14. Mr. Canright and His Friends
MR. CANRIGHT worked off and on during the rest of the winter months. He frequently
took the trolley to his home in Grand Rapids. While he now had no desire to remain
there, he did need to look after the place. He became irregular in his office hours,
and some days failed to show up at all. This irritated Mr. Cornell, because I came
to the office faithfully each day only to find he was not there, and Mr. Cornell was well
aware that I could have been gainfully employed at the library.
Cornell was a man of moods and speedy action. He demanded reasons of Mr.
Canright for his irregular behavior. His explanation again drew our sympathy, and we
were ready to overlook the inconvenience he caused us.
Canright explained how much he needed money. Among other things, he needed
money for trolley fare to his home at Grand Rapids as well as money to visit his daughters
and grandson in Hillsdale. Besides these relatives he had a brother, Jasper, in
Urbandale, a suburb of Battle Creek, and other relatives here and there; and though
trolley fare was only a nickel, nickels were hard to come by in those days. I
remember that Mr. Canright had some copies of Elder J. E. White's books Gospel
Primer and Best Stories From the Best Book, besides Bibles, which were
left over from his wife's former canvassing, and these he had been selling from door to
door to help make ends meet.
I asked him one day why he didn't canvass in Grand Rapids and
live at home. He replied, "I'm a Baptist in Grand Rapids.
do not have so ready a sale there as in Battle Creek. Battle Creek is stuffed with
Adventists. They are the people who buy these books and Bibles."
As time went on his financial needs became increasingly acute. This
concerned both his former Adventist brethren and others in Battle Creek who knew him.
One day in late April that year Mr. Cornell told me he had counseled with Drs.
Kellogg and Stewart, and that the money had been raised to send Mr. Canright to Lincoln,
Nebraska, to connect with a group of ex-Adventists by whom he was well known. As I
remember they were publishing a paper titled The Gathering Call, which was
devoted in part to attacking Adventist doctrines. Apparently it was hoped that he
would fit into their scheme of things. Mr. Canright didn't seem pleased with this
move, but due to his impecunious situation there was nothing he could do but conform to
the wishes of those upon whom he was largely dependent.
Mr. Cornell, relieved of his burden, sent me to work for the Good Health
Publishing Company. Everyone was happy, but not for long. Very soon I received
a proposal for marriage. I wasn't interested, but the suitor was so insistent that
one day I got up from my desk, walked out, and went back to Cornell's school. On the
way there I wondered what I was going to tell Mr. Cornell. When I met him I said,
"I guess I got fired and came back."
Mr. Cornell grabbed his telephone and called the supervisor of the department
where I had been working, and after a heated conversation turned to me and said with all
the earnestness at his command, "Now what am I going to do with you? Aren't you
ever going to say Yes, when a man asks to marry you?" Considering the frame of
mind I was then in I wasn't about to accept a proposal for marriage from any man.
Just at that moment we heard familiar
footsteps on the long stairway. We recognized them as Mr. Canright's.
This momentary interruption broke the tension, and I went to the assembly room
to pick up some odds and ends I had left in my desk, fully expecting to be dismissed from
school. But on my way out, Mr. Cornell called me to his office. I learned that
Mr. Canright had just returned from Lincoln. He was tired and discouraged. As
he sat in Mr. Cornell's office he told us that John F. Ballenger, who had headed The
Gathering Call, had died; that M. E. Kellogg, A. T. Jones, A. F. Ballenger, and
Elder Rupert were quarreling among themselves. He further said that The
Gathering Call was about to be moved to California, and that they had no vacancy for
He now poured out his lamentations. In substance he declared, "I'm a
man without a home. My daughters Bessie and Nellie are schoolteaching. They
stay with their half-sister, Genevieve, who lives in Hillsdale and is having a hard time
maintaining a home for her son, who is in college, and her two half-sisters. I am
welcome there, but I can't put another burden upon her.
"I have no way of maintaining myself. The royalties on my books have
run out. The farm is a sand hill. I can't raise much on it, neither can I rent
Mr. Cornell questioned him about the Baptists.
With tears in his eyes he replied, "The Baptists here in Battle Creek have
provided me with a key to the church basement and with an old desk in a corner. I
can go and come there at will, and at Grand Rapids they have honored me with the title of
Pastor Emeritus. But they say I am too shabby and don't grace the Baptist dignity,
so they don't contribute to my support. I am virtually rejected by the Baptists.
"The Adventists still owe me something for all the work I did for them and
all the money I raised. There are the fundraising projects I promoted, which they still use.
