Reflections from Cherry: Health as a Necessity

Shortly after my arrival back to the Hill to serve as Dean of CHHS, I met with Provost Emeritus Barbara Burch. She gave me a copy of the 1926 book, Education: The Basis of Democracy, written by WKU’s founding president, Dr. Henry Hardin Cherry. Dr. Cherry, who was president for over 31 years, was a prominent visionary and educator whose decree “The Spirit Makes the Master” steers the campus community yet today. Dr. Cherry’s famous and pronounced statue is fixed atop the hill in front of the building named after him.  His presence at WKU is evident to anyone who arrives on the Hilltop campus.

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Cherry’s Education book was a compilation of messages, lectures and presentations that he delivered at chapel services held daily in the Van Meter Auditorium on WKU’s campus. It is no wonder that WKU became one of the largest and best teacher-training institutions in the nation during Cherry’s tenure. Cherry was an educator with the keen ability to inspire others.

Reading through this book, with material dating well over 100 years old, I am amazed at the relevance of the material in our lives today. I find the material particularly applicable for the CHHS. As I read from chapter five, “Health, a Necessity in a Democracy”, I was struck with how Cherry’s words were so pertinent for units in CHHS such as: physical education, recreation administration, public health, nutrition, and dietetics, just to name a few.

Excerpts from chapter five of Cherry’s Education: The Basis of Democracy:

  • Religious, moral, mental, and economic weaknesses are written at the bottom on each page of the history of the governments that have neglected the health of their people (pg. 28).
  • In order for one to be an effective citizen, he must have a strong body for the soul to work in, a trained mind, and what I shall call ‘the other thing’. These are the three big necessities of an effective citizenship, and they should be a part of educational program and every other effort designed to advance the welfare of the human being (pg. 27).
  • Not many people are strong enough to carry the load of a sick body and to succeed in spite of physical weakness (pg. 28).
  • Good health is the normal nature of the human being (pg. 29).
  • It is a high duty of democracy to disseminate health information among the masses, to build up a good-health sentiment, to protect the people against preventable diseases, and to assist them in having a sanitary body for their minds to work in (pg. 30-31).
  • Universal physical training is the most important and urgent improvement in American education (pg. 31).
  • The conservation of health is a spiritual and economic problem that is challenging every citizen of America (pg. 31).
  • In order to promote the physical well-being of all the people, a proper system of physical examinations and health instruction must be carried on in the various grades of the schools (pg. 33).
  • Conserving the vitality of the people by stopping the pollution of streams, by observing the sanitary laws of health in the home, in the school, in business enterprise, and elsewhere will contribute not only to the ideals and to the happiness, but to the economic productivity and prosperity of the people (pg. 33-34).

In this chapter, Cherry describes how the health of the individual can also affect the non-physical qualities of the human body. Poor health can alter the morality, spirituality, and mental capacity as well. He went on to make a poignant claim that during the World War 4,650,500 men served in the United States Army and 1,340,625 men were rejected to serve based on physical disability. That is an astonishing number of rejections especially when you consider the age of the average man who fought in World War II was a mere 26 years of age. Cherry then states that most of the defects listed as the cause for rejection were preventable by adequate physical education programs.

“Health as a rule is a purchasable commodity, and its price is education.”

Cherry’s book dovetails so nicely with the vision and mission of CHHS; our dedication to improve the quality of life in the community through education, service, collaboration, leadership and scholarship. The disciplines in our college have roots in outreach to the community, and requires our students to complete clinical experiences, field work, or internships with a myriad of health and human service agencies in our region. What Cherry established in his chapel talks, was inspiration to care for generations to come by focusing on the conservation of health in the present generation. What we do today, creates what we are tomorrow. As our college evolves, and emphasis is placed on the future of CHHS, I am indebted to Cherry’s practical and relevant teachings on the importance and priority of our health today as the basis and foundation for everything else. As a health and human services college, CHHS has the responsibility to not only provide health education to our community, but to also be ambassadors and champions for making health instruction a vital component of education.

I am encouraged to know that WKU was in part built upon the instruction and discipline of good health and physical well-being. This foundation serves as an opportunity to guide CHHS from the heritage of our founding president.

Physical incompetence can be a powerful enemy. CHHS has positioned itself to have a profound generational impact over the enemy. As we educate ourselves, our students and our community about prevention, treatment and wellness, we are better able to perform at the capacity to which we can protect our generation and preserve future generations.