Nearly 100 years ago, the Rev. J.B. Branch wrote “Why I Believe in De la Howe.”
His writing was printed in a bi-monthly bulletin in the fall of 1921. I wrote about this treasured document some weeks ago after finding a yellowed copy of the bulletin. And as we enter into this week’s observance of Thanksgiving, the Reverend Branch’s words are timely.
This is my first time to experience autumn at De la Howe. The 1,310 acres, much of which comprise an old-growth forest, have been rich with colors worthy of a sultan’s chest of treasures — gold, bronze, scarlet, ruby and enduring evergreen, all of which have had a powerful visual impact. If the acres could be compressed into a moving sphere – much like a snow globe – the colors swirling inside would take your breath away.
Branch talked about De la Howe having “elbow room,” and as I traveled into the forest area recently, I believe that he might be surprised to find that we continue to have elbow room, some of which already is making way for a proposed school for agriculture.
Branch wrote, “The new De La Howe is beginning to expand in the middle of 2,000 acres of fine farming and timbered land, eight miles away from the county seat of McCormick County, which is McCormick.
“Freedom is as precious a word as liberty, if not its synonym. At the State School, the children are not walled in, have none of the city’s smoke and soot to soil their hands and clothes, and have none of the city’s moral smoke and soot to soil their souls. Miles of woods are open to them; the river and the creek are flowing as boundaries to the Lethe estate; the birds, rabbits and squirrels inhabit the woods, and wild ducks are shot on the river in the winter.
“Here the State’s wards have all the advantages of a first class school, with a developing industrial feature and at the same time the unrestricted life of the wide, wide country where the fields are green and the sky is blue, heavenly blue. That is why I believe in De la Howe.”
The historic John de la Howe remains free and open. Looking out my window, I see a sky that is perhaps the same heavenly blue that the Reverend Branch wrote about.
I felt blessed to drive down the avenue of Red Maples from the entrance to De la Howe. Although some are nearly devoid of leaves, others have foliage that seems to grow more beautiful every day. The maples wear their scarlet coats with pride and send a message to “stand up and take notice” of this place which has a richness of history and of service to the youth and families of South Carolina.
I had a quick pang of sadness as I realized that these trees soon will be stark and bare as the chill of winter sets in – maybe not long after the Thanksgiving holiday ends.
For more than 220 years, success has flourished throughout the seasons. The opportunities afforded De la Howe students have been such of a first class school, as the Reverend Branch wrote. The “state’s wards” certainly deserved no less!
Those of us who are here today know that the future of De la Howe continues to hold limitless possibilities. The lush vegetation of our many growing seasons turned into the numerous fall harvests across two centuries. In a not-too-distant time, this place will return to its roots and become the agricultural school that Dr. John de la Howe bequeathed to generations of youth whom he would never see studying on the land that he held dear.
Yet, Dr. de la Howe knew as the Reverend Branch would later write: “The field is open before it, and its opportunity to serve is abundant.”
Prophetic – and appropriate — words as we celebrate Thanksgiving.