Professor Emeritus Delmer Hylton dies
Legendary professor founded Wake Forest's accounting program
Delmer P. Hylton, the tough professor who started Wake Forest's accounting program in the 1950s, died on December 2 in Winston-Salem. He was 88.
During his four decades on the faculty, from 1949 until 1991, Hylton was a hard-nosed, no-nonsense professor who emphasized hard work and integrity. He taught thousands of alumni who went on to successful business careers as he laid the foundation for what is today one of the top accounting programs in the country.
“Unquestionably many of them thought I was too demanding,” Hylton said in a 1991 video produced by Wake Forest. “But those who got through it, years later, at least a few of them, came back and said they were glad they went through the fire.”
His reputation was well known, even among younger colleagues. “When I joined the accounting faculty in 1987, he was the feared and respected icon and founder of rigorous accounting and business education at Wake Forest,” said Professor of Accounting Doug Beets. “Thousands of alumni know accounting because of his rigor and passion for education. We owe much of our reputation for excellence in business education to him.”
Hylton was the first professor hired by Dean Gaines Rogers for the newly established School of Business Administration in 1949. “He was working for the IRS in Indianapolis and teaching part-time at Butler University, and he told my mother that he might want to teach awhile,” recalled his son, Jim Hylton ('75, MDiv. '06). “They drove down for his interview, and he didn't even tell her he had been offered the job until they got back to Indianapolis. 'Awhile' turned out to be 43 years at Wake Forest.”
Hylton's toughness and gruffness in the classroom was legendary, but so was the success of his students. “The hard-boiled Hylton has flunked many an accounting student in years past and pushed others to their limits over mind-numbing accounting problems,” read a newspaper story in 1981 that noted that accounting students under Hylton consistently scored in the upper 5 percent of those taking the CPA exam. But Hylton declined to take any credit: “All I can say is we've tried to see that the student understands what he's doing.”
“I wouldn't win any popularity contests while the students are here,” Hylton said in another newspaper interview in 1983 after former students established an endowed chair in his honor. “But they appreciate me after they have gone.” A scholarship fund and a lecture series at the Calloway School were later named in his honor.
After the School of Business was reorganized as the Department of Business and Accountancy in 1970, Hylton served as chair of the department until 1980 when the department was reorganized again as the School of Business and Accountancy. He wrote in his customarily straightforward style a frank account of the school's history in 1995 that covered his years on the faculty.
“Never flamboyant, he had a wry sense of humor and a dedication to hard work, for himself and his students,” journalism professor Bynum Shaw wrote of Hylton in “The History of Wake Forest College, Volume IV,” published in 1988. “The toughness of his examinations became legendary, and generations of accountants whom he had diligently prepared for CPA careers remembered him with gratitude and respect.”
Jim Hylton said he knew enough about his father's reputation to stay away from his classes when he came to Wake Forest — he majored in business instead of accounting and had a long business career before changing careers and attending Wake Forest's divinity school. He recalled that one of his father's nicknames on the Old Campus was simply “death.” His father didn't mind, he said. “He was extremely hard,” he said. “If you weren't prepared, you were probably better off not going to class, because he would know it. Those who got through it did pretty well later on.”
Among Hylton's students who did pretty well was the late Wayne Calloway ('59), who went on to become CEO of PepsiCo; the school of business and accountancy was named in his honor in 1995. “Professor Hylton could be just down right inflexible — when it came to such matters as commitment and hard work,” Calloway said at Hylton's retirement dinner in 1991. “For more than 40 years, the secret of success as a businessman has been getting a seat in Professor Hylton's advanced accounting class. Emerge from that class intact...then you have the start you need.”
A native of Indianapolis, Indiana, Hylton received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Indiana University. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and worked for several years in Indianapolis with an accounting firm and the IRS before he joined the Wake Forest faculty in September 1949.
He earned his reputation for toughness early. In his personal history of the accounting department, he recalled the time a student answered a test question “net prophet,” instead of net profit. “I asked him if he thought he was taking a course in religion,” Hylton wrote. “He replied, 'no sir, but I surely was praying.' I found that answer clever enough to cause me to remove the (grade) deduction I had made.”
He and his mother loved old Wake Forest, even though they only lived there seven years, Jim Hylton said. When Wake Forest moved to Winston-Salem in 1956, Hylton built one of the first houses on Faculty Drive.
“He and my mother were big college basketball fans,” Jim Hylton said. “I remember when they came down here, they thought ACC basketball was played at such a slow pace, compared to Indiana basketball at the time. He was a big Chicago White Sox fan too, and he was so pleased when they won the World Series in 2005.”
In addition to his son, Hylton is also survived by two daughters, Deborah Anne Slingluff and Paula Spevak, and four grandchildren. Memorials may be made to the Hylton Scholarship Fund at Wake Forest.