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Landon, Kenneth (1903-1993) | Archival Collections at Wheaton College

Name: Landon, Kenneth (1903-1993)

Historical Note:

Kenneth Landon was born on March 27, 1903 in Meadville, Pennsylvania. His parents were Mae and Brad Landon.  Brad had studied at LaFayette College and was an engineer with the Erie Railroad.  They settled in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where Kenneth spent his childhood.

  Kenneth spent three years at Wheaton and after graduation in 1924 he went to Princeton, where he pursued a Th.M. degree.

  Margaret Mortenson and Kenneth were engaged in September, 1924 and they married in June, 1926. After marriage, they prepared for the mission field and traveled to Thailand. The Landon's had five to six acres on their compound in Trang.

  In Thailand Margaret served as Headmistress of Anakul Satri Girl's School and was put in charge of the school in 1930-31. During his time in Thailand, Kenneth traveled extensively as an evangelist and was able to plant 6 churches.  Along with his church planting activities, he pastored a church in Trang for some time. While the family was on furlough in 1937/38 it was decided that they would not return to Thailand, leaving nearly all of their household belongings and possessions in Thailand.

  It was while they were on this last furlough that Kenneth completed a Ph.D. in one year from the University of Chicago. In one furious year Kenneth completed his coursework, took his exams, and wrote and defended his dissertation that was later published as Siam in Transition. After his resignation and the completion of his degree, Kenneth began to look for work, preferably as a pastor, which was not an easy task at the time.  After much delay he was able to obtain a position teaching philosophy at Earlham College in Indiana in 1939.

  It was during his time at Earlham, during the summer of 1941, that Kenneth received a call from Col. William Donovan.  Bill Donovan, later called the “father of American Intelligence”, said President Roosevelt wanted Kenneth in Washington as soon as possible to make a report about the Japanese in Indochina and they needed his help to understand Thailand and the region. Initially, Kenneth was not interested in becoming permanently involved because he enjoyed his time and teaching at Earlham, but this call began a long and illustrious career for Kenneth in the US government. Kenneth’s briefings and seminars proved helpful as the US involvement in Southeast Asia increased during the war and in the future.

  While Kenneth served as a government specialist on Southeast Asia, Margaret completed the necessary research to write a story about Anna Leonowens, a governess in the court of King Mongkut.  Margaret published several articles about Leonowens and in 1942 completed Anna and the King of Siam, which sold 790,000 copies in the United States and the United Kingdom alone.  Later she wrote the novel Never Dies the Dream.  Margaret Landon's work was adapted for film by 20th Century Fox in 1946 as Anna and the King of Siam, starring Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne. Margaret’s story became the basis for The King and I, a wonderful musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.

  In 1954, Kenneth left the State Department and moved to the White House Staff of Dwight D. Eisenhower, working for the National Security Council on policy implementation.  During the coming years Kenneth made numerous trips to Southeast Asia.  In 1960, on one such trip he met with Ngo Diem, self-declared president of the Republic of Vietnam.  In 1961 a new administration entered the White House and with increased concerns over communism and insurgency, President Kennedy established a seminar of ambassadors, generals, and other high officials for training in counter-insurgency.  This seminar became informally known as the Country Team Seminar and with his knowledge of Southeast Asia, Kenneth would be a regular lecturer. In 1963, Kenneth became the Associate Dean of the Foreign Service Institute's language and area studies program, a natural extension of his previous work.

  In 1965, Kenneth retired from the State Department with its highest honor and became a full professor at the American University. He served in this capacity for nine years assisting many students as they pursued advanced degrees.  He retired once again, this time at the age of 71. Retirement was a difficult adjustment.  He had been a man of great efforts, energy, and accomplishments.  As Margaret's health failed Kenneth began to take over the responsibilities of the home.

  Ken Landon died August 26, 1993 and Margaret followed soon thereafter, passing away December 4th.  Both are buried in Wheaton, Illinois.

Note Author: Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections staff

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