Professor O.W. "Pip" Qualley at Luther College

By Wilfred F. Bunge
Luther College professor emeritus of religion and classics

What kept Pip Qualley at Luther College for 52 years (1918-1970)?  He had made a significant enough impression in graduate school to move up in the academic world, had he chosen to do so. After his year on an archaeological project in Egypt (1924–25), his graduate school advisor invited him to continue on that project, but he declined. He was “going back to Luther,” he said. In fact, he was engaged to be married in August of 1925, a powerful draw for his return. He was besotted with love, and eagerly anticipated establishing a home in Decorah and enjoying a life of good work and wedded bliss. His correspondence with Clara Petra Wollan through the year of his sojourn in Egypt reveals his deep love and hopes for happiness in marriage.

He and Clara did marry, on August 20, 1925, in Glenwood, Minnesota, her home, and they chose Decorah as their shared home for the remainder of their lives. Pip did not to return to graduate school to complete his doctorate until 1930–31. In the meantime, he and Clara had two children, Eileen (born Sept. 21, 1927), who graduated with honors from Luther College and lived a vigorous and full life, and Paul (born prematurely on March 4, 1929), who died at birth. Clara, though she lived until age 88, was delicate throughout the couple’s married life. Her fragile health, Pip’s preoccupation with work, and their unfailing devotion to each other formed the fabric of their lives. At the same time, they lightened their lives and the lives of all who knew them with a playful spirit. The college’s motto, Soli Deo Gloria, was for them a happy, not somber, slogan.

Already in those early teaching years, Pip’s responsibilities were all consuming. He was a football line coach, with Hamlet Peterson as head coach, for 16 years, in addition to teaching a full class load. In those days, that could mean up to 15 hours of teaching per week. Soon to come were the Great Depression in the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s, which were devastating for the college. Only the dedication of persons like Pip could have gotten the college through, an amazing survival story.

Many promising faculty left the college over the difficult years of the 1930s, but Pip persisted, driven by his love for the college and the fellowship of like-minded colleagues. The college’s hardships were reflected in report of the North Central Association (NCA) accreditation team in 1937, which stated that by usual standards Luther should not be continued on the list of accredited institutions. However, the team detected the glimmer of a tradition of sound scholarship that led them to recommend continued accreditation nonetheless.

World War II followed closely on the heels of this accreditation visit. Qualley, who had earned a Ph.D. in 1931 and become the college’s first vice president in 1936, was largely responsible for shepherding the college through the difficult World War II years and the challenging postwar years, when enrollment climbed sharply with returning veterans. At the same time, he focused on raising the level of the faculty by encouraging completion of graduate study. 
The NCA team visit of 1959 gave the college a very positive review. Qualley took great satisfaction in this since he saw it as vindication of his push for a better-prepared faculty and an education of high quality. By his retirement as dean in 1963, at the age of 66, the college had recovered its momentum, and he could retire with honor and dignity intact.

A summary of Qualley’s career at the college assembled after his retirement concludes with language that, though stated indirectly, echoes his own distinctive voice. “He had life-long treasured memories of his happy relationship with the faculty. They were imbued with the spirit of the college. Like the college itself, they had a sense of mission and deep commitment to its cause. In time of adversity such as the Depression, World War II, and the burning of Old Main, their faith, courage, and indomitable spirit, humanly speaking, carried the college through successfully to a greater opportunity for service. It was a team effort, an inspiration and enabling experience.”

In interviews in connection with his retirement as dean he confessed to “love” of Luther College. There were then two major loves in his life, Clara, his wife, and Luther College.