much oriented to training those on the path to ministry in the first years,” he said.
In 1925 when John A. Morrison was named the first president and Russell Olt became the first dean, Anderson Bible Training School began to progress and change in the way of education, never once, though, veering from the teachings of the church.
“John Morrison began to think of the school as a way to reach more of the church’s young people other than those going into ministry,” said Strege. “Olt was impressed by liberal arts and introduced them into the curriculum. They started thinking about offering varied education that would mean more students could come and study other things more than prepare for the ministry.”
Strege said the idea, based on the original mission, was to combine the study of Bible and Christian tradition with a liberal arts education and service.
Still holding to the Church of God roots and a commitment to Christian values, Morrison and Olt laid the educational groundwork and paved the way for Anderson University’s current success. In 1928, liberal arts classes were offered and tuition was set at $100 per semester. One year later the school’s name changed to Anderson College and continued to grow. According to Strege, in 1946 the college earned accreditation which was “a big step for the school.”
Alongside the growth, the reputation of the school had evolved. The Church of God ministers saw the importance of education and that it could be in partnership with the teachings of the church. Also, in the beginning, many community members, outside of the Church of God, saw the college as just a little Christian school on the east side of town, said Strege. “As it began to change, its reputation evolved and became positive.” Rapid enrollment came in the 1960s when the baby boomers began college, said Strege, adding that the growth still continues.
Over the years, Anderson University has changed its name, gained prestige for its undergraduate programs as well as graduate programs and added state-of-the-art facilities to the landscape.
The one thing that has stayed constant? AU’s dedication to serving God as well as the wider community and upholding Christian values while partnering those ideals with a foundation in education has remained since they opened their doors for the first time.
“The old administration would say we are really, primarily a resource for the church,” said Strege, “But the current administration would add to that idea that Anderson University exists to serve the church and the community. We still try to educate people for a life of service in the church as well as the community.”
When asked how the university has managed to keep its core Christian values intact with such rapid growth and development, Edwards, responded quickly, but directly, “The landscape may change many times, but the essence will always remain the same. Our mission is to educate persons in life, in faith and in service to the church and society. It’s always been the mission to engage the lives of talented learners in the wider community. It’s happened in ways many of (the church ministers and members) could not have imagined years ago.”
UNIVERSITY WELCOMES NAC
Another way the university keeps strong ties to the Church of God and its members is by annually welcoming the North American Convention (NAC) of the Church of God in the summer.
“We’ve always opened our doors (to the convention) — we’re family,” said Bruce. According to Strege, until within the last 20 to 25 years, commencement of Anderson College was held on the first night of the convention. “It was the unofficial beginning,” he said. “It was not easy to be excused from attending commencement then.”
With the overlap, worship services and activities of the convention were easily accessible to students. Now, with graduation being held in May, not as many students stay specifically to attend the convention, but, according to Bruce, there are still a good number of students around involved in internships and summer classes who often attend.
Due to air-quality concerns in Warner Auditorium last year, all worship services for the NAC were moved to Ward Fieldhouse inside the Kardatzke Wellness Center on campus. Over the years, classrooms, food service as well as residence facilities have been made available to convention-goers. “We’re very open and look forward to so many of our guests here,” said Bruce.
This year, again, worship services will be held in the Kardatzke Wellness Center, which for Nyle and Matt, who have attended conventions throughout their lives, has special meaning as the building dons their family name.
Both men remember times spent at the conventions as children with most of those memories consisting of hanging out with family and eating good foods.
As adults, though, both said they take more away spiritually from the worship services and sermons.
“I am more interested now in what is being said and I am able to appreciate the community of the Church of God that gets together once a year,” said Matt. “It has been a good experience for me as a kid and an adult so if some day I have children I would like them to experience it too.”
Matt is only one in a long-line of Anderson University graduates and Nyle has already seen the impact it has had on his son’s education and spiritual life.
“(Anderson University) was very much a Christian university (when I attended) and it is now, but looking back, it was less sophisticated including how people looked at Christian faith. My impression is there may be a more comprehensive tone now than before. Judging from Matt, he has a conscious awareness of the church and Christian vocation.”
For Matt, he is taking away exactly what the original founders planned for their students, a deeper faith and a commitment to serving as well as ministering to others.
— LYNELLE MILLER is a reporter for the Anderson Herald Bulletin ( www.theheraldbulletin.com ).