The file of firsts
When a university celebrates 100 years, there’s going to be a lot of “firsts.” Here’s a look back at some of the most notable, interesting and fun #1s in Missouri Western’s first century.
1st Day of School
September 20, 1915 was the first day of school for the St. Joseph Junior College. It was housed in Central High School, which was located at 13th and Olive Streets. There were 35 students in the first class and eight faculty members. Tuition was $40 per year for residents of St. Joseph and $60 per year for non-residents.
1st Commencement St. Joseph Junior College
The first commencement for the St. Joseph Junior College was held in 1917, and eight women and two men received diplomas. The class included twin women, Bonnie and Donnie Cotteral.
Men’s basketball was the first organized sport and got its start in the 1916-17 school year with a team for each class. The first football season began in 1922 and lasted just three seasons. The Junior College attempted to start a football team in 1916, but had to disband because they lost several players; most likely they left to fight in WWI. Its first season at the four-year college was 1970.
Griffon baseball, which played its first game in the spring of 1970, played on campus for the first time in 2011 in the new Spring Sports Complex.
Men’s and women’s golf were first played in 1969. Officially, intercollegiate women’s basketball, volleyball and tennis all began in the 1975-76 academic year. Softball also started that year, and the team played its first game on campus in 1995. Women’s soccer began in 2005.
1st Student Publications
The first Griffon Yearbook was published in 1921 for the 1920-21 school year. Prior to that, the Junior College shared a yearbook with Central High School. Jessie Lee Myers ’21, was the first editor-in-chief, and it was dedicated to Lt. Water Louis Pinger and Cecil Meyers, who “sacrificed their lives in the recent war.”
The first issue of the college newspaper, called the Spectator, was published in December 1924. The editor-in-chief was Mildred Windish, and the paper came out monthly. Six years later, the paper changed its name to Griffon News. By then, it was published two times a month. It became a weekly paper in 1974.
1st Organization Presidents
The first president of the student body was Luther Rockhold, in 1924-25. He served for two years. The Missouri Western Foundation was founded in 1969, and Thomas Reck was its first president, serving a one-year term in 1970. The Gold Coat Club, which supported athletics, was created in 1970 and its first president was Bill Beasley.
The Missouri Western Alumni Association was formed in 1969, and John P. Biehl ’57 was named its first president.
1st Female President
Calla Varner was the first to be called President of the St. Joseph Junior College. She had been teaching at the Junior College when she was named vice principal in1923. She became principal in 1924 and president in 1926. Varner was recognized by students in the earliest years of the Junior College as one of its greatest driving forces.
When Varner left, Nelle Blum was dean of the Junior College and no one held the title of president again until 1965.
When Dr. Janet Murphy McCarthy was hired in 1983, she was the first female president of a four-year higher education institution in Missouri.
In the 30th anniversary booklet that was published at the time of her retirement, she related that Dr. Francis Kessler, political science faculty member and a member of the presidential search committee, drove her to the Kansas City International Airport after her campus visit and interview. “He stated that he enjoyed meeting me, but it would be the last time he would see me since he didn’t believe the board would select a woman. We had a friendly bet of $5. I still have Dr. Kessler’s check,” she said in the article.
The 1927 Griffon Yearbook contains a photo of 20 women who were members of the first social sorority for the St. Joseph Junior College, Omega Tau. The text below the photo reads, “One of the most notable events of J.C.’s most notable year was the invasion of the Greeks – a decided departure for this institution.”
The first official social fraternity on campus was Delta Nu, which organized in 1966 and later became affiliated with Lambda Chi Alpha.
In 2012, the first Greek living quarters were established on campus when nine suites in Juda Hall were reserved for fraternities and sororities.
1st Black Students
When the Supreme Court handed down the historic Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka on May 17, 1954, the St. Joseph Junior College may have been the first in the country to enroll blacks in a previously white institution in a formerly segregated state. When the summer session began on June 5, five black students were enrolled, who had all been teachers at the recently closed Bartlett High School in St. Joseph.
