Tommy Prugh at Kishacoquillas, August 1999
During this era he earned his first degrees, bought and ran a teacher’s training school, was ordained, married, had three children and buried one; studied languages under a fellow instructor at the Kishacoquillas Seminary, a former teacher at Princeton University and studied Bible by correspondence from Boston School of the Bible; witnessed the Gettysburg events; preached regularly every three weeks at McAlevys Fort, across Stone Mountain, 1862-1865; attended his first General Conference of the German Baptist Brethren Church, and there met Elder John Kline of the Shendandoah Valley in Virginia, who was later murdered by a Confederate soldier; When he heard the news of an oil strike in Titusville, Pa, SZS with a number of others, pooled resources and drilled the second well with a kick drill, but struck no oil. The lack of additional resources ended their search for black gold, which later produced a fabulously wealthy Rockefeller legacy.
1867-1877, Maryville, Blount County, Tennessee
While living here he studied conchology, University of Cincinnati, and collected specimens for the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; studied geology at Vanderbilt University and Harvard University; made geological surveys in Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina; elected member of the Association for the Advancement of Science; founded the Oak Grove congregation, financed building of a meetinghouse; after ordination as elder he exercised oversight of a congregation in Oakland; three children were born, two died, both his parents died.
1881-1887 Mount Morris, Ogle County, Illinois
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Founding President and professor of Mental and Moral Science and Bible History, McPherson (Kansas) College
1888--September 5, opened classes with 60 students
1889--Awarded L.L.D. (honorary degree), Mt. Morris (Illinois) College
began service as Superintendent of Indian Reservation, U. S. Civil
Service, Ft. Apache, Arizona; was sent there because he had developed a
cough and feared it was tuberculosis, arid climate was thought to be
good antidote for TB; left after five years, because he refused a
direct order to sign leases giving away mining rights; he believed it
was a crooked deal and that the Indians would suffer as a result; moved
to Washington, D.C., lived with sister Annie Davis, worked as clerk in
the Navy Department; reentered Indian Affairs, Winnebago Reservation,
Walthill, Nebraska until 1908; married 1902, McPherson, Kansas;
Margaret was born,1907; Nez Perce Resevation, Fort Lapwai, Idaho, Ted
K. Born, 1909;
year-long research/survey of
Oklahoma Indians, 1915, family lived in Long Beach, California to avoid
TB, which was rampant among the tribes; Flathead Reservation, Dixon,
Montana, 40 miles northwest of Missoula, 1917-1920; was shot to death, July 24, 1920, Ravalli, Montana, age 51
Sharp Administration Building, McPherson College
named for its founding president (below right).
- 1894--appointed state geologist (1894-1897) R. E Mohler, who later joined the faculty, commented on SZS's wide range of interests in an unpublished manuscript when he noted that the president "was by training a psychologist and theologian yet it seems that at heart he was a naturalist with a special interest in geology. I personally was told by Dr. H. J. Harnly that at least two specimens that are today in the museum were placed there by President Sharp, the two specimens are a fossil fish from the cretacious chalk beds of western Kansas (Museum number 67-13-27) and the other was slab well marked with dendrites which was found in the Dakota sandstone of northeast McPherson County (Museum number 67-13-67)."
- 1897--After nine years as president, SZS resigned under pressure. Financial support did not materialize as the city had promised and Brethren from the east did not flock to Kansas has had been hoped. The president became the scapegoat for the apparent failure of the fledgling college. Some members of both the trustees and the faculty were of the opinion "that President Sharp was not equal to the task before him, and that he should tender his resignation." Professor H.J. Harnly was among those who were critical. In an interview by R. E. Mohler, Harnly said (in Mohler's words), "Professor S.Z. Sharp who was so completely trusted and admired by his church, was one with 'Feet of Clay'. His fellowship and activities with Mr. Bass (agent of A. Bass Real Estate Company, who was to sell lots) very soon took on a somewhat cloudy appearance, and his actual ability as a leader was far from good. After a very short time, those closest to the college would have been very happy to have secured a different leader, but it seems that he was so completely engulfed by the "machine" that to unlodge him was nearly impossible." Harnly reported that SZS had started at least 6 schools (actually there were 3) before coming to McPherson and that his tenure with each had been short. He was further of the opinion that "his character shows just a bit by his actions after being dismissed from McPherson by his attempted establishing of Plattsburg College for the sole purpose of destroying McPherson College."
