GEORGE H. TURNER
The Lyceum Magazine, January 1923
Published by Parlette-Padget Company, Chicago, Illinois, Pages 26-27
Cake-Walk Rumor Started Turner in Chautauqua
Delegated to Protest He Comes to Attention of Directors
Facts About I. L. C. A. Secretary's Life
A cake-walk that didn't materialize was the indirect cause of starting George H. Turner, executive secretary of the I. L. C. A., in the chautauqua business.
Mr. Turner, who by his splendid work in his new office, is proving Dr. Paul M. Pearson's wisdom in selecting him, isn't a lover of publicity and The Lyceum Magazine feels fortunate in being able to offer this brief story of his life to the field.
The acting executive secretary was born at Taylorville, Illinois, 52 years ago. He educated himself entirely thru his own efforts, earning money for his college course by working in a brickyard and later by working as a brick mason. The schools he attended were Lincoln College, Lincoln, Ill., and Waynesburg College, Waynesburg, Penna. He graduated from the latter institution in 1896. Mr. Turner is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian church and has held pastorates at Sullivan, Mt. Vernon and Mattoon, Ill.; Payette, Idaho, and Oxford, Penna.
During his pastorate at Sullivan, Old Salem Chautauqua was established by the Synod of Illinois, with W. G. Archer as the manager. Mr. Turner immediately became interested in that institution, became a lot-owner and an attendant upon its assemblies. This was his first contact with Chautauqua.
His deepened interest and advancement in Chautauqua was not self-sought, but was the outcome of a series of incidents which seem almost to have been accidents.
In one of the early years at Old Salem a jubilee company was on the program. It was rumored thru the camp that the jubilees would do a cake-walk in their last evening program. That was too much for the chautauqua sponsors and Turner was delegated as spokesman to voice the protests of a group of patrons. It developed that the rumor was a mistake. No cake-walk was to be given. But the incident brought Turner to the attention of and into personal contact with the board of managers of Old Salem. It was consistent with Turner's life-long habit that he had not sought recognition - that he had not even sought personal acquaintance with the members of the board with which he was to be so actively associated. It was only when he had a definite errand that he sought out the president and some of the directors, made his statement, and then dropped back into the crowd again.
But the officers of the board remembered him, and when Mr. Archer resigned the management of Old Salem the following year, Mr. Turner was, without his knowledge or solicitation, nominated to the Synod to succeed to that management, in which position he continued for five successful years.
While serving in that position, a patron of Old Salem who spent his winters at Citronelle, Alabama, interested the Business Men's Association of that Alabama town in a winter chautauqua. As a result Turner was asked to organize and manage that institution. For two years he managed both Old Salem and Citronelle.
First Meeting With Pearson
It was during this Old Salem period that another accidental incident of apparently trifling importance occurred. This was the rather unusual manner in which he became acquainted with Dr. Paul M. Pearson. Dr. Pearson, whom Turner had never met up to that time, was announced for a series of forenoon lectures. The hour for the first of the series arrived, and Turner hustled in from his manifold duties in the big camp to introduce the speaker, but no speaker was there! Hurried calls were made to all hotels, but Pearson had registered at none. So confident had Turner been of Pearson's arrival that no substitute had been provided. There seemed only one thing to do - to break Old Salem's proud record of never having disappointed an audience. Turner had just made the announcement, and was dismissing the audience of 1200 with a wave of his hand, when a man who looked like Pearson's pictures walked out on the platform. Turner wheeled and asked, "Are you Paul M. Pearson?" Receiving an affirmative reply, he quieted the audience and presented the lecturer with the rather ungracious statement: "This is Dr. Pearson. He can explain to you why he is late."
Of course, everybody can guess the explanation. A wash-out, making a wide detour necessary, a sleepless night of travel, with inconvenient changes; an advisory telegram, which was delivered to Turner at 4 p. m. After Dr. Pearson had explained in person to the audience criticism gave place to admiration for the man who had overcome such difficulties and had arrived so nearly on time.