In 1955, Clifford Hughes is presumed to be the first black graduate of the St. Joseph Junior College, according to “Missouri Western State College, A History: 1915-1983.”
Willie Washington, a Junior College librarian, was the first black professional staff employee hired, and Herman Pitter was the first black faculty member at the Junior College.
Vince Singleton ’74 believes he is the first black football player to graduate from Missouri Western. He transferred to Missouri Western from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College in Miami, Okla. to play for the Griffons.
“They had just completed one dorm with guys on one side and girls on the other,” said Singleton, who played defensive end. “But they didn’t have a field. We played at Noyes Field.”
His studies were interrupted when he was admitted to the hospital and had to withdraw from school. “I knew I had to graduate from college, but people didn’t really believe that I would,” he says. “That was my force to finish. More than anything in the world, I wanted to graduate.”
When he finally walked across the stage, Singleton had to mail his diploma to his father before he’d believe his son was really a college graduate.
Singleton has lived in Maine for more than a quarter century. In 2006, he got a degree in performing arts from the University of Maine in Augusta, and he plays bass in a band.
“I love what Missouri Western did for me,” he says. “It strengthened me to be able to handle any obstacle or adversity that confronted me.”
The Junior College’s first Homecoming parade was held in downtown St. Joseph in 1954. The 1955 yearbook noted, “Junior College had its first Homecoming Parade this year, which made people realize that there is more than just a building up here on the hill.”
In 1969, the parade started at East Hills Shopping Center and proceeded downtown, instead of being held downtown only.
In 1998, the Homecoming parade was held on campus for the first time. Floats lined up in the American Family parking lot across from the campus on Mitchell Ave. and went clockwise around Downs Drive. Although there were a few traffic problems, the parade was deemed a success.
In 1999, the campus was disrupted with the construction of Murphy Hall (JGM Academic Center) and the addition to the Blum Student Union, so the parade went back to downtown St. Joseph. The following year, Faraon St. past the north entrance of campus was being repaired, so the parade couldn’t be held on campus that year, either. It continued to be held downtown every year after that, and the 1998 Homecoming parade became the one and only parade held on campus.
Stan Pearson II ’02 holds the honor of being the very first Homecoming King, crowned in 2001.
1st Step to a Four-year
The first tangible step that led to the creation of the four-year college came about in 1961 when legislation passed that provided for the establishment of Junior College districts by a vote of the people in those areas. Such a district was a prerequisite for a four-year college for St. Joseph.
1st Four-year Site
The first selected location for Missouri Western’s four-year campus was on Frederick Blvd. In 1965, a bill passed in the State Legislature, giving the college the option to purchase 130 acres immediately north of the St. Joseph State Hospital across Frederick Blvd. A bond issue had passed to purchase the site and build four buildings, but later the present site east of I-29 was selected when it was determined that 130 acres was not large enough.
In 1967, the Missouri Governor passed a bill which authorized conveyance of 135 acres to the Missouri Western Junior College District. The acreage was part of the state hospital’s dairy farm, and the cost was $27,000. Additionally, 255 acres was purchased from area farmers for a total of 390 acres and a cost $357,200.
1st to Enroll for Year Three
Liz Dotson didn’t realize she held the distinction of being the first student to enroll when Missouri Western became a four-year college until she read about herself in the newspaper. She had attended the St. Joseph Junior College for two years when she registered for her junior year on the main campus.
“Maybe I knew at the time that I was the first, but I can’t remember. All I remember was three buildings, a trailer for the student union, and that it was the coldest place on earth,” she says with a laugh. “We went to classes all over the downtown so it was nice to be all together on the new campus.”
To earn school money, Dotson said she baby-sat for the three sons of Dorsey and Dr. M.O. Looney, the college president.
She and her husband, Deane ’74, moved to Florida in 1987 and Liz worked for many years as a speech technician. Although “she always wanted to,” she never earned her bachelor’s degree.
“When we come back to visit, we love to come out to campus. It’s beautiful.”
When Missouri Western moved to its new campus in 1969, three buildings were ready for classes: the Evan R. Agenstein Science and Math Building, the Warren E. Hearnes Learning Resource Center and the Frank Popplewell Administration Building.
