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Heirloom tea set, WSU history are poured together

12:55:55 PM CDT - Monday, May 09, 2005

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

A nearly 150-year-old silver tea set that more than likely was used for entertaining some of Wichita's earliest movers and shakers is now going to be used to entertain WSU movers and Shockers.

The four-piece set, engraved with an 18th-century pattern, has a storied history, one that its owner John Hyde relished telling during a recent tea when he donated the set to be used by first lady Shirley and President Don Beggs for entertaining.

Tea
Photos by Melissa Lacey
John Hyde, an emeritus professor of history from Williams College in Massachusetts, left, presented an heirloom silver tea and coffee set to first lady Shirley Beggs, right, and President Don Beggs, not pictured, during a recent afternoon tea at the Woodman Alumni Center. Wyatt Curry, center, served tea and coffee to guests using the silver set. Hyde is the grandson of Mentholatum founder and Fairmount College trustee A.A. Hyde. The set, which has a storied history, once belonged to the family of George Strong, who helped establish Fairmount College.
Through the decades the set made its way from its initial East Coast home of a promising young Army officer to a prominent early Wichita banker and then back to the East Coast in Hyde's Massachusetts home.

When his 14 nephews and nieces eschewed the idea of inheriting the silver tea service, he decided to find a suitable home for it. Ties between the tea service's different owners and the university's history have literally poured together, which is why Hyde was excited to donate the set to WSU for use by the first couple.

Shirley Beggs is fond of entertaining with historical pieces. After years in storage, a presidential china set and a 1903 silverware set, also donated to the university, are currently being used.

"I plan to use it, protect it, and tell its story," said Shirley Beggs during the tea set dedication.

Hyde gave the set in honor of his cousin Sally Hyde Corbin and her husband, Harry, the last president of the University of Wichita "to be used in the home in which they had lived," he said.

"It had a sad beginning, but I hope it has a very happy ending," said Hyde before embarking on the set's tale.
The tea service bears the monogram of its first owner, Margaret Ellis Budd, who married Lt. George C. Strong, a top-ranking graduate of West Point, in 1859. Two years later, when the Civil War broke out, Strong's rise in the service was meteoric, Hyde said.

By summer 1863, he was a one-star general, chosen to lead an attack on Fort Wagner in the battle for the Charleston, S.C., harbor. The battle, portrayed in the movie "Glory," was his last he died two weeks later of wounds he'd received in the battle.

As part of his gift, Hyde is giving WSU's department of special collections two letters exchanged between the young Lt. Strong and his future father-in-law when he asked for Margaret's hand in marriage, two service commissions signed by President Abraham Lincoln, and Strong's admission letter to West Point, signed by then-Secretary of the War Jefferson Davis.

"The documents I have treasured and protected," noted Hyde, a history professor and administrator at Williams College for 40 years. "The tea service I admired, but in a bachelor's home, it is an understatement that it did not receive extensive use," he said, before continuing with the set's story.

Tea
Gen. Strong had been adopted by an uncle, Alfred. Alfred named his natural son George, who was separated by 23 years from the elder Gen. Strong, as well. The younger George Strong later made his way to Wichita. When the younger Strong married Pattie Todd, they received the tea service. Pattie Todd Strong was the sister of Ida Hyde, wife of Mentholatum founder A.A. Hyde. The Hydes were John Hyde's grandparents.

George Strong became a prominent member of Wichita society, founding Fourth National Bank, which is now Bank of America, and was "the financial brains" behind Fairmount College, WSU's predecessor, according to WSU's unofficial historian George Platt.

Strong helped secure land for Fairmount College, and he and his wife started collecting books for what was to become the college library. Both Strong and A.A. Hyde were members of Fairmount College's board of trustees.

When Wichita's land boom ended, the Strongs moved away, and apparently Strong had some questionable business dealings, Hyde said.

When George Strong died, Pattie relied on a monthly stipend from John Hyde's father. In gratitude, Pattie bequeathed the tea set and the documents to Hyde's father, a graduate of Fairmount College's prep school and a one-year student at the college.

As he watched the tea set being used at the ceremony, Hyde gave a blessing of sorts: "To those who in years to come gather around this tea service on this hilltop, may it bring as it did more than a century ago pleasure, sustenance, and a reminder of those who have gone before."



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