Erwin Earl Cossentine was an Adventist educator and administrator. He was born in a cabin on his father’s homestead in Eagle Bend, Minnesota, on August 23, 1896.1 The second of George Whitfield and Myrtle Mable Allen Cossentine’s (1858–1919; 1872–1952) six children, Cossentine’s siblings included an older brother, Ray Forest (1893–1925), and four sisters, Verna S. (1900–died before 1910), Margaret E. (1902–1980), Aletha Mabel (1906–1999), and Myrtle Mand (1913–2007). Roy Monroe Cossentine (1892–1973), missionary to China and professor at Walla Walla and Pacific Union colleges, was Cossentine’s first cousin.
The Cossentine family came from Cornwall, England, through Canada to the United States in the 1840s. They first settled in Wisconsin, where George Whitfield Cossentine was born, but later moved to Minnesota. In 1893 George Whitfield Cossentine claimed a homestead in Minnesota. He and his wife joined the Adventist Church in 1896 shortly before their son Erwin Earl Cossentine was born. For undetermined reasons the family moved to Windsor, New York, sometime between 1910 and 1915. George Whitfield Cossentine died in New York in 1919. With three young daughters to educate, Myrtle Cossentine relocated to the newly established Union Springs Academy. She remained here for the rest of her life and earned the reputation of beloved friend to the academy students. In 1932 she married Manley Ruel Edmister (1871–1960).2
Erwin Earl Cossentine was a fireman for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad for a brief time. On February 15, 1917, he married Mildred T. Parker (1896–1983) in Harpursville, New York. Throughout Cossentine’s long career in Adventist education, Mildred also held various positions as girls preceptor (dean), English instructor, and elementary school teacher.3 The Cossentines had three children: Robert Erwin (1917–1995), a physician who married Ethlyn Roberta Feldkamp; Ruth Henrietta (1920–1986), who worked as a secretary for the Northern California Conference before she married Joseph Maschmeyer; and Verna Mildred (1921–1984), who became a nurse and married Victor Emmanuel Barton. After Barton’s death Verna married Arthur H. Kirk. The Cossentines also invited students to board in their home occasionally. One such student, Clara Cook (1924–1999), remained a close family friend and was sometimes listed among the Cossentines’ daughters. She married Claude F. Morris (1920–1990).
Cossentine attended Atlantic Union College from 1917 to 1919. His college career suffered from frequent breaks during which he worked to earn his tuition. After 1919 Cossentine transferred to Emmanuel Missionary College and finally completed a bachelor’s degree in 1922. In 1933 he completed a master’s degree in history at Claremont Colleges in California4 and began doctoral studies in 1936 at the University of Southern California (although he never completed the degree).
Cossentine’s long career in Adventist education began even before he completed his undergraduate degree. In 1920–1921 he served as boys preceptor (dean) and his wife was girls preceptor at East New York Academy in Clinton, one of two Adventist academies that merged to form Union Springs Academy the following school year. In 1922–1923 Cossentine was principal of the Flat Rock (Georgia) Academy. He also served as educational and MV (youth) secretary of the Carolina and Georgia conferences for a year before being called to New Zealand Missionary College, where he served as principal from 1924 to 1928. In New Zealand the school facility was inadequate for the number of students and teachers. Cossentine undertook fund-raising in order to expand and improve the campus. In 1928 he became president of Australasian Missionary College (now Avondale College). Under Cossentine’s leadership Australian Missionary College maintained a solid enrollment and even achieved a financial surplus that was donated to the union conference treasury.5
While in Australia, Cossentine’s wife became sick with tuberculosis. After spending 13 months in a sanitarium, she was anointed by A. G. Daniells and C. H. Watson. Her health improved significantly; however, her lungs were weakened, and doctors advised a return to the United States. Consequently, in 1930 Cossentine accepted the presidency of Southern California Junior College. Under his leadership the junior college became an accredited four-year baccalaureate institution and was renamed La Sierra College. In 1942 Cossentine moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he became president of Union College. At Union College Cossentine oversaw the expansion of campus facilities, including the construction of a new gymnasium and a science classroom building, despite wartime shortages in material and labor.6
Cossentine accepted a new type of challenge in 1946 when he became secretary of the General Conference Education Department. He held this position until his retirement in 1966. As education secretary his duties included not only site visits to Adventist educational institutions around the world, but also membership on many committees. These positions included the boards of directors for the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Loma Linda University, and Atlantic Union College. Cossentine also served on the General Conference Committee, the General Conference president’s Administrative Council, the European Rehabilitation Committee, the Review and Herald Book Committee, the Ministerial Association, and the International Temperance Association. He was vice chair of the Home Study Institute, chair of the Committee on Graduate Education, and associate editor of the Journal of True Education (now the Journal of Adventist Education).7
Upon retirement the Cossentines settled in Loma Linda, California. Cossentine was an active member of the Loma Linda University Councilors, an advisory board assisting university administration in the development of the campus. In his later years Cossentine’s health suffered a marked decline. He died at home on February 20, 1984.