1st Commencement Missouri Western
The first commencement ceremony on the new campus was held on a stage south of the Hearnes Learning Resource Center. It was held in the spring of 1970 for 45 graduates, and U.S. Sen. Stuart Symington delivered the commencement address. Thunderclouds loomed throughout the ceremony, but the rain held off until after the event.
1st Football Captains
Chris Faros ’73 and Zack Workman ’74 were selected as the first football captains at Missouri Western.
Faros played Griffon football for three years before beginning his coaching career in 1974 at Colorado State University. In 1983, when Faros was the offensive coordinator for the Memphis State Tigers, he was killed in a plane crash in Tennessee. He was 31 years old.
Workman and Faros’ other teammates established a scholarship in his memory to be awarded to a senior football player. In 2002, a pavilion was built west of Spratt Memorial Stadium and in 2005, the name was changed to the Chris Faros Pavilion.
After graduation, Workman became a teacher and coach for eight years before he opened Lawns Unlimited, Inc. in Cameron, Mo. He has served as a Gold Coat board member for 22 years and as president for more than a decade.
1st Residence Hall
The 100s Hall (Logan Hall) was the first dormitory to be built on the new campus, and construction began in 1970. The original plan was to build four halls with a common area in the center. The 100s, 200s (Beshears) and 400s (Juda) halls were completed but a 300s Hall was never built due to lack of funds.
1st Four-year Graduate With All Missouri Western Credits
Robert Willoughby ’70 knew that he was on a fast track to earn his bachelor’s degree, but he was surprised to learn that he was the first to earn a bachelor’s degree with all the credits from Missouri Western.
It was during his first semester at the Missouri Western Junior College in 1967 that he heard there was going to be a new campus and the addition of junior and senior years. “I was glad I could now stay in my hometown and get a four-year degree. That was very appealing.”
He took a lot of summer classes and earned enough credits to graduate by the end of the summer of 1970. When he participated in the commencement ceremony in 1971, he was recognized as the first to earn a bachelor’s degree with all credits from Missouri Western.
“Months later, someone told me I was in the newspaper.” He still has a copy of the article.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in history, Willoughby later earned a master’s degree and has spent his entire career teaching. Today he is a history professor and department chair at University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
1st ROTC Grad
The first person to graduate from the military science program at Missouri Western and earn a commission in the U.S. Army was Harold McKee ’73, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement. When the program began in 1971, classes were held in a building on the west side of I-29, and 24 students enrolled in the first class.
1sts for Youth
Four programs for youth began several years ago and continue to this day: Lifetime Sports Academy, 1973; Chemathon, 1977; Tournament of Champions (high school bands), 1986; and the History Bowl in 1987.
In the first History Bowl, Savannah High School, coached by Bill Luce, won first place by defeating Central High School, coached by Kathy Northup, in an exciting match.
Fourteen schools competed in the first Chemathon and Dr. Clifton Melone from Kansas State University was the keynote speaker. The Chemathon was named by two high school seniors, Cathy Hague (now Wayman) and Mary Pat Mahoney (now Hewitt). By its 10th year, 41 high schools were competing.
1st Female Signer
Thanks to Title IX, women’s intercollegiate sports officially began in 1975. That year, Sara Nolte became the first woman to sign a letter of intent to play basketball. The player from Ruskin High School in Kansas City, Mo. signed a letter of intent for women’s athletics at Missouri Western, making her the first woman to obtain an athletic scholarship.
1st Female ROTC Grad
Rebecca Mackoy ’75 & ’76 was very aware that she was breaking new ground when she enrolled in the ROTC program at Missouri Western. The program was actively recruiting women for a military science degree and a commission into the U.S. Army.
She had taken some military science courses while she was earning her first degree in computer science, so it only took her a year to become the first woman to graduate from the College’s ROTC program.
Mackoy said there was only one other woman in the program with her, and the director always wanted to show them off in an effort to recruit more women. The two were always part of the honor guard at every home football game, and when Family Day came around, the women were the ones rappelling off the Popplewell Administration Building. Women in the ROTC program were supposed to keep their hair pinned up, but she said they were allowed to wear their hair down so people would know there were women in the program.
