Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles about the former College of Emporia, a private Presbyterian institution that operated here from 1883 through 1973. Alumni will be in Emporia this weekend for their annual reunion, related tours and activities.
The booms in enrollment, programs and buildings that had flourished in the 1960s faded away quickly as the 1970s decade began.
According to a history of the College of Emporia published by The Gazette in a tabloid section Aug. 24, 1987, enrollment was well over 1,000 students in 1966 and hovered around that level until 1970.
“Students from the East continued to attend the college,” the article stated, explaining part of the increase.
The resulting demand for housing prompted the college to arrange for student rooms off-campus, in the former Broadview Hotel at Sixth Avenue and Merchant Street and in a large brick building on South Prairie that previously had been a home for elderly people. Small groups of students also found homes to rent in town.
Other buildings sprang up on campus. The DeVore Campus Center had been built in 1965 between Dunlap Hall and Mason Gymnasium.
Laughlin-Lewis Library, just west of Kenyon Hall, was added, financed by a long-term government loan. The loan required the college to change from a Synod-owned college to a private institution bearing a covenant relationship with the Presbyterian Synod of Kansas.
By the time the “baby boom” students had graduated, all colleges were competing for a reduced number of students, the tabloid article stated. New colleges had sprung up and existing colleges had expanded enough to accommodate the still-elevated numbers of baby-boomers after the first, and larger, wave had graduated.
As student numbers began to dwindle, Dr. Barkev Kibarian assumed the presidency from 1969 through 1971; Ronald A. Ebberts succeeded him from 1971 through 1973.
Enrollment at C. of E. dropped to 631 in 1971-72 and to 510 in 1972-73. Administrators slashed some department budgets while expanding others as they attempted to find a solution to the rapidly escalating financial emergency.
The million-dollar Wallingford challenge had ended successfully in 1972, and had allowed a reorganization of administrative staff, reduced expenses and introduction of several “new and innovative study programs,” an Oct. 30, 1972, Gazette article reported.
The possibility of a merger was rumored and held a grain of truth.
The Oct. 30 story included an announcement from Elvin D. Perkins, then board of trustees chairman, saying “that the college has not contemplated any plan to merge with another college.”
Southwestern College officials had inquired a few weeks earlier whether C. of E. would be interested in merging, he said.
“But no details were given as to what they had in mind,” Perkins was quoted as saying, “so there was little or no discussion of the matter.”
Music became minor
The college and the community were surprised when C. of E. administrators sliced deeply into one of C. of E.’s most high-profile and successful programs.
“Three years ago, the Music Department was riding high,” Gazette Managing Editor Ray Call wrote in an editorial on Dec. 8, 1973. “The department had just presented The Beatitudes featuring Stan Kenton (who came to Emporia twice without charge).
“Clark Terry was here. The C. of E. singers made successful concert tours across the country.”
At that time, there were 55 students majoring in music at C. of E.
However, the editorial noted, music departments are not economical by nature, because of the amount of one-on-one time students spend with faculty.
By 1973, only eight music majors remained.
“There is a feeling among the faculty that the Music Department has been thrown to the wolves,” Call wrote.
While the music department withered, the naturopathy program blossomed.
“Most Emporians do not even know what naturopathy is,” Call stated.
By the time the first semester of the 1973-74 year ended just before the end of 1973, trustees had decided to close the college, with just over 400 students enrolled.
Frantic efforts to stave off the closing had failed, as would attempts to pay off debts and to raise funds to start a new college or resurrect the old one.
Chief Administrative Officer Robert Prins had announced in late November that faculty and staff paychecks would be delayed, possibly as much as two weeks, a Nov. 30, 1973, Gazette article stated.
Officials launched a drive to raise funds for November and December payrolls less than two weeks later.
A Board of Trustees meeting was planned on Dec. 22 to discuss financial problems.
The College of Emporia was more than $1 million in debt.
Even the Presbyterian Synod of Kansas had drastically cut its promised $35,000 annual support. The sum had been trimmed modestly for two years, and was to be cut to $10,000 per year. The Synod stipulated that if C. of E. supporters asked for donations from individual Kansas churches, the Synod would not give even the $10,000, according to an article in the Dec. 6, 1973, Gazette. At the time, the Synod was supporting several colleges in Kansas.
Coupled with heavy debt from the building boom and the decline in enrollment, the Myrta Lee Memorial Chapel, which opened in 1972, had seemed to signal a death knell for C. of E.
