Editor's Note: Jim Hitt's book, It Never Rains After Three O'Clock was used as a reference for quotes throughout this article.
Soon after the death of Roy Baylor, Headmaster Alex Guerry took steps to form an administrative staff at the school. In September 1926, he named two associate headmasters. One was Coach Jimmy Rike, the master of “training boys into men,” whose gridiron triumphs had won him a personal reputation; the other was Herbert B. Barks, a 27-year-old math teacher, basketball coach, and assistant director of athletics who had been with the school for two years.
In another move to build an administrative team, Guerry hired an outstanding athlete from the school’s earlier years, Robert “Bob” Hill. A member of the same class as Cartter Lupton and Summerfield Johnston, Hill had electrified the crowd at the 1916 game with McCallie when he drop-kicked a field goal from about 60 yards out. At Baylor, Hill would be an administrative utility man: he assisted Coach Rike, served on the military staff, handled absentees and some disciplinary matters, and ran the study halls with monastic rigor. [A boy in study hall was required to have a book open before him and his head up rather than on the desk. That requirement often did more than merely create the semblance of study. In time, even some of the more unbookish boys "got so tired of just looking at the books that they started to read them," recalled Luke Worsham. Although Hill never taught a class, his study halls enhanced academic life and earned him the nickname "Army Bob.”]
Guerry rounded out his staff by appointing as commandant Captain Whitfield W. Watson. A graduate of the Citadel and former commandant of the Alabama Military Institute, Watson possessed a natural sense of command and demanded the total commitment of those he supervised. Watson worked closely with Guerry to custom-fit the military program, which was a by-product of the war, into the broader framework of a college preparatory school operating in the post-war era. Community expectations could not be easily ignored during that process of adjustment. McCallie School had adopted its military program because of “popular demand" in 1917, intending to drop it after the war, but the program was still in place. Besides McCallie, there were two other local secondary schools with military programs, and each year Baylor faced those three schools in drill competitions that attracted the interest of alumni and potential patrons.
Even so, officials took care to emphasize that the military at Baylor was a feature of the school's organization, not its guiding principle. Although the school had for a brief time styled itself “Baylor Military Academy," that designation was dropped altogether after the war. Also discarded were the West-Point-style “straitjacket” uniforms, which were replaced in 1926 by the English-cut blouse with lapels and V-shaped neck. Nor did the administration turn over control of the military to the ROTC; the commandant served at the pleasure of the headmaster and the board. The term "semi-military" suggested the kind of distinction that the school preferred.
The quality of class work at Baylor was of paramount importance to Guerry, and he would take corrective action if “the military or anything else" seemed to be encroaching on the core curriculum. He viewed the annual football game with McCallie as a sideshow that had become too much of the main attraction for students at both schools. He had successfully resisted attempts to introduce commercial and vocational courses at Baylor. In 1928, when he saw a conflict between the baseball team's schedule of games and the players' schedule of classes, he shifted the focus from interscholastic to intramural baseball competition and limited the varsity's long-distance travel to one game that year. In addition, Guerry hired most of the teachers, coaches, and administrators who would hold key positions at the school for decades, including Rike and Barks. Among some of the other teachers hired by Guerry were LeRoy A. Martin, George I. Briggs, and Raymond Cardwell, who was named the head of the English department in the mid-1930's. In addition to his teaching duties, Cardwell wrote the Baylor catalogs, directed school plays, and supervised the publication of the Klif Klan yearbook and the Campus List, a periodical that first appeared in the fall of 1926. Under Cardwell's direction, the Campus List was renamed The Baylor Notes in 1930, and it won first-place awards for excellence in competitions with other school papers in the region. Cardwell left Baylor in 1940 for graduate work at Yale in preparation for the ministry.
