Born in 1872 on a farm in Lancaster County, Messiah’s third president was a lover of nature and people.
Enos Hess was a man passionate about education. Having such a passion, he elected to continue on to higher education and took courses on bookkeeping at Lancaster Business College in 1891. Two years later, he strengthened his farming credibility by taking additional agricultural classes at Pennsylvania State College.
It was during this time that Hess had a conversion experience. Although he had grown up in a Brethren in Christ home, he decided to fully devote himself to God in 1894. He wrote in the back of his Bible, “I this day consecrate my whole life to the service of the Lord.”
Over the span of the next three years, Hess continually wrote entries in his Bible, affirming that he would spend one hour studying the Bible each day, give 10% of his income to God, and treat every man as his brother for the rest of his days.
While growing in his relationship with the Lord, he decided to attend college full time. He enrolled at Pennsylvania State College in 1896.
Hess was an active member of several spiritual organizations on campus, including the YMCA and the Evangelical Christian Association. In these establishments, he served as a leader, bringing in speakers and encouraging students to love and respect one another. He spoke firmly against behaviors like hazing, which were popular fraternity activities at the time, thereby becoming very unpopular with his fellow students.
Students at the college were very aware of Hess’s Christianity. He dressed plainly, prayed before meals, and often offended many campus groups because of the way he spoke out against their poor behavior. For such reasons, he developed a bad reputation and became an easy target.
One account even describes Hess having to barricade himself in his room to avoid student attacks. Other accounts explain his unpopularity by relating how student editors of the yearbook deliberately deleted his name and photo from the publication.
Despite these troubles, Hess managed to become an ordained minister of the Brethren in Christ Church while still earning his degree in four years.
Soon after his graduation, he married Barbara Hostetter, sister of former Messiah president C. N. Hostetter.
The couple decided to settle down in Casanova, Virginia, where they took on the management of a 688-acre farm. The land was clearly overworked and needed some good old-fashioned tender loving care.
After three years, the property was fully restored, and Hess used it as the basis for writing his thesis to receive his M.A. degree. He completed this degree in 1905.
Hess’s accomplishment in Virginia inspired him to move back to Lancaster County and attempt to replicate that achievement once more. Cultivation of this land, however, was not so successful. His heavy involvement in the church and decision to discontinue tobacco growth in order to comply with the wishes of church authorities led to this failure.
By 1908, he resolved to sell his farm and picked up mission work in Lancaster city. It was during this time that S. R. Smith called upon him to teach at Messiah.
Prior to his presidency, he acted as a teacher, secretary, and vice president.
Hess taught for four years, never accepting any payment and always extending gracious contributions to the College. He even donated $2,000 to the funding of the school before it was even approved by the Brethren in Christ community. One of his personal mottos was “get along with as little as possible and give as much as possible.”
He was described as a stern man who was usually in a hurry and direct in his approach and opinions. Regardless, students avowed that they could never hold a grudge toward the man even if he punished them unjustly.
College historian Morris Sider concurred, “To those who knew him well, these features were only externals, to a good, sometimes too good, heart beneath.”
Enos Hess' home on campus
After four years of teaching, Hess moved up the management ladder and earned the presidency in 1923, still donating most of his salary to Messiah.
During his years as president, however, he faced many obstacles. With this position often came great struggle and frustration.
As a dedicated fundraiser, he faced periods of great disappointment. He would go out into various communities week after week to boost college funds, only to be turned down repeatedly. These letdowns were so heartbreaking to him that he would often return to Messiah in tears.
In addition to his shortcomings on the fundraising front, Hess experienced some friction between himself and his co-workers.
Despite these setbacks, he contributed greatly to the College. He jump started a stronger recruitment program and maintained good church and school relations throughout a somewhat tumultuous time period. Because Hess also maintained his farming business throughout his presidency, he was able to offer students job opportunities and provide fresh ideas and practical experience.
The Messiah community greatly admired Hess for his Christian character and sacrificial services. The financial stress of maintaining the school, however, took its toll on him. As a result, he resigned in 1934.
What happened in the world during Enos Hess' presidency?
- Popsicles were accidentally invented by Frank Epperson when he left his lemonade mix on a windowsill overnight.
- Switzerland held the first Winter Olympics.
- Army Air Service (later to become the United States Air Force) aviators completed the first round-the-world, lasting 175 days and covering more than 27,000 miles.
- Yale University students invented the Frisbee using empty pie-holding plates from the Frisbie baking company.
- The first transatlantic phone call was made. A three-minute phone call cost $75…half the price of a car!
- Alexander Flemming discovered penicillin.
- The stock market crashed in October 1929, an event that led to the Great Depression, the biggest financial crisis of the 20th century.
- The U.S. adopted the “Star Spangled Banner” as its national anthem.
- Ruth Wakefield invented the chocolate chip.
- Prohibition came to an end on February 5, 1933. It is estimated that over 1.5 million barrels of beer are consumed that night.