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Alice Ross story one of loss, service

The presidents wife did much to insure the future of George Fox University


In September 1952, New­berg saw the arrival of a 42-year-old mother of two named Alice Gaddis Wheeler.

It was the beginning of a relationship between transplant and town that inspires to this day.

If Oregon is anything, it is a place of rebirth and renewal. And so it was for Alice.by: COURTESY OF GEORGE FOX UNIVERSITY - Alice Ross

A lifelong member of the Society of Friends, she had been through great personal tragedy and looked forward to the spiritual sustenance this Quaker community and its college would offer.

As we will see, she would receive plenty and give plenty in return.

Her journey to Newberg began in 1947, the year her husband was killed in a hunting accident in Africa. They had been there two years working as missionaries.

His name was Eli Wheeler. She had met him in the 1920s in the tiny town of Hav­iland, Kan., an educational oasis in the middle of the great Amer­ican prairie.

Alice was one of 13 children born to Wade and Eletta Gaddis of the Bethany Com­munity of Stevens County, Kan., just east of the current Cim­meron Na­tion­al Grass­land and legendary “Jornada” route of the Santa Fe Trail.

Wade Gaddis was a farmer. In 1922, he sold their farm to move his family to Haviland so his children could enjoy a Christian education.

Haviland is located in Kiowa County, 100 miles due west of Wichita on old U.S. Route 54. Population: 700.

Located in the vicinity of the world-famous Haviland Meteor Crater, it is named for Laura Smith Haviland (1808-1898), a Canadian-born Quaker and abolitionist who played a prominent role in the organization and operation of the Underground Railroad.

Beginning in the 1830s, the Havilands were the first in Michigan to shelter fugitive slaves from the south on their way to freedom in Canada.

By 1931, Eli Wheeler was principal of Friends Bible College, the former Haviland Academy, now Barclay College. Alice was an alumna of the school, Class of 1929.

After graduation, she trained as a nurse in Newton, Kan. Returning to Kiowa County to teach in a rural school, she married Eli on April 16, 1931.

Until the 1940s, the Wheelers had done pastoral work with Friends churches in New Providence (Iowa), Kansas City and Los Angeles.

In 1945, they left for Africa, to Kivimba, northeast of Lake Tanganyika, in what is today the Republic of Burundi.

While Eli worked securing permits to operate a hospital and school, Alice initiated an early childhood education program and assisted in irrigating hillside farming plots.

Together, they helped form a leper colony, presided over a missions organization, and spoke at numerous conferences.

With Eli gone, Alice returned to the states, along with son Ned and daughter Eletta. She became a registered nurse by attending classes in both Emporia, Kan., and Phoe­nix, Ariz.

Moving to New­berg so her children could attend George Fox College (both did and both graduated), Alice found “full-time” employment by working three jobs: as a residence hall director, as a campus nurse and as a staff nurse at New­berg Com­mun­ity Hospital (now Prov­i­dence New­berg Med­i­cal Cen­ter).

Then something extraordinary happened.

Local churches and GFC students raised enough money to send her back to Africa to complete the work at the leper colony she and husband Eli had helped start.

According to her obituary in the June 6, 1998, Newberg Graphic, “Her decision to return insured the survival of the facility, which had been threatened with closure due to a lack of medical personnel.”

Aside from Alice’s story, but soon to be related, in 1954 George Fox appointed Milo Ross as its eighth president. He had just lost his wife Helen to chronic illness. A recent arrival to Oregon himself, he had first served the college as a part-time student recruiter.

On Oct. 10, 1955, Milo married Alice. The couple remained inseparable until his death in 1979.

Under their guidance, the school liquidated its debt, gained full accreditation with the Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools, doubled the college’s enrollment, built six new buildings, and renovated and remodeled eight others.

In the 1960s, the two traveled on goodwill missions for the school to 24 countries, while also helping to conduct summer programs in the Middle East. After his retirement in 1969, Milo became president of the George Fox Foundation and stayed in the position until his passing.

As a part of her efforts to help her president/husband navigate GFC through the financially lean years of the 1950s, Alice would often forgo her salary to make sure the college’s payroll was met.

One year prior to Milo’s death, the couple saw the opening of George Fox University’s Ross Center, home now to the departments of the visual and performing arts. It includes Bauman Auditorium, Lindgren Gal­lery, two rehearsal halls, 16 practice rooms and several classrooms. The organ housed in Bauman was a gift of the Rosses.

On May 30, 1998, this former George Fox “first lady” died at Friendsview Manor here in Newberg. She was 87.

George Edmonston Jr. is the retired editor of OSU’s alumni magazine, the Oregon Stater, and is a frequent contributor of history features to this newspaper. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .




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