The Scholarly Centenarian: Dr. David Boylan Turns 100
July 15, 2022
By Andrew Gogerty
He never desired to be an educator, this remarkable man whose distinguished academic career spanned 68 years and eight decades. And yet, as Dr. David R. Boylan turns 100 on Friday, July 22, 2022, he is still teaching to anyone who will lend a listening ear. And he is still brilliant.
“I never expected, intended, or even thought about being in education,” said Dr. Boylan in a recent interview with Faith Baptist Bible College. “I was an engineer. I had no idea I was going into teaching.”
Boylan excelled in his career, both in research and in teaching. An oil canvas photo of him as the sixth dean of the College of Engineering at Iowa State University hangs in the conference room of Marston Hall as evidence. Advancements in the fields of fertilizer and agriculture are results of his extensive research and patents. The changed lives of those who sat under his teaching in his college Sunday school class are living testimonies. And Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary in Ankeny, Iowa, has a 100-year legacy of its own whose longevity can be partially credited to the contributions of Dr. Boylan as a former president, faculty, and board member.
David Ray Boylan was born in Belleville, Kansas, a city of 2,000 people located 155 miles northwest of Topeka near the Nebraska border. His father, an accomplished man in his own right, was an Air Force major who flew combat missions in World War I. The Boylans moved from Belleville to Kansas City early in David’s life, and he spent the majority of his childhood there.
“My young career, I picked up the idea of building things, mechanical things,” said Boylan. “I remember as a young kid in Belleville, Kansas, (I was a little kid), they dug the ditches for the pipelines by hand. I noticed they were using tree limbs to clean their shovels out, so right then, I made little shovels out of orange crates. That was the only place I could get some wood as a kid. I guess I had a desire to do things and that grew. Even until now, I still like engineering.”
Boylan accepted Christ when he was in his early teens. Both his mother and father were Christians, and he was raised in a Christian home. They attended a Baptist church in Kansas City during most of his teenage years and later attended Central Bible Hall where he sat under the teaching of Walter L. Wilson, who co-founded and was the first president of Kansas City Bible Institute, which later became Kansas City Bible College, and finally merged with Midwest Bible College to form Calvary Bible College. The spiritual nourishment David received while attending Central Bible Hall wasn’t the only positive development that occurred. It was also where he met his eventual wife, Juanita.
Following graduation from high school, David attended the University of Kansas where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering in 1943. He and Juanita married on March 24, 1944, around the time she also graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Bacteriology. The newlyweds moved to the East Coast where David began his engineering career with the General Chemical Company in Camden, New Jersey. He advanced rapidly in his field, becoming a project engineer at General Chemical, then a Senior Chemical Engineer at American Cyanamid Company. David was successful and happy with his work. He had no intention of changing careers. God had other plans.
“All of a sudden, things began to happen,” said Dr. Boylan. “Some would call it coincidence. When coincidences begin to pile up, it’s no longer coincidence.”
The Boylans had settled into life on the East Coast. Mrs. Boylan was a homemaker with a two-year-old and a new baby. A young married couple with multiple children and a stable income did what most people do at that stage of life: they bought a new washing machine. By the 1940s more than half of American households had electric washing machines. Many of these featured new technology; not all of it was perfected, from an engineering standpoint.
“We bought a new washing machine with a powered wringer,” recalled David. “My wife caught her arm in the wringer. She had a new baby and couldn’t take care of the baby, and a two-year-old she couldn’t help.”
It was right at this same time that David had changed jobs to another company as a plant manager. As fate would have it, the company unexpectedly went out of business. The combination of unfortunate events all at once convinced David that these happenings were no longer just coincidences.
“I didn’t have a job,” said Boylan. “We had a baby. We had a family…but no income. I had no choice but to go home (to Kansas).”
Before they settled back into life in “The Wheat State,” David was approached by a friend who gave some advice that changed the course of the rest of his life.
Moving to Ames, Iowa; Early Years at Iowa State College
“Somebody said, ‘Why don’t you go up to Ames, Iowa, and see if you can get a job?’” recalled Boylan. “I had never been to Iowa. I went to Ames on a weekend and got a job as a graduate assistant at Iowa State College (as it was called in those days) and stayed there 60 years. I started off getting my PhD in engineering, and I taught in engineering. I enjoyed every moment.”
Boylan’s illustrious career at Iowa State began in 1948. The College of Engineering (one of the oldest and largest programs in the nation) was so impressed with his real-world experience that he was named Assistant Professor of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics and a graduate assistant in Chemical Engineering. Boylan completed his Doctor of Philosophy from Iowa State College in 1952 (it was renamed Iowa State University on July 4, 1959).