Erwin Cossentine was an able administrator and advocate for Adventist education. Despite difficulties presented by local conditions, the Great Depression, and World War II, during each of his college presidencies campuses flourished under his leadership. The wisdom Cossentine gained through many years of administrative experience benefited teachers and the development of new Adventist educational institutions around the world during his years as secretary of the General Conference Education Department. He maintained a peripatetic travel schedule, inspecting campuses, helping rebuild schools following World War II, training teachers, and sharing valuable advice for the construction of new campuses in places as widespread as Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean, Far East Asia, and the South Pacific. During his twenty years as education secretary he visited every continent—most more than once—except Antarctica.
Cossentine’s contributions to denominational publications were largely reports of his travels and the progress of Adventist education. A few articles were opinion pieces advocating Adventist education or highlighting social justice and humanitarian issues. A man of action, Cossentine was particularly concerned about the plight of post-war Europeans lacking food, shelter, and clothing. But his passion for social justice was most evident in his advocacy on behalf of Adventist Japanese-American students incarcerated in American internment camps during World War II. Because of his efforts Union College became one of approximately 300 college campuses approved by the National Japanese-American Student Relocation Council to accept Japanese-American students. About twenty of these students enrolled at Union College.8
In acknowledgment of his years of dedicated service to Adventist education, Cossentine was Andrews University Alumnus of the Year in 1972. That same year he also received the Medallion Award of Merit of the General Conference Education Department.
“At Rest: Cossentine, Erwin Earl.” Pacific Union Recorder, May 14, 1984.
“A.U. Alumni Association Honors Five at Homecoming.” Lake Union Herald, May 16, 1972.
Beaven, W. H. “Union College to Build Science Building.” Central Union Reaper, February 29, 1944.
Cossentine, E. E. “A Visit to Hawaii.” Journal of True Education 3, no. 1 (February 2018): 22.
———. “Master! Master!” Youth’s Instructor, March 30, 1954.
———. “Our £2,500 Fund: The Principal of the New Zealand Missionary School Tells What Is Required.” Australasian Record, January 2, 1928.
———. “The Service of the College.” Journal of True Education 9, no. 3 (June 1947): 14, 15.
———. “They Also Serve.” Journal of True Education 15, no. 2 (December 1952): 4.
———. “What I Saw.” Columbia Union Visitor, August 28, 1947.
———. “What I Saw.” Inter-American Division Messenger, September 1948.
Cossentine, Erwin Earl. “A Brief Survey of Seventh-day Adventist Work in Southern California.” MA thesis, Claremont Colleges, 1933.
“Cossentine, Erwin Earl.” Adventist Review, March 22, 1984.
“Cossentine, Erwin Earl.” Adventist Review, April 19, 1984.
“Cossentine, Erwin Earl.” In Who Was Who in America, vol. 10. Marquis Who’s Who 1989–1993. New Providence, N.J.: Marquis, 1993.
“Cossentine, Erwin Earl.” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publishing Assocation, 1996.
“Cossentine Brings Much Experience to Union College.” Clock Tower, August 26, 1942.
