Donald Struchen ’45
I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, and grew up during the Great Depression. My dad worked as a clerk in the Pennsylvania Railroad freight office when he wasn’t “laid off” for lack of work.
To pick up a little money my mother worked part-time in a dry goods store. She died when I was 14, and my dad and I lived next door to his parents where my grandmother helped raise me. She took me to Sunday school and church, so when I was about 15-16 I attended a revival service at our church and was “saved.” I decided I should become an evangelist, write 14 sermons, and spend the rest of my life going from town to town every two weeks preaching and converting the world.
Fortunately, the pastor of our Methodist Church suggested it might be wise to get a little education and go to college. My father objected, for we had no money and he thought I could get a job at the railroad like he had done. My pastor wanted me to become a preacher, so he wrote to the Board of Education of our church to see what colleges they might recommend. There were four—Millsaps, Randolph-Macon, Hamline, and Cornell. I noticed that Glenn Cunningham, the world’s greatest miler at the time, was the director of the medical facility at Cornell. I thought it would be interesting to meet him. Cornell offered me a janitor job so I could pay my way. I chose Cornell because I thought it would be interesting to live in a different part of the country. My dad got me a pass to take the train from Erie to Mount Vernon. In August of 1941 he and I took the train to Mount Vernon, he helped me get my trunk of all my possessions from the station to Guild Hall, and later that day he took a train home and I was a freshman.
Then my life changed! Henry “Hank” Houser ’45 was my roommate, and his brother George was a social activist and pacifist. They brought others to campus and we had “bull sessions.” In December Pearl Harbor happened. A Navy unit came to campus the next year. The guidance of my professors, the goodness of the school to provide me with work, the education in and out of class ALL changed my life completely.
After seminary I was a pastor for five years, executive secretary of the Erie Conference of the Methodist Church for eight years, and was then invited to be a staff member of the national Board of Missions of the Methodist Church with offices in New York City. In this position I traveled the entire United States leading workshops, speaking, and training our church leaders about the mission work of our denomination. I did this for 27 years and in that time worked in every Annual Conference of the Methodist Church. Before Cornell I thought Iowa was the farthest I would travel. After Cornell I’ve been in every state and many foreign lands. Before Cornell I thought I’d need 14 sermons. After Cornell I only needed one good mission sermon for I had the whole country to cover.
All that I am I owe to Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Today I’m retired and living in New York City. I volunteer in the Food Pantry housed in our church. It is the largest in New York, feeding over a million people a year.