Treasure Valley Prays

A Gingham Dress

Stanford University

Several years ago, at the beginning of the internet, the following story was shared with me —so I am not sure where it came from, and am not able to confirm its veracity. Regardless…ponder these words:

It was the late 1880’s. A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the elevator into the outer office of the president of Harvard University. The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard and probably didn’t even deserve to be in Cambridge. She frowned. “What is it you want?” she growled. “We would like to see the president,” the man said softly. “He’ll be busy all day,” the secretary snapped. “We’ll wait,” the lady replied.

For hours, the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discourage and go away. They didn’t. And the secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president, even through it was a chore she always regretted to do. “Maybe if they just see you for a few minutes, they’ll leave,” she told him. And he sighed in exasperation and nodded.

Someone of his importance obviously didn’t have the time to spend with them, but he like his secretary detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his out office. And it seemed like they would never go away unless he saw them. The president, stern faced with dignity, strutted toward the couple. The lady stood up and told him, “We didn’t want to bother you—but our son had every intention of attending Harvard. He loved Harvard. But about a year ago, before his sixteenth birthday, he was fell ill and died.” She hesitated—obviously emotionally distraught. “And my husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on the campus.”

The president wasn’t touched the slightest—in fact, he was shocked. “Madam,” he said gruffly, “We can’t put up a statue for every person who wanted to attend Harvard and died. If we did this place would look like a cemetery!”

“Oh no,” the lady in gingham explained quickly, “we don’t want to erect a statue. We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard.” The president rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and homespun suit, and exclaimed, “A building? Do you have any earthly idea how much a building would cost? We have over seven and a half million dollars in the physical plant here at Harvard.”

The woman fell silent. The president was pleased that this conversation was almost over. He could get rid of them now. And the lady turned to her husband and whispered, “Is that all it costs to build a university? Why don’t we just go home and start our own.”

Her husband nodded in agreement. The president’s face wilted in confusion and bewilderment. And Senator and Mrs. Leland Stanford walked away, traveling back to Palo Alto, California, where they established the university that bears their son’s name—a memorial to their child and a magnanimous gift to their adopted home state.

Sometimes first impressions are wrong. Someone might look like a nugget of gold but quickly turn to a chunk of rust. Or we might have been passed even with our drive, loyalty, ambition, determination, etc, for someone is a bit less insistent and less presentable. In case you have ever dealt with these human foibles, either from someone else or from within yourself, you might consider taking advantage of opportunities to look a little deeper for the goodness of others. (Check out Psalm 112…Psalm to the Virtuous)

Kent Schaufelberger

Kent Schaufelberger

Retired Chaplain and CPE Educator

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