James Lightner
James Lightner (HANDOUT)

James Lightner, a McDaniel College alumnus, professor emeritus of mathematics, college historian and current trustee, will give a presentation on the college's history on Wednesday. It will be free and open to the public.

Lightner will speak about the college's nearly 150-year history during a 90-minute presentation, adapted from his book of more than 700-pages, "Fearless and Bold." The talk will be filmed for a documentary in celebration of the sesquicentennial of the institution, which was known prior to 2002 as Western Maryland College. The Times caught up with Lightner to learn more about his book, the presentation and the documentary.

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Q: What prompted you to write your book "Fearless and Bold" on the history of McDaniel College?

A: The book has been out since 2007... Once I retired in 1998 I had planned to write the history of the college because I had been interested in it before that. I was also encouraged by two presidents that we really needed a good, up-to-date history. We had one that actually only went up to 1977... and I knew we needed something to update that. But rather than just extend it, they asked me to literally write a new one, and that is what I did.

Q: How did the book get its name?

A: I called the whole book "Fearless and Bold" based on a song that we had had that went "Dear Western Maryland fearless and bold" and I chose that because the history really shows that the college and the leaders were really fearless and bold in keeping the thing going, getting it started and keeping it going at a time when co-ed schools were almost unheard of. We were the first co-educational college, we think, below the Mason-Dixon line.

Q: What are some of the highlights that you will discuss at your presentation on the history of McDaniel?

A: I'm going to give a sort of a quick and dirty full 150-year history... I'm starting with something that I started about 25 years ago, which was a lecture on the history of the college. That was before I wrote the book... It's hard to say which ones; I'm going to talk about so many things. I'm going to talk about the college and who were involved with it; I'm going to talk about some of the sports things that occurred; I'm going to talk about each president and the buildings that they built; I'm going to tell some sort of funny stories about them; some of the things that happened on campus; and I'm going to bring it up to date, up to today, in terms of where the college is today and bring it into where we are recently.

Q: How is the history of McDaniel connected to that of Carroll County?

A: We've been here since 1867 and the county goes back earlier than that to the early 1800s, but we've been essentially an integral part of this county for a long time. Many of our early leaders were also very involved with the town [of Westminster]. As I read some of the early history from the diaries of the first president, which were used and so forth, he refers to how the town was changing. So many of the leaders from the county were also part of our board, so for instance the first chairman of our board was John Smith and he called himself John Smith of Wakefield, but he was also president of the Western Maryland Railroad, which was a major step forward in the development of the county... . It's been integral since the time the college was thought about. We are the only four-year college that is still in existence. There were three or four others that go back into the 19th and 20th century.

Q: Why do you think it is important for people to know the history of McDaniel College?

A: I think they should really appreciate where we came from and also some of the things that have occurred. It amazes me that people don't really know enough about the college, that is probably why we changed the name [from Western Maryland College]. Carroll countians didn't know about it but a lot of people didn't know about it. We changed the name almost 15 years ago now. People thought we were a state school because it sounded like a geographical school as in Western Maryland. It was confusing and that was one part of it — both locale and type of school.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you when you were looking into the history?

A: Oh, lots of things. Probably the one thing, and this will come out in the speech, is we almost came part of the University of Maryland in 1914. The story goes that... the University of Maryland, border regions and so forth, had formed over the long haul from a number of professional schools in Baltimore. But there was no undergraduate college in the university system — it was strictly the law school, the dental school and so forth. It was only graduate schools, so in 1914 they decided that if they were going to be a university that they ought to have a college that will serve the citizens of Maryland at the undergraduate level. They literally went around talking to the relatively few liberal arts schools that were around the state — Washington College, St. John's College... some other ones like that and each one turned them down. They came to our board of trustees and they said, 'Well, maybe we'll think about it'... it didn't work for a couple of reasons.

Q: Why did you decide to make a documentary from the book?

A: People who have seen it through the years have said, "You really ought to get it on tape; you're not going to be here forever." So rather than just have the printed book —which is about 725 pages long — as the only history. This provides a short version, if you will, of the history that we can show to students in something called a first-year seminar. Our thought is that once we have this done it will be something we can show to them, so they will have an idea of the background of this institution of which they are now a part. Also it can be used for alumni gatherings and that sort of thing. The vignettes are going to be pulled off and now a part of our website, as a sort of historical "did you know" kind of thing.

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Q: What will be done with the documentary once it is complete?

A: The full version with the vignettes will actually be sold in the book store as a CD or DVD, and... it will be used in house by our communications and marketing department.

Q: Do you have any future plans to write another historical account of McDaniel?

A: I'm going to write another book. Actually our eighth president [Joan Develin Coley] has asked me to write her decade. I stopped the book at the name change because I was working on the book when we changed the name — I was part of that whole operation and whole process. I stopped the book because it seemed like a good place to stop at that time... Joan wants me to continue to write the 2000 decade which was her decade [before she retired in 2010]. I had started to work on it — we would publish it as a monograph — I wouldn't want to redo the whole book.

If you go:

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What: Multimedia presentation on the history of McDaniel College for the live taping of "Fearless and Bold: LIVE"

When: 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 9

Where: Carroll Arts Center

Advanced registration required: mcdaniel.edu/fearlessandboldlive

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