Missouri Western is proud of its rich history.
In the summer of 1915, the St. Joseph School District determined that if at least 20 students showed an interest, classes identical to the University of Missouri courses for the first year of college would be offered at Central High School that fall. There was indeed an interest, and the St. Joseph Junior College opened with 35 students and eight faculty members on Sept. 20, 1915. It was the eighth junior college of its kind in the nation.
The Griffon mascot was created in 1917-18 by Norman Knight ’18. The Griffon, a mythological guardian of treasure, was chosen by students as a guardian of the precious treasure of education.
In 1925, the junior college moved out of the high school and into its own building at 14th and Olive, the former Everett School. It moved again in 1933 to 10th and Edmond in the former Robidoux School, where it remained until 1969.
The need for more space became apparent as the Junior College’s enrollment continued to grow. By 1954, there were 398 students, and the building at 10th and Edmond was bursting at the seams. Classes were being held at several locations in the downtown area.
In 1965, a bond was passed to create the Missouri Western Junior College District, and the Junior College’s name was changed to Missouri Western Junior College. The Junior College had been funded and administered by the St. Joseph School District, but after the bond passed, the Junior College was funded by 11 school districts in five counties. A new Board of Trustees was named to represent the entire district, and Dr. Milburn Blanton was hired as the institution’s president.
Also in 1965, a bill passed that gave the Junior College District the option to purchase 130 acres at 36th Street and Frederick Blvd. in St. Joseph for a new campus. In May 1966, a bond issue to build four buildings on the new campus passed in the district. Shortly after that bond passed, many visionaries on the Board of Trustees and in the community began to feel that the 130 acres was unacceptable for a campus and they began to explore other options. In October, the board announced their new choice for the campus location – 390 acres east of Interstate 29 in St. Joseph.
Dr. M.O. Looney was named president in 1967, and he immediately changed the name of the institution from Missouri Western Junior
College to Missouri Western College to reflect his commitment to work on establishing a four-year institution.
The first day of school as a four-year college on the new campus was Sept. 15, 1969. Enrollment was 2,536, and three buildings were completed and ready for use.
In 1971, the college purchased 354 more acres, bringing the total campus size to 744 acres. Since then, the Missouri National Guard obtained approximately 10 acres, the University of Missouri Extension Center obtained three acres, and the Missouri Department of Conservation eight acres, so the present acreage is 723.
Around 1973, the college began calling itself Missouri Western State College and began using a Griffon logo that resembled the state of Missouri.
In 1977, the college joined the state of Missouri system and became fully funded by the state for all four years. Prior to this, the Junior College District was funding the first two years of operations and the state was funding the last two years.
Dr. Looney served as president until 1983. During his tenure, along with Missouri Western becoming a four-year college, 11 buildings were constructed, including three residence halls; and Spratt Memorial Stadium was built.
Dr. Janet Gorman Murphy was president from 1983-2000. During her presidency, six new buildings were constructed, including two residence halls; and the Glenn E. Marion Memorial Clock Tower was built in 1997. Every classroom became technologically “smart” with up-to-date presentation technology, three buildings received additions and one was remodeled. The Missouri Department of Conservation also joined the campus in 1992. Several programs were also introduced during her tenure, including Access Plus and Writing Across the Curriculum.
Dr. James J. Scanlon was named president in 2001. He oversaw the construction of a new residence hall, a residential commons building, a science and technology incubator, and a banquet and conference facility. The cafeteria and several student spaces were also remodeled and refurnished. Dr. Scanlon initiated five-year strategic plans in 2002 and 2007, with strong emphases on applied learning, community service and academic quality.
In 2005, Missouri Western was designated a university by the state and changed its name to Missouri Western State University. Graduate programs were first offered in Fall 2007.
Dr. Robert A. Vartabedian became president in July 2008. His tenure brought new building signage, new sculptures, a sign at the Faraon Street entrance, the construction of Remington Hall and the renovation of Agenstein Hall, and a residence hall. With the opening of the Spring Sports Complex in 2011, the baseball team played on campus for the first time in the team’s history. Kelley Commons, an outdoor gathering space for students located next to Blum Union, was added in 2013. Renovations to Spratt Memorial Stadium are underway, and will be complete in 2016.
The Kansas City Chiefs summer training camp was held on Missouri Western’s campus for the first time in 2010, and the contract was renewed for three years in 2015. This project included construction of a 118,000 sq. ft. Griffon Indoor Sports Complex that was completed in 2010.
In 2013, the Walter Cronkite Memorial was dedicated in Spratt Hall to honor St. Joseph-born Walter Cronkite, the longtime CBS Evening News anchor who was known as “the most trusted man in America.”
Today, there are approximately 6,000 students. The campus contains seven residence halls, 10 major classroom buildings, a library, a conference center, a science and technology incubator, a student union, a residential commons building, a fitness center, an indoor football field, Spratt Memorial Stadium, a Spring Sports Complex, Missouri Conservation Department headquarters, nine ponds, nature trails and more than 600 trees.