, in a more measured tone, noted "It would not have been possible at
this time to get a true evaluation of S. Z .Sharp by friends of
McPherson, but it is fortunate that he lived to the very ripe old age
of 95, and that he had opportunity to show his real self, as he seemed
to hold no bitterness against McPherson, and in fact served as a
trustee for a number of years. Sharp was truly quite an educator for
his day, and had great dreams hopeful that the Brethren might make a
real contribution to the educational world. His closing years were
spent at Grand Junction, Colorado where he operated a small vegetable
acreage, and continued to the end to be quite a church and community
In an effort to present a balanced assessment of both strengths and weaknesses, Mohler wrote, "President S. Z. Sharp . . . was a talented man and far better educated than one would have expected to find in the Church of the Brethren at that time, as they were largely a rural people and the majority had not been given very wide educational experiences. He possessed boundless energy and enthusiasm and a great desire to be a leader. He was, however, a bit weak in the fine art of working with people and serving as a leader, this latter trait was much in evidence as one reviews his history in the number of colleges in which he worked. He tenure was generally quite brief, and his popularity among those with whom he worked was not too good."
During this era SZS was recognized by the Kansas Board of Education for excellence in teacher training; was elected to the state historical society and the Kansas Academy of Science.
Founding President, Plattsburg (Missouri) College
By telegram, February 20, 1897, SZS was called to Plattsburg in northwest Missouri to help launch a new school. At a public meeting at the county courthouse on March 6, local citizens, some of whom were members of the local German Baptist Brethren Church, decided to take action. The Plattsburg College, already in existance, had been operated since 1855 by local educator John Ellis, who now wished to sell his enterprise. An executive committee was elected, a contract was written, pledges were solicited and an agreement for the purchase of the property was signed, naming SZS as trustee. The contract stipulated that if the citizens of Plattsburg would raise $10,000, the Brethren Church (local congregation, surrounding districts and the general conference) would in five years equip and endow the school with $50,000, as well as improve the property by adding buildings as needed.
opened that fall. But trouble soon erupted. Some Brethren opposed the
school. In the district conference meeting of 1900, a letter was read
threatening a law suit against SZS and the Brethren Church. The threat
deterred students from enrolling for the fall term. A significant
number of non-Brethren Plattsburg citizens were persuaded to join the
opposition, including the majority of the executive committee. The law
suit was indeed filed:
During SZS's deposition, April 9, 1901, he testified that all charges brought against him were false, that he had been fulfilling his end of the contract, that he had, indeed, operated other educational institutions on behalf the Brethren Church in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois and Kansas. He further testified that malicious rumors had been set afloat to discredit him and that the perpetrators of those rumors were at that moment under indictment to be tried by a committee of the General Conference of the German Baptist Brethren Church. Furthermore, the plaintiffs had not fulfilled their obligations under the contract to first raise the $10,000. Inspite of that, a dormitory had been built and all promised courses had been offered and a full faculty had been procurred. Regarding the Church's interest, he reported that each of the surrounding districts had elected a representative to the school, and that the local congregation had endorsed a petition of the trustees to the general conference that a board of visitors be appointed. Furthermore, $58,000 had been contributed toward the endowment, but when Plattsburg citizens failed to contribute the specified $10,000, the money had been given to the denomination's mission board instead.
Judge A. D. Burner ruled in favor of the defendants and cleared SZS of any wrongdoing. He said the plaintiffs had failed to prove the charges, had failed to cite a single case to support their claims, and had no rights to the "relief" (financial settlement) they demanded.
this time, however, much goodwill and financial backing had eroded, the
school had been closed and SZS had left Missouri and it's ill-fated
Plattsburg College. In an address in 1908, the bicentinnal year of the
Brethren Church's founding, SZS stated simply and undramatically "The
management decided, on account of the strong oppostition, to close the
school." Surely the sting of the Plattsburg controversey led him to the
relative isolation of western Colorado, where he lived another 31
years. SZS's distinguished career of founding educational institutions
came to an abrupt end. But his passion for education continued through
his preaching and teaching in congregational and confernce settings,
his service as a trustee of McPherson College and his contributions to
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1900-1931, Fruita, Colorado
1900--Purchased 640 acres, Fruita, Mesa County, Colorado; President, Grande Valley Oil Association
26, Theodore married Margaret Effa Kuns, McPherson, Kansas; she studied
medicine at Stanford University; graduated from Northwestern University
School of Speech
1907--Margaret Catherine born to Theodore and Margaret; married David Z. Williams; died 1996, Bellingham, Washington
26, Ted K. (Theodore Kuns) born to Theodore and Margaret Effa (Kuns)
Sharp, Ft. Lapwai, Idaho; married Alice Lucille Canter, Washington,
D.C., 1934; married second, Mildred Reddick
1910--Published New Testament Baptism
Margaret Kuns Sharp, 1912.
