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The Life and Legacy of the Rev. Samuel Lander: Local filmmaker documents the life of university founder

October 07, 2009

A mist hangs over a nondescript train station in turn-of-the-century anywhere, South Carolina. A young woman waits on a bench, nervous and unsure about where the tracks will take her. She is preparing to start school at Williamston Female College, and she waits at the station for a school representative who will escort her to Williamston. The Rev. Samuel Lander, president of the college, emerges and takes the young woman's hand. With his presence, the woman's fears and reservations subside, and she readily boards the train, beginning her college days at the institution that will one day be Lander University.

"This story is one that could be told by many women who prepared to attend school at Williamston Female College," said Paul Crutcher, who is writer, director and co-producer of a new documentary about the Rev. Samuel Lander. "Lander would often travel to Greenville, Ninety Six, Columbia and other cities across South Carolina to escort students to their new home at the college."

The scene, according to Crutcher, was also the subject of a dream he had in August 2008, which jump-started a year-long process of telling Lander's story on film. The completed documentary titled "S. Lander - His Life and Legacy," will premiere Satuday, Oct. 24, at 2 p.m. in Lander's Josephine B. Abney Cultural Center Auditorium - a reception will follow.

"I dreamt that whole scene," said Crutcher. "Afterward, I saw the whole project unfold. The documentary goes back to when Lander's parents immigrated to the United States. From Williamston Female College to Lander University, we look at how and why he educated and why, in the end, he relocated his school to Greenwood."

Even before his dream, Crutcher was beginning to research the history of Lander University and the life of the Rev. Lander.

"I went to Lander's Jackson Library and asked to see what they had on the Rev. Lander," said Crutcher. "They gave me one thin booklet written by Kathleen Willson, Lander's daughter."

Crutcher explained that Willson's book was the only text that had been written solely about the Rev. Lander. He continued to pore through the Jackson Library archives looking through letters to and from Lander and catalogs for Williamston Female College.

It was in a Williamston Female College catalog that Crutcher found the account that would be the subject of his dream.

After his dream, Crutcher, a locksmith at Lander University, met with Lander president Dr. Daniel Ball to discuss his idea for the film. Ball thought it was a great idea and suggested that Crutcher talk to Dr. Dewitt Stone, director of Lander's study abroad program and great-grandson of the Rev. Lander. Stone was immediately interested in the project and provided Crutcher with a list of Lander family members he should interview. Stone also recommend that Crutcher read Ann Bowen's "Greenwood: a History" and a book by William Lander Sherrill on the history of the Lander family.

At the beginning of the project Crutcher asked Dr. Robert Stevenson, chair of Lander's Department of Mass Communication and Theatre, to be a co-producer of the film. Together the two have written the documentary script and have traveled to several locations to film interviews with Lander family and local historians. They have travelled as far away as Virginia, where they captured footage of the original Randolph Macon College campus where the Rev. Lander attended school.

Crutcher has also filmed dramatic re-enactments of scenes in the Rev. Lander's life using acting talent from Greenwood and Abbeville. Many of the actors, including Lander students, also provided voiceovers for the film. Crutcher received props and costuming help from the Abbeville Opera House, the Greenwood Community Theatre and Lander's Department of Mass Communication and Theatre.

"I've had tremendous cooperation from everyone I approached for assistance on the film," said Crutcher.

With that assistance many of the people involved with the documentary have walked away from the project with a newfound understanding of the Rev. Samuel Lander and a greater appreciation for his role in bringing educational opportunities to thousands of South Carolinians.

Lander associate professor of theatre, Michael Genevie, who plays the Rev. Lander in the film said, "I didn't know the whole story behind Samuel Lander when we started this project. I didn't realize he was a minister, and didn't know about the school he started in Williamston. There are a lot of people who don't know this and I think that's the main reason for this documentary."

Genevie's sentiment was echoed by the films co-producer. Stevenson said, "This film makes Samuel Lander three dimensional for me. I see him as a person and not just a figure in History.

Stevenson added that as president of Williamston Female College, the Rev. Lander didn't want anyone to apply unless they were prepared to become well-rounded students. "I think he would be very happy with Lander University's goal to create a well-rounded student through a liberal arts education," he said.

Of the Rev. Lander's story and the film's expected impact on the community, Crutcher said, "History isn't just who we were. It's who we are now. Lander University will benefit in that faculty, staff and students will have a better understanding of the history of the university. Greenwood will benefit in seeing that the school and the community, to quote Ann Bowen, 'grew up together.' I think people will be encouraged to see the foresight and visionary nature of Samuel Lander."

"S. Lander - His Life and legacy" is a Prestantia Pictures production.

Tickets for the film are $10 for general admission and free to students with ID. Tickets can be purchased in advance online at www.landermovie.com. To order by phone or for more information, call 864-388-8528. Advanced ticket orders will be available at the box office of the Josephine B. Abney Cultural Center on Oct. 24, prior to the 2 p.m. showing. Tickets will also be sold at the box office on the day of the premiere.