By the time he finished graduate school, Dr. Boylan was promoted to Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and eventually Professor of Chemical Engineering in 1956. The three years that followed were some of the most pivotal of his career as his reputation in the engineering field soared to new heights due to his research and development in fertilizer processes and technology.
On March 1, 1959, Dr. Boylan was named Associate Director of the Iowa Engineering Experiment Station at Iowa State University, where he oversaw 160 engineers, graduate assistants, and hourly staff. The purpose of the station was to do research and provide engineering solutions for projects that were relevant at that time, which included the digital computer, soil analysis of highway construction, the manufacturing of fertilizer, and the color television.
Spiritual Life; Impact as a College Sunday School Teacher
While Boylan was rising in the ranks of academia during the 1950s, he didn’t let his career take priority in his life. He kept his spiritual life in a condition that would have passed the strictest Rockwell hardness testing—an important trait for one who consistently taught creation in a public university, often facing resistance from colleagues. He never caved under pressure.
As the cards have poured in for Dr. Boylan’s 100th birthday, many have mentioned his commitment to creation science in a public school environment, according to his daughter, Elizabeth McKee.
“He never ‘fought’ his opponents,” recalled Elizabeth, “but treated them with respect. In return, he gained respect, if not agreement in views.”
Dr. Ernie Schmidt, president of Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary (FBBC&TS) from 2014 to 2015, recalled Dr. Boylan’s kindness to others as one of his many fine traits.
“I never saw him ruffled,” said Schmidt. “He had strong convictions and stood by them, but I never remember him making a caustic remark or having a vindictive spirit in his stand for Truth.”
Steve Mickelson, Senior Policy Advisor and a 40-year faculty member of the College of Engineering at Iowa State University, agreed. “He was a great man,” said Mickelson in an interview for this story. “I was always impressed by his faith and his willingness to never compromise. He taught a creation course while he was dean and took a lot of flak, but he didn’t waver. We were both there when we established the Christian Faculty and Staff Association. There were about 15 of us that met for a year and just prayed, ‘God, what do you want us to do as Christian faculty and staff at Iowa State?’”
Boylan’s commitment to his faith went far beyond the halls of Iowa State University. In fact, Dr. Boylan believes one of God’s biggest reasons for moving his family to Ames, Iowa, was not necessarily to teach engineering, but the Bible.
“There was a young man in chemistry who was at a church called Campus Baptist Church,” said Dr. Boylan. “That church was just across the road from Iowa State University. He had a college-age class of 160 students, and the Lord wanted me to take over that class. That’s the real reason he moved me.”
Boylan taught the college Sunday school class at Campus Baptist Church faithfully for 25 years. He looks back at his years in New Jersey as a time of critical preparation for that ministry, specifically his time under the tutelage of Dr. Andrew Telford.
“While I was living on the East Coast as an engineer…with no idea I was going to teach a college Bible class…for some reason, I went every night to the Philadelphia School of the Bible,” said Boylan. “It wasn’t part of my engineering career. I went across the bridge from Camden, New Jersey, to Philadelphia every night. I took every course that a professor named Andrew Telford, a great preacher, taught.” (Dr. Telford, who also lived to be a centenarian, died in 1997 at age 102.)
Dr. Boylan’s college Sunday school class at Campus Baptist Church impacted the lives of thousands of people who weren’t necessarily engineering students. Those who may have known nothing about thermodynamics or the production of sulfuric acid (nor cared), learned just as much about biblical creation and servant leadership.
“I first met Dr. Boylan in the fall of 1968, when I enrolled at Iowa State University and attended his college-age Sunday school class at Campus Baptist Church in Ames,” said Delmar Mains, now a member of Community Baptist Church in Ankeny, Iowa. “I was immediately struck by the fact that Dr. Boylan, on his way to becoming dean of the College of Engineering of ISU, was a very accomplished Bible student and a very articulate teacher of the Word of God. He did not use a published quarterly. Rather, he had studied and prepared his own extremely well-alliterated outlines. We studied topics such as creation from a scientific viewpoint—i.e. real science—the science of observation, with the Observer being the True and Living God. I thoroughly enjoyed and am thankful for the highly intellectual and spiritual challenge provided in Dr. Boylan’s classes.
More than that, however, I found Dr. Boylan to be a happy man (he was always quick with a smile or a quip), a generous man (he would take the entire Sunday school class to The Broiler for a steak dinner), a personable man (he was always friendly and personally engaged), and a leader (he was advisor to the college class, which regularly went on visitation, and numerous fellow college students came to Christ), all with a sense of humor. I am very thankful for God using Dr. Boylan in my life through his Sunday school class and throughout his life.”
