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The presidential aquatic activity begins
president burkholder being escorted to the inaugural dunking
In the fall of 1971, the Goshen College campus looked forward to a series of carefully planned inaugural activities for President J. Lawrence Burkholder. Drama, music, film, lectures, poetry and art were combined as the community gathered to witness Burkholder accept the duties of office and to plant trees. But student postings scribbled on the Union Building’s opinion board clamor for something more basic. Kurdish senior Joseph Salehi ’72 and Pennsylvania sophomore Don Metzler ’75, among others, translated opinion into action. Fetching the new president from his office in the Administration Building, the two students escorted Burkholder across campus to Schrock Plaza.

The waters of Goshen College’s fountains had served generations of students as a spot to mark noteworthy events – especially announcements of marriage engagements. As early as 1905, Goshen’s first president, Noah Byers, called a special post-chapel meeting to put a stop to the new sport of fountain-wrestling.

As a student leader in the 1930s, it was incumbent on Burkholder to refrain from entering fountain waters. But upon entering those waters as president, he set in motion what has become a campus tradition. Though some bewailed the loss of decorum, Burkholder reported that he found the students cordial and respectful.

In 1984, Victor E. Stoltzfus began inaugural festivities with a “big splash,” accompanied by an eclectically attired “Captain Maple Leaf” (Dave Conrad ’86). Shirley H. Showalter, in 1997, and now James E. Brenneman complete a quartet of presidents willing to embrace moments of informality in the spectrum of tasks they undertake as academic leaders.

– Joe Springer-
Curator, Mennonite Historical Library