Thomas Watson Roach.The semi-centenary of Kansas' statehood concludes an epoch in her history wherein were developed men who, from the standpoint of constructive, initiative, and executive talent, rank with the most forceful in the annals of her sister commonwealths. Among those who have realized a large and substantial success, there is one who for forty years has been intimately identified with her educational institutions and who is justly recognized as one of the foremost educators of his state. His name initiates this article.
Thomas Watson Roach, president of Kansas Wesleyan Business College and ex-president of Kansas Wesleyan University, is a native of Ohio and was born in Ross township, Jefferson county, Nov. 8, 1847, a son of James Potts and Martha (Wright) Roach, and is a lineal descendant of Israel Potts, of Revolutionary fame. He secured his early educational discipline in the district schools of his native county and initiated his career as an educator, in 1866, as a district school teacher. He was matriculated in Mount Union College, Alliance, Ohio, graduating therein with the degree of Bachelor of Science, a member of the class of 1870, having as classmates such men as Lyman C. Humphrey, afterward governor of Kansas, and Philander C. Knox, the present Secretary of State in President Taft's cabinet, and other men who have won distinction.
In March, 1871, Professor Roach came to Kansas, where he accepted the position of superintendent of the schools of Marysviile. He moved to Padonia, Brown county, in 1873, and purchased a tract of land and engaged in farming, but continued teaching in the schools of Brown county. In 1881, he was made city superintendent of the schools of Clyde and remained in this capacity until 1885, when he was elected county superintendent of schools for Cloud county, and was reëlected to that office in 1887. During his incumbency of that office he introduced the grading of the common schools, the first venture along that line in Kansas. He also secured the adoption of uniform text books by three counties, a forerunner of the law requiring state-wide uniformity of text books in the grades. He was the pioneer in the movement towards the consolidation of the district schools, being the first superintendent in Kansas to accomplish such a union of several schools in one. In 1887 he did effective work in securing the passage through the legislature and in the interest of public schools, several bills, one of which, increasing the salaries of county superintendents of schools, resulted in a much more competent class of men seeking the position. He was the originator of the plan for the regular annual meetings of county superintendents and for the annual meeting of the county school boards. Professor Roach was renominated superintendent of Cloud county schools by acclamation and had no opponent, a convincing testimony as to the public's estimate of his ability in that position. In 1890 he organized, in Denison, Tex., the National Business College and became president and superintendent of that institution. One of the handsomest and best arranged buildings ever devoted to a school of this kind was erected under his supervision, at a cost of $105,000. In the fall of 1891 he resigned as president of the college and disposed of his interests there, in order to accept a call to establish a business college department for the Kansas Wesleyan University, at Salina. He was placed in charge of this school, with the title of general superintendent, and, in 1903, was elected president of the university, acting in the dual capacity until 1908, when the duties became too strenuous and he resigned the presidency of Kansas Wesleyan University. During his administration the institution attained an extremely satisfying growth, a ladies' dormitory was built at a value of $30,000, an indebtedness of $20,000 on the original building was paid off, an athletic field and grounds for a campus was purchased, and the old college building was extensively remodeled. Through the efforts of Professor Roach a donation of $25,000 was secured from Andrew Carnegie for a science hall, and he also secured a total of $25,000 in endowment funds. He served during the five years as president of the university without salary, and contributed from his private funds nearly $1,000, annually, in support of the institution. Upon tendering his resignation he presented the trustees with a new residence, valued at $7,500, for a home for its future presidents. Since 1908 he has given close attention to the conduct of Kansas Wesleyan Business College, which is recognized as the leading school of its kind, not only in Kansas, but also throughout the country. As an educator Professor Roach ranks among the first in the state. He has always been a leader, as well as a teacher, possesses executive ability of a high order, and has brought the administrative policy of his schools up to the point of highest efficiency. Probably no teacher has left upon so large a per cent. of the youth of Kansas such an impress for right living, industry, and usefulness, as has Professor Roach, which fact is attested by the great number of men and women who have made successes since attending his schools. He was considered by the State Superintendent of Kansas and his co-workers, the ablest and most aggressive county superintendent that the state ever had. While he was superintendent, as an organizer, he had few superiors. For his work as an educator he was made a life member of the National Educational Association and has had several degrees of honor conferred upon him, the last being the Doctor's degree, conferred by the Iowa Wesleyan University.
Professor Roach has never been an "ambitious" man. In all the positions he has held, in the forty years of his Kansas life, he never applied for a position nor sought an office. His official positions have not been remunerative ones and were always thrust upon him. He accepted positions of trust as a matter of duty. He has led a strenuous life, working with a view of accomplishing something and doing some good. Many waste places has he transformed into beautiful farms or school grounds, making them models for the neighborhood. Many careless or indifferent person has changed through Professor Roach's efforts into a thoughtful, careful man or woman. Professor Roach's name is in the red book, "Who is Who in America," among the noted persons of the United States. He has been successful in a financial way, has made extensive donations to the Kansas Wesleyan University and other enterprises which have been built up in Salina, and now owns several good business blocks in the city, the business college building and the Roach building being among the handsomest in the city. For more than ten years he has been vice-president of the Planters' State Bank, one of the most conservative and most prosperous banks in the state. He is also president of and director in several corporations organized in his home city. In the building up of Salina and making it the beautiful city that it is, he is an essential factor.
In politics he affiliates with the Republicans, but was elected mayor of the city of Salina, in 1900, on the Caucus Prohibition ticket. While the council and other officials strongly opposed the strict enforcement of the prohibitory law, he succeeded in driving the gamblers and many of the joints out of the city. As mayor he lent the city's aid to the building of a vitrified brick plant, in which brick were manufactured for paving some fifty miles of sidewalk, and incidentally delivered a blow to the brick trust, which had made it almost impossible to have other than wood sidewalks until his inauguration. He had the city purchase, with a few hundred dollars, real estate for the future city buildings, and this tract, when needed, proved to be worth thousands, where it had only cost the city hundreds of dollars. He secured the passage of an ordinance for the splendid sewer system that now prevails in the city and was the first and only mayor of Salina who ever reduced the bonded debt of the city from a surplus of the general funds.
Professor Roach has attained to the Knights Templar and Scottish Rite Thirty-second degrees in Masonry. As a Methodist he has for many years been a trustee of the First Methodist Church, Salina, and served as a lay delegate in the General Conference, held in Los Angeles in 1904. He has been an active, influential member of the Salina Commercial Club and is recognized as one of the progressive, energetic, and able citizens, not only of Salina, but of northwestern Kansas.
On April 11, 1874, Professor Roach was joined in marriage to Miss Angelina Olevia Martin, daughter of Evi Martin, of Fairfield county, Ohio. Mrs. Roach is a member of the Order of the Eastern Star and the various church societies and is an active participant in the church and charitable work of Salina. She has been the close associate of her husband in all his educational work and business affairs. Since the founding of the Kansas Wesleyan Business College she has been intimately connected with the institution. The young ladies have received from her the personal and parental oversight of a mother in the matters of health, habits, and bodily comfort. The young men and young ladies always remember her, no matter how long they have been away or how far they go. "With kind regards to Mrs. Roach," ends many a letter to the school.Pages 568-571 from volume III, part 1 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.
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