MEMORIES OF PBTS 1931-1944
As told by Pastor Dick Riffle, Clarkston, Washington
A little background of how I heard about Practical
I first heard of the Practical Bible Training School in 1931 when my brother Melbourne Riffle began as a student there. He was married, had four children, and in his 30’s when he became a Christian. He was led to the Lord by Pastor Ralph Chaffee in Caton, NY. Pastor Chaffee’s daughter in later years was married to someone at Practical; I think one of the presidents. In 1932 Melbourne and a classmate, Lawrence Kelly decided to hold Evangelistic services in the Grange Hall in Lindley, NY, my home town. The only church there was the Methodist Church and it had dwindled to eight people in attendance. The Minister was a modernist (liberal) and did not preach the Gospel. I was 14 years old at the time Mel and Lawrence held the meetings. Another boy and I had been bass fishing in the Tioga river close by and were coming by the Grange Hall. We heard some singing and the boy with me asked me what was going on. I told him and said, “Let’s go up and listen in.” He said, “Not in these old clothes and hip boots!” I said, “We can sit in the back.” So up the stairs we went and found a bench in the back corner. We propped our fish poles in the corner and listened to the singing.
Soon my brother Mel gave a message. I had been brought up in the Methodist church and was familiar with doctrinal truth but had never heard the plan of Salvation explained so clearly before. When Mel gave an invitation for any who wanted to accept Christ as their personal Savior, I found myself heading for the front, hip boots and all. He carefully explained the way of Salvation and that night I accepted Christ as my Savior. Sunday morning came I could hardly wait to get to the Methodist church to tell my Minister. I was early but he was there. I said, “Rev. MacArthur, I have something to tell you. My brother Mel and a friend have been holding meetings this week in the Grange Hall.” He said very flatly, “Yes, I heard about that.” I replied, “I went forward and got saved the other night!” He said, “That all right son, every young person has to have some EMOTIONAL experience in their life. You’ll get over it!” I was stunned! But it flashed through my mind immediately, “My Minister does not believe the Gospel!”...I turned and ran out of there and never went back to hear him again. When Mel went back to PBTS that fall, he had Pastor Chaffee come every Sunday night and preach for the next year to hold the congregation together. There had been many saved during the meetings. When Mel graduated in 1934 from Practical the group asked him to organize the Lindley Community Church. He wrote the Constitution and By-laws and became the Pastor for one year. This was the beginning of my exposure to PBTS.
It was under the ministry of Pastor Eisenhart that I came to Practical. In October of 1940, I rededicated my life to the Lord when he was Pastor in Lindley, NY. Helen’s sisters, Clara and Dorothy came to live with them. In 1941 I entered the school at the winter term. For the next two and a half years I had to make up the fall classes of 1940 among with my regular subjects. Clara Ruhlman (Clara was the younger sister of Florence Ruhlman, Pastor Carl Wheeler’s wife) came to Bible school in the fall of 1941. At Christmas time, we became engaged. Early in 1942 I received notice that I had been classified as a 1-A and I was to report for duty in the army in June of 1942. June came I got as far as the Induction Center in Rochester, NY. I passed every physical test until I came to the eye Doctor. He asked me if I knew what kind of eyesight I had and I told him, “Yes! 20/20 with my glasses!” He said, “But without them they test 20/400. You are within 10 percent of being legally blind. And I notice you are studying for the Ministry. What are you doing here? Didn’t you ask for a deferment?” I said, “No sir! I come from a very patriotic family and if God wants me in the Army, that is where I want to be!”
I have always believed this man was a Christian because he said, “Son, this country needs SPIRITUAL help as well as winning a war. For every young man who is planning to do what you are going to do, I can get 1,000 young men for the army that are not interested in spiritual things. I’m sending you home to finish your schooling.” I went home and the next week got a job working for the Army on a construction job building an Ordinance Depot for army supplies. I worked until Fall semester and returned to Bible School. My next topic will tell you something about Dr. Gordon Davis.
