For 40 years, the generosity of Dr. Robert and Mrs. Fern Shoemaker Mohler has brought prominent speakers and cultural programs to McPherson College – spanning academic disciplines and representing a wide range of human experience and thinking.
The first lecture in 1975 highlighted MC professor Dr. H.H. Nininger, famous for his work on meteorites and paleontology. In addition to providing information about Dr. Nininger’s lifetime of knowledge in meteorites, it also functioned as a 90th birthday party for both Dr. Nininger – the first speaker of the lecture series – and Dr. Mohler – one of the lecture’s two benefactors.
Since then, speakers have included Dr. Elmer Staats, comptroller of the currency of the United States in 1982; “Roots” author Alex Haley in 1987; and Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissman Klein in 2003.
Susan Taylor, a granddaughter of Dr. Mohler who helps select the speakers every year, said Haley’s lecture always stood out in her mind.
“The audience was just spellbound,” she said. “It was more than an hour, but felt like a few minutes.”
Academic disciplines represented by Mohler lecture speakers have included; philosophy and religion, chemistry and nutrition, music performance, dance, medicine, automotive restoration, government and public policy, business, history, art, literature, politics, service, ecology, economics, agriculture, education, diversity, biology and more.
Roberta Reed, Dr. Mohler’s daughter, said the lecture series has been a way to honor his love of lifelong learning.
“It meant a lot to him,” Reed said, “To have a way to continue his legacy.”
Taylor recalled other lectures that had a significant effect, both personally and across the McPherson community.
For example, in 1989 Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, inspired students to form a campus chapter of the non-profit that builds homes for low-income families. At the time, MC was the smallest college with a local chapter anywhere in the nation. That campus organization developed into the McPherson County chapter of Habitat for Humanity, which even today continues to build homes.
When on the faculty, Taylor remembered the classroom visits from the lecturers as her favorite part of the series. In particular, she recalls MC alumnus Noel Grove, a writer for “National Geographic,” explaining to students how he got his start at the magazine. He would spend all night working on getting the captions just right. Taylor said Grove’s work ethic made a positive impression on her students.
The lecture is supported by permanent funds from the Mohler’s initial gift that are now held in the McPherson College endowment, meaning that the Mohler lecture will continue to bring great speakers to McPherson College for years to come.
This year’s Mohler lecturer is alumna Dr. Kathy Melhorn ’77 – an expert in the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Dr. Melhorn will present “Child Abuse and Neglect: Do we have the Evidence and Courage We Need to Make a Difference?” on March 8, 2015, starting at 4 p.m. in Mingenback Theatre on the campus of McPherson College. Her lecture will cover what researchers and physicians know about child abuse – and what researchers still need to learn.
The lecture is free and the public is invited and encouraged to attend.
Highlights from 40 years of the annual Mohler Lecture at McPherson College
- 1975: Dr. H.H. Nininger, meteorite expert
- 1982: Dr. Elmer Staats, comptroller of the currency of the United States
- 1987: Alex Haley, author of “Roots”
- 1989: Dr. Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity
- 1990: Wes Jackson, founder of The Land Institute
- 1998: Dr. Martin E. Marty, theologian and religion scholar
- 2002: Noel Grove, writer for “National Geographic”
- 2003: Gerda Klein, Holocaust survivor
- 2007: McKeel Hagerty, classic cars and liberal arts
- 2012: 125th anniversary of McPherson College, panel discussion