Descendants of President Clarence Stoughton visit campus 76 years later
Most of the messages Wagner College receives through its Facebook page are fairly routine — requests for admissions information, event dates, things like that.
The message we received on Feb. 20 was anything but routine.
“My name is Laura Boothman,” it read. “I am the great-granddaughter of Clarence Stoughton. I will be visiting New York and would like to see the campus for sentimental reasons.”
Clarence Stoughton, our 10th president, started with the college as a teacher in 1919, serving as the school’s top leader from 1935 to 1945. The first non-clergyman to serve as Wagner president, he is remembered today for many things: starting a night school and a nursing program, speaking out against the rise of fascism, and seeing the college through the war years.
I responded immediately, and we made arrangements for Laura and her mom, Donna Stoughton, to visit over Memorial Day weekend, after all of our commencement programs had finished.
There was lots on campus to show them. “Prof” Stoughton (as his adoring students called him) and his wife Hilda came to Staten Island in 1919 from Rochester, N.Y., where they’d been raised. Campus housing was very limited, so Wagner put the Stoughtons up in a two-room suite on the third floor of Cunard Hall.
Three years later, in 1922, the school built several new cottages for faculty housing, including one for the Stoughtons — the cottage that currently houses our Public Safety program. That’s where the family lived when their first child, Donald, was born in October 1926.
“Prof” took a break from Wagner for a few years, trying his hand in the local real estate business from 1927 to 1932 — but, apparently, his love of the college won out. Stoughton served as registrar, then dean, and finally — at age 40 — became president of the college in 1935. During his tenure as president, Clarence and Hilda Stoughton lived with their children in the house built in 1918 for the head of the college, which today we call Kairos House.
After leaving Wagner College in 1945, he continued working for Lutheran institutions, serving for four years as stewardship secretary for the United Lutheran Church of America before becoming the first lay president of Wittenberg College — later, Wittenberg University — in Springfield, Ohio, a post in which he served from 1949 until his retirement in 1963.
Our Memorial Day guests were descended from “Prof” Stoughton’s son Donald and his wife, alumna Adele True ’48, whose family operated True’s Deli in Jersey City (which, today, is a bodega). Donald studied at Wagner from 1943 to 1945, but when his father left the presidency he transferred to Muhlenberg, later enrolling at Hamma Divinity School, part of Wittenberg College. Don and Adele married in 1948 and, following Don’s ordination, he continued in the ministry until his retirement in 1988. Donald died in 2013, followed by Adele five years later.
I was grateful that “Prof” Stoughton’s granddaughter Donna and her daughter Laura spent part of their holiday vacation reconnecting us with one of our strongest presidents and two memorable alumni — and also that they shared with us a cache of Stoughton family photos, giving us a window into those Wagnerian lives of the past century.