The draft board had given me a “temporary” 4-D classification (Ministers Classification was 4-D) with instructions that if I was not in full time ministry shortly after I graduated I would be called up again by the Military. Clara and I prayed much about this so before we went home for Christmas met with Dr. Davis in his office. We told him that we wanted to get married before returning for the winter term. He said, “No. It has been a standing rule that students that got married in between semesters could not return until the next fall.” We then told him that we did not want to do as so many young couples had done. Married a week and then separated by going into the military. And that there was a good possibility I would be called again in June. We stated we had prayed about it and felt it was God’s Will.
He got up from his desk and started pacing the floor, pushing his pencil back and forth through his hand (a habit of his). “Well, Mr. Riffle, if I give you permission to let you get married when you go home and let you return, it will break a precedent that has existed since the school began. BUT...If you and Miss Ruhlman believe this is “God’s Will”...Who am I to say it isn’t! You have my permission to get married and return for the winter semester!...In March we went to the Baptist church in Blodgett Mills to preach and the second Sunday they asked us to become their Pastor. I wrote a letter to my Draft Board and shortly after received a permanent 4-D classification.
Memories of Clara and my days at Practical
John R. Clements the writer of the Hymn “No Night There.” Each year on his birthday the student body would gather in front of their home and sing that song for him and also “Happy Birthday.” He was the Postmaster until year of ’43. During the first part of 1943 he was confined to his bed most of the time. Clara and I would drop in once in a while to visit with him. The first time we were in his room we saw something that he never talked about. He was such a humble man. On his bedroom walls hung two large pictures in ornate frames. One was a picture of President Teddy Roosevelt and the other of Williams Jennings Bryan. Each had inscribed a handwritten note, “To My Friend, John R. Clements” signed “Teddy Roosevelt.” On the other picture, “To my Good Friend, John R. Clements,” singed “William Jennings Bryan”...We would always ask him to tell us the story of a hymn, how and who wrote it or some unusual thing about it. The one I remember well was about Ira Sankey, writer of the hymn “The Ninety and Nine.” During the years he traveled with D.L. Moody in speaking engagements, a feature of the service would be when Sankey at the close of the service would play his portable organ and sing “The Ninety and Nine.” Such a service ended in Philadelphia once nigh. Sankey was closing up the organ, the crowd was leaving, and an elderly lady came to the front. She said, “Mr. Sankey, I walked several miles to get here tonight, but I just got here and I came to hear you play the “Ninety and Nine” but I missed it!” Mr. Clements continued, “And then Sankey, the great man of God that he was, who had just played before thousands, opened up the organ and played the “Ninety and Nine” for ONE dear lady!”
Mr. Clements had made a project of researching the history and writing of songs both secular and spiritual.
Dr. Davis and his “Public Speaking” course enabled Pastors to speak clearly when they preached and singers to sing from the diaphragm. John Ruhlman told me this story of when he was a student. One of his class members (William Clancy) was in charge of firing up the boiler to provide hot water for the school. Clancy would get off work about 10:00 at night. Covered with coal dust and sweat, he would get to the Inner Circle Dorm and find guys in the shower and most of the hot water gone. They promised they would save a shower place for him. The next night he came in and someone was in the shower. So he went and got a pail of cold water, crept in the shower room, and dumped the whole pail of water over the wall by the shower on the one who was there. A loud scream came, not from one of the students but from Dr. Davis who had slipped up to the dorm because something was not working in the shower at his house.
It is difficult to be brief about the Faculty. Dr. Lowe with his clear doctrinal and practical teaching of the Word. His humor kept your attention and made a point about some truth he was presenting. His studies and sermons on Ruth and the Song of Solomon have never been matched by any writers that I have read. His devotion to the Lord, God’s Word, his family and his students were outstanding, His book “Christ In All the Scriptures” has never been equaled.
Dr. Harvey Wagner (former FBI Director in Food and Drug Inspection for 15 years before coming to Practical) had a photographic mind. He knew most of the Bible from memory and insisted and encouraged us to memorize as much as we could. When a student gave an answer or made a statement in class, he would always point to that student and say, “Chapter and verse, please!” He gave me a copy of his large Doctrinal and Dispensational chart after his meetings with me when I was a Pastor in Marshall, Michigan in 1945. He was a great man of prayer. His office was connected to his classroom and if you came in early, often his door was partly open and you would see him on his knees in prayer before coming to teach.
Francis Holden was a great in his classes on Biblical Theology and Old Testament History. His godliness also showed in his life and teaching.
