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 began with 35 students and eight faculty members on Sept. 20, 1915. It was the eighth junior college of its kind in the nation.
In 1925, the junior college moved out of the high school and into its own building at 14th and Olive (right next to Central High School), the former Everett School. It moved again in 1933 to 10th and Edmond in the former Robidoux School, where it remained until 1969. That location earned the affectionate nickname, “Concrete Campus.” Nelle Blum, for whom the student union on the current campus is named, served as dean from 1931 to 1957.
The Griffon mascot was created in 1917-18 by student Norman Knight. The Griffon, a mythological guardian of treasure, was chosen by students as a guardian of the precious treasure of education.
Men’s basketball began in 1916, and football began in 1922. Although the sport of basketball endured, the football team lasted only three seasons. It wasn’t resurrected until Missouri Western became a four-year institution in 1969.
It was 1947 when the idea of the junior college becoming a four-year college was first brought up in an editorial in the student newspaper. From then on, the seed was planted, and the idea seemed to spread. Many options were considered over the years, including becoming a branch of Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville or a branch of the University of Missouri in Columbia.
The need for more space also became an issue as the years passed and 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 to accommodate the students.
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. Prior to this bond passage, the junior college was funded administered by the St. Joseph School District, and a dean was the highest administrative position at the junior college. 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.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the present-day campus was held in August 1967. The first day of school was Sept. 15, 1969, and a dedication of the new campus was held Oct. 12, 1969.
When 2,536 students enrolled on the new campus in the fall of 1969, the dream of a four-year college was finally a reality.
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 and the state was funding the last two years.
The college president’s home was across from the present-day Leah Spratt Hall, but it was destroyed by a fire in 1981 and was never rebuilt.
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: Leah Spratt Multipurpose Classroom Building, Janet Gorman Murphy Academic Center, Baker Family Fitness Center, and Leaverton Hall and Vaselakos Hall, both residence halls. The sixth was the Missouri Department of Conservation’s northwest Missouri headquarters, which was a unique partnership at the time. The Glenn E. Marion Memorial Clock Tower was built in 1997 during her tenure.
By 2001, every classroom had become technologically “smart” with up-to-date presentation technology, making Missouri Western one of the first in the state to offer the technology campuswide. Three buildings received additions between 1983 and 2000 – the Potter Fine Arts Center, the Hearnes Learning Resource Center and the Blum Union – and the Eder Student Services/Classroom Building was remodeled.
Dr. Murphy was also responsible for several programs that were introduced during her tenure, including Access Plus, A+, and Writing Across the Curriculum. The college received several national awards for Access Plus.
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 also initiated five-year strategic plans in 2002 and 2007, with strong emphases on applied learning, community service and academic quality.
Dr. Scanlon brought several programs to Western: the American Democracy Project, Foundations of Excellence™ in the First Year, and Learning Communities. Under his tenure, Missouri Western was also selected to participate in AQIP, Academic Quality Improvement Project, which meant continuous quality improvement for accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
In 2005, 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, with more being approved and offered each year thereafter.
Dr. Robert A. Vartabedian became president in July 2008. Western’s largest capital campaign was kicked off under his tenure, and Dr. Vartabedian initiated a campus outdoor project which included new building signage, sculptures, a new sign at the Faraon Street entrance, three fountains in campus ponds and several new evergreen trees.
The construction of Remington Hall and the renovation of Agenstein Hall were completed in 2009 and 2010, respectively, and a Spring Sports Complex and residence hall opened in 2011. The new Spring Sports Complex meant that the baseball team would play on campus for the first time in the team’s history.
The Kansas City Chiefs summer training camp was held on Missouri Western’s campus for the first time in 2010, and is contracted to be held in St. Joseph for a total of five years. 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, library, conference center, science and technology incubator, student union, a residential commons building, 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. The university’s economic impact on the community and the region was estimated at $183 million in 2009.