“The funds donated for this purpose had been used for collateral to secure money to run the college,” the 1987 tabloid article stated, “but the donors insisted that the chapel be built with the money. ...
“The endowment had been spent to run the college, faculty salaries were in arrears, a quick appeal for funds failed and there was no money. C. of E. had fought its last fight and lost.”
C. of E. leaders had misjudged not only the depth of the financial crisis, but the college’s ability to raise funds.
The City of Emporia, the Chamber of Commerce and other groups also looked for possible solutions and found none.
Students, faculty fundraise
By December 1974, students and faculty had abandoned Herculean efforts to raise $500,000 by the end of that year and perhaps buy the campus. In mid-December, student organizer Douglas Pickering said about $40,000 had been raised, the tabloid history reported.
“...(B)ut even if the $500,000 figure were met, there would be no guarantee that the school could continue operations,” Mr. Pickering was quoted as saying.
Students and faculty also had considered beginning their own core college, once C. of E. closed. That plan also was not to be.
Only 213 students had pre-enrolled for the spring semester, and that number was not adequate to support the college.
The final formal graduation ceremony took place on Dec. 16, 1973, with 26 students receiving their diplomas.
Recruiters from other colleges and universities were on the C. of E. campus the following day, attempting to enroll students.
Kansas State Teachers College offered plans to aid C. of E. students who had planned to graduate at the end of the 1974 spring semester. Special students, such as those who were in the military and completing degree programs, also would be served. Many of the students did transfer to KSTC.
Creditors close in
In late March 1974, former chief administrative officer Prins was in charge of selling assets and raising money to pay creditors.
Letters had been sent to solicit funds from alumni and friends of the college, which brought in $18,155.53 in gifts to the general fund.
Another $17,979.92 was raised for the faulty welfare fund, and $14,814.55 had been turned in to accounts receivable.
Prins announced that 36 of the creditors holding unsecured debts had donated their bills totaling $3,578.53, according to a March 27, 1974, article.
Two estates had included C. of E. as a beneficiary of some funds, and those were being handled by the college’s attorney. An employee had pledged $2,350, and two anonymous donors had given $5,500 to repay students who had already pre-paid fees for what would have been the spring semester.
Still, the effort fell short.
With no money to repay its large debts on schedule and unable to create a longer-term proposal acceptable to creditors, two major creditors petitioned Lyon County District Court to force C. of E. to sell its property in order to pay the money due.
Loyal to the end
While the legal action played out in court, when graduation time came in May of 1974, seniors were given a choice: they could receive their diplomas from KSTC, or they could receive them from the defunct College of Emporia, The Gazette 1987 tabloid history recounted.
Forty-three chose KSTC and “22 held out for C. of E.”
Two of the “hold-outs” — Terry Nyce, senior class president, and Debbie Pollack, student body president — decided to stage a traditional ceremony at C. of E. With the help of others, they succeeded.
“On May 18, the traditional Senior-Faculty Breakfast was held at Forren’s Restaurant,” the tabloid account reported. “That afternoon, the parents and friends of the Class of 1974 gathered in Kenyon Hall for the 86th and last C. of E. Commencement.”
After the organ prelude, faculty members and 22 seniors wearing caps and gowns marched down the aisle to “Pomp and Circumstance.”
A “Mr. Paige” gave the commencement address, the report stated; Marvin Schadt, academic dean, presented the seniors; and Glen Hutchison, chairman of the board of trustees, conferred the degrees on the last graduates of the College of Emporia.
To the highest bidder
Less than two months later, in early July 1974, the college was sold at a sheriff’s auction at the Lyon County Courthouse. Eight of C. of E.’s buildings and most of the campus property brought a total of $549,105.77. Contents of the buildings had been sold in several auctions earlier that year.
Although approximately 100 people attended the auction conducted by then-Lyon County Sheriff Daniel Andrews, the two creditors’ joint bid was the only offer tendered.
The new owners, Eureka Federal Savings and Loan of Emporia and General Savings of Mission, had been the college’s primary creditors and had filed the suit to force the sale.
The sale figure covered C. of E.’s remaining debt to those financial institutions, plus 14-percent interest accumulated since the previous June, according to a Gazette article on July 3, 1974.
Representatives of Eureka Federal and General Savings immediately began negotiations to re-sell the property to Child Evangelism Fellowship of Michigan, which had been negotiating for several months with the C. of E. board of trustees to buy the college.
