When James Work announced his retirement after 28 years as president from Delaware Valley College, the board of trustees immediately named him chancellor for life and gave him the authority to pick his temporary successor. Work entrusted the job to Winton Tolles, who had been serving as assistant to the president for the previous two years.
Tolles’ association with the school reached all the way back to 1959, however, when he led a Middle States team that evaluated the College. The College did not achieve accreditation at that time. Consequently, President Work asked Tolles to be a consultant to help make the improvements necessary to get accredited. Thanks to Tolles’ tireless efforts, the College was accredited by a different team from Middle States, just three years later.
After a long and distinguished career at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., where he served as dean for 25 years, he accepted the position as the president’s assistant in 1972. In that role, Tolles prepared the College’s Middle States progress report, represented the president at meetings and conferences and taught a class in English literature.
Tolles was not looking to be president. He was firmly set on holding down the fort until a new leader could be appointed. “I want to help all I can,” Tolles told the school’s student newspaper in 1974, adding that he was not the person to change the course of the College.
But hold down the fort he did, long enough for the board to recruit Joshua Feldstein who would go on to serve a 12-year term as president and two subsequent terms as interim president during times of institutional transition.
Born in Bridgeport, Conn., in 1906, Tolles earned his A.B. from Hamilton College in 1928 and his Ph.D. in English literature from Columbia University in 1940. He died in 1981.