Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, April 5, 1993, pg. 4
During this Easter season, we are reminded about our religious heritage, and the great contribution Albion has made with one of the most beloved hymns of all time composed here: “The Old Rugged Cross.” The song was written by Rev. George Bennard (1873-1958) at the home of professor Delos Fall located at 1101 E. Michigan Avenue. Dr. Fall rented portions of his home as apartments, and Bennard, a renter, penned the first verse and chorus in the little room off the kitchen in his apartment.
The hymn was first sung publicly at revival meetings Bennard was conducting in Pokagon, Michigan, near Niles. It became an instant hit. “The Old Rugged Cross” did not make Bennard rich. He sold the rights to the Rodeheaver Company of Winona Lake, Indiana for $500, and the copyright was renewed for about $5,000 years later. Bennard also wrote numerous other gospel songs, but none matched the quality of “The Old Rugged Cross,” which has stood the test of time and is one of the most famous hymns ever written.
Rev. Bennard, a Methodist minister, often conducted evangelistic services in Albion during his long years of ministry, and operated a music company and tract society at 108 W. Porter St. in downtown Albion for many years. Rev. Bennard once quipped, “I’ve been introduced as the author of ‘The Old Gray Mare,’ ‘The Old Oaken Bucket,’ and ‘Rock of Ages,’ written 400 years ago; and even introduced as George Bennard Shaw, the English philosopher.”
Rev. Bennard lived his retirement years in Reed City, and died there in 1958. His last trip to Albion occurred in June 1958, just a few months before his death in October. Bennard participated in the annual Methodist Conference held here. Before his death, Bennard wrote a letter to Vernon Bobbitt stating the details of how he came to write “The Old Rugged Cross” here in Albion. The following year, a State of Michigan Historic Site marker was placed in front of the property, commemorating the birthplace of this great hymn of the church.
The house in which the hymn was written became the Delta Tau Delta House, which was demolished by Albion College in 1966. The site ws acquired by Elsie Munro, and lay vacant for many years. In 1988, three crosses made of telephone poles were erected on the spot where the hymn was wirteen, by Benard Coffindaffer, a man from West Virginia who erectged nuemrous “Crosses of Mercy” throughout the United States. Perhaps you have seen others elsewhere when you have been driving. It is an honorable thought ot have crosses erected on the site this great hymn was written, but somehow, “The Old Rugged Telephone Pole” just doesn’t seem to cut it, does it? In any event, the telephone pole crosses were removed after being sawed down once, replaced, and then permanently removed after being up for about a year. Two of the poles were painted yellow, with the center one being blue.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of Rev. George Bennard. We close with the first verse and chorus of this great hymn. Why not encourage your minister to include it for congregational singing at your church htis Easter season? This hymn was written here in Albion, and it would seem fitting and proper to have Albion churches singing it:
On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross; the emblem of suffering and shame.
Rev. George Bennard
All text copyright, 2019 © all rights reserved Frank Passic