Theodore Sharp, 1912.
Solomon and Salome with grandchildren Ted and Margaret, 1912.
Ted, Ft. Lapwai, Idaho.
1920--July 2, Salome Zook Sharp, 81, died, Fruita, Colorado, buried McPherson, Kansas
1920--July 24, Theodore, 51, shot and killed by "sub-agent" at Ravalli, Montana
1923--Published The Educational History of the Church of the Brethren, Brethren Press, Elgin, Illinois
Awarded D.D. (honorary degree), McPherson (Kansas) College
August 8, Fruita Colorado, result of car-buggy accident two weeks
earlier; while driving his horse, "Daisy" to church on a Sunday morning
was struck by a reckless driver of a car; funeral services, Fruita,
Colorado and McPherson, Kansas; burial, McPherson, Kansas
The Brethren Church in Fruita, built 1904 Rim Rock overlooking Fruita and Grande Valley
SZS apparently formed the Grande Valley Oil Association, hoping to gain profit from oil that could lie beneath the surface of his land. There is no evidence of any such profit. Presumably he sold off portions of his property, since later, as Ted recalls, his grandfather owned only 80 acres on which he attempted to raise Alfalfa hay. About half of the acerage was ruined by alkalai, which came to the surface through saturation irrigation. In another ill-fated venture, SZS filed a claim on public lands at the Bookcliffs, which formed the eastern border of the Grande Valley, to mine the seams of coal it contained, sandwiched between layers of limestone like the pages of a book. Although he was warned about the dishonesty of the mine manager he hired, he chose to trust his own judgement. When a friend in McPherson ordered a train car load of lump coal, and received mostly slag instead, SZS sadly discovered that his profits were being swindled away by his manager. The final venture was a claim filed to drill for oil or gas in northwestern Colorado. Solomon's long life came to a close before he received any return on his investment. Since none of his entrepreneurial enterprises rewarded him, his financial resources were meager. As a result of Theodore's death in 1920, SZS received a government death benefit of $10 monthly until after his ninety-third birthday. Government statistical charts of life expectancy did not reach any higher. Ted recalls that his mother helped when she could; on one occasion she had Theodore's business suits altered for her father-in-law. On SZS's occasional visits to Margaret's home in Lawrence, Kansas, she connived to get his gravy-stained suit off so it could be cleaned.
Though his business ventures were disappointing, SZS's interest in his beloved church never waned. Ted remembers that his grandfather usually scraped enough money together to travel to the annual general conferences held in various parts of the country. He also spent several winters in California, where he was later eulogized by the members of his LaVale Sunday school class. Another passion that seemed to continue unabated was his passion for reading and writing--letters to friends and articles for the church papers. Unfortunately few letters have survived, but his many articles on matters of doctrine and practice can be found in church periodicals in various Church of the Brethren archives. It is abundantly evident, despite whatever his portion of human weaknesses may have been, SZS gained emense respect and admiration. One expression of honor is the following poem written by pastor Russell Green West. The adjoining photo, taken during a visit to his native Kishacoquillas Valley, gives a visual representation of the strength of an oak tree that has endured much and has weathered well.
What Went Ye Out To See?
Behold, what went ye out to see?
A man in soft array?
If that is what you seek to find,
Just look some other way.
Behold what went ye out to see?
Some bruised and shaken reed?
Then do not view this sturdy oak,
But seek some worthless weed.
Behold, what went ye out to see?
A rugged mountain high?
Then I have found a snow-crowned peak
That juts into the sky.
Behold, what went ye out to see?
A prophet, tried and true?
Then lift your hat to Brother Sharp,
This lad of 92!
--Russell Green West