A PRESIDENTIAL WELCOME
Ties forever bind Horners to Hanover
Wednesday, October 07, 2009 11:00 AM
When you're a couple returning to a college campus where you spent a third of your life as its president and first lady, recollections of times past can spill over like fast-turning pages of a picture album.
FOND MEMORIES: John and Anne Horner discuss their memories from their days at Hanover College, before attending a Hall of Fame banquet last weekend. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
The memories were rich and full and sweet last weekend when Hanover College president emeritus John Horner and his wife, Anne, visited the college for only the sixth time since Horner retired in 1987. They came back for his induction into the college's Athletic Hall of Fame.
"The house looks much the same as when we lived here," said Anne Horner, gazing around the living room that was once theirs. "The upholstery may be different, but the furniture itself is mostly the same."
"We arrived here in 1958 with a 2-year-old and an infant and had two more children while we were here," she said.
She recalled a house filled with happy sounds of the couple's two sons, two daughters and their friends, running and playing in a place that bears more than a touch of formality with its fine furnishings, paintings and antiques enjoyed by former Hanover presidents.
Anne Horner spent many of those days alone raising the couple's four children within a much bigger college family, while her husband traveled to rally support for the college.
"I enjoyed being part of the family spirit that existed here," she said. "We were always inviting students and faculty to our house."
Even a stately presidential mansion with picturesque views of the Ohio River, three floors with seven bedrooms, five and a half baths, and a basement with four large rooms - once the emergency site for church services - couldn't stop the college's first family from a normal upbringing.
"We had a baseball field in our front yard, unfortunate for one tree which didn't make it because it was too close to home plate," Anne Horner added, shaking her head.
John Horner, 85, fondly recalls taking his children to Cincinnati Reds games. An indelible reminder of a young family's love of sports remains in the basement, where concrete walls and floors are still marked with faded lines of a basketball court and backboard.
In 1995, Hanover College honored the Horners with the opening of the $11 million John and Anne Horner Health and Recreation Center, which serves the college's health and physical fitness needs and is home to its athletic programs.
That honor and the Hall of Fame induction represent just two more ties to the college they called home for so many years.
"There are pangs in my heart, coming back home," John Horner said.
His wife added: "Each time we have returned, it has been a special homecoming. After all these years, we still consider this home. And it is a place that is always open to our kids to return to even today, thanks to the graciousness of the DeWines."
Anne Horner, 80, recalled her commitment to community as the college's first lady. Deeply involved in Hanover and Madison organizations, she also served on the Jefferson County Board of Health and started a visitation group at Hanover Nursing Center.
The Horners, who now live near Duke University in Durham, N.C., were avid supporters of the college's athletic programs. Highlights during the couple's tenure include seven football conference championships and two national tournament berths, 10 men's basketball conference titles and seven national tournament appearances.
John Horner was one of six Indiana small-college presidents who formed the Indiana Collegiate Athletic Conference at the Columbia Club in Indianapolis in 1987.
At the conference he stated: "One of the great difficulties which institutions face in playing out-of-state opponents is that the competitive bond between the institutions is not strong. When the opponents came from the same state, the competitive factor, not only for the players but also for alumni and friends becomes greater."
He later added that the conference helped promote equality and set academic requirements, numbers of athletes, budgetary procedures and rules for play.
"We knew what kind of player we were going to play against."
Under John Horner's 29-year leadership, Hanover enjoyed unprecedented growth in its academic programs, financial standing and student enrollment.
"We tried to make some progress using a combination of things," he said.
A big challenge back then, as it remains today, was getting out the well-kept secret of Hanover College beyond the tri-state area.
"There were speaking engagements, visiting friends and potential donors in the state, especially in Louisville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. You can't build new buildings without donors. We had to be aggressive. The physical allure of the campus could not go without notice. In that age, many colleges were seeking students. We had students seeking us."
He gives a lot of credit for Hanover's progress to ideas from the faculty members, who saw the need for curriculum change. At one time, the college had more classes than students.
The result became the Hanover Plan, begun in fall 1962 which divided the academic year into two 14-week terms. Students took three classes, and during a five-week spring term they took one course of specialized, intensive study. The change also created a shift toward international study among more students. With some modifications, it still serves as the model for Hanover's curriculum.
By the mid-1960s, the campus had expanded to more than 500 acres and enrollment topped 1,000 students, and Hanover's assets approached $15 million. When Horner retired in 1987, Hanover's endowment had reached more than $40 million. Higher education itself had undergone a transformation.
"Since then, higher education has attracted many more students. When I started, there were very few community and junior colleges. Now they are everywhere, including Ivy Tech in Madison. There's also been growth in liberal arts universities."
He noted the significant changes in college funding and the role of the federal and state governments in education today.
Treva Shelton, assistant to Hanover College's current president, Sue DeWine, remembers John Horner as a tower of strength.
"I worked in the academic dean's office just across the hall from Dr. Horner for 11 years," she said. "His strong demeanor and physical presence was very reassuring to me personally when a security guard was murdered in our building. Many alumni have expressed the same feeling regarding his leadership during the 1974 tornado."
Yet, at Christmas a very jovial John Horner would appear, dressing up as Santa Claus and hand out candy canes at the Christmas Teas the couple hosted.
"He always stopped by my office to wish me a happy birthday and sent cards to all of us," Shelton said.
The pinnacle of challenges for the Horners occurred April 3, 1974, when an F4 tornado damaged 32 of the college's 33 buildings, including two that were destroyed and six that sustained major structural damage. Hundreds of trees were down, completely blocking every road. All utilities were knocked out and communication with those off campus was nearly impossible. Government officials estimated the damage at $10 million. An editorial in the Indianapolis Star described the effort by Hanover's administration as a "private miracle."
"I didn't realize what was happening until I was in my office and spotted a Singer sewing machine flying across the horizon, part of the debris from the tornado," John Horner said. "The administration practice in that building was to go down to the bottom floor until we got the all-clear sign. When I looked out, I couldn't believe it. The water tower had blown away, along with Donner Hall roof. Phi Mu had lost their top story and there were trees down everywhere, sidewalks torn up and telephone and electric lines gone.
"We gathered students and outlined our plan of attack before darkness came," he said. "We had to keep the students safe until they could go home."
Anne Horner remembers the recovery effort.
"The college could have disintegrated into nothing," she said.
Instead, the spring term opened April 22 with full enrollment, only 19 days after the tornado. Contributions to cover Hanover's $1 million in uninsurable losses were raised in just three months.
"Other than excusing students from class two or three days before Easter break, we didn't miss a beat," she said.
By spring of 1975, for the Horners, it was just another college memory.