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Magazine On-line [summer 2009]
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Alumni Profiles

Tough times nothing new for Depression-era alumnus

Thomas LiggetFor someone who enrolled in Transylvania in 1936 during the depths of the Great Depression with $92 in his pocket, the economic challenges facing the University and its faculty and students today take on a unique perspective. Sure, times are tough, but those who survived the 1930s have seen it all before, and then some.

“It’s hard to describe the atmosphere of those times,” says Thomas J. Liggett ’40. “Everybody was anxious about tomorrow, and just trying to find a way to get through the next month. There was an acceptance of financial shortage for everybody at Transylvania, students and professors alike. The college did a remarkable job of understanding our situation and helping us make our payments.”

Like many of his classmates, Liggett cobbled together an assortment of scholarships, serviceships, and part-time jobs to pay for his Transy education. At various times he cleaned the chemistry labs, drove a truck for 25 cents an hour delivering peanuts and potato chips to Lexington bars, worked in the YWCA cafeteria, and ushered at the Lexington Opera House.

He even did a turn at “Driving Miss Daisy” when he got a job as driver for an older Lexington woman who could not drive her own car.

“For three or four hours on Sunday afternoons, I would drive her wherever she wanted to go,” recalls Liggett.

“One summer, I even drove her to Florida and back. We went all the way to Miami.”

Liggett was familiar with Florida, having been taken in at age 13, along with his mother, by relatives in Fort Myers after the death of his father. He and his mother moved to Lexington when Liggett was 18, and she got a job and provided a home while he began his Transy studies.

Liggett went on to a distinguished career in higher education, serving as president of Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico and of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, among other positions. He now lives in retirement in Claremont, Calif., where he is a life trustee at Chapman University and at Disciples Seminary Foundation.

When he received a letter from President Charles L. Shearer in April apprising alumni of the college’s strategies for staying solvent during the economic downturn, Liggett wrote the president to express his appreciation for his efforts.

“There is no magic solution to these problems, but the policies you have adopted are certainly the right direction,” Liggett wrote. “It is only in retrospect that I have also begun to understand the difficulties Transylvania administrators faced, and overcame, when I was a student. Your presidency continues that distinguished heritage, and I am grateful for it.”

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