ORIGINALLY WRITTEN MELISSA HOCHSTETLER
At the start of the 20th century, roughly 750 residents lived in Hillsboro, many of them German-speaking settlers from Europe and South Russia.
For more than a decade, those numbers stayed relatively constant. But in 1908, Hillsboro experienced a jump in population.
Local historian Raymond Wiebe points out that the increase coincided with the year Tabor College was founded.
“We had a surge in population,” Wiebe said. “That may be a coincidence, but it really did happen.”
Many factors influenced the growth of Hillsboro over the years-but the relationship between the college and the town has been an important one as Hillsboro celebrates its 120th birthday.
How Tabor ended up in Hillsboro
According to Peggy Goertzen, director of the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, several thousand Mennonite Brethren settled in Marion County, in a movement that began in 1874 and lasted about 10 years.
“After their initial immigration, Mennonite Brethren were very concerned about establishing some sort of school of higher learning here,” Goertzen said.
“Mennonites and Mennonite Brethren always highly valued education,” she said. “Their first love was with the soil, but they recognized that the intellect needed to be developed.”
From 1899 to 1906, more than 100 Mennonite Brethren and Krimmer Mennonite Brethren students studied in the German Department at McPherson College. The department was under the direction of the Mennonite Brethren Church, but members in the area still wanted to have their own school for their young people to attend.
Three men-H.W. Lohrenz, P.C. Hiebert and John K. Hiebert-made that dream a reality.
“They shook hands on it and said, ‘We’re going to start a school,’ and they did,” Goertzen said. “They set up a school association in March of 1908.”
The school association then elected a nine-member board and began the task of deciding where to locate the school.
The board invited four towns to make proposals: Aulne, Lehigh, Inman and Hillsboro. Each community was asked to make a case for why the school should be established at its location.
“The business people in Hillsboro wanted the school here,” Goertzen said. “And so, land was offered. A large amount of money was offered if they would put the school in Hillsboro.”
According to Wiebe, the actual sum that Hillsboro offered is unknown.
“But it was a lot more than any of these other towns came close to,” Wiebe said.
The money-plus three square blocks donated to the cause-made Hillsboro the overwhelming favorite to be the site of the new school.
“Hillsboro got over 51 percent on the first vote,” Wiebe said. “They thought they’d have to vote twice and have a runoff election between the top two.”
After the board and school association voted, a second vote wasn’t necessary.
With the location decided, construction on a building for the newly named Tabor College began in 1908.
According to Wiebe’s history, “Hillsboro, The City on the Prairie,” local businessmen and church members provided funding for the college’s first building and local farmers donated the labor.
Since Tabor opened its doors Sept. 14, 1908, the relationship between the school and town has been mutually influential.
In the early days, residents recognized the potential benefits of having a college in town. Tabor College provided a broad liberal arts curriculum that included German, English. literature, music and business.
“Part of the strength in the beginning was that the business people here saw that having a place to adequately train young people in professional studies could really be a help to the whole town,” Goertzen said.
In return, when financial crises threatened the new school, the town pitched in to help.
A fire destroyed the first Tabor College building April 30, 1918. Tabor supporters and local merchants met later that day to discuss rebuilding the school. They decided to find 1,000 friends of the school who would offer at least $100 or more.
With the help of this effort and money raised by faculty and students, Tabor was quickly on the road to rebuilding. When construction on the new building began, local farmers again donated their time and equipment.
Hillsboro helped Tabor economically at other points in its history.
“At different times, when money was scarce, the Chamber of Commerce would rally around and raise money for Tabor,” Goertzen said.
In the late 1920s, the newly formed Chamber of Commerce wanted to do all it could to help the town prosper. In one effort, the organization raised $10,000 to help Tabor offset debts incurred at the beginning of the Depression.
“That was a glorious example of the partnership between the college and community,” Goertzen said.
Continuing economic impact
The relationship between the town and school continues. Mayor Delores Dalke sees many positive aspects of having a college in town.
