Stories of War

Emil Liston

In over 150 years, Baker University has endured the rise and fall of national strife, celebrated victory and mourned its losses, just as the rest of the nation has. From a civil war to a series of overseas conflicts, the men and women of Baker have given their effort, their time and their lives to defend a nation and a set of ideals.

It all began as the University did in the 1850s, a gruesome and violent era in Kansas history. Throughout that decade and into the next, raids were a common threat in a border war with Kansas’ foes to the east. Fear was a mainstay in early frontier life, where a group of Methodists in Palmyra would be active in the struggle for abolition.

Those Methodists, who were found on numerous “hit lists” throughout the years preceding and during the Civil War, had other things on their minds. With a belief that education would bring civility to the savage land, they were planning a harbor of culture and intellect – the first University in the state.

As conflict moved east in the 1860s, however, the Civil War incited a loss of students and brought additional struggles. As the University experienced initial growth, the campus community saw an early setback as many left to contribute to Union war efforts.

Not the least of those was the University’s first president, Werter Renick Davis, who left his post at Baker to serve as a chaplain for the Union army from 1862 to 1864. The fledgling institution was put on hold as war placed academic growth as a secondary priority.

“Lots of men dropped out and joined the Civil War and followed Werter Davis,” Former University Archivist Brenda Day said. “To me, loyalty and respect for that old man probably led a lot of Baker men to join the Civil War.”

One such man was Cornelius W. Kiefer, a former student. When he arrived in Kansas in April 1865, Kiefer was thought to be one of the many lost in the Civil War. However, his father, a Baker trustee, and the rest of his family were shocked to find the son and brother had somehow returned from the midst of violence and destruction.

Beginning in March 1887, the veteran began a series of articles recounting his tales of war in The National Tribune of Washington, D.C. Day, a self-proclaimed Civil-War enthusiast, said Kiefer’s tales from the notoriously deadly camp were typical for the horror that was Andersonville, the Georgia site where 13,000 of 45,000 Civil-War prisoners would die from starvation, violence and fatal illness.

“It was the hell-hole of the South. It was the worst,” Day said. “His impression of Andersonville is spot on with everything that you see. It was god-awful.”

On Oct. 3, 1864, Kiefer had been one of almost 80 men captured three miles north of Big Shanty, Georgia. Eight days later, Kiefer was at Andersonville. He would unsuccessfully attempt escape two times, each time being returned to the hell of captivity.

“The first view of the place was sickening,” Kiefer said of his first encounter with ‘the Death House’. “There were a number of bodies in there, thrown together as are the dead animals gathered from the streets of a city. The bodies were all nude, emaciated to the last degree and frightfully distorted, and when here and there I saw the glazed eyes peering out from their deep sockets, it was frightful.”

Kiefer went on to live until 1936. Not all the soldiers who left Baker, however, had the same luck. Though the institution survived its first war, the campus would again be deserted for a cause and for the nation.

The Great Wars

The 1930s seemed a trying time for Baker. Economic hardship caused a depletion of educational resources for the University and for students. However, the Depression’s impact on campus wasn’t as drastic as the global conflicts throughout that era.

Beginning in 1934, Emil Liston, 1913, developed a program to help students overcome financial strife. Those who helped with the construction of Liston Stadium were reimbursed with free tuition to the University. The first game was played at the stadium in October 1935, but it wasn’t until Armistice Day in 1939 that the stadium was dedicated to Baker men who died in the “Great War.”

The war that later became known as World War I claimed the lives of 16 Baker men. However, Baker’s involvement in the war was immense. During that time, the campus population – especially among male students – dropped considerably. Alumni were called to arms as well.

Col. Samuel McRoberts, 1891, moved from a prominent position in banking in New York City to a man of high influence in the war efforts. McRoberts, who had been made chief of the Procurement Division of the Ordinance Department of the U.S. Army, signed the armistice that ended the Great War in 1918.

Two decades later, a series of events was stirring around the world that once again drained large portions of Baker’s population.

Tensions between nations to both the east and west had been brewing for almost a decade by that point. In 1939, Germany’s invasion of Poland marked the start of a continental war. Japanese invasions into China and the Pacific finally drew American attention on December 7, 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbor. To the east and west, American involvement in war escalated, and the efforts were seen nationwide.

