From the distance of nearly 130 years, it is impossible for one to fully appreciate the excitement and devotion the founding of Union College engendered among Adventists on the Great Plains. For these simple farm families, many of them immigrants, a college education for their children met both sacrifice and another step toward fulfilling their American dream. For Noah Allee, it met passing the baton of church leadership on to the next generation, but his sons might not have seen it that way.
Brothers Behaving Badly
Around Union College the Allee brothers were troublemakers. It was a surprising development considering that their father was a respected minister and president of the Minnesota Conference. Born in Indiana, Noah Wilson Allee (1848-1907) became a Christian at twenty-one years of age. Several years later, while taking treatment at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in 1873, he joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Noah became a minister in 1877.
Noah’s sons, Jacob and Edgar were among the earliest students at Union College, and only two months into the first school year, a Mr. Allee was among a group of poorly performing students whose academic progress–or lack thereof–was discussed at a faculty meeting. While the other students were struggling in specific subjects, it was noted that Mr. Allee was doing poorly in “everything” and that “he does not like to work and does not like restraint.” While we do not know to which brother this reference refers, the following March the brothers’ dorm room was the scene of an altercation on Sabbath morning, during church time, involving a card game (reportedly Authors), cheating, profanity, and threats against the Mr. Yale who discovered them. Four boys were playing the game, and while the faculty questioned participants and witnesses separately, they may have never been sure they had the complete or accurate story.
Another year did not mature Edgar. In the late winter of 1893 he was once again the subject of a faculty meeting. This time the allegations were even more serious. Edgar had enticed a young lady to request permission to stay with friends in town during a vacation so that he could meet up with her. In addition, he also persuaded her to request a room change to the first floor of the dorm where she could easily sneak in and out of the window. This was the final straw for the faculty of Union College. Edgar was expelled from school–but not before he was caught out late at night with another young lady.
But Jacob and Edgar’s father did not give up on them so easily. When Edgar’s reapplication for school was rejected in September of 1893, Elder Allee followed up with his own plea for the college to give his son another chance in January of 1894, and again in March of the same year. This plea was rejected, as well, by faculty members who feared that if they accepted one problem student, they would have to accept others.
Getting kicked out of school may have been just what the boys needed to mend their ways. Jacob–born in 1872–never finished college. He married Lizzie Goff on August 4, 1894, in College View, Nebraska, and worked on farms in Tennessee, New Mexico, Idaho, and Washington. It appears that he was never employed by the denomination, but his wife, Lizzie, was the representative from Valley Center when the New Mexico Mission was organized. On August 15, 1955 he died at his daughter’s home in Vancouver, Washington.
Edgar–born Philip Edgar in 1874–apparently reformed after his expulsion from Union College. He finished his college education at Curtis Business College in Minneapolis, and married Harriet Teachout. With signs of a new maturity, when his father became superintendent of District 2,* Edgar was made secretary of the Southern Tract Society where he executed his responsibilities with sincerity and integrity. Tragically, his life was cut short by illness. While on a business trip to Savannah, Georgia, he contracted an unidentified illness and died on December 15, 1897.
As titillating and tragic as the Allee brothers’ story is by turns, their cousin Elsie’s story is more profound.
Determined and Dedicated
Elsie Mert Allee (1884-1979) was the daughter of Albert Marion Allee (1855-1930), Noah’s younger brother. Under his brother’s influence, Albert joined the Adventist Church about 1890. For a time he and his family lived on a farm along the Platte River in western Nebraska. Later, he operated the broom factory at Union College–likely while Elsie attended Union College. Sometime between 1906 and 1909, he and Elsie moved to New Mexico, first residing in Hagerman, and then in Roswell. Albert worked as a colporteur for a few years, and in 1909 he represented the Hagerman church at the meeting that organized the New Mexico Mission. Later, he was a founding member of the Roswell church.
Elsie attended Union College for two years and then taught public school at Crawford, Nebraska in 1905-1906. When she joined her father in New Mexico, Elsie became a Bible worker, serving on a tent evangelism team in the summer of 1910. The 1911 Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook shows she held a missionary license. However, her denominational employment was cut short when she married a local Roswell farm worker and widower with a small son, Brant Lewis Bartlett.
In addition to Brant’s son from his first marriage, William Everett (1912-2009), the Bartletts were the parents of four more children–Virgil Lewis (1916-2008), Frances E. (1919-), Alvin Marbert (1920-2009), and Nancy Louise (1925-2008). While Brant continued to work in New Mexico, rising to farm manager for a time, he was a Michigan native. When he was diagnosed with a “weak heart” he decided to move his family to Wilson, Michigan, in 1925. It was hoped the Michigan climate would be better for his heart, but he died on April 26, 1928.
A young widow with five children and a farm in northern Michigan on the brink of the Great Depression, life was difficult for Elsie. However, she was determined that her children would be educated, taught to love God, and reared to serve the Church. A diminutive woman, her son, Virgil, remembered her as devout, proud, assertive, creative, and musical, with a sense of humor. She was a meticulous housekeeper, and worked hard to keep her family fed and clothed.
In their early years, Elsie taught her children at home. As the Great Depression worsened, she was forced to sell off farm equipment. In the early 1930s, she relocated the family to Arpin, Wisconsin, where the children attended Bethel Academy (a forerunner of Wisconsin Academy). Later all five children graduated from Emmanuel Missionary College, meeting the first of Elsie’s goals for her family. Future decades saw each of the children make contributions to both their local congregations and the world Church.
- William Everett married Lillian May Barker, and while his name never appears in denominational publications, based on his brother Virgil’s memoirs, it is presumed he was active in his local church.
- Virgil Lewis married Frances Irene May, and together they taught at several Adventist colleges and academies. Virgil was the founding president of Mountain View College in the Philippines, and he concluded his career on the faculty of Andrews University’s School of Education.
- Frances married Howard Allen Craw and, among other schools, they both taught at La Sierra College.
- Alvin Marbert, like his brother Virgil, also served in the Far Eastern Division along with his wife, Anna E. Hendrickson. Among other positions, Alvin became president of the East Indonesian Union Mission.
- Nancy Louise married Roy Andrew Wolcott, and they both taught at the Malayan Union Seminary.
It is impossible to know how Noah felt about Jacob’s farm career, but he certainly grieved Edgar’s untimely death. His disappointment in Edgar’s failure at Union College is palpable in his repeated requests for the college to reinstate his son. It was a dream denied. Elsie, on the other hand, lived to see her dreams fulfilled in the accomplishments of her children.
*Districts were an administrative unit predating union conferences, which, like unions, combined multiple local conferences. District 2 covered Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.