Soulmates

Dr. Clifton W. Potter, UofL History Professor~

After Josephus Hopwood and the young woman with whom he was engaged decided to part as friends, his thoughts turned to someone whom he had met while visiting his older sister soon after he left the army. Sarah LaRue was a classmate and friend of his niece, and she enthusiastically began a regular correspondence with Joe Hopwood. She was Kentucky born, a member of a distinguished Huguenot family, and the latest in a long line of teachers. It was with eagerness that she embraced her future husband’s dream of a life devoted to education. They were married August 19, 1874, but they postponed their honeymoon because it was time for a new school year to begin. Thus began a collaboration that would endure far into the twentieth century.

Sarah LaRue was the perfect mate for Josephus Hopwood who was a dreamer and often impractical. Mrs. Hopwood was pragmatic, and her feet were always firmly planted on terra firma. Shortly before his death in 1935, Dr. Hopwood dictated his memoirs to his wife.  On almost every page of A Journey Through the Years this perfect partnership was reflected.  When my wife and I wrote the first version of our play, Another Journey Through the Years, to chronicle the first century of the College’s history, we sent the manuscript to their niece for her review.  She said that we had captured Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe perfectly—she lived in the present while he was always peering into the future.   She was always counting every cent, while he knew the Lord would provide.

        Their work began the day they said their wedding vows, and it did not end until they retired in the depths of the Great Depression. Dr. Hopwood arrived in Lynchburg in April 1903 to explore the possibility of founding a college in the deserted halls of the Westover Hotel.  Mrs. Hopwood turned the abandoned resort into a home for her husband, her fellow faculty members, and their students. The Hopwoods had no children of their own, but they numbered their intellectual offspring in the hundreds. They never had a home of their own until they retired, and their former students built one for them near the campus of Milligan College in Eastern Tennessee.

        From 1903 until 1910 when the Hopwoods left Virginia Christian College for their next challenge, they lived in a small apartment in Westover Hall.  They never took a salary during their tenure; they only required food, and an occasional item of clothing to replace those that were old and worn. At the end of their lives they had almost no personal possessions beyond a few cherished mementos of their long years of service, their collection of books, and the desk they shared.

        Sarah LaRue Hopwood’s passion was the English language and its rich literary heritage.  Her classes were demanding, and she could not abide the sluggard or the slacker. Despite her high standards and zero tolerance for poor performance, her students remembered her and her classes with great fondness.  In 1928 the Hopwoods returned to Lynchburg College to help celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary. Her students, now mature men and women in their thirties and forties, were there to greet Aunt Sally and thank her for changing their lives in the most positive way. Josephus Hopwood was the father of our university, and Sarah LaRue Hopwood was surely its mother.