Wilkinson College was founded in 1991 as part of the Chapman College transformation into Chapman University. The new college was to deliver the university's liberal arts core and included programs in languages, liberal studies, the social sciences, the natural and applied sciences, philosophy, religion, psychology, and movement and exercise science.
The college faculty, under the leadership of then-Dean Karl Reitz, voted to take the name "Wilkinson College of Letters and Sciences" to honor the service and legacy of Chapman alumnus Harmon Wilkinson.
Dr. Reitz characterized the naming decision as, "natural," because of Harmon's commitment to the Chapman community, to values, social issues, and service. "As the liberal arts and sciences are the heart of a Chapman education, it is fitting that the college is named for a man who believes that our institution should have both a heart and a soul," Dr. Reitz said.
Addressing the faculty in 1982, Harmon refuted the idea that institutions are inanimate. He emphasized that Chapman "has a soul--has character and purpose." Underscoring the importance of a quality education and service to others, he urged faculty to meld excellence and caring. Today's faculty puts that charge into action, delivering notable academic programs and effective advising and mentoring.
Over the years, Harmon had been a Chapman student, active alumnus, respected trustee, and along with his wife, Nadine, was the recipient of the 2002 Albert Schweitzer Award of Excellence.
When he was a student, Chapman was then California Christian College, an institution that provided ministers at least two years of undergraduate education. Harmon finished his baccalaureate study in 1935, double majoring in English and history and developing social commitments that would steer the course of his life. "I never would have become a pacifist if I hadn't gone to Chapman," he recalls.
Harmon earned a master's degree in political science from George Washington University in 1938. Though he thrived in academe and wanted to earn a doctorate and return to Chapman to join the faculty, Harmon honored his father's wish and returned home to join the Los Angeles-based family business, Western Linen Supply Company.
In 1942, Harmon married Nadine Grigsby, and together they started a life based on the values they learned from the Disciples of Christ Church and Chapman College.
Among the ideals inspired by their faith were pacifism and service to others, convictions that led Harmon to declare conscientious objector status when he was drafted during World War II, just four months after the couple married. In support of his country, Harmon worked fighting forest fires at a "spike camp" (small temporary encampment) in Placerville, California.
Nadine supported his commitment by accompanying him when she could, even setting up her own tent just outside the main camp. The two also served the country by working in mental hospitals in Wisconsin, Philadelphia, and by establishing a mental hospital in Indiana.
Research they conducted during this period led to reforms in mental health care and the development of federal standards for mental health facilities.
During this period, the couple were criticized and treated harshly because of their pacifism. "We experienced prejudice," Harmon remembers, but not with anger. The couple agree that they were not hurt by the prejudice because they understood its source.
Instead of answering their ostracism with negativity, they strengthened their commitment to understanding, acceptance, and community. After the war, the Wilkinsons returned home and joined the multi-racial All People's Christian Church in South Los Angeles, where Harmon began teaching Sunday School. Harmon was also involved in the Y's Men's Service Club of the YMCA, and served as their international president from 1961-62.
In 1946, the Wilkinson's first child, Wayne, was born, and the family later expanded with the arrival of two daughters, Karen and Beth.
The Wilkinsons' family life was deeply rooted in their Christian beliefs, and the children were raised in a life of service, welcoming into their home foreign exchange students from Uganda, Sweden, and other countries.
The family also participated in the Heifer Project, through which they raised goats from kids, sending the animals to families in Baja California when they reached sufficient maturity. Harmon and Nadine were instrumental in helping their church provide shelter and nourishment to the homeless. In their final years the couple helped establish the First Day one-stop center at the First Christian Church in Whittier, California, where people can come for drug and alcohol rehabilitation, counseling, job training, food and overnight shelter. In 2002, Harmon and Nadine Wilkinson were honored with the Albert Schweitzer Award for Excellence, recognizing their reverence for life, their commitment to service, and their contributions to the academic, spiritual and ethical life of Chapman University.
Chapman University has benefited from the nearly 70 years of continuous Wilkinson family service. Harmon's father, J.E. Wilkinson, was named a Chapman Trustee from 1937 and held his seat until his death in 1967. J.E. Wilkinson also served as chairman of the board from 1939 to 1963, and was acting president of Chapman College prior to the appointment of Dr. John L. Davis in 1957. He and his wife, Flora, dedicated their time and financial resources to see Chapman through dire financial times.
Chapman President Davis recalled that "without their work, Chapman College would not exist today." Harmon Wilkinson was named to the board after his father's passing in 1969 and served continuously until retiring his membership in 2000. His daughter Dr. Karen Wilkinson was named to the board upon her father's retirement. A sociologist, Dr. Wilkinson also serves as department head of liberal studies at Kettering University in Flint, Michigan.
Harmon and Nadine Wilkinson helped to shape the Chapman value-centered liberal arts experience, providing funding for the chapel, student scholarships, special events, establishing the Delp-Wilkinson Peace Lecture Series and Delp-Wilkinson Endowed Chair of Peace Studies. Even into his 90s, Harmon Wilkinson remained committed to Chapman University: "Regardless of my age, the Chapman experience never fails to invigorate me. … The exposure to new ideas is stimulating." According to Harmon Wilkinson, this is "the advantage of a good liberal arts education; it stimulates the mind and opens it to new ideas."
Harmon passed away in February 2006 at age 93, followed by Nadine in December 2006, but the Wilkinsons will never be forgotten at Chapman.
President Jim Doti said: “Harmon leaves an incredible imprint on Chapman by his ability to influence and inspire others. In word and deed, he taught us that our lives are made richer and fuller when we give ourselves in service to others and to higher causes."