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Once Upon a Stately College of the Plain: New Book on Texas Lutheran University’s History Released

There are the story keepers in this world—and there are the story tellers. Stephen Anderson, author of Forward in Faith: A History of Texas Lutheran University, just happens to be both.

And this is a story that wants to be told. After all, it’s been a long time since a faculty of exactly two full-time professors, under the supervision of a young Lutheran minister named Gottlieb Langner, set to work in the tiny academy that would one day evolve to become Texas Lutheran University. It must’ve been quite a challenge, the three of them working out of that small building topped by a bell on the corner of Pecan and South Market Streets in Brenham, Texas. It was 1891, and Langner had been charged with opening a Lutheran college. He was 27 years old at the time.

The tale of how that little school struggled and survived, evolved and relocated, is a coming-of-age story full of sacrifice and challenge and triumph. And who better to tell the story than author Steve Anderson, a dedicated archivist who is himself deeply rooted in TLU, with a conviction to stay true to the history, all the while shining a light on the even bigger story of how perseverance and faith can win the day.

“Between 1837 and 1900, Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, and other religious groups founded 59 institutions of higher learning in Texas,” says Anderson. “Two-thirds of those did not survive into or through the 20th century. Texas Lutheran was one of the few that persisted. How?”

Anderson has done extensive research to answer that question—and takes the reader along on the adventure. A TLU alum who graduated summa cum laude in 1977 with a degree in history and political science, he was a legislative aide at the State Capitol from 1979-1982, then served on the staff of Texas Governor Mark White until 1985. It was then that he returned to his alma mater and over the next 31-plus years, served in a variety of administrative positions including senior vice president for university advancement and assistant to the president for administration and public affairs. He retired at the end of 2016 and now serves as the university’s archivist—the collector and keeper of all of TLU’s stories.

What prompted him to get them compiled into one volume? “The first published history of Texas Lutheran came out in 1978, with a brief update published in 1991,” he says. “A lot has happened at TLU since then, and I thought it was important to bring that history up to date. I also wanted to provide more information about the institution’s founding and development than was included in those earlier works, and provide more social and political context (e.g., wars, economic downturns, demographic changes) for those developments.”

So he set to work, facing a 133-year-old mountain of history. “I was a history (and political science) major in college, and I am still a history buff,” he says. “Also, TLU is in my blood—alumnus, longtime employee, and now volunteer archivist since my retirement.” Aderson’s work on the book blends his passion for history with his dedication to the university. “It has been a ‘labor of love’ that has given me a broader and deeper understanding of this place that has been so important in my life.”

For five years off and on, he sifted through the annals of time, confirming facts and dates—and even stumbling over the occasional surprise. For example, there was the test-stealing scandal of the early 1960s. “A small number of students stole final exam copies from faculty offices—even one from the home of a relative who was on the faculty—and sold them to other students,” Anderson says. “Another chapter in the school’s history that I found fascinating was the approach to racial integration in the 1950s. The college's leaders at that time were committed to admitting African American students, but they also were cognizant of how that action might be received by some of Texas Lutheran’s constituents. It was an interesting tightrope they walked, but they did it successfully.”

Many tales have unfolded since that old Victory Bell on the corner of Pecan and South Market in Brenham rang its first—a bell now installed in the center of campus, which still rings joyfully whenever there’s something to celebrate. And Steve Anderson, keeper of stories, is ready to tell them all.

Forward in Faith: A History of Texas Lutheran University can be purchased from the TLU bookstore, Pecantown Books & Brews, and on Amazon. All net proceeds benefit TLU’s endowed scholarship fund.