Negotiations stalled, and soon the campus was purchased by The Way International, a biblical study and ministry group that had been organized and overseen by the Rev. Victor Paul Wierwille, a United Church of Christ minister.
The Way International operated the campus as The Way College of Emporia from 1975 until the organization closed the campus in 1989.
Still an asset to Emporia
By 1991, several Emporia investors as well as religious groups began purchasing pieces of the old college.
Some buildings were sold, remodeled or renovated and put to new uses, and several open spaces were filled.
Sterling House (now Brookdale) built a new assisted living home on the 12th Avenue side of the campus; Dr. Marlin Flanagin added a brick building to house his dental practice; and the City of Emporia installed a small park with a winding sidewalk past Lake Mergendahl, dug originally as an outdoor laboratory for the science department as well as the site of annual tugs-of-war between freshmen and sophomore students. The C. of E. Alumni Association added an engraved stone bench at the northeast corner of the park, to commemorate the college.
The Laughlin-Lewis Library, dedicated in 1967, became home to the National Teachers Hall of Fame for a few years, and later was converted into the Emporia Child Care Center.
Mabee Science Hall became the Emporia Christian School, complete with a well-equipped playground.
Across C. of E. Drive to the west, Vollmer Hall men’s dormitory was purchased by Birch Telecommunication. It now houses the offices of Emporia’s Radio Stations on the second floor and professional offices on the first.
Kenyon Hall and its chapel, which had been thoroughly renovated by The Way, was sold to the Rock of Life Church. It fell into disuse and disrepair after the church left. The roof deteriorated and allowed water to invade the interior. Vandals, perhaps aided by two severe hail storms, broke out windows on all sides, provoking additional weather damage on the inside.
The stately old building awoke to a new life, however, when contractors and developers Mitchell-Markowitz LLC., purchased it in 2006.
The company gutted and completely remodeled the interior and restored the exterior at an estimated cost of $5.5 million to turn Kenyon Hall into Kenyon Heights, an attractive and affordable apartments for people 55 years and older.
On the Chestnut Street side of the campus, the Devore Campus Center, which opened in 1965, was owned and occupied for many years by the Emporia American Legion Post 5. It since has been purchased by Birch Telecommunication, which has filled the building with offices and employees.
C. of E.’s magnificent bell had fallen from the heights of Stuart Hall during the Dec. 2, 1915, fire that destroyed the building. It had come perilously close to crushing then-President Henry Coe Culbertson and Dean Daniel Schaffner, who had entered the burning building in an attempt to save school records. The bell crashed to the floor, narrowly missing the men.
The bell stood on a pedestal between the administration building and the Anderson Library for years, until it was moved to a permanent home in the courtyard of the Emporia Public Library, along with the plaques from World Wars I and II.
More than 100 C. of E. graduates gathered in the courtyard in May 1984 to celebrate the 55th reunion of the Class of 1929 and to dedicate the Stuart Hall Bell Memorial, which was designed by Emporia architect J. Trevor Lewis.
Anderson Library, the first Carnegie library west of the Mississippi and the first Carnegie library on a college campus, is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Emporians Earl Sauder and Joe Cannon had purchased it and donated it to Emporia State University, which utilized it for archives for 17 years. When the archives were moved, the vacated building deteriorated and also sustained water damage.
It now is under renovation by a small group of Emporians — John Mallon and his son, Justin, of Evergreen Design Build, and orthodontist Dr. Stephen Haught — who purchased Anderson to prevent its demolition.
John Mallon explained their reasoning in a Gazette story on April 2 of this year.
“We found out a guy was looking at purchasing it, documenting it and tearing it down,” Mallon said. “Selling the stained glass windows, the beautiful limestone columns and basically leveling it. ... (A)t that point, Justin and I kind of looked at each other and say, ‘We really can’t let that happen.’ “
The project is nearing completion, and Mallon said that the Anderson dome, where so many C. of E. seniors signed their names for posterity, remains in good condition. Some of the names had been painted over when The Way International owned the campus. The names remaining are recorded as “People of the Dome” on the Emporia State website, www.emporia.edu/libsv/archives/the-people-of-the-dome/
An anonymous poem explained the signatures and their significance:
“Climb the stairs to the wooden dome
“And sign your name for all to see.
“So that those who follow may remember still,
“The glorious days of C. of E.”
— On Saturday, Part 5 of the C. of E. series will focus on the Alumni Association and members’ ongoing efforts to keep the college’s memory alive, including helping other young men and women earn college educations.