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Arthur Climenhaga

(President, 1960-1964)


Arthur Climenhaga

Messiah’s fifth president was no stranger to this campus prior to his presidency. In fact, Arthur Climenhaga was born in a house on Messiah grounds! 


Climenhaga’s family was engaged in the College since its inception. His grandfather, S. R. Smith, was the founder of the College, and his parents were among the school’s first faculty members. Asa Climenhaga, Arthur’s uncle, was also an extremely influential leader in Messiah’s history.


In the days before his involvement with the College, Climenhaga’s parents served for nine years as foreign missionaries in what is currently Zimbabwe. This experience greatly shaped Climenhaga’s character, defining his passions and life goals.


As a man dedicated to education, Climenhaga received first his bachelor degree in sacred literature from Beulah College (what later became Upland) in California, a master’s degree in theology from Taylor University in Indiana, and finally a doctorate in sacred theology from Los Angeles Baptist Theological Seminary.


Climenhaga, clearly a credible candidate with a wealth of knowledge, began teaching at Beulah College. He then moved up the ladder, becoming the school’s religious director, and later wearing the hat of president until 1944.


Following his years in California, Climenhaga left the States to serve abroad in the foreign mission field.  He worked in education and district church ministries in Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe). His dedication to the ministry led him to leadership positions including bishop and general superintendent of Brethren in Christ missions.


Upon his return to the States, Climenhaga dove back into his teaching career, this time at Messiah. His heavy involvement and previous experiences propelled him into the presidential position by 1960.


Climenhaga’s presidency began the process of change and development for the College.

Aware of the importance of building positive relationships to benefit the college, Climenhaga focused on cultivating strong connections with community members and beyond. He even joined the Lions and Rotary Clubs and others like it with the goal of enhancing community involvement and strengthening the College’s support base.


On top of these achievements, Climenhaga also contributed to and oversaw Messiah’s official regional accreditation. This process was a major stepping stone in terms of establishing the College’s credibility. Originally denied the endorsement, he saw to it that all of the weaknesses pointed out by the accreditation team were well met.


This seal of approval had a wide range of benefits for Messiah:

  • Boosted enrollment numbers
  • Instituted better recruitment methods
  • Contributed to more successful fundraising and support from various organizations
  • Opened the door for the College to provide teacher certifications through their education program (which Climenhaga later spearheaded)


Beyond accreditation, Climenhaga also improved faculty salaries, doubled the number of books in the library, and expanded the College’s land across the Yellow Breeches.


Many strides were also made to advance the athletic program at Messiah. A student-faculty committee was formed to expand intercollegiate competition. In 1963, Messiah participated in its first athletic contest against a non-Christian affiliated institution. The College also claimed the falcon as their official mascot in that same year.


In addition to his presidential duties, he maintained prominent leadership roles within the community and the Brethren in Christ Church. 


By 1964, after four short but strong years of service, Climenhaga resigned to become the executive director of the National Association of Evangelicals.


What was happening in the world during Arthur Climenhaga's presidency?

  • Germany began constructing the Berlin Wall.
  • The Bay of Pigs Invasion attempt to overthrow the Cuban government and Fidel Castro failed.
  • The Peace Corps was established.
  • The Beatles formed in Liverpool, England in 1960 and became one of the most popular and successful bands in history.
  • The Soviet Union sent the first human into space.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis, a confrontation between the U.S., the Soviet Union, and Cuba that almost led to nuclear warfare, occurred in 1962.
  • The Civil Rights Movement was at its height during this period; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” Speech at the march on Washington. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed.
  • JFK was assassinated while riding in a government motorcade with his wife. A ten-month investigation pointed the finger at Lee Harvey Oswald, but soon thereafter allegations arose, claiming that the investigation was flawed, and no concrete conclusions could be made.
  • G.I. Joes were introduced and became a boy’s most treasured toy.


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