Dean of the College of Engineering, Iowa State University
Throughout the 1960s, Boylan’s reputation in the engineering field continued to flourish. In 1966, he was named Director of the Engineering Research Institute. By 1968, he was named to the Governor’s Science Advisory Committee, and his research and writings had been published in dozens of technical publications. Three of his six patents were approved between 1963 and 1968.
On July 1, 1970, Dr. Boylan was named dean of the College of Engineering—just the sixth person to assume the post in the 101-year history of the college. Boylan was described as “a fellow with reddish hair, a ready smile, and a background in research” by an Iowa State University College of Engineering publication (September-October 1970). He was 47 years old.
Boylan’s pledge to the college was that he would “not lose contact with the students,” and that even though he would no longer be in the classroom, he would find other ways to connect—“through student-faculty committees, seminars, informal get-togethers, and an open-door office policy” (September-October 1970).
It was an approach that was met with resounding success. The program doubled from 2,500 students to 5,800 students by the time he resigned as dean in 1988 at the age of 65.
Steve Mickelson recalls the challenges that came with the growth when he was hired into the Freshman Engineering department in 1982 as an academic advisor.
“That is a crazy number of people to advise,” said Mickelson. “They would line up down the hallway in Marston Hall, and we had to take over the dean’s conference room and put in cubicles. There were five of us, so you can imagine the number of students trying to file in to get advice.”
Mickelson attributes much of the growth during Boylan’s tenure to the emphasis that was placed on students. The college kept class sizes small, despite the growth, and got to know students by name. Much of this was due to an enrollment management system that was implemented by Dr. Boylan, which was a way to control the number of students going into each program. Boylan also convinced the university to add 40 new faculty positions to keep up with the growth.
“The Freshman Engineering program was a great example,” said Mickelson. “Dr. Boylan started that program (it dissolved around 1997). If you look at David Boylan’s career, even though he was really great at research, he really cared about teaching and student success. That was really evident in working with him. We had a very unique program. We were cutting-edge. A lot of other universities implemented a freshman engineering program modeled after Iowa State.”
Boylan resigned as dean at Iowa State University in 1988, after 18 years in the position—a rare feat of longevity by today’s standards. Mickelson attributes that longevity to Boylan’s leadership skills and his ability to get along with people.
“It never felt like there was strife within the College of Engineering when he was there,” said Mickelson. “He was very engaged with faculty and staff.”
Boylan’s approach of caring for students helped set the foundation for future success in the College of Engineering at Iowa State, which is nationally recognized by its peers as one of the top engineering programs in America.
“In 2017, our department was ranked number one in the nation both for undergraduate programs and for graduate programs,” said Mickelson. “I would say the legacy of David Boylan was starting a department that hired somebody like me and other faculty that really cared about student success.”
As Dr. Boylan reflected on his career at Iowa State, he regards his PhD as one of his biggest accomplishments. Ironically, however, one of his favorite achievements had nothing to do with engineering or research.
“When I became dean at Iowa State, ISU did the budget by hand,” said Boylan. “There weren’t the kind of computers we have today, but they had mainframes. We used slide rules, and I was dean, and I didn’t like to do that by hand. It was a major chore. We had to write it out on a big piece of paper. I went over to the accounting office and found a young man that was good in programming, and we wrote the university budget and converted it from a hand-written budget to the first computer.”
Even after he resigned as dean, Dr. Boylan continued to teach classes at ISU until 1992. Now 70 years old, he assumed his teaching career had concluded, but that “retirement” lasted approximately one day.
Career at Faith Baptist Bible College
“When I finished teaching and retired at Iowa State, the next morning George Houghton and Ernie Schmidt asked me to go to breakfast,” said Boylan. “I went to breakfast, and before we finished, I had a job on the faculty at Faith Baptist Bible College.”
Dr. Boylan’s familiarity with FBBC dates back to 1965. He was elected to the board of directors at that time. His first board meeting was actually the very last board meeting on the Omaha campus before the school relocated to Ankeny, Iowa. His second board meeting was in Ankeny. Prior to his election to the board, Boylan had not been familiar with Omaha Baptist Bible College.
Boylan began his teaching career at Faith during the fall semester of 1992. He taught a three-credit science course that fall and spring, and a two-credit computer and math course in the spring of 1993. He later taught biological science and physical science as well. Dr. Ken Rathbun, Vice President for Academic Services and College Dean at Faith, was a student in one of Boylan’s first courses on campus. He has vivid memories of his Boylan experience:
“I was a student during Dr. Boylan’s first semester of teaching at FBBC. He came into the class, and we were not sure what to expect and he said, ‘I’m going to do something I have never done in all my years of teaching: I’m going to start with prayer.’ And he prayed every single class period.”