“The list is absolutely endless,” Dalke said. “There are so many things that the college gives Hillsboro that have such an impact on what happens here.”
First, there are the financial effects of Tabor College.
“You have to talk about the economics of it-the money that is brought into the community by the students to pay all of their fees and also the money that they spend in our community,” Dalke said.
She also noted the importance of the salaries that are put back into the community by the faculty and staff.
According to Kirby Fadenrecht, vice president for business and finance at Tabor College, during the 2003-04 school year, Tabor provided 156 jobs. This figure includes the 82 full-time and 73 part-time jobs of faculty, staff and student workers.
Fadenrecht noted that 115 to 120 of these employees lived in Marion County.
Tabor’s payroll for 2003-04 surpasseds $2.8 million, with an additional $843,000 paid in Social Security, retirement and health insurance benefits.
But those salaries have a bigger impact on the community than the actual numbers indicate.
According to Dalke, every dollar spent in Hillsboro rolls over five times before leaving the community. So, Tabor’s economic impact could potentially be $14 million in a given year.
Other areas of impact
Fadenrecht pointed out several other ways in which Tabor affects the community economically.
Though Hillsboro isn’t ideally located to attract businesses, having a college and other services help.
“Having a hospital…having a good school district, having a college, they all go hand in hand to make this an attractive place,” Fadenrecht said.
“When community leaders try to attract others businesses to come here, the college is one of their selling points,” Fadenrecht said. “Again it just shows the progressive nature of the community that we have a college here.”
As in the past, local businesses still benefit from the Tabor Business Department.
“Sometimes the local businesses will seek expertise from the college business program,” Fadenrecht said.
Though Tabor does not have a formal seminar program, advice or training is given informally on an individual basis.
In addition, Fadenrecht said Tabor College uses local vendors when possible. In 2003, the college spent more than $500,000 in Hillsboro. Tabor does much of its printing locally, along with purchasing and servicing the college vehicles exclusively in Hillsboro.
Tabor also impacts the community in non-economic ways. Dalke said Tabor students and faculty contribute to the vitality of Hillsboro.
“They help the overall makeup of our community,” Dalke said. “I also believe that because Tabor is here we have an unusually large number of college-educated adults in our community compared to a lot of cities our size.”
The faculty and staff Tabor draws often get involved in community leadership through boards or involvement in church activities.
“Professionals will tend to get involved with other community activities and that has positive benefits for the community,” said Fadenrecht.
“The people that (Tabor College) draws for employees are educated and good community members,” he said. “Any college town in Kansas is going to have a better opportunity to flourish.”
Tabor College also enhances the opportunity to experience fine arts in Hillsboro.
“It brings in fine arts performing, it brings in lecturers,” Fadenrecht said. “Just the draw of other activities to the town is often one of the ways that college people really enhance the community.”
In addition to band and choir concerts and theater productions, Tabor brings in renowned speakers and hosts public events such as mission conferences.
Fadenrecht also noted that certain activities, such as seminars, come to Hillsboro because of the college facilities.
“It gives us then an opportunity to expose the town to people who wouldn’t normally be here for any other reason,” Fadenrecht said. “Maybe they’ll come back for the arts and crafts fair, or come back to a college activity, or maybe even send their children here someday.”
Areas of collaboration
The school and town also collaborate on other efforts. Some facilities are shared by the high school and college, like the football field and track.
The school district furnished the track and has access to use it without charge. The college is responsible for its maintenance, though both schools share in the cost of major expenses.
Dalke thinks the bond between Tabor and Hillsboro has grown in the last 25 years, along with the feeling that both are working towards the same goals.
“The last couple of college presidents have been very involved in the community and that has brought the relationship together much closer than what it was at one time,” Dalke said.
“I think that without Tabor we would be in another one of those small towns out on the plains, and because of Tabor, we’re not. We’re special.”
Melissa Hochstetler, a 2004 Tabor College graduate, wrote this article this spring as her major project in Mass Media Writing II.