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Some Dayton Saints and Prophets
David A. Sinclair



IN the year 1874, a young Scotchman and an old Scotchman were waiting the departure of a train in Hamilton, Ontario.

      "And so David, ye're goin' to Dayton?"


      "And ye're goin' to succeed?"

      "I hope so, by God's help."

      "But David, are ye willin' to fail for His sake, if ye must?"

      "I am."

      With this spirit, the Scotch Presbyterian spirit to do or die in His name, that has done so much for the moral making of America, David Sinclair came to Dayton.  It is confessed, at this later day, that the directors of the Young Men's Christian Association were not at first greatly impressed with the new secretary whom they had called from Canada.  He was only twenty-four, was quiet in voice and manner, and bore no evidences of that success in his work, which will make his name forever associated with the Dayton Y. M. C. A.  But the qualities were there, and very soon began to be manifest. He had, first of all, a thorough old-fashioned religiousness, that counts nothing so high as service done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; also that invaluable quality, without which, even the most fervent piety may go astray,- a liking to work with people; thirdly, he had, perhaps most necessary of all, for that kind of work, a keen sense of humor.  The first was the fuel; the second, the engine; the third, the governor.

      When he came to Dayton, the Y. M. C. A. was a small religious club, with headquarters in the old Dunlevy mansion, on Fourth Street, between Main and Jefferson.  When he died, the new building made possible by his wise leadership, and Miss Eaker's generosity, was an established fact.  Between these two dates, 1874-1902, the Association had built, occupied, used, and outgrown one very good building on the site of the first dwelling.  Mr. Sinclair would be the first to disclaim any priority of his own effort in this growth of the Association.  It must never be forgotten how many of Dayton's best citizens gave time and money to the Y. M. C. A..  Nevertheless, the foundation work, that of getting at young men, was best done by the young secretary.  He had a passion for boys, infinite sympathy with them, infinite understanding of their nature.  Perhaps his own youth, bare as it had been of opportunities, was the best preparation for his life. No college training had he, not even a high-school course, but he loved God, books, and his fellow-men, and cultivated each sedulously.  Early in his young manhood, the work of the Y. M. C. A. attracted him, and against the wishes of an employer, who promised promotion, he took up the work himself; until he laid it down at the early age of fifty-two; he had no other thought or interest.  The greatest thing in the world to David Sinclair was to see that building on Fourth Street filling up with young men; to watch them at work in the draughting classes, the language classes, or at play in the gymnasium.  He was a friend to every boy, and those who expected the secretary to make a dull and dismal affair out of religious work were undeceived by the twinkle in his eye as he talked to them.

      My own recollections of Mr. Sinclair were chiefly as a very kind neighbor and friend.  For his official side, I have had to ask help of those who were closely associated with him in his work.  Mr. E. A. Daniels, who was president of the Y. M. C. A. for many years, says that the trait in Mr. Sinclair's character which always impressed itself most forcibly, was his social versatility, and adaptability.

      "I do not think," he said, "that a man ever lived in Dayton who had the confidence of so many different kinds of people.  He could meet on common ground with every one, with young men especially, who were attracted by his good comradeship and liking for fun.  He enjoyed telling good stories; if the point of the joke touched himself, he liked it all the better, and so did every one else."

      Mr. E. L. Shuey writes:

      "Intensely sympathetic, he was ever ready to help the men---young or old---who needed help; sturdily judicial, he was the confidant of business men, who valued most highly his judgment in great enterprises;

retiring, and diffident by nature, he constantly led others to do work of which he was the inspiration, and, being a good judge of men, he rarely made a mistake in those whom he chose; a born teacher and leader, he gathered about him groups of young men, many of whom, inspired by his life and his instruction, have grown to be among Dayton's most influential men; always extremely sensitive of his lack of higher education, though a truly educated man through study, he was the leader in every movement for the education of young men.

      "These were some of the characteristics that caused men to speak of Mr. Sinclair, as 'Dayton's most influential citizen,' and that make men, even after these years, speak almost daily of his influence and the work he did."

      Mr. J. C. Reber says:

      "No man that has ever lived in Dayton is more worthy of a place in your book than David A. Sinclair. Surely he was one of God's noblemen, his greatest pleasure, and chiefest delight were found in his Master's service.  His was the most humble soul I have ever known."