"My daughter Nellie is a Christian Scientist and a practitioner for the
Christian Science people. All the girls follow Christian Science. Jasper is in
the country; his wife is sick; I can't go there. My cousin, Theodore, lives in town;
I don't get along with him; I can't stay there. I have no money to get a glass eye
or suitable clothing."
I later learned that adverse financial conditions had prevailed for years,
and that for two years prior to his wife's death he had been unable to
maintain their household. His wife had lived with her brother's family, and had
sustained herself by door-to-door selling of Adventist children's books.
Our hearts were touched by this recital of woe. Mr. Cornell suggested he
again stay in the same cottage in back of the Sanitarium helpers' kitchen, where he had
stayed off and on before. In this way he could come in, in the morning to dictate
his letters and do such other work as he chose. I agreed to return and work for him,
since I was still working off my bill to Mr. Cornell.
The next morning, or soon afteron May 5Mr. Canright dictated the
following letter to D. W. Reavis:
Grand Rapids, MichiganNote 1
May 5, 1913
D. W. Reavis
Review and Herald,
I enclose an obituary of my wife. Will you please put it in the
Review right away. I think you must have known her, as she was in Battle
Creek a good deal. I have written the notice very carefully so that I think there is
nothing objectionable in it. If you think there is, cut it out, but don't add
anything or change anything.
By reading it you will see she had a large circle of warm friends among
Adventists. I think it is proper that they should know of her death. Of
course, you know she was united with the Baptists with me. I have not mentioned that
and it wasn't necessary. She took no interest in religious controversies and loved
everybody and would have worked readily with Adventists had I stayed with them, but she
went with me heartily, and we worked together nicely.
Had a fine letter from Brother [M. E.] Cornell and another from [F. M.] Wilcox.
Brother Reavis, I am becoming ashamed of the sharp, harsh spirit, I, with others, have
had. I think a little more charity and kindness will be better all round and that is what
I mean to cultivate from this on. Your kind letters help me a good deal that way. I
am going up to Battle Creek shortly and have a good visit with my old Adventist friends.
(Signed) D. M. Canright
The same day I took down in shorthand this obituary.
incomprehensible to me why, four and a half months after his wife's death he should
belatedly send her obituary to the Adventist weekly, Review and Herald, with
the request that it be promptly published. This, just before the General Conference
session which was due to convene in Washington, D.C., on May 15. I wondered if he
was again reaching out to his former Adventist brethren. Was he seeking an
invitation to the General Conference session that would bring him again in close
association with Adventist ministers? Having observed his eagerness to attend
Adventist meetings in Battle Creek, I wondered.
I remember that he was particularly pleased when he received a letter from Mr.
Reavis, promising that the obituary would be published. The obituary appeared in the
issue of June 12, 1913, as follows:
CANRIGHTDied, recently, at Grand Rapids, Mich., Mrs. Lucy Hadden Canright, wife of Elder D. M. Canright, of pneumonia and heart failure, aged 57 years. She had been
failing some for nearly a year, but neither she nor the family supposed it was anything
serious. At last she was persuaded to see the family physician. All were
shocked when told that she was in the last stages of heart-disease, could live but a few
months at the longest, and might die any day. This was kept from her, and everything
possible done to make her life as pleasant as possible. She expected to be well
again soon, but caught a slight cold, pneumonia set in, and six days later she died.
She suffered very little, and quietly fell asleep, all her family being present.
She leaves one son and two daughters, all of age, unmarried, and at home, when
not away teaching, also two brothers and two sisters. The remains were taken to
Otsego, Mich., her old home, and buried in the family cemetery. The funeral services
were conducted by her pastor, Rev. R. M. Scott.
When she was a small child, her mother, with many others, embraced the Adventist
faith under the preaching of Elder M. E. Cornell, at Otsego, Mich., where there has been a
strong church ever since. Here Lucy grew up a Sabbath-keeper. Being an
excellent organist, a good singer, and an apt teacher, she was always a great help in the
Sabbath-school. . . . Mrs. Canright attended the college at Battle Creek, Mich., where
Professor Bell was teacher. In 1881 we were married by Elder James White, only a few weeks
before his death. Together we visited many of the churches in Michigan, attended a
series of camp-meetings in Canada, Maine, New England, New York, etc.
One summer we, with a large company, conducted tent-meetings in Worcester, Mass.,
and raised up a church there. This was the last time either
of us ever saw Sister White. My wife was with me most of the time during my work in the church and college at Battle Creek, and thus was widely known among Sabbath-keepers. She greatly enjoyed entertaining the ministers and brethren in her own home, and loved
them dearly. Among these were Brother and Sister White and both their sons, Edson
and W. C., also Elders Butler, Smith, Corliss, and Fargo, and many others. During
all her life she often spoke of all these with very kindly words and tender feelings.
