With a last name like Salmon, it’s no surprise that students stuck him with the nickname “Fish.”
John L. Salmon was one of the longest-serving members of the college’s faculty, coming to Wofford in 1921 and remaining active well into the 1980s. When he arrived in 1921 to teach modern languages, he joined an already well-established corps of professors, some of whose tenure stretched back into the 1870s. He was rather embarrassed when the chairman of the Board of Trustees saw him trying to get his bearings on campus and assumed he was an entering freshman instead of a new faculty member. Since he was close to thirty years old and had graduated from Centre College seven years earlier, one can understand why he might have been unhappy! He later wrote of the college at the time of his arrival, “it was a small institution with an excellent reputation, a small, but good, faculty; a student body that contained many men who would achieve greatness; and an inadequate and poor physical plant that was woefully lacking in equipment and conveniences for both faculty and students.” In a 1974 letter to President Joe Lesesne, he noted that when he came, he was the eleventh faculty member, that the college had one secretary who worked for the president, and that the business manager used part-time student help. His longevity on campus made him something of a campus historian, and he could always offer an anecdote or story about the many characters who had graced the campus.
For four years, Professor Salmon taught French, then he took a few years’ leave to finish his MA at Harvard, where he also taught for two years. When he left in 1925, President Snyder called him in, and without any preamble, said, “Salmon, you have been with us four years. I cannot give you a diploma, but I want to give you this.” And with that, Dr. Snyder handed Professor Salmon a Bible signed by the faculty. By 1950, when Salmon wrote those words, only he and E. H. Shuler from that group remained on the faculty.
After his return to the campus in 1928 as Professor of Modern Languages, Fish Salmon and his wife, Lynne, were a popular couple, entertaining generations of students in their campus home. Until the Army took over the campus during World War II, the Salmons lived what is now the Hugh R. Black House, but the Army turned their home into an infirmary. Salmon went with Wofford’s juniors and seniors to Converse, where he was the dean of Wofford’s student body there. He and Mrs. Salmon wound up settling on North Fairview Avenue, where they lived the rest of their lives. He was probably the first person to teach Spanish at Wofford – he picked that up along with teaching French. The Salmons never had children of their own, but they were always sought out to serve as chaperones at campus parties – perhaps because they tended to overlook some things that might have been going on at those parties!
Professor Salmon continued to be active on campus for some twenty years after his retirement in 1964, having served as the chairman of the foreign languages department and the first Reeves Professor, one of the first endowed professorships on the campus.
Jack Salmon died in November 1988 at the age of 96, having just celebrated 68 years of marriage. He was the oldest member of Central United Methodist Church at the time of his death. Writing about the influence Professor Salmon had on his life, Dr. Pedro Trakas, a member of the class of 1944 and a professor of Spanish at Eckerd College in Florida, said “I remember the way Professor Salmon taught me, and he was as good a model as I could ever hope to emulate.” Dr. Trakas wrote that he had to explain to his father why he wanted to be a professor, since “teachers don’t get paid what professionals should get, and he told his father “if I can be the kind of professor that Professor Salmon is and live the kind of life he lives, that’s all I want.”