Brenna Capon was a transfer student at Faith during Boylan’s tenure. She had studied chemical engineering at the University of Iowa prior to her transfer and became an easy choice as his teaching assistant.
“I don’t think I fully realized the humility this showed and the honor this was at the time,” said Brenna, “but in retrospect, I can see how little he thought of himself and how invested he was in others to give me that opportunity. I loved my experience as his TA and learned so much from his example that I carried into my teaching. He had taught elite students and worked on projects at the pinnacle of scientific knowledge and yet was willing to invest his days for almost no earthly return in helping future ministry leaders understand the wonders of God in His Creation.”
Dr. Boylan’s role at Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary took an unexpected turn shortly into his tenure. On September 13, 1993, Dr. Robert Domokos announced his resignation as college president and requested that an interim president be named. The man selected was Dr. David Boylan. It was a position he accepted but did not relish.
“That wasn’t a job I wanted, so I tried to get out of it as soon as I could,” said Boylan. “I was on the interview team for President Houg, and as soon as we could get things rolling, I got out of it. It was an interesting time. We were growing fast. The college enrollment was 600 students. I always thought the president ought to be a pastor. I wasn’t a pastor.”
Boylan’s wisdom and experience in higher education have been invaluable assets to FBBC&TS over the course of the last 57 years in which he has served in many capacities, including chair of the General Education Department and Advisor to the President.
“Dr. Boylan was 93 when I became the president in 2015,” said Dr. Jim Tillotson, current president of FBBC&TS. “He was still teaching here at Faith, and he was a part of our administrative council as advisor to the president. He brought a box of donuts and a case of Diet Coke to each meeting. When we discussed his retirement, I asked what he was going to do when he retired. He said, ‘Probably cry.’ He has meant a lot to our school over the years, and we want to take this opportunity to thank him for his impact and influence on Faith and congratulate him on achieving this milestone.”
On March 20, 2010, Dr. Boylan lost the love of his life when Juanita Rose Sheridan Boylan passed away at the age of 87.
It was four days shy of their 66th wedding anniversary.
“I learned some things those last years of her life,” said Dr. Boylan. “She was in the long-term healthcare center in Nevada. I learned what health care people do. You can’t believe how important they are until you see a bedridden patient taken care of. It was a learning experience for me.”
Dr. Boylan officially retired from his teaching career at Faith in May 2016 at the age of 93, but the same man who never desired to be an educator in his early twenties is still using every opportunity he has to teach. Instead of lecturing to classrooms filled with young adults, he’s teaching to those in the assisted living facility where he resides at Independence Village in Ankeny. Anyone is welcome to give lectures or provide concerts and entertainment for the residents, and Dr. Boylan has taken advantage of that opportunity for many years.
“I’m still teaching,” said Boylan. “I teach a class every month on the issues of the day. Next Monday I’ll be talking on ‘When did life begin?’ There’s a lot of controversy over that, in fact, right now in the legislature. There is an answer, which I try to explain.”
Another issue of the day that Boylan is passionate about is the national debt. He says it is unbelievable that this country is 28 trillion dollars in debt, and no one cares. “I try to educate people,” said Boylan. “Someday the roof is going to fall in, and we will be in real trouble. You can’t keep building debt just because people want to spend the money. I try to educate people in these talks.”
As he reflected on his 100 years, Dr. Boylan’s advice to young people is simple: Know the Lord, trust the Lord, and follow the Lord. Those are the same principles that have guided his life and proven successful for him at every turn. When his wife had her accident with the washing machine, when his employer in New Jersey went bankrupt, and when he was without a job (all at the same time), he followed those principles and allowed the Lord to guide every step.
“I made none of those decisions,” said Boylan. “They were all made for me. That’s not coincidence. I have never regretted one moment.”
On Friday, July 22, 2022, Dr. Boylan will celebrate his 100th birthday with a small gathering of friends and family. It will be a great time of celebration and laughter. Of his four children, two are still living: Elizabeth McKee and Lisa Powell.
What is Dr. Boylan’s secret to longevity? When asked what the formula was to becoming a centenarian, the quick-witted, often-humorous, still-brilliant, and scholarly man of God responded with three profound words of wisdom:
“Just keep breathing.”
(Special thanks to Ms. Karis Cole for arranging the interview with Dr. Boylan and for providing the feature photo)
The Boylan family is doing a card shower for Dr. David Boylan. If you would like to send a card his way, you can send birthday greetings to:
1275 SW State St., Ste. 107
Ankeny, IA 50023