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John Marquis

Fifth President of Coe College (1909-1919)

December 27, 1861 in Washington County, Pennsylvania
July 5, 1931 in New York City, New York
Educational Background:
A.B., Washington and Jefferson College, 1885; Western Theological Seminary, 1890
Teaching Experience:
Professor of Greek and Mathematics, Blairsville College, Pennsylvania, 1885-87
Ministerial Experience:
Associate Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, 1890-92; Pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, 1892-1902; Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Redlands, California, 1902-05; Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Beaver, Pennsylvania, 1905-09
Administrative Experience: 
Board of Trustees, Washington and Jefferson College, 1898-1908; Western Theological Seminary, 1907-??
Key events/accomplishments during administration:
Dedication of Carnegie Science Hall (now Stuart Hall), Sinclair Memorial Chapel, and Voorhees Hall; Endownment reaches $1 million; Graduating classes number fifty or more students for first time; Flunk Day begins in 1911
Post-Coe Career:
Presbyterian Board of National Missions

John Marquis Leads the Saints of Cedar Rapids

After president Marquis resigned from presidency, he was a frequent visitor on campus and kept in close contact with his replacement, President Gage. When inquiring of the school, Marquis always asked Gage the same question: "How are the saints in Cedar Rapids?"

These "saints," of course, were the students of Coe College, the same saints that under his presidency began the tradition of Flunk Day in 1911.

Marquis was born on a farm in western Pennsylvania December 27, 1861 and graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in 1885. After teaching Greek and mathmatics for two years at Blairsville College for Women in Blairsville, Pennsylvania, Marquis attended the West Theological seminary at Pittsburgh, graduating in 1890. He was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1891. He served as a pastor for ten years in Pennsylvania and three years in California. Throughout his entire education, from primary school to professional studies, Marquis remained friends with Samuel McCormick, who became Coe's third president. It was because of his influence that Marquis accepted the role of president of Coe College and moved to Cedar Rapids to begin serving in 1909.

It was under his presidency that the "saints in Cedar Rapids" established the tradition flunk day, as well as May Fete, Homecoming, Colonial Ball and Founders’ Day. The Marquis administration was responsible for developing the home economics, engineering and music department, which was granted full use Marshall Hall, as students would now be taking full advantage of the new Science Hall. When the ground breaking ceremony for the Science Hall was held in May of 1909, President Marquis conducted a celebration which began with a procession of faculty and students in Old Main. They were then led by the band to a small platform at the site of the new building. Dr. Burkhalter and the 1909 class president gave speeches, then C.G. Greene of the board of trustees guided a plough and students loaded the first wagonload of dirt.

Marquis was also responsible for the construction of the T.M. Sinclair Memorial chapel and Voorhees Hall, but the changes he made to campus were not strictly physical. In response to World War I, both a Reserved Officers' Training Corps and a Student Army Training Corps were placed on campus. The September 1917 Courier reports the necessity of college training for America's young men and women, with Marquis leading the way. Marquis accepted a position as the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions his final year at Coe, explaining: "Every soul of us at this hour owes his best and his all to his country, and that along the line where his efforts will count for most regardless of the sacrifice involved."

In 1916, Marquis, an ordained Presbyterian minister, was elected as the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. While this was a high honor, it was very taxing for Marquis to serve both positions at one time. On many occasions, he could not be on campus and the Trustees and faculty had to help fill his role. Marquis attempted to resign in June of 1917 after being elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Home Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church. The announcement was made it the May 29, 1917 Cosmos that Marquis would be accepting this honorable position. The editor had this to say in response:

Now we feel that the student body has not been made sufficiently aware of the importance of this election to the new church office and what it will mean in his relations to the college. Wake up. Do you realize that there are other organizations with great work to be performed trying to take our great man from us? It is unnecessary to recount to the older classmen and alumni the many tings that Dr. Marquis has meant to Coe and what he has done to put it where it now stands in the educational world. Sometimes we feel that Coe did not blossom out into a real college until Dr. Marquis came here. Since that time Coe has grown by leaps and bounds under his inspiration and direction, buildings have been added, endowment has been doubled, faculty and curriculum have been strengthened, and Coe has been placed in the front rank of colleges….Without being selfish in our desire for the services and love of a great man, we nevertheless urge that every effort on the part of trustees, faculty, students, and townspeople be exerted to retain Dr. Marquis as president of Coe College.

The following week the front page headline of the Cosmos read " 'Prexy, We Can't Let You Go' Is New College Slogan." The Tuesday morning chapel service was dedicated to students and alumni making their requests that President Marquis remain at Coe. Marquis stated: "I do appreciate the things that have been said and only wish they were true. I would a thousand times rather live in Cedar Rapids, yet this question has been put to me in a way I must think about. I cannot decide until after a trip to New York after commencement."

In spite of all efforts to retain him, President Marquis  submitted his resignation to the Board of Trustees August 1st 1917. An excerpt from his resignation follows:

I have wanted to stay, but the happiest years of my life have been the eight spent at Coe College and in association with the men of the faculty and the Board of Trustees, but more and more it has come to me that should I refuse [the church position] I would doom myself for the rest of my life to the feeling that I had done wrong and followed my heartstrings rather than my duty. So reluctantly and sadly, I ask the Executive Committee through you as its Secretary to accept my resignation as President...Of the future of the College I have not the slightest doubt. It is too bright to be seriously affected by the coming or going of any man. With such a governing Board as you men have been, and are, it is bound to grow bigger than any of us dream.

A compromise was arranged and President Marquis agreed to continue as President for at least a year, visiting the campus as often as possible. He stipulated before agreeing that he was to receive no salary as President and that his resignation was to "lie on the table" so that it could be acted upon at any time. Though matters continued to run smoothly, members of the College community felt a president was necessary for the welfare of the institution. Steps were then taken to find a suitable replacement and in 1920 Harry Morehouse Gage became President of Coe College.

Marquis was elected to the Board of Trustees and remained active in the Presbyterian church until 1929 when he fell ill and was forced to retire. Dr. Marquis died July 5, 1931 in New York City. Of his death, President Gage remarked: "When I last left his sick bed his parting words were, 'My daily prayer is for Coe.' Community and college have lost a very great and good friend."

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