She took little interest in doctrinal discussion, a big heart and tender sympathy
for all, dominating her life. She cried when circumstances separated her from these
old ties, but she went with her companion, and [was] greatly beloved by the church for her
efficient and unselfish work. In my absence she conducted services in the pulpit,
prayer-meeting, or Sabbath-school. If any in the neighborhood were sick, or poor, or
in sorrow, she was the first to know it, the first to be there and see that something was
done. She shortened her own life by caring for others when she needed to be cared
She lived a long life in a few years; but often thought she did not amount to
much because not eloquent in speech nor gifted in argument. But when brethren and
sisters and neighbors gathered around her casket and their tears fell on her dead face,
while they said, "She was a mother to us all," that told a different
story. It reminded me of our Lord's parable when he selected those to sit on his
right hand who were surprised to be told that they had ever done anything.
There is no mention that Jesus selected any one because he was smart and good in
debate. I felt ashamed of myself, for one, that I had not been more like my good
wife. By God's grace there shall be hereafter less sharpness and more kindness
D. M. Canright (Italics supplied)
On May 15, having received a favorable response from D. W. Reavis, he wrote at
considerable length a letter typical of not a few I transcribed for him at the time and
typical also of his conversations with Adventists in the Battle Creek area:
Grand Rapids, Mich.
May 15, 1913
Elder W. A. Colcord,
Takoma Park, Washington, D.C.
I write this for you and brother Reavis both together. If it is convenient, wish
you would sit down and read it together; if not read it, and hand it to him, as I would
say exactly the same thing to each of you. Your letters were both so unexpected and
so kind and Christian, that I have had to cry over them several
times. I am surprised that you brethren feel so kindly
toward me; it has made me ashamed of any harshness I have ever given way to in the past,
but I have settled it in my heart now. It has ended forever, and I pray every day
that more of the sympathizing of the Master may influence all my thoughts and life.
Bro. Clarke of the Tabernacle announced my wife's death in the pulpit and made very
tender reference to me. All this has been too much for me. When a man pitches
into me with an argument I rather enjoy it, but when he goes at me as you brethren have, I
have no defense whatever. Your willingness to publish my wife's obituary was a very
kind act. I wish she could know it. How I would enjoy being at your
Conference, but if all the brethren treated me as you do, I'd be afraid to risk it.
My sympathy and love for the old brethren would override my judgment.
Now I am glad to say I owe much to Adventism. From them I learned a deep
reverence for every word of the Bible, and this abides with me still; a love for the
prophecies, which I never would have learned from anybody else; I learned in my
sermons to use largely the Bible, couldn't preach any other way. It pains me to hear
a minister take a text and then give simply his own talk, sometimes good, often poor.
I have the same faith in the personal second advent of Christ, resurrection of
the dead, the judgment, the new earth, the Holy City, recognition of friends, eternal
separation of the righteous and wicked, faith in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and all the
other grand truths, which are born into my soul, during my early ministry, I preached all
this to my church till they are as sound on that as the S. D. A. In return
Adventists owe something to me.
Then in detail he recounted the contribution he made to Seventh-day Adventists as
he assisted on committees, made suggestions and promoted various activities. His
closing paragraphs carried his appreciation for the kindness extended to him, which among
other points revealed that he was a subscriber to the Review and Herald. He said:
You are very kind to offer to send me copies with wife's obituary. It will
accommodate me a good deal if you will mark her obituary with a blue pencil and mail it to
the list that I enclose, and then send me two or three extra copies. You see you
could do it at the office so much easier than I can. I enclose $1.00 to pay for
these and the Conference Bulletin, which please send me. If you refuse to take the
50 cents for the papers, credit it on my Review.
I am perfectly well in body and in mind, just as active as ever. Have a
beautiful home, worth $10,000 or $12,000. Everything I need and a lovely family of
children. The Baptist church here, of which I have been pastor twice, always an
active member, revere me as their father, and consult me on all important things. My
decision on any doctrinal questions settles it. I love them dearly and believe I
shall see a lot of them in the Kingdom.
I am 72 years old. My wife's
sudden death has about upset me, and you brethren have about finished me. I can say
from my heart "God bless you" just as far as you are right in your work, and
that is all I dare ask for myself. Neither of us would be safe in risking our
salvation on the infallibility of our doctrinal belief. I think you will agree with
me in that.
Well, excuse this short letter and I will write you a fairsized letter next time.
Your brother striving for a better life,
D. M. Canright
As I transcribed this, I couldn't help contrasting his claims of prosperity with his
1. Although working in Battle Creek, Mr. Canright maintained his Grand Rapids mailing address. It would have been poor policy to have done
otherwise. [back to text]