As the 1940s came, the face of Baker University changed considerably. More than 500 Baker men and women joined the war effort. By the end of the war in 1945, 28 Baker men and women had fallen victim in the European and Asian-Pacific Theatres.

As the war progressed, Baker’s student body decreased in size. For years during the war, both the Kappa Sigma and Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternities closed, and Baker’s other two fraternities saw drastic decreases in membership. In the final year of the war, the class of 1945 had only one male graduate.

As in World War I, campus growth and advancement were delayed as war became the nation’s primary focus. Baker progressed in the years following each war as those returning from battle repopulated the halls of the University.


Two decades after World War II ended in a mass return of honored soldiers, another war swept the nation.

Jerry Weakley, 1970, MBA 1992, now vice president for endowment and planned giving, was a student at Baker during the tumultuous era.

“Baker, in my days as a student, came at the Vietnam conflict much later than a lot of other universities,” Weakley said. “There were small resistances and protests to the war.”

Weakley went on to complete a master’s degree in communication at the University of Kansas, where as a member of the ROTC program, he experienced hostility toward the military. Recalling profane rants and threats of violence, Weakley said the protests in Lawrence were more violent than those on the much smaller Baldwin City campus.

Though Weakley was never engaged in the Vietnam conflict, he was made a Second Lieutenant upon completion of the program and remained in the military for more than two decades.

The story of former student John Musgrave was considerably different. Musgrave, as a young man from Sugar Creek, Mo., joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1967. He was 17 when he first saw the battlefields of Vietnam.

After eleven months in Vietnam, Musgrave’s third wound – several shots to the chest and his left leg – sent him back to the States, where he spent 17 months in a military hospital.

After being medically discharged, Musgrave said he thought of doing something he had never considered – going to college.

“Since I was disabled by wounds, the military had to pay all of my college expenses,” Musgrave said. “I had a bad limp and a short haircut. It was clear I was a veteran. I had visited KU and UMKC, and it was really negative. There was no way I was going to a school where there was that attitude.”

After arriving at Baker in 1969, Musgrave said he had some difficulties adjusting to the college environment.

“At the beginning at Baker, I had some negative reactions, but I also had a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “When I walked on this campus, I was ready to do battle.”

However, as time passed, both Musgrave and the Baker populous came to an understanding.

“Most of the people on Baker’s campus were against the war. I got my ass shot off. I was against it myself. On a campus so small, people eventually treated me with a great deal of respect, even those who didn’t agree with what I’d done. That meant a great deal to me,” Musgrave said.

It wasn’t just the students, however, who had a positive influence on Musgrave.

“I came from a working-class family, and they never could have afforded to send me to school. I’d never had algebra. I’d never had biology. Then, it was made even harder by what we didn’t know at the time was post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “On this campus, I could call my professors at nights. I can’t tell you how many evenings I was invited over to their houses or sat on the phone with them helping me with a problem. I’ve never forgotten how much I owe this school.”

The influences of the Vietnam War continue to be seen today, as America has entered a new era of international conflict.

Though general attitudes have shifted from war support, Weakley said he has noticed a more civil environment than during the conflict in Vietnam.

“I’ve seen a subtle shift in attitude on one thing. The kids who returned from Vietnam were not honored. Today, I think people don’t place that same blame on soldiers for government decisions,” he said. “I think they were lumped together in Vietnam, and now there’s an understanding that these people did not choose to go themselves.”

Unlike the wars of centuries past, present conflicts have not had the same negative influence on Baker’s population. In an evolving society, undergraduate students are less frequently drawn from their studies to join war efforts.

With the addition of the School of Professional and Graduate Studies in the 1980s, however, Baker has seen a number of working-adult students be called to duty, such as Treven Feleciano, ’06.

After being called to the Middle East twice and to Florida to aid in hurricane relief with Battalion 13, the “Priority 1” member of the U.S. Navy Reserves said he has noticed the reemergence of respect for soldiers.

“People come up and say, ‘Thanks for doing a good job. We appreciate it,’ Feleciano said. “I don’t know how to react. I see it as my job. It’s what I’ve been trained to do.”

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