3/18/15 ASHLAND, Ohio – A series of letters exchanged between novelist C.S. Lewis and former Ashland College professor Tom VanOsdall will be displayed on the Ashland University campus and accessible to the public as part of an event scheduled in early May.
“This May 7 event will highlight the relationship between C.S. Lewis and professor Tom VanOsdall during 1963 and the letters they exchanged,” said Dr. Mark Hamilton, associate professor of philosophy at Ashland University.
Hamilton said the event, which is free and open to the public, will feature Dr. Michael Peterson, a Lewis scholar from Asbury Theological Seminary, speaking on “C.S. Lewis.” As part of the event, Hamilton will talk about the letters that were exchanged between Lewis and VanOsdall and were donated to the University.
Hamilton said Tom VanOsdall grew up in Ashland and taught at what was then Ashland College for nearly 30 years and retired in 1980. “He was a beloved chemistry professor. He really was a Renaissance man and for many years he led a big band called Tommy Van and his orchestra,” Hamilton said.
VanOsdall had one son, Tom Jr., who was killed in a car accident in May of 1962. The Tom VanOsdall Jr. scholarship has been established through the Ashland County Community Foundation.
“After his son’s death, VanOsdall threw himself into working on the relationship between science and religion,” Hamilton said. “He wanted to develop a course that reconciled science and religion and would take them both seriously. He was very concerned that science was becoming a religion – a movement known as Scientism.”
In the process of developing a course on the cultural impact of science, VanOsdall wrote letters to a number of significant people, including C.S. Lewis in 1963. Over a five-month period of that year, VanOsdall exchanged several letters with Lewis. This led to the creation of a course called Science as a Cultural Force which is still being taught at Ashland University though it has gone through numerous evolutions.
Hamilton said Lewis was in his home in Oxford when he wrote the letters on June 1, Oct. 9 and Oct. 26 of 1963.
“We have all three of the letters from C.S. Lewis to Tom and two of the three letters from Tom to C.S. Lewis,” Hamilton said. “The last letter from Tom is the one we do not have and we know that was the letter in which Tom talked about the loss of this son.”
Hamilton explained that the third letter from Lewis noted, “I too have lost what I most loved.”
Hamilton said a significance of this letter relationship was that Lewis died at the age of 65 in November of 1963, the same day that John F. Kennedy died.
Hamilton said the letters were treasured by VanOsdall, who died in 2001.
“After his death, Tom’s notebook went to Nancy Tipton Davis, who was a lifelong friend and had been a very good friend of Tom Jr. also,” Hamilton said. “She then donated the letters to the University.”
Hamilton said that C. S. Lewis wrote about 50,000 letters, but noted that these three have been unseen by the world until now. “And we know these were written by him,” he said.
Wheaton College had requested the letters for its large C.S. Lewis Library, but Hamilton said they will remain at Ashland.
“Nancy Davis and I talked quite a bit about where they should be housed. We both agreed that this is where Tom lived and taught; here they will maintain their specialness. This is a way to remember and honor Tom," he said.
Ashland University is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###