Judson celebrates 50 years in Elgin with nod to past and look toward future
By Emily McFarlan Miller email@example.com @emmillerwrites October 11, 2013 7:46PM
Newly appointed Judson University President Gene C. Crume gives the commencement address at the Elgin university's spring graduation ceremonies. Judson is celebrating its 50th year this year. | Sun-Times Media file
Updated: November 14, 2013 6:35AM
ELGIN — This is the picture of Judson University that sticks in Shalina Wozny’s mind: The junior can’t walk from her dorm room in Lindner Commons on one end of campus to the other without someone smiling or saying “hi,” she said.
A lot of things have changed for Judson in the past 50 years, President Gene C. Crume, Jr., said, but that friendliness is not one of them.
It’s a friendliness that makes the university qualitatively and quantifiably different from other small, Christian, liberal arts colleges, Crume said. It’s part of the “fabric” of the university, he said, part of the “can-do spirit” of its namesake Adoniram Judson, the first American missionary, and of the first students who brought the college from Chicago to Elgin.
Judson celebrates in Golden Centennial Anniversary this year, commemorating 50 years since the school came to Elgin in 1963.
The year also marks 100 years since its parent school, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, opened in 1913, and 200, since Adoniram Judson set sail to Burma (now Myanmar), according to Crume.
“That sense of pioneering spirit remains today. Now it’s just doing it in a university context,” he said.
Judson College was founded in 1913, the “undergraduate arm” of Northern Seminary in Chicago, according to information provided by the university.
The two split as the college’s enrollment started to pass the seminary’s, and their Chicago neighborhood deteriorated, according to the commemorative photo book “Judson University: Golden Centennial.” The seminary relocated in 1962 to Oak Brook, where Billy Graham gave the dedicatory address to a crowd of 3,200 people, it said.
After some talk of closing or selling off the college, then the collapse of a deal for 32 acres of land in the Dundee area, Northern Seminary President Benjamin P. Browne moved Judson to a 19-acre estate named Braeburn-on-the-Fox, it said. It was home to a Georgian mansion (now the Administration Building) and carriage house nestled along the Fox River in Elgin, it said.
The college received its official charter from the state of Illinois as a non-profit educational institution on Jan. 4, 1963, it said, and it welcomed its first few students to campus that September. Those “pioneers” walked across planks to get into residence halls and climbed ladders to get into dorm rooms, Crume noted.
Bill and Sally Boscaljon of Elgin were Judson College students in the early 1970s, with Bill Boscaljon carpooling with other students to Chicago for the education program, then in cooperation with North Park University. They weren’t quite pioneers, Sally Boscaljon said, but the school wasn’t yet accredited then either. That came in 1973, the year she graduated, she said.
“We all looked back and said, ‘What were we thinking?” she said, laughing.
She was thinking the college was close to home, having grown up in the Dundees, she said. And she liked that it was faith-based, she said.
The Boscaljons met at Judson when Bill was commuting and Sally was coordinating student activities. Two of their three children later attended the school, and Sally Boscaljon returned in the 1990s to earn her certificate to teach, she said. They’ve been “houseparents” and volunteers on campus.
“We really believe in what the school is doing and want to perpetuate that for students now. ... And we were really having fun. It was a great place to be. The people were so positive,” she said.
Since then, the college has expanded to a four-year liberal arts university (2007); its main campus, to nearly two dozen buildings on 90 acres of wooded land in Elgin and a branch in Rockford, according to Judson. Those buildings include the LEED Gold-certified Harm A. Weber Academic Center, one of the most environmentally sustainable buildings for higher education in the United States.
There were just 300 students and 18 faculty members at Judson when Rolf Myhrman joined the science department 40 years ago, according to the professor.
About 1,100 students from more than 30 states and 25 countries now attend the school, the university said. And it takes a whole 10 minutes to walk from one end of campus to another, Myhrman said.
In 2001, Judson opened its first graduate program, a master of architecture degree, it said. The master of arts in organizational leadership, master of education in literacy and master of education with bilingual/ESL endorsement soon followed. And on Friday, it announced two new graduate programs: a master of business administration and master of leadership in ministry.
This year, the university also announced its first doctoral program, the doctor of education in literacy, and a new department: Film and Digital Media, with majors in film and video production, media business and media writing.
Wozny, chair of the Judson Student Organization, said she’d come to the school from Georgia, originally for its graphic arts program. Those new, cutting-edge programs fit into the university’s motto, ‘’Shape lives that shape the world,” she said.
“If our goal is to equip people, then we better know what’s happening. We better know what the real world is really going to look like,” she said.
Judson now is working on a campus master plan for the next 15 to 20 years, and a strategic plan for the next five, something it plans to bring to its board of trustees in February, Crume said. It also has continued to reach out to the community — and beyond.
“One of our real opportunities in growing into a university is the community we serve in,” he said.
“The Elgin community is incredibly important to us, and we want to be incredibly relevant to the Elgin community. We do a lot of great things right now, but there are more things we can do to be even more relevant, more meaningful to our own backyard community.”
The Imago Film Festival, started in 2004, brings short, faith-based independent films from around the world to campus every spring. The World Leaders Forum, started in 2011, has brought out former President George W. Bush, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
And filmmaker and artist-in-residence Darren Wilson and Ben Calhoun, an adjunct professor in the school’s music department and lead singer of popular Christian band Citizen Way, have taken their art from the campus around the world.
“I’m hearing a lot of people say, ‘Wow, I’m seeing Judson everywhere,’” Crume said.
“I think that builds pride in the community. Even if you’re not connected to Judson, you root for the institutions in your hometown.”