A ΦΓΔ and an AΦ Meet at Syracuse – Ruth and Norman Vincent Peale

From the “Did I know about this?” file. One of the readers of this blog sent me an e-mail:

I was watching Turner Class Movies last night and stumbled onto “One Man’s Way”, a biopic about Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

Per the movie, Peale is ordained and receives his first call at a university church in….Syracuse.  Per the movie he meets the woman of his dreams when she pulls into a service station and crashes into the back of his car.  She is feisty, outspoken and vivacious.  When he offers her a ride home she tells him that she lives in the Alpha Phi house.

Alpha Phi is mentioned a number of times hence.  Peale is smitten with the Phi but his affections are spurned. She gives him the Heisman on several occasions–on one occasion she is playing cards with the sisters…the house phone rings (remember those days?)…and the woman who answers gives him the time-honored, “She’s not here right now” even though she is sitting about five feet from the phone.

He even follows her into a class one day where he is dissed by the professor but professes his love for her in front of the other students. She tells him to take a hike, so to speak.

What a story! I had recently listened to the sound-track of Grey Gardens, the musical treatment of the documentary of the same name. The CD I have is the off-Broadway version; I saw it when it was in previews on Broadway. The main characters are a cousin and aunt to former First Lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Christine Ebersole did a fabulous job portraying mother Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter “Little Edie.” Dr. Norman Vincent Peale is one of the characters in the play; Edith loved listening to him on the radio. There is a scene where a radio broadcast leads to him singing a ballad, Choose to be Happy.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, a member of Phi Gamma Delta’s Ohio Wesleyan chapter, met his wife in Syracuse, NY. Ruth Stafford, a Congregational minister’s daughter, was a member of the Alpha chapter of Alpha Phi. According to accounts, she and her Alpha Phi friends talked about the men they might someday marry. She is reported to have said that she had enough of living life in a parsonage and vowed never to marry a minister.

The clip from the movie, the one that takes place at the mechanic’s garage, is at   http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/1081497/One-Man-s-Way-Movie-Clip-He-Was-Never-The-Same-Again.html. Young Dr. Peale had just started as pastor of the University Methodist Church in Syracuse about a mile away from the Syracuse campus.

The meeting at the mechanic’s garage may have been fabricated to make for an interesting movie. According to Mrs. Peale, they were introduced in 1927 by her college roommate Phyllis. Mrs. Peale later said:

I heard about Norman for some time before I met him … ‘The last thing I want to do is find myself liking an unmarried minister,’ I said. But despite my resolve I was persuaded to go to a party being given by the young people’s group at the church. It was a great evening and the time passed quickly. At the end of the party Phyllis introduced me to Norman. We shook hands. Then a surprising thing happened. He held my hand just a fraction of a second longer than was necessary. I thought, ‘This is going to be interesting.’

She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1928, and then taught high school mathematics at Central High School in Syracuse. It took two years for Dr. Peale to persuade the Alpha Phi to be his wife, “No way did I want to be a pastor’s wife,” she later said.

Ruth Stafford Peale, Alpha Phi

Ruth Stafford Peale, Alpha Phi

Dr. Peale became pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. He also preached on the radio and television. In 1945, the Peales co-founded Guideposts, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to providing hope, encouragement, and inspiration to millions of people across America and the world.” Guideposts.org is “committed to connecting people in the digital realm through the power of prayer and a common belief that through faith and the triumph of the human spirit you can overcome obstacles and live an extraordinary life.”

In 1952, Dr. Peale wrote the best seller The Power of Positive Thinking, a book which I see regularly as I sort books for the local library’s book sale. The manuscript had been rejected by many publishers and it was Mrs. Peale who kept encouraging her husband to persevere, once reportedly rescuing the manuscript from the trash can. The book sold more than 21 million copies.

In June 1963, when the film was in the midst of production, Dr. Peale wrote about it in his newspaper column:

My wife Ruth and I were invited to watch our lives being enacted on the motion picture sets. One depicted the Alpha Phi sorority house at Syracuse University where I courted Ruth back in 1928. We could have sworn we were on Walnut Street (Place) in Syracuse on a balmy spring night.

Ruth Stafford Peale received an honorary degree of Doctors of Law from Syracuse University in 1953. She also served as a trustee of Syracuse University. Alpha Phi honored her with its Frances Willard Award of Achievement. She was a member of the P.E.O. Sisterhood.

The Phi Gamma Delta Foundation awards a Peale Scholarship Grant. The grant is open to Phi Gams attending seminary and  Phi Gam ministers who are continuing their education. The NIC gave Dr. Peale its Gold Medal.

Ruth and Norman Vincent Peale

Ruth and Norman Vincent Peale

Dr. Peale died on Christmas Eve, 1993. The couple had been married for 63 years. Mrs. Peale died in 2008 at the age of 101.

 © Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2015. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/

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