Exploring the 150 Year History of Freed-Hardeman University
The special courses for preachers conducted annually in January at Freed-Hardeman College continued to draw numbers of preachers. In the final meeting of the 1938 courses, FHC president N.B. Hardeman spoke in Chapel Hall, discussing his hopes for the college. These hopes included expanding the dining hall into a cafeteria and securing “a fund of $5,000 a year to help young preachers who can’t go to school without it.”
In the audience was J.W. Akin, a wealthy Longview, Texas oilman, whom Hardeman had met and invited to visit Henderson for the special courses. Akin agreed to fund the cafeteria and give $5,000 each year for scholarships for preacher students. In 1938, a total of 40 preacher students received scholarships. Akin’s gift spurred additional smaller gifts. For a number of years, Akin continued providing scholarship money, enough that an average of 70 preacher students a year benefitted from his generosity.
Later, during the war years, R.W. Comer became the principal benefactor of FHC. The Nashville-based Comer had long been a friend and supporter of Hardeman. He had, in fact, helped fund all five of Hardeman’s Tabernacle Meetings. At one time, his Washington Manufacturing Company, known for its manufacture of DeeCee clothing, employed more than 20,000 workers in factories across the South.
In 1943, Comer gave FHC 56 acres of farmland near Henderson. The tract, named Comerfarm, allowed the school to move its dairy farm off campus. FHC administrators expected the farm to provide milk, beef and chicken, along with fruits and vegetables during this time of scarce resources. A year later, Comer died, leaving a $200,000 endowment for FHC. That gift was particularly significant a decade later when the college again sought accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Within the last year, the Comer name has again made the news. Approximately 75 years after his death, his estate is again benefitting churches of Christ. In 1936, Comer and his sons established a trust fund with three types of beneficiaries; the first two included family members, and the third category included churches of Christ in Tennessee and Kentucky and various ministries of churches of Christ. When the last family beneficiary died last year, the remainder of the funds, approximately $37 million, was to be distributed to the third classification of beneficiaries. That process is ongoing.
Most information and quotations are taken from Dr. Greg Massey’s recently published “By the Grace of God: The Story of Freed-Hardeman University.” It is available for purchase for $30 plus tax in the FHU Office of Academics, which is located in Loyd 107.