Nellie Manley was such a sweet person and made Church History very interesting.
Hilda Copley was a good Teacher and I enjoyed her classes in English and American Literature.
Alice Chatlos was a not only a great teacher of Greek, but a great example of one whose life was lived in the light of Eternity. Her Father being a millionaire, she could have lived a life of luxury and ease but chose to give her life to the Lord at Practical. The only time I can recall her talking about her parents, was when she told us her Dad had sold their home in New Jersey to none other than Glen Miller, the famous orchestra and band director.
Dr. and Mrs. Patterson were great representatives for the school and as leaders of the Students League of Many Nations inspired many young people to come to Practical as students as well as the many who accepted Christ through their ministry. Dr. Patterson also enlisted financial support for the school with the many contacts that he had.
Mrs. John A. Davis (“Mother Davis”) we called was a great inspiration to everyone. She was so thoughtful and concerned for every student. After Clara and I were married, we had a room in the “Brown Cottage” overlooking the river. I was sick one night and she came and made a personal visit on us. One of the chapel features of the year was when she would tell the story of how the “White City” or “Sin City” was purchased as a campus. I will tell it in her words as accurately as I can.
“John heard about the property being for sale. He had been looking for a place that was larger than where we were. I will never forgot the day when we drove up and parked out front on Riverside Drive. We began to walk up the sidewalk leading to the main building. As I looked at the scene before us, it was the worse place I had ever seen. Garbage, trash, whiskey bottles, broken glass, broken windows, buildings falling apart, a terrible sight to me. All of a sudden John who was ahead of me, spun around, his face was shining, his eyes full of excitement and shouted, “ISN’T IT BEAUTIFUL! JUST WHAT I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR!” I saw only the trash, the work, the rundown buildings. John saw STUDENTS! And a place where they could be taught the Word of God and prepare themselves for Christian service! What a vision he had for God!...”
The Brown Cottage
We were to live in what was called the “Brown Cottage” at school. It sat overlooking the Susquehanna River. We had a single room with a bath. There were three other married couple in the building with similar accommodation. We were on the lower floor near the furnace room which had a small “pony” stove that heated the water tank. It had a single cast iron plate at the top. It was my responsibility to keep the stove burning around the clock. We bought a “cold handle” frying pan, (which I still have) and once in a while would buy some hamburgers and buns and fry them on the little stove.
Each student at the school had to give one hour of work every day. It could be cleaning a hallway, washing dishes, cleaning a bathroom and various other duties. In my Senior year, I was given the responsibility of opening the dining room for the student body. Breakfast at 6:00 am, lunch and the evening meal. I wore a white jacket and stood at the bottom of the stairway as the students came down for meals. As soon as everyone was seated, I hit a small set of chimes with a little mallet and asked a student to say the blessing.
Food at Bible School during those early years was nourishing but not fancy. Lots of macaroni and cheese dishes, and other types of pasta. The girls gained weight, much to their dismay. Meat during the week was mainly cold cuts, no butter, and skim milk. I hated the milk at first but it was always cold and I developed a liking for it. The best meal of the week was on Sunday. It was always the same but very good. Ground beef meat loaf with onions cooked in it. Wow! Did that ever smell good as we came into the dining room!
The school had special music groups that would minister on Sundays to various churches in the area. There were two men’s quartets. One good one and the one in which I sang lead. Carlo Pietropaulo bass, Art Meadows, baritone, Cecil Whitney, tenor. One Sunday we were at a small Baptist Church and before the service the Pastor met with us to instruct is as to when were to sing our first number,
He said, “Right after the S.O.S. group come in, you will sing your first number. Oh, you may wonder who the S.O.S. are: That’s our women’s choir. They know I refer to them as the S.O.S., but they don’t know what that stands for. I secretly refer them as “Sisters of Satan.” They are the WAR department of this church!”
The official Ladies Trio from the School were Clara, Betty Denkleman, Margaret Weckle. Boy! Could they sing! Besides going to churches, they sang at school.
Labels: 1931, 1934, 1941, Clara Ruhlman, Florence Ruhlman, Gordon Davis, John R. Clements, Melbourne Riffle, Moody, Pastor Carl Wheeler, Pastor Dick Riffle, Sankey, the Inner Circle, WW2