At Issue Index   Table of Contents   Previous   Next


THE LIFE OF M. L. ANDREASEN - by Virginia Steinweg




THERE ARE not too many people you could write a book about," one of M. L.'s young women students reminisces. "Most are just usual people. He was so different; there was never any monotony."

M. L. was well aware that his personal appearance was not impressive. He'd say, "I know what you're thinking: What in the world is that little sawed-off runt doing around here?" Despite his short legs, he had a "quick little prancing step he was noted for."

In spite of (or perhaps because of) his unimpressive figure, he had to have his suits tailored just so. He never put a cuff on his pants. That was considered foppish when he began his ministry.

M. L. was a fast driver. On one occasion he invited the Central Union Conference president to accompany him in his Model A Ford to a meeting both had to attend in California. The president thought that would be too slow, so went by rail. When the train stopped in Denver, M. L. was on the platform. When the train arrived in Reno, there was M. L. When it reached Riverside, once again M. L. was on the platform, waiting to chauffeur the president to the meeting in Loma Linda.

M. L. customarily carried two things with him: a clipboard on which to jot down ideas, and a cap folded up in his pocket to protect his head should the weather get a little cool. He claimed he always had a handkerchief in his desk drawer ready to hand to any girl who might begin to weep when he found it necessary to admonish her.


He believed in keeping in touch with everything that was going on around the college. If there was a program of any kind, he was there ahead of time to ensure that everything was in order. His office was right off the steps to the chapel, so he could see the students as they went in, as well as be there when they were dismissed.

M. L. got a new recorder for the speech department. Once when he had to be away for chapel, he conceived the idea of recording his speech and having it played. This was very much of a novelty in those days, before tape recorders became widespread. "Here I am traveling over the roads in Oklahoma and talking to you in chapel."

On the top of a blackboard in one of the main halls was a section about 9 by 25 inches, where M. L. would keep a small quotation. Each week he'd have his secretary copy a new one, which the students would always look for.

Upon occasion M. L. used with effect the expression "And that's not good," said through his nose. If a student requested something he could see no light in, he might merely say No, and maintain an utterly noncommittal expression on his face until the suppliant gave up.

"If you asked him a question, he might sit for a minute before he answered," one student recalls. "It wouldn't help to pester him. You just asked the question and waited. He'd start talking about it soon."

Others remember: "I used to marvel at the chapel talks he'd give every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday he was in town. The talks were short, twenty to thirty minutes. They included a wealth of information. He had no end of material."

"He was a dynamic speaker, and yet he just talked. It was different. Everyone loved to hear


him." Once at a camp meeting M. L. was given the one-o'clock hour. He began, "I feel sorry for God." After that, no one slept.

At first hearers would notice M. L.'s short sentences, his lack of resonance, and his straightforward presentation. But soon they became accustomed to that and began to realize that he spoke "prose-poetry with a slight accent."

M. L. had a very simple way of maintaining standards. He would stick his tongue behind his teeth and say, "That is not done at Union." That settled everything. At Hutchinson he had tried as far as possible to dramatize Bible texts. Sometimes he would have students dress up to show how persons in other countries dressed and acted. The students were impressed. But when he was at Union he was criticized by some leaders for doing this.

After M. L. became president of Union College, association between men and women students was considerably liberalized. One student recalls his fiancée’s being reprimanded because she had been escorted the mile and a half down the boulevard to the home where she was employed. M. L. called the young man in to get details. To the youth's amazement, M. L. left the impression that he seemed to think it was kind of nice that a fellow didn't want his girlfriend out alone after dark. Of course M. L. wasn't always that lenient.

"I expect that in his younger days he was one of those very stern, unbending Adventists," one of M. L.'s acquaintances said. "I think it was later that he developed his tolerance and sense of understanding of the importance of other people. People are more important than rules."

One of the teachers had on his necktie a little pin from the university where he had gotten his Ph.D. M. L. said, "The field would criticize you for that." The teacher knew it was he.


One year there was a long discussion about whether the teachers should wear regalia at graduation. When the vote was taken, the majority was in favor. M. L. said, "I veto that."

He had done enough work in English for his Ph.D., according to one associate, but did not take his exams. Toward the end of his life M. L. said that if he had it to do over again, he would finish his doctorate. Not that it would have changed his work one iota, but it would have removed any excuse for younger men to minimize his scholarship.

A friend remembers: "He told me once that if he had not had a Scandinavian background, he would have preferred to be an English teacher. He felt he could combine all the things that were important to him in teaching English, crowning all with the greatness of the Bible. He told me the moment when the beauty of literature flashed upon him. 'Do you remember reading, in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, "How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank"? It was a bursting light that has illuminated my life ever since. I could understand poetry, art, everything.' It was President Andreasen who first used the expression, 'To some people, violin music is only horsehair scratching on catgut.'"

M. L. expected good scholarship in every phase of study. No matter what course it was—vocational, education, physical education—he wanted it to be the very best, right up to standard.

As to grades, M. L. simply gave a grade; there could be no further discussion. As for students talking about grades among themselves, he said, "An A student is simply too humble to show his grade, and the poor student is too ashamed to show his." Hence there was no comparison of grades among students. The grades received from M. L. were usually a bit disappointing. Receiving a C from him was excellent. An A was simply out of this world.


