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1981 Horatio Alger Award Winner

George Stuart Benson*

President Emeritus
Harding University

"My message is hope for America - keeping America sold on our heritage."

George Benson was born to homesteader parents in the Oklahoma Territory, which was formerly occupied by the Cheyenne-Arapaho Indians. He and his four siblings worked on the farm, doing their farm chores before walking three miles each day to a one-room schoolhouse. After getting a high school diploma, he left home to support himself as a farm hand and janitor. At 17, he was baptized and immediately began preaching. He enrolled at Harper College in Kansas, and then transferred to Oklahoma A&M where he earned a B.S. degree in 1924. He also earned an M.S. degree in history from the University of Chicago. It was while studying at Oklahoma A&M that the preparatory academy affiliated with Harding College in Arkansas asked Benson to be its principal. Benson accepted the challenge and also found time to earn a B.A. degree at Harding.

In 1925, Benson went to China, where he and his wife served among that country's first missionaries of the Church of Christ. There, they founded the Canton Bible School and the Canton English College. They had been in China for 11 years when Benson received an urgent appeal from Harding College to return and become president of the school, which was $75,000 in debt. He accepted the position in 1936 and had the school out of debt within three years. He continued to raise $1 million annually for the 29 years he served as president. The college became a university shortly after Benson's retirement.

Benson also served as president of the National Education Program since its inception at Harding in 1936. The non-profit organization sponsored a variety of activities on citizenship and American heritage. For many years, Benson had his own newspaper column and several radio shows for the organization. Benson once said, "My message is faith in God, constitutional government, and private enterprise."

* Deceased