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Eugene Emerson saw a dusty, sagebrush-dotted desert town but envisioned a lush future when he gathered M.E. Ferdinand and C.V. Marshall to join him on the first board of directors of Idaho Holiness School. These men overcame meager beginnings and laid a foundation for what is now Northwest Nazarene University.

On Sept. 13, 2013, exactly one hundred years after Idaho Holiness School first opened its doors to 13 students, NNU honored its founders and recreated an iconic image from the past. Just as families had gathered to break ground for the first building on NNU’s campus with a sense of purpose and reverence, current students, faculty, staff and family members gathered again, not only to remember but also to consider the next 100 years.

Reflecting on the Past

NNU’s founders sought to create a school marked by a strong sense of community formed around common convictions. That this description is still true of NNU today pays tribute to their success. Superintendent of the Northwest District and Chair of the NNU Board of Trustees Randall Craker (’73) reflected, “We have broadened greatly in what we can offer, but through that broadening we have still retained our spiritual foundation and convictions. In our growth, we have retained our Wesleyan heritage, and I am incredibly grateful for that.”

We have broadened greatly in what we can offer, but through that broadening we have still retained our spiritual foundation and convictions. In our growth, we have retained our Wesleyan heritage, and I am incredibly grateful for that.

Indeed, while the student body has grown from 13 to over 2000 and the institution from a primary school to a master’s and doctoral-level comprehensive Christian university, what drew the first students isn’t that different from what continues to draw students today. Sophomore Carlyn Jones shares that she chose NNU “for the community. I love how everyone accepts and cares for each other.”

NNU is a family affair for Carlyn, who is the granddaughter of alumnus and well-known NNU supporter Myron Finkbeiner. “[The family connection] kind of makes me feel famous. I feel like I have built-in friends and family here. I constantly get to hear great stories about my grandpa and other family members.”

Between his time as a student and his 36-year tenure as faculty, Professor of Music Dr. Walden Hughes (’77) has been at NNU for almost half of its 100-year history. His parents attended in the 1950s and encouraged him to come when he was choosing a college. “I was only planning to stay for half a year, but I’ve now been here for 40 years. I became aware of the heritage here, and I loved it.”

The children present at the original groundbreaking probably didn’t fully understand the gift of Christian education that their parents were seeking to give them, but surely they felt the solemnity of the occasion that brought them out to the barren piece of ground that Emerson had deeded to the budding school.

The kids that helped recreate that moment weren’t immune to the meaning of the centennial, either. Eight-year-old Ava Adamson, who is the great-great-granddaughter of founder M.E. Ferdinand, was excited to dress up in the wardrobe of an early 1900′s kid. She was also excited to celebrate her 100-month birthday as NNU celebrated its 100 years.

Levi LeBaron, also 8 years old, said, “One hundred years is really old. It’s pretty cool that I got to be in this photo, because in another hundred years my grandson can say, ‘That’s my grandpa.’”This is exactly what a few of the children pictured in the recreated photo can say today about the original.

Envisioning the Future

We take the time to consider the past so that it can inform our future. Founders’ Day, like all the centennial celebrations, was not about idealizing the past but was about remembering and examining the foundation upon which the university will continue to build. Although students now learn in ways the founders would never have imagined—conducting experiments with NASA or taking online courses from anywhere in the world—the heart of NNU remains true to its founders’ vision.

We are still a liberal arts college, still small, still true to our roots.

“We have to continue to position ourselves to be a Christ-centered educational institution while staying strong fiscally—a dual task of maintaining our identity while being innovative in how we serve our students academically,” said Craker.

Ask an 8-year-old what the future of college looks like, and the need to be adaptable is clear. When asked what might be different about college in another hundred years, Levi said, “Maybe no one will actually go to school; they’ll just have big things that attach to their heads that teach them.” Ava imagines that college students will “do cool science stuff like making little robots or electrified things that move around by remote control.” Neither of these visions is far off from the growing arena of online education and expansion in science and technology that NNU is currently experiencing.

Craker continues, “We can be players in the entire world through technology, but we do not want to lose sight of the destination college experience. My dream is that we continue to be a vital presence locally but also grow our presence internationally. We have long brought students and families to Nampa; now we can take the quality of education we offer to the world.”

Although the technology through which the university delivers instruction is rapidly changing the landscape of NNU, the education students receive remains secured to the founders’ vision. “We are still a liberal arts college, still small, still true to our roots. While a larger percentage of the faculty are contributing scholarship in their fields through research and publishing, we are still a teaching college. Students are the focus,” said Hughes. “We are keeping our teaching heritage close but expanding our knowledge and our methods of delivery.”

Marking the Milestone

The celebration of Founders’ Day, as one of the many special events that made this year in the life of the university unique, served as an important bridge between the past and future. “The impact of this centennial can’t be measured,” said Hughes. “It will go on to influence current and prospective students and the community for years to come.”

“This will be what I tell my kids about my college experience. I’m proud to be part of this milestone,” shared Carlyn, who, in addition to appearing in the Founders’ Day photo, participated in a number of centennial events as a member of the Crusader Choir.

Northwest Nazarene University was founded on principles that are as essential today as they were in 1913. Craker shared his thoughts on what the founders would think of how their vision has played out. “Our founders had a big dream, but I think we have exceeded that dream and they would be very proud of where we have come in our first 10 decades.”

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