After the lecture Turner sought Pearson to apologize for the ungracious introduction, but was met by such admiration for a system which required its lecturers to be on the dot, and which would dismiss an audience of 1200 rather than keep them waiting, that no apology was possible. That was the beginning of a friendship which has endured for more than two decades, and which Mr. Turner says has been one of the determining influences in his life.
In 1907 Mr. Turner left Old Salem and returned to church work, serving for two years as pastor of a church in Mattoon, Ill. During the summers he continued to serve Old Salem as platform manager. Illness in his family led him to seek change of climate, and in 1909 he accepted a pastorate in Payette, Idaho. Chautauqua followed him there. The Commercial Club of Boise, Idaho, had made plans for a chautauqua. As the time drew near, the promoters discovered that they had undertaken a bigger task than they realized. In some way they heard of Mr. Turner, and asked him to help them out, which he did. He continued as manager for the Boise chautauqua the following year. Then, desiring to devote himself exclusively to the ministry, he resigned from the Boise work. But it was not long before Chautauqua was again knocking at his door, for in 1911 Paul Pearson dreamed his dream of a system of chautauquas along the Atlantic seaboard. In December, 1911, Pearson went to Idaho to discuss the plans with Turner, and to ask him to assist in accomplishing the dream. Turner accepted, and there in a little hotel room looking out on the Snake River where it forms the boundary between Idaho and Oregon, the paper plans for the new system of chautauquas were formed.
In January, 1912, Turner went to Swarthmore to begin his work. Pearson was away on a lecture tour, and for the first two weeks Turner was alone on the job of launching the new enterprise. He took the field with the organizers, and secured the first Swarthmore contract, at Royersford, Penna.
Wrote First Swarthmore Contract
It is interesting to discover that no one had foreseen the necessity of formulating the Swarthmore proposition in the form of a contract, and that, after Mr. Turner had secured the approval of the prospective guarantors, he had to ask to be excused while he wrote a memorandum of agreement for signature. That memorandum, so hurriedly prepared, with very slight changes, continued as the form of the Swarthmore contract for several years.
Turner has thus had about every experience in the chautauqua field. He has organized, has served as superintendent for several years, has lectured for several seasons, has been circuit director on both summer and winter circuits, and understands the manager's problems. His first work was with the old independents, and now for eleven years he has been actively identified with the circuit chautauquas. His appointment as acting executive secretary came as unexpectedly to him as did his appointment to the superintendency of Old Salem twenty years before. He had no idea that he was being considered for that place, and no desire for it.
Entirely without his knowledge or solicitation the call came to him. And it was only when he was assured that he could best help Dr. Pearson, with whom he has worked for so long a time, by assuming these new duties, that he consented to serve in that capacity for the year. He says he already finds himself homesick for the old work on the circuits and the old associations. He doesn't feel that he "belongs" as he used to do when a member of the Swarthmore staff. But having put his hand to the plough, he will not turn back -not until the end of the year for which he was appointed.
Mr. Turner owns a modest home in Swarthmore, and enjoys a delightful home life there. His marriage was the result of a college romance, his wife being a former Lincoln, Ill., girl - Leila F. Beers. He has four children, the elder two of whom, Marjorie and Sheldon, are students in Oberlin College. Marjorie and Sheldon have been identified with their father's chautauqua work, Marjorie as a cashier and junior leader, and Sheldon as a crewman. Altho Sheldon is now just past nineteen, he has had four years' experience as a crewman. He is interested in athletics, made the Oberlin freshman football team last fall, but was kept out of the game by an injury received in the opening game. He won the quarter-mile run in the Oberlin Sophomore-Freshmen meet, and was third in the half-mile run.
A spirit of self-help pervades Mr. Turner's family. Both his college-student children are helping to make their way thru college. Besides their summer earnings, both have outside work in Oberlin. Sheldon drives a milk route each afternoon, and takes care of a dentist's office.