Beacon Street Diary blog

“People are looking for their roots, for who they are.”

Member profile: C. Ronald Wilson

Few of us can claim as interesting a background as Ron Wilson, a longtime member of the Congregational Library & Archives and of the Tappan Society. The Congregational Library & Archives has followed Ron through the varied chapters of his life. The Malden, MA native quit school after ninth grade, joined the Navy at seventeen and eventually became a well-respected UCC pastor and an author. Throw in that he worked as a professional magician, was deported from Honduras for a pamphlet which dealt with social issues, owned the largest Guatemalan import business in the U.S., and created a children's book, and it starts to sound more like material for a Netflix series.

Ron's initial encounter with the Congregational Library & Archives happened by chance. He was delivering his summer camp application to the Boston City Mission Society when he turned and saw our big glass doors with the words "Congregational Library" stamped in gold across the lintel.

Ron has fond memories of the camp, but the iconic image of the doors stuck with him through his stint in the Navy and his time at the University of Connecticut (how he managed to be accepted without a high school diploma is another story altogether). In 1967, Ron returned to 14 Beacon Street as a Bangor Seminary student and walked through those glass doors.

Given free rein by librarian Hal Worthley, Ron spent days at a time in the stacks digging through sermons dealing with slavery, uncovering roots. He was pursuing his thesis on the influence of Puritan Theology on the Abolitionist movement. After receiving his Masters of Divinity, and with Worthley's encouragement, he continued to borrow books for his own preaching as it took him overseas, and then to Connecticut, Ohio, and Arizona.

From 1998 until 2010, Ron served the Library & Archives as a member of the Board of Directors. He continues his relationship today as a patron, a member and a donor. His most recent research in the archives explores the story of the Congregational church in the Marshall Islands through the lens of the Morning Star (a ship paid for by Sunday school children in 1857 to bring the Gospel to the South Pacific). Ron is working closely with archivist Jessica Steytler from his home in Tempe, Arizona. Jessica is helping him work through resources in our collection — Necrologies of Missionaries correspondence, missionaries' personal papers, and the newspaper The Missionary Herald — and is excited to be involved in Ron's research.

Ron and his wife Dona became legacy donors in 2015 because they have great faith in the Congregational Library & Archives as a preserver of history. It is history that "connects the dots, and connecting the dots gives you a different prism to look through," says Ron. He sees the influence of the Congregational Way throughout time, a tradition that reveals itself in "very personal" ways.

One such example comes from the Church-in-the-Gardens in Forest Hills, New York where Ron served as interim pastor. Branch Rickey, the man who helped make history by signing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, was a member of Church-in-the-Gardens. "Where did the moral fiber come from?" asks Ron of Rickey's brave decision. "It was not insignificant that Rickey was a Congregationalist." Ron can point to many others who drew strength from their roots in the Congregational tradition.

Ron knows that the history in our archives continues to tell the story of an influential intellectual and spiritual tradition, linked to the development of this nation and its future. His Tappan Society legacy gift will help sustain the Library & Archives and the Congregational story. Learn more about making your own legacy gift.