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Remembering a Campus Legend

The year 2003 marks the 75th anniversary of Oberlin's Office of Admissions and the hire of its first director of admissions, the late William H. Seaman, Class of 1924.

A beloved campus figure and staunch supporter of all things Oberlin, Seaman was regarded by students as a warm-hearted friend and counselor. The Seaman home, which Bill shared with his wife, Frances Fenn Seaman '25, and two children, was a haven for students--troubled or untroubled--and for visiting alumni.

Seaman returned to Oberlin in 1928 with a master's degree from Columbia University Teachers College. He had also studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York while on a fellowship from the National Council of Religion in Higher Education. Hired to lead Oberlin's new admissions office (a process previously handled by the College Secretary's office), Seaman met regularly with prospective students and their parents and was known to greet many freshmen by name when they appeared on campus in the following fall.

According to his colleague Dorothy Smith '29, several "innovations" materialized under Seaman's leadership that since have become routine admissions practices. He and his staff were the first to travel to high schools to recruit students, targeting districts that had sent students in the past and visiting areas from which they hoped to attract more.

In 1930 Seaman helped spearhead the first non-athletic scholarships awarded to freshmen, which were based on the modern parameters of academic and activity performance in high school.

He also initiated a High School Day/ Scholarship Program, which bussed Midwest high school students to campus for a tour, football game, and a two-hour scholarship exam in a subject of their choice. College faculty graded the exams that same day, with top scorers earning a scholarship that covered their first year's tuition.

But beyond his administrative flair (which also included work as acting secretary of the Alumni Association and director of the Bureau of Appointments, a precursor to the career services office) was Seaman's gift of understanding people and inspiring friendships.

"Bill Seaman is the type of fellow who would give his shirt away if another needed it worse than he," remarked the late Allen Bailey '36 in a 1930s Oberlin Review article. Seaman's yearly assembly talks to freshmen and seniors were wildly popular, as were his writings in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine and other communications.

Unable to reveal it to even his closet friends, Seaman suffered from an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. Tragically, and to the shock of the entire Oberlin community, Seaman ended his life by suicide on March 19, 1948. During a tribute ceremony a few weeks later, Oberlin College President William Stevenson noted the following: "Many Oberlin men and women think of Bill Seaman as one of the strongest influences in their lives, from the time of high school graduation to the attainment of a secure and satisfying place in the world's work."

The Seaman legacy continues at Oberlin, not only through his children, Richard (Bunky) Seaman '55, Shirley Seaman Lake '54, and grandson David Lake '93, but through establishment by family and friends of the William H. Seaman Scholarship fund and its later merger with the Class of 1924 Jubilee Scholarship fund.

Read on for a personal tribute to Bill written by one of his most inspired followers.

--Kelly Viancourt

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