by Bernard R. DeRemer
The magnificent new 12-story Administration Building was under construction at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Officials were eager to name it for Henry Parsons Crowell, distinguished president of the board of trustees. This generous donor gave about half the entire cost of the structure, in addition to many other benefactions, far and wide.
But the soft-spoken patriarch demurred: "No (pause), no (pause); years ago I told the Lord that if He would allow me to make money for His service I would keep my name out of it so He could have the glory." (The landmark building did become Crowell Hall the year after his home-going.) Dr. Will H. Houghton, president of the institute, called Crowell "the most Christ-like man I have ever met." In business, religious, or civic circles, wherever he went, he glorified Christ and faithfully witnessed for Him.
Born at Cleveland in 1855 to a wealthy, godly family, Crowell early came to know the Lord and began working in the family shoe business.
In 1873 a providential encounter took place. Young Crowell went to hear the great evangelist D. L. Moody, who related a life-transforming experience the year before. When Henry Varley exclaimed, "The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to Him," Moody replied, in effect, "I'll be that man."
Crowell was powerfully moved to become "God's man." He would never preach to crowds directly or teach huge classes, but he eventually supported individuals and institutions which reached multitudes all over the world with the life-saving gospel. As Dr. R. E. Day notes, in his heart arose "the resolution which finally made it safe for him to be trusted with millions." God was fashioning a him for exalted future service.
But there were interruptions and winding paths. Failing health made college attendance impossible, and forced Crowell to spend seven years in an outdoor environment. During this period he traveled and lived out West, where he invested profitably in land and livestock.
With health restored, he returned to Cleveland, then bought the Quaker Mill at Ravenna. It was destined to become the Quaker Oats Co., which would revolutionize the nation's breakfast habits. He was the first to market and promote a breakfast cereal nationally.
Crowell's business policies were simple but profound: to "make better oatmeal and cereals of all kinds than had ever been manufactured." He insisted that the sales organization consist of "men who were honest, intelligent, and willing to render the very best of service to the customers." He also saw the importance of diversification and a world-wide outreach. Today the corporation operates 39 plants world-wide and posts nearly $5 billion in annual sales.
In 1882 Crowell married Lillie Augusta Wick. They had a daughter, Annie, but tragically his wife died in 1885.
Four years later he married Susan Coffin Coleman. Their son, the late Henry Coleman Crowell, was for many years executive vice president and general manager of MBI, thus continuing his father's tradition.
Quaker Oats became headquartered in Chicago. The great Windy City, synonym of crime and corruption, nevertheless experienced a number of revivals and reform efforts over the years, and against all odds, these may have achieved more good than many realize. The Committee of 15 fought vice as a "power for righteousness in Chicago." H. Howard Haylett, executive secretary, recalled that Crowell would sit quietly during their meetings, studying the issues involved. "Someone would say, ‘What do you think we should do, Mr. Crowell?' He...told us. We did it."
Crowell also helped found and fund the Church League of America, which fought communism, liberalism, and modernism, with Edgar Bundy as principal spokesman.
While Crowell headed the Laymen's Evangelistic Council, it organized historic meetings of R. A. Torrey, Gipsy Smith ("a city-wide wave of moral reform"), Chapman and Alexander, and Billy Sunday. But it was MBI, the "West Point of Christian Service," which was clearly Crowell's favorite. In 1901 he was elected a trustee; three years later he became president, the office he held for the rest of his life.
Crowell, who came to MBI in its infancy, insisted that it be placed on a sound financial footing, so it would not depend on him or any other individual. His policies paved the way for the enormous expansion and growth which was to follow.
Under his leadership MBI pioneered in broadcasting, among other fields. In 1926, WMBI, one of the first full-time Christian radio stations in the U.S., began operation, reaching a limited Midwest audience. Today that ministry is multiplied over a network of stations from coast to coast.
Crowell was reluctant to advertise his contributions, but did confide to his biographer, "For over 40 years I have given 60 to 70 percent of my income to God....But I have never gotten ahead of God. He has always been ahead of me!"
Even into his late 80's, he continued to keep office hours as honorary chairman of Quaker Oats. Usually he walked seven blocks to the Northwestern station for his train trip home. But on Oct. 23, 1944, when he was nearly 90, he settled wearily into his seat, opened his little Testament-and then was suddenly promoted to glory before the train left the station.
This note was found among his papers: "If my life can always be lived so as to please Him in every way, I'll be supremely happy."
What an epitaph.