Louis Peter Thorpe

1893 - 1970

In his lifetime Louis P. Thorpe enjoyed an unusual degree of fame and success in both music and the field of education. He taught at two Seventh-day Adventist colleges and at the church's medical school before becoming a professor at the University of Southern California and a nationally known author of five books on psychology.

Louis was born on May15, 1893, in Battle Creek, Michigan, one of four children and the younger of two sons of Christian Adolph and Mary Thorpe, both of whom had emigrated from Norway. His father taught Norwegian in two SDA colleges and was later in the church's publishing work, where he served as an editor of its Danish-Norwegian periodicals.

By the time Thorpe was in his early 20s he had studied violin under August Malzer for five years and clarinet under Charles Irving for two years and was an accomplished performer on violin, clarinet, and saxophone. He also had spent four years at Chautauqua and three years in a popular orchestra of that time.

During World War I, John Philip Sousa accepted an invitation from the government to join the Navy as an officer for the purpose of developing a Navy Band Corps and training men who could lead bands established in that program. Thorpe responded to announcements of this wartime endeavor being conducted at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station near Chicago. As part of their training, the men in that program played in a band under Sousa which toured extensively to recruit and raise money.

Thorpe enjoyed this contact and experience with Sousa and successfully completed the training, gaining appointment as leader of the Navy's 11th Regiment Band. During this time he married Alice Claire Kegebein; they would have a daughter, Norma Mae (Tucker).

When the war ended, he enrolled at Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University. He was 26 and, with his experience and versatility as a musician, was asked to direct both the college band and orchestra as well as teach lessons in violin, clarinet, and saxophone. He was very charismatic and quickly became a popular and successful teacher.

When a new music building was moved a year after its construction, Thorpe jokingly played his violin in the building as it was moved across campus to its new site. He also emerged as an important figure in EMC's early, widely broadcast radio station programs, conducting his groups and playing his instruments.

After Thorpe completed a baccalaureate degree at EMC in 1925, he became principal at Indiana Academy. Three years later, he accepted an offer to teach in the education department at Walla Walla College, now University, serve as principal of its academy, and direct the college band. As the school year began, he joined with the music faculty in presenting what was an annual tradition, a Saturday night music faculty recital. Following a four-movement violin sonata, some Schubert art songs, and a Bach chorale on organ, Thorpe took the stage. The school paper reported what happened next:

If applause is any indication at all, Professor Thorpe's saxophone selections were the feature of the evening. Mr. Thorpe's perfect technique accounted for his finger dexterity. He lacks the wail and bombast that usually accompanies the playing of this instrument. The audience was so completely overcome that it insisted on applauding during rests in his first piece, Fantasy. And when finally the selection came to an end, the chapel walls thundered with the applause of the appreciative audience.

His second number was the familiar melody At Dawning. And despite the fact that at the bottom of the program was written "NO ENCORES," the crowd continued its applause until Professor Thorpe reentered and responded with a bow.

A music student from that time would later recall:

The band became very popular while Thorpe was here. He was a blond, good-looking, suave, well-groomed man who knew his business. He was the best saxophonist I've ever known. He would take something like I Love You Truly and play it in the style of Bach, Beethoven, or Gershwin.

Near the end of his time at WWC, even though he was now chair of the education department, Thorpe added the orchestra to his list of responsibilities. Additionally, in 1934, in the midst of the Great Depression, he organized and conducted a large community orchestra consisting of members of the Walla Walla Symphony and students from WWC and nearby Whitman College that presented three acclaimed performances of a program they had prepared.

While at WWC he completed a Ph.D.in psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston-Chicago on October 25, 1931. In 1936 Thorpe resigned and relocated to Southern California, where he was to teach at the College of Medical Evangelists, now Loma Linda University. Within a year of arriving in Los Angeles he accepted a position at the University of Southern California to teach courses in secondary education and clinical psychology. He spent the rest of his career at USC.

Thorpe became noted for his progressive thinking about education and for his books on psychology. The first of these, Psychological Foundations of Personality: a Guide for Students and Teachers, was published in 1938. Another, Personality and Life, a Practical Guide to Personality Improvement, was released in 1949. Three others would follow, in 1950, 1951, and 1960.

His books are still cited as references in papers presented at professional conferences. One of his beliefs, articulated in chapter seventeen of his book The Psychology of Mental Health (1950), is still regarded as consistent with prevailing but controversial views on the subject:

Religious groups which . . . overemphasize the threat of 'sin' and the rewards of the supposed 'life hereafter' as a substitute for enjoyment of life in the present are likely to foster mental ill health.

Even in retirement, Thorpe was consulted about his views, which he shared freely as a Professor Emeritus of USC. He was living in La Verne, California, at the time of his death on November 27, 1970, at age 77.


Sources: Obituaries (Louis and Alice), Review and Herald, 4 March 1971 and Pacific Union Recorder, 22 March 1971, 7; (Christian Thorp) Review and Herald, 27 March 1947, 23; 1910, 1920, and 1930 U.S. Federal Census Records; Cook County, Illinois, Marriage Indices, 1917 and 1918; "Do You Remember When?, EMC Yearbook, The Cardinal, (reference to Thorpe's playing as music building was moved), 1927(?), 107; Numerous references to campus organizations and programs being broadcast on EMC' radio station are made along with photographs in the school's 1923-1925 campus newspapers and yearbooks in 1924, and 1925 mention and picture Thorpe; "Professor Thorpe at Walla Walla," Emmanuel Missionary College newspaper, The Student Movement, 22 November 1928, 4; "Musical Numbers Given by Faculty," (extended quotation about his playing) Walla Walla College newspaper, The Collegian, 18 October 1928; 19 May 1934, 1934 joint concert, WWC and Walla Walla Symphony, The Collegian; "Thorpe Will Connect With Medical School After Summer Session" and "Band Presents Last Program of the Year," The Collegian, 14 May 1936, 1; Online reviews and excerpts from The Psychology of Mental Health by Louis P, Thorpe, 1950 and 1960 editions and Child Psychology and Development by Thorpe, 1962; Interview with Boardman Noland (student quotation above), 21 August 1991. email from Stayce Harrison, great- grandchild, January 10, 2017.