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Thomas M. Sinclair

T.M. Sinclair was born on May 14, 1842, in Belfast, Ireland. His father, John, died while Thomas was still in school. He considered a career with the British Army, but decided instead to become a merchant. He joined the meat packing company that his father had owned, the J. & T. Sinclair Co. Thomas and his brother William quickly expanded the company, and soon found themselves in America. Their New York office was very successful throughout the Civil War years, but a fire in 1866 destroyed the plant. After some financial recovery in New York, Sinclair began searching for a new plant location. Cedar Rapids proved to be the place, and in December of 1871, he moved his family, including his wife Caroline and first son, John, to the Iowa village.

At that time, there was no water plant, no sewer system, no telephone service, and no adequate railroads in Cedar Rapids, so Sinclair had to take care of all these himself. He frequently worked fourteen-hour days in order to build up everything needed for his company. Sinclair also became involved with the Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids, becoming an elder in 1877 and traveling on a mission trip to the Dakota Territory in 1879.

It was in 1875, after the failure of Parsons Seminary, that Coe Collegiate Institute opened its doors. Sinclair was named as the Vice president of the Board of Trustees, serving with other prominent members of the Cedar Rapids area. Unfortunately, the high debt the institute had accumulated over the years, mainly from the building of Old Main, was keeping the Synod of Iowa from recognizing or helping the college. Even as the other trustees were losing faith in the idea, Sinclair refused to give up on the school. In 1880, he convinced many of those who were owed money by the college to forgive the debts. Between this and his own financial gift of $10,000, Sinclair single-handedly released the Institute from its long-standing debt. The Synod of Iowa agreed to take over the school, and the articles of incorporation for Coe College were filed on April 16, 1881. Tragically, Sinclair was not alive to celebrate this event. Just three weeks earlier, he had fallen down an elevator shaft in his plant and died.

In 1916, Sinclair was the subject of the main Founders' Day address by Edward Burkhalter. "This task, of which I speak, is the preparation of the sketch of the life of him whom I look upon and have long looked upon, as in important regards, the best man I have ever known, the man in whom I have seen more of the Glory of God and of Christ than in any other of our race, the man who combined in his character and conduct  and career more of the excellencies of true manhood and, which is essentially the same thing, more of the qualities of true Godlikeness than any other man with whom I have had acquaintance."  It was at this celebration that the family of T.M. Sinclair donated an oil painting of the businessman to the college. This portrait hung in the Sinclair Memorial Chapel until it burned down in 1947. However, a new Sinclair Memorial Chapel was soon built, and stands today as a testament to the man who did so much for Cedar Rapids and Coe.

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