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              "Seeing that he was wearing his life away in his effort to secure the new Y. M. C. A. building, I said to him,

      " 'You are killing yourself by overwork.'

      "With a smile, in which there was faith, devotion, and consecration, he replied:

      " 'If I could secure our new building by giving my life, wouldn't that be a cheap purchase? I wish I could get it at that price.'"

      And he was simply and entirely in earnest. No one who knew him could doubt it for a moment.  But if a painter, (knowing him perhaps, as well as these friends,) had put upon canvas the pleasant face and kindly twinkling eyes of Mr. Sinclair, and had added to it a shining halo, such as St. Sebastian and St. Lawrence wear in the altar pictures of some old-world cathedral, we, who saw him every day, might have smiled.  It would have seemed so incongruous.

      Would it?

      The opportunities for good of the secretaryship were unlimited, in their effect upon the lives of young men, and ultimately for Dayton.  There was the opportunity for wise and friendly counsel, for reproof for sin, for direction in the study of the Bible, for aggressive warfare against the organized lawlessness of a large city, for that help in guiding young men to a sane, and natural relation to a personal God, for the stimulation to learn a trade, and for personal improvement along physical lines.  All these opportunities Mr. Sinclair used constantly and wisely in the discharge of his secretaryship.  His Bible Class was an inspiration.  He held two; one at the Association rooms, one at the church, and many a young man owes his own trust in God to Mr. Sinclair's illuminating presentation of Christian truths.  The Forest Avenue Presbyterian Church is an outgrowth of the Sinclair Bible Class.  Mr. Chas. J. Moore writes:

      "To be a member of D. A. Sinclair's Bible Class was a joy, and an inspiration.

      "The love of the Word of God sounded in every tone of his voice, and his earnest, thoughtful study left a lasting impression upon the minds of his pupils.

      "Like his Master, 'he spake as one having authority,' and each subject taken up in study, deepened the impression that his teacher truly had, 'the knowledge of the truth.'"

      Tributes to David Sinclair's memory could be multiplied many times over.  All who knew of him speak with that sense of pride in having known him.  This is a true testimonial of a good man. Therefore it needs no emphasis that his death brought both public and private grief to Dayton.  He died in Billings, Montana, September 25, 1902, on his way home from an unfruitful search for health. If it had been undertaken earlier, as his friends urged, it might have been successful.  But his reply always to such arguments was: "I cannot afford a vacation.  Dayton has done too much for me all these years to allow me to take Dayton's money without work."  And so he died without relinquishing his burden---as all true pilgrims wish to do.  With grief in all the hearts that had known him, came the remembrance of the text which he so frequently quoted, "Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth fruit."

      Remembering Mr. Sinclair's dislike of ostentatious funerals, his friends divested the occasion of all sepulchral aspects.  There were no black draperies on the Association building, while his body lay in state, no emblems of mourning, except the flag at half mast.  The dropping of a grain of wheat into the ground in order that it may send up the stalk with the full ear at the top, must not be a source of grief, but of gladness.

      Rev. Dr. Work, in his funeral sermon, kept to the same tonic note, that of the large promise for the future, which Mr. Sinclair's life held.  His text was appropriate to that thought.  "Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou and all this people."

      There can be no better close to this inadequate sketch of a noble and well-lived life than a few words from that sermon, pointing the way to duty, for those that are left behind.

      "Never before has the city had so noble an opportunity to enshrine not alone the memory of a useful citizen, but also the qualities for which this leader stood to make them shine forth in some useful institute for the people, which shall be the incarnation of what he saw and believed. After Moses was dead, the people gathered from the valley of the Jordan the stones to build a memorial of God's goodness. In a like manner should the people of Dayton gather the material to build the memorial of God's goodness in sending to this city the blessing of a consecrated life.  How soon shall we come, many hands making light work, to lay the seal of our faith to his faith, and to make a center of influence here that shall tell upon the years of eternity.  David Sinclair thought not of a memorial to himself.  It is our duty to think of this, and say, 'If it be God's will, the desire of his heart shall be fulfilled.'

      " 'Now therefore arise!' "

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