As the school's teaching and administrative staff grew, so did its physical plant. Within a year or two, an idea of planting an electric cross on top of the water tower evolved into the plan to carve a memorial cross in the west gable of a chapel that would be built and dedicated as a memorial to Baylor's war dead. Funds raised for the chapel fell short of its cost by $7,500, adding to the sizable deficit that the school was running. Donations had not kept pace with the expenses of developing a "first-class college preparatory school." Since 1915, the trustees had probably contributed at least $275,000 in building funds, besides covering shortfalls now and then. However, the cost of additions and improvements, combined with the financial drag of annual operating losses, had left the school deeper in debt than Guerry thought was healthy. As he saw it, that indebtedness and the continued operating losses clouded the school's future. Thus, he challenged the trustees to "do now that which will perpetuate the work we began over ten years ago." He made them a proposition: if they would pay off the debt, he would personally cover any operating losses for the next three years—whether or not he remained as headmaster. The proposition was of "vital importance" to Guerry; he had given it "a great deal of thought." It represented a test of everyone's commitment to building "a great boys' school." By agreeing to pay off the debt, his fellow trustees would not only safeguard their investments but presumably secure his services as headmaster for three years more, during which time he would not trouble them to bail out the school financially. In a board meeting called to this discussion, Scott Probasco moved to accept Guerry’s proposition, and Tom Lupton’s son Cartter seconded the motion; the board voted to retire the debt probably through donations on the quota basis whereby Lupton picked up half of the tab, Johnston one-fourth, and Probasco and Guild the remaining one-fourth.
Baylor had grown by leaps and bounds since its days as a hole-in-the-corner operation on Palmetto Street. In some ways, however, Guerry had grown faster than the school itself. His success at Baylor had not diminished his appetite for new fields of endeavor; the challenge that interested him most would always be his next one: it came in May 1929, when he was offered the presidency at the University of Chattanooga. He would remain at the University of Chattanooga for nine critical years and then move on to the post of vice-chancellor at the Sewanee: The University of the South.
The board of trustees met on May 15, 1929, to accept Guerry's resignation and to name his successor. "After a full discussion," according to the board minutes, "during which many names were considered," the trustees elected Herbert Barks as headmaster. Herbert Bernard Barks, born in Birmingham in 1899, was the eldest of seven children. He graduated from Auburn in 1921 with a degree in chemical engineering but only managed to find employment as a teacher and basketball coach at Pensacola High School; after three years at the Florida school, he came to Baylor on the recommendation of a Baylor graduate living in Birmingham. Barks was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet tall, and he had captained the varsity basketball team at Auburn, where some of his teammates gave him the nickname "Hub," which stuck.
No sooner did Herbert Barks begin the first year of his administration than signs appeared that the American economy was locked into a collision course with disaster. Reacting to the crash at the New York Stock Exchange, business reined in spending, consumers tightened their belts, banks curbed lending, the government put the lid on deficit spending, and in no time at all the economy ground to a halt. On the other hand, the only ascending curves seemed to be those charting human misery. Unemployment soared from 3.2 percent to 24.9 percent, and six million men tramped the streets looking for work, a soup kitchen, or a breadline. Taken altogether, it was the worst crisis since the Civil War. At Baylor, cash was in short supply as early as 1930.
During the first quarter of that year, the school borrowed $6,000 from the Chattanooga National Bank and another $7,000 from the American Trust and Banking Company, and several of the loans to the school were guaranteed by Tom Lupton, whose generosity sustained Baylor through the depression. Indeed, in 1931, Lupton and his son Cartter funded the construction of a new building on campus. Situated on the northeast corner of Locust Hill, next to Academic Hall, the new building was named Guerry Hall in honor of Alex and Charlotte Guerry. Its main floor contained a large dining room and kitchen, an addition that allowed the old dining hall on Lupton Circle to be used by the library. At the time, the library's growth kept pace with the school's overall growth. When the library moved into the old dining hall in 1931, its collection totaled a mere 1,810 books or fewer than ten per student. In addition to dining utilities, Guerry Hall also housed a laundry and a commissary. Those two areas were the domain of a newcomer to Baylor who would exert considerable influence on the school's development: Humphrey B. "Humpy" Heywood, Jr. Soon after going to the University of Chattanooga, Alex Guerry had gotten to know Humpy Heywood, president of the student body at the university and captain of its football team. In May 1930, Guerry introduced Heywood to an assembly at Baylor, announcing that after his forthcoming graduation, Heywood would assume the duties of business manager at the school.