“Cossentine Chosen Associate Pastor.” Clock Tower, December 2, 1942.
“Cossentines Note 60 Years.” San Bernardino County Sun-Telegram. February 25, 1977, sec. C.
Dick, Everett, George Gibson, and Union College. Union College: Light Upon the Hill. Lincoln, Nebr.: Union College, Alumni Association, 2004.
“Distribution of Labour.” Australasian Record, September 16, 1929.
“Gen. Conference Calls Cossentine.” Clock Tower, June 28, 1946.
“Grace Notes.” Youth’s Instructor, March 30, 1954.
Hirsch, Charles B. “Educator Honored at LLU for Long Service.” ARH, April 27, 1972.
Keough, G. A. “Pastor Cossentine Visits the Middle East.” Middle East Messenger, January 1962.
Lesher, W. R. “Elder Cossentine Visits Division.” Middle East Messenger, January 1964.
Mote, R. M. “Obituaries: Edmister.” Atlantic Union Gleaner, December 16, 1952.
“News Notes.” Southern African Division Outlook, April 15, 1952.
Pershing, Richard. “Only a Few.” Scope, March 1983.
Reynolds, Keld J. “La Sierra College in Adolescence.” Adventist Heritage 6, no. 2 (January 1979): 25–37.
Rigby, J. “Distressed Europe: Address Delivered by Pastor Cossentine at the A.I.U.C. Session at Avondale.” Australasian Record, January 8, 1951.
“Secondary Schools: A. M. College.” Australasian Record, October 6, 1930.
Simonsen, J. Alfred. “Visits to Schools and Annual Meetings.” Northern Light (European), September 1, 1956.
Sorensen, Chris P. “Our Thanks and Appreciation to Our General Conference Visitor.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, February 1960.
The Cardinal, vol. 7. Berrien Springs, Mich.: Emmanuel Missionary College, 1930.
“Till He Comes.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, February 25, 1984.
Tucker, Darla Martin. “University’s WWII Film to Be Featured at Commemoration Event.” La Sierra University, November 8, 2016. https://lasierra.edu/article/universitys-wwii-film-to-be-featured-at-commemoration-event/.
“Two Professors of Education Honored at Doctoral Dinner.” Pacific Union Recorder, July 10, 1967.
“Visits to Schools and Annual Meetings.” Northern Light (European), September 1956.
“Grace Notes,” Youth’s Instructor 102 no. 13 (March 30, 1954); Cossentine's descendants accept August 23, 1896, as the day of his birth, but during his lifetime Cossentine reported his birth as August 22 nearly as frequently as he did August 23.↩
R. M. Mote, “Obituaries: Edmister,” Atlantic Union Gleaner, December 16, 1952, 13.↩
“Till He Comes,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, February 25, 1984, Adventist Digital Library.↩
Erwin Earl Cossentine, “A Brief Survey of Seventh-day Adventist Work in Southern California” (MA thesis, Claremont Colleges, 1933).↩
E. E. Cossentine, “Our £2,500 Fund: The Principal of the New Zealand Missionary School Tells What Is Required,” Australasian Record, January 2, 1928; “Secondary Schools: A. M. College,” Australasian Record, October 6, 1930.↩
“Till He Comes.”↩
“Cossentine, Erwin Earl,” in Who Was Who in America, vol. 10, Marquis Who's Who, 1989-1993 (New Providence, N.J.: Marquis, 1993).↩
Richard Pershing, “Only a Few,” Scope, March 1983; Darla Martin Tucker, “University’s WWII Film to Be Featured at Commemoration Event,” La Sierra University, November 8, 2016, https://lasierra.edu/article/universitys-wwii-film-to-be-featured-at-commemoration-event/; Everett Dick, George Gibson, and Union College, Union College: Light Upon the Hill (Lincoln, Nebr.: Union College, Alumni Association, 2004); E. E. Cossentine, “What I Saw,” Columbia Union Visitor, August 28, 1947, Adventist Digital Library; E. E. Cossentine, “What I Saw,” Inter-American Division Messenger, September 1948, Adventist Digital Library.↩