Grades were definitely not to be earned on Sabbath. "One Sabbath he dropped into my room in the 'Castle,' on the fifth floor of the administration building," a former student remembers. "I was sitting at the typewriter, working on the book of Isaiah, which we were studying in class. He reproved me quite severely for studying my lessons on Sabbath. I argued with him a little bit. It was my Bible lesson, so what was the difference? But that did not change matters one iota."

Another student remembers: "On several Sabbath afternoons I found him walking through the dorm hallway to see whom he would meet. One time we were having a discussion in our room and invited him in to help us. It was one of the outstanding experiences of my college life. The honor of having the president in our room giving his help!"

M. L. was highly respected by the students and was very popular on campus. He was invited by the class of '32 to be their sponsor. He was far too busy to give us the supervision we needed, one class member writes, "I remember our class being entertained in his home. Vesta was there. We had refreshments and played table games.

"While he was at Union he arranged to have music Sabbath noon in the dining room. Purely instrumental, not slow, but good, happy music. He often expressed the thought that Sabbath should be a day of happiness."

A number of students chose to be married in the Andreasen home. "He tied the knot for us at his house, down a block from the corner," one writes. "My soon-to-be mother-in-law and brother-in-law, and my sister, my fiancée, and I were the only ones present. I had been working all summer as a singing evangelist. We were married at one o'clock in the afternoon, and went right back to my work. This was during the depression. I had put a ten-dollar bill in


an envelope which I handed to President Andreasen as we left the house. He handed it to my wife, and said, 'Here's your first grocery money.'"

Another recalls, "On the day of our wedding he took my husband and went out looking for students. 'We've got to hurry. John is getting married tonight,' he would tell the people. Then he'd go on talking and talking. He kept John till suppertime, and we were going on the train at nine o'clock that night. The Andreasens gave us a great big trunk as our wedding present. We were going as missionaries to the Far East."

M. L. tried to act with impartiality: "After President Andreasen married us, we lived in a big house that cost more than we could afford, and the furnace didn't work right. The Andreasens were living in an old house with an upstairs apartment for rent, so we moved there. But at the height of the depression the business manager insisted that all unmarried faculty members and all married but childless faculty members move into the dorm. Despite President Andreasen's business interests and our friendship, we had to move into the dorm to be fair and square. It cost us a lot of money to do that. We had to eat in the dining room. The rising bell rang at 5:00 a.m. We had to use the guest bathroom across the hall. But he would show no partiality."

M. L. had a policy of not playing favorites with any of his friends. If there were certain ones he enjoyed being with more than others, when it came to those teachers' getting something special, he would almost lean over backwards in not letting them have it. If a man was taking university work, his salary would be cut down, just to show it wasn't a part of his regular work, much as M. L. "wanted him to go ahead with his education.

M. L. wouldn't have his daughter work in any place where he was. That would be nepotism, he felt.


Vesta's one year of teaching at Union was a last resort.

He was generous with his money. If a friend asked for help, he'd take the money right out of his pocket. When later the money was returned, he would act surprised, apparently having forgotten about it.

M. L. had his office door fixed so that when someone knocked he could press a button and the door would automatically open. One day he pressed the button in response to a knock. M. L. tells the story: "A lady started to enter. Just as she came in, I must have leaned forward slightly, and my weight caused the chair to collapse, which left me sitting on the floor with my chin hanging on the desk. I never was sure but that the chair had been tampered with by some prankster."

A teacher recollects: "An old woman, a church member but a little addled, who lived across the street from the college, claimed to be a prophetess. She got the Clock Tower commencement number containing the faculty pictures and gave us all Bible prophet names. I think I was Amos. She had a man, also an Adventist, more or less under her influence, whom she sent to Andreasen with a big basket of fruit—first fruits. President Andreasen wouldn't have a thing to do with it. The man determined to deliver it anyway, and set it on the table in the registrar's office. Andreasen strongly objected to that, but the girls in the office didn't have the same idea, and made the fruit disappear."

His first major book, The Sanctuary Service, came out in 1937. Dr. Everett Dick's work. The Sod-House Frontier, came out at the same time. In chapel one day M. L. told the school about Dr. Dick's achievement and spoke of the glowing book review in The New York Times, and that his colleague had become a nationally known author almost


overnight. Then he observed, "It so happens that my own book has just been published, but I have not heard anyone comment, therefore I assume that my personal achievement, if not a failure, has been quite eclipsed by my colleague's." Later on, many recognized that The Sanctuary Service was really a masterpiece.

More than one student tells how he walked a short distance with Andreasen, mentioned having read his book, and heard him ask, "Do you suppose it's all so?"

Students recognized the close relationship between M. L. and his wife. "Annie Andreasen was the hitching post for the family." "He respected her very, very much." "She was a great stabilizing influence on him. He knew it and was proud of it. The students knew it." Hence when the time came for M. L.'s farewell from Union College, the students had his wife on the platform with him, sitting in a rocking chair. The program ended with President and Mrs. Andreasen leaving the platform, she carrying a big basket of flowers. Arm in arm they walked down the aisle and out of the chapel.

At Issue Index   Table of Contents   Previous   Next