By Francis Neil G. Jalando-on

Dr. Peter Lerrigo (2nd from left) was welcomed by Centralians when he arrived at the airport. He was with Rev. William O. Valentine when they started Jaro Industrial School in 1905.

The history of Central Philippine University is rich with lessons that Centralians can learn from. Here are lessons from that we can glean from the life and ministry of two CPU Presidents: Dr. Peter H. J. Lerrigo and Dr. Almus O. Larsen.

Dr. Peter H. J. Lerrigo, a missionary doctor and President of CPU in 1950-52, posed a soul-searching question: “Did it ever occur to you that you leave behind in Central upwards of a hundred teachers and administrative workers all of whom have a stake in you? ‘In what way?’ you say. Well, you are the product of the combined impacts upon you of parents and other ancestors, friends, companions, and especially teachers. Picture, if you will, these latter: the hundred teachers you leave behind. Their faces are a mixture of pride and gloom, and just about now, they are quoting the words of attributed to the infant Father of his country, George Washington, ‘I did it with my little hatchet,’ and adding perhaps, ‘Why didn’t I make a better job of it?’”

Furthermore, Dr. Lerrigo, emphasized the freewill and personal accountability of all Centralians: “But there is one thing they (faculty and staff) didn’t do to you. They did not have the final say about how you were going to turn out. This was, is, and will be determined by choices made in your own heart, in company with that “spirit of the Divine” who lives there if you let Him. So you, yourself, and not your remote ancestors, nor your recent teachers, have the final say. And you can change the trend in any of these directions, either now, or in the future. It might be a good thing to look at your trends and see where they are likely to lead as you mingle in society. We have great faith in you. Justify it!”

President Almus O. Larsen was passionate about raising a generation of brave Centralians by reiterating that one of the educational objectives of the school is to fight for freedom.

Dr. Lerrigo established the Capiz Emmanuel Hospital in 1902 with the money given to him by the Rockefellers who were his friends and fellow church members. Together with Rev. William O. Valentine, they started Jaro Industrial School, now CPU, in 1905. His friendship with the Rockefellers brought about another donation so that the school was able to buy the 24-hectare campus in Jaro. He was responsible for the development of the college day celebration in 1950 and of the start of Christian Emphasis Week in 1951. He is also remembered as the president when the Rose Memorial Hall, a building in honor of a Hopevale Martyr, Rev. Dr. Francis Howard Rose, was constructed

The “Central Spirit,” the bond that binds all Centralians, was explained by Dr. Lerrigo. He was in his late 70s when he became president of Central: “There is something about the Central fellowship which is not too often found elsewhere. It is a ‘something’ of straightforward and open-eyed friendship between the very young, the older youth and even the aged which means a two-way flow of life, thought, happiness, and understanding and that puts us all into the category of the wise men bringing gifts. We are free at Central. Yes, there are bonds and prohibitions, but they grow out of the nature, purpose, and atmosphere of the place. The understanding spirit accepts them as part and parcel of the Spirit which originated Central and breathes into it the breath of every day’s new life… There are occasional flaws in the fellowship and its practice. These are thrown into high relief by the uniform prevalence of the democratic spirit of give and take which emphasizes the occasional lapse.”

President Lerrigo highlighted that CPU promotes freedom and equality not just in the campus but in our country: “We are not only free but we are equal at Central; equally privileged to give and to receive, to love and be loved, and to be an articulate functioning unit in the Republic. It is a Republic of democratic spirits who for the most part, almost unconsciously, live and rejoice in the ties that bind but do not hamper.”

Dr. Almus O. Larsen, President of Central Philippine University when it celebrated its 50th anniversary, reiterated that one of the educational objectives of the school is to fight for freedom. He was trained as an educator up to his master’s degree, and then received a Doctor of Education, honoris causa.

He wrote, “We are now fifty! And mature! Mature minds can only develop where freedom of thought and of the individual conscience before God prevails. Centralians have been nourished for fifty years on a philosophy that maintains the right of every individual to religious and intellectual freedom. The right to inquire, to hear, to speak, to accept personally Jesus as Lord and Savior are not rights we hold privately but rights that we share with others. We have found it our duty, therefore, as thoughtful citizens, to protest the suppression of these freedoms wherever it may occur, knowing that if they are lost, the democratic way of life will be replaced by a fascist or communist way.”

It is good to re-examine ourselves since 1955 if we have accepted the challenge of President Larsen to stand for what gives freedom: “May we reaffirm, then, as we approach the next milestone, that the indispensable condition for the preservation and enrichment of our Christian democratic heritage is the full and free examination and exchange of ideas in all of living.”

Dr. Larsen was man of great faith and was passionate in sports. He served as a Sunday School teacher, and as president of the Association of Christian Schools and Colleges in the country. As a sportsman, he would play softball and wholeheartedly supported the sports program of the university. He was the president of the West Visayas Private School Athletics Association.

(References: Centralite 1951, 1952 and 1955)

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