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Reverend Edward Read Burkhalter

Reverend Edward Read Burkhalter:  The Bishop of Cedar Rapids

Coe College will always treasure Dr. Burkhalter as its own, a founder and a father that nourished the institution through years of need and discouragement, and who was largely responsible for its expansion into one of the most important liberal arts colleges of the country.  Those who knew Dr. Burkhalter will not remember him as simply one who accomplished much.  They will prefer to remember him as the man he was, lovable, inspiring, always ready to give generously of his aid, a man who loved all mankind, whom all mankind loved and delighted to honor.

This eloquent tribute to Edward Read Burkhalter, from the September 13, 1923 Cosmos, mourned the end of a epoch in the history of the college.  A member of the Board of Trustees of Coe Collegiate Institute and, later, Coe College, Burkhalter had worked tirelessly on behalf of the college that he loved so deeply.  The college would never again have a board member so intimately involved in the institution's daily life.

Edward Read Burkhalter was born in New York City in 1844.  His academic training started at home under the guidance of his sister, ten years his elder.  In the fall of 1858, he enrolled at the University of the City of New York, but transferred to the University of New Jersey (Princeton) the next year.  After his graduation in 1862, Burkhalter returned home, where his family decided to help him continue his education in Germany.  In 1864, he left the states to study at the University of Berlin and the University of Heidelberg.

Upon his return in 1865 Burkhalter, uncertain of his career path and frustrated by the differences in American and German religious life, called upon a Dr. George L. Prentiss.  Prentiss inspired Burkhalter to believe that he had a calling to the Presbyterian ministry.  Burkhalter also at this time became acquainted with Miss Lucy Anna Denise of Burlington, Iowa.   During his first trip to Iowa, he realized that he was being called to enter the ministry in the Mississippi Valley.  In a letter to his future wife he wrote,  "It was on a Saturday evening, May 4, 1867, that I first saw the Mississippi river at East Burlington.  It was near sunset, and the scene was glorious.  The sky was gold and red, and buildings and church spires were glorified, like those of the New Jerusalem."

Edward and Denise were married on July 12, 1870; in September of that same year he went to work as a minister in New Rochelle, New York.  In 1873 he became Professor of Hebrew at Union Theological Seminary in New York.  He taught there for three years when, after the death of the Reverend James Knox, he moved to Cedar Rapids to become the new pastor of the First Presbyterian Church.

Burkhalter would later be described in the Cedar Rapids Gazette as the "Bishop of Cedar Rapids." Under his pastorate, the membership at the First Presbyterian church grew in number from 250 members to over 600.  Erik Erikkson's archived notes state that "…during his career as a minister he married at least 1300 couples and conducted over 1200 funerals."   Burkhalter preached in support of both foreign and local mission work; sermonized about temperance; oversaw the budding "sister" churches, Sinclair Memorial Church, Hus Memorial, and Central Park Presbyterian; and, near the end of his career, donated his personal library to the Masonic Library. 

The Reverend James Knox had been one of the leading individuals in the city's efforts to create a liberal arts college, and Burkhalter was soon invited to join the Board of Trustees of Coe Collegiate Institute.  In this capacity, he worked on the Curriculum committee, and in 1878, became its chairman.  He remained with the Board of Trustees through the transformation of the institution into Coe College and, according to Eriksson's manuscript Founders of Coe College, he "devised the first curriculum of the college, modeled after the courses of study in his Alma Mater, Princeton University, and in LaFayette College."  Burkhalter's plan for two courses of study, classical and scientific, became the foundation for the college's entire curriculum.  During his time as a Trustee, Burkhalter served on the committee that expanded the Parsons Seminary building to its full size-the building that eventually became known as Old Main.  He was the chief promoter of the Founders' Day celebrations, started in 1911.  He served as president of the Board of Trustees for the last 15 years of his life.  The eulogy from the Board of Trustees' memorial service described the college itself as a memorial to Dr. Burkhalter and an inspiration to others of his vision and ideals.

One of Burkhalter's favorite duties at Coe was pressing the "invisible button" that would ring in the new school year.  Annually for twenty years he presided over the opening services of the college.  From the chapel rostrum, "a little old gentleman with snow-white hair" would offer words of encouragement to each new class of students.  The September 15, 1922 Cosmos records the last such ceremony over which Burkhalter presided:

Amid impressive ceremonies and before the largest number of students ever assembled at Coe College, Dr. E. R. Burkhalter, president of the Board of Trustees, pressed the "invisible button" which starts the 42nd year of the college, and the first chapel assembly Thursday morning.

With one accord the entire student body arose as Dr. Burkhalter advanced to the edge of the rostrum to open the college year, to pay impressive tribute to the man who for half a century has been a prominent figure in the life of Coe.  Dr. B. has officiated at the opening of the college for 47 years, five of them during the time that the college existed as the Coe Collegiate Institute. 

"I hope that this invisible button will produce a result between it and your heart, soul, and mind," Dr. B. said in opening the college year, "which will be productive of eternal good in the years before you."
The following September it was Mr. Robert S. Sinclair who pressed the invisible button, after speaking in memory of Burkhalter as a scholar, preacher, and theologian.  The Coe Catalogue from June 1924 memorialized Dr. Burkhalter as "…the genial friend who loved to link his arm in that of student or professor, call him by name, and walk with him apace."  The same catalogue remembered Burkhalter's last official act as President of the Board of Trustees: the June 6th 1923 Commencement dinner when he dismissed the seniors with his benediction.  On the 14th of June he performed the marriage of a Coe alum.  Two days later he was dead.

Burkhalter's commitment to the college and his position as one of the original Board of Trustees members earned him the honor of a special eulogy at the 1927 Founders' Day event.  The speaker was his the Rev. A. E. Magary, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church from 1918 until 1925.  Magary said of Burkhalter, "Many times I have heard him say that if he were to live his life again, he could ask for no greater boon than to be allowed to live it here, surrounded by his friends and privileged to do the same tasks to which his hands had been so long accustomed."

 
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