That autumn all salaries at Baylor were cut in half—all salaries, that is, except Coach Rike's. To further reduce costs, publication of the Klif Klan was suspended that year. In the spring of 1933, enrollment dropped to 170 and kept falling. The economy hit rock bottom in early March; thousands of banks, including some of the nation's oldest and largest, had closed their doors to customers desperately trying to withdraw their savings. President Franklin Roosevelt, acting within hours of his inauguration, ordered a banking moratorium during which federal examiners would determine which banks were sound enough, or could be made sound enough, to open for business again. The Chattanooga National Bank, of which the Luptons were major stockholders, failed to reopen after the moratorium, and most of its assets passed into the hands of receivers from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.
As the external economic crisis kept deteriorating, the school had reached the end of its rope financially in August 1933, even with emergency cash supplied by Lupton through his attorney. During his 1933-1934 term, Headmaster Barks conducted 14 faculty meetings, hammering away at the theme that Baylor's teachers were obliged to go to extraordinary lengths in order to retain marginal students. With the classrooms and dorm rooms little more than half full, the work of the solicitor took on critical importance. During the worst years, 1932 -1934, recruiting students in substantial numbers proved next to impossible. It was "really tough," recalled Heywood. On the other hand, soliciting was also an area where success could bring instant recognition at Baylor. For Heywood, managing the laundry and commissary had left him feeling underutilized, and he volunteered as a solicitor in 1932. As he visited towns throughout the South looking for prospective students, Heywood learned that it was "hard to sell a tuition when they are giving it away across the street." However, in time, after having a good many doors slammed in his face, he discovered how to get his foot in the door. His approach to selling a tuition required a thick skin, plenty of gall, and bulldog tenacity. As a solicitor, Heywood had few peers in the South. Every summer for more than two decades he went down the highways and backroads of the region, signing up new students in places such as Yazoo City, Miss.; Tyronza, Ark.; and Bessemer, Ala. Therefore, for more than two decades, the vast majority of new boarding students entering Baylor were there because Heywood had sold them and their parents on the idea of paying a tuition for high school rather than getting it free across the street.
The financial picture remained grim at Baylor in 1934. That April, Headmaster Barks had to obtain through the board a loan of $1,500 in order to pay the bills. Two or three months later Barks made a somewhat unusual purchase. He bought a 44-foot cabin cruiser and planned on using the vessel to entertain guests and to take students on excursions down the river. At the cost of $1,500, the cabin cruiser was probably a bargain; but the timing of its purchase, in the midst of depression, could hardly have been worse. One can easily imagine the talk of "Barks' folly." The Baylor Notes referred to it as Barks' "navy department." Raleigh Crumbliss, a graduate and editor of the Hamilton County Herald, wrote Barks a letter and began it with the salutation "Dear Commodore." A barge was rigged up to moor the big boat near the riverbank at Baylor. The barge, however, was anchored too firmly, and it sank in the first high water. After that, Barks sold the cabin cruiser for $500, taking as a down payment $100 worth of butter. Not long after the cabin cruiser incident, Barks' executive authority began to shrink perceptibly. His duties outside the academic realm steadily decreased, and responsibility for the general management of Baylor shifted away from the office of the headmaster. The broad authority that Guerry had consolidated in the post of headmaster during the 1920s was all but a thing of the past by 1935. In September of that year, The Baylor Notes reported a telling change that reflected this shift in authority. “The arrangement of [administrative] offices,” observed the Notes reporter, “has been changed. Mr. Barks' office has been divided into two parts, and one has been given to Mr. Heywood for his work.”