“The professors weren’t sure what to do with us, and the other cadets didn’t know how to treat us. Some hit on us, some were suspicious and some accepted us,” she says with a laugh.
Mackoy left Missouri Western and began her three-year commitment to the Army, but she remained in the military her entire career and retired as a colonel in 2003. She now works for an Army contractor and lives in Washington, D.C.
She knew that she was breaking new ground in her early years in the military, too. “They went through a lot of growing pains, but things changed rapidly when they started getting more and more women.”
“It’s hard for young ladies today to have any clue about what we went through,” she says. “A lot is taken for granted now.”
1st Athletic Conference
Missouri Western did not join an athletic conference until it was 61 years old. In 1976, under the guidance of Athletic Director Charlie Burri, Missouri Western became a founding member of the Central States Intercollegiate Conference (CSIC). The conference contained eight schools: Emporia State, Fort Hays State, Kansas State College of Pittsburg, Kearney State, Missouri Southern, Missouri Western, Washburn and Wayne State.
1st Stadium Game
The first football game was played in Spratt Memorial Stadium in 1979. Prior to that, home games were played on Central High School’s Noyes Field. In 1985, the stadium received lights, and fireworks followed the first night game.
1st Building Addition
The first building to receive an addition was the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Building (HPER), now Looney Complex. The addition, completed in 1980, included the arena, classroom and office space, and equipment. Construction on the original structure had begun with limited funding in 1969 with the idea that an addition would be necessary shortly.
1st Student Regent
In 1984, Gov. John Ashcroft signed a law to allow a student representative on the boards of higher education institutions in the state, and Robert J. Claassen II, a St. Joseph native, became the first student to serve on Missouri Western’s Board of Regents. The student regent could attend all meetings and participate in discussions, but was not allowed to vote or sit in on closed executive sessions. Gov. Ashcroft appointed Claassen for a one-year term that expired in January 1986, but subsequent student regents were appointed for two-year terms.
“It was an interesting year,” Claassen says of his time on the Board. “I gained a totally different perspective of the management of the College, and it allowed me to bring the Board the student perspective. It gave them (Board members) the ability to have a different insight into students.”
Claassen wasn’t on campus very long when he became involved in student leadership. As a freshman, he was elected to fill a senator’s position on the Student Government Association, and he stayed involved in the SGA throughout his college career.
He graduated with a chemistry degree in 1987, earned a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Missouri and spent two years at North Carolina State University in post-doctorate work. He has worked at ExxonMobil since 1995 and is currently the Finishing and Compounding Process Technology Manager in Texas.
“I am very proud of my degree from Missouri Western. The great education has served me well and helped me in my career.”
1st on TV
The first televised class, Introduction to Data Processing, was held in 1985.
1st Eggs and Issues
In the fall of 1988, the Missouri Western Foundation began hosting Eggs and Issues for campus and community members, and the program continues today. The first one was held in the Blum Student Union and was attended by 20 people: 10 students, five community members and five faculty members. The topic of discussion was about students working while attending college, “The Changing Patterns of the Work Ethic.” It was sponsored by United Missouri Bank NW. Dr. James McCarthy, executive vice president, served as moderator.
In the beginning, Eggs and Issues breakfasts were held for small, invited groups of students, faculty and community members several times each semester. In the early 2000s, the format changed to where Eggs and Issues featured a guest speaker rather than a debate or panel discussion, and it was open to the campus and community. It has been held both off- and on-campus over the years, and as little as two and as many as eight per year have been offered. Two things about the program have not changed – a free breakfast is still served to all who attend, and it still begins at 7 a.m.
1st Athletics Hall of Fame Class
In 1990, the Department of Athletics created an Athletics Hall of Fame and inducted three members at a banquet at the Ramada Inn in St. Joseph – Larry “Gator” Rivers, Jeff Brown and Tom O’Brien.
Since it was the first Department of Athletics Hall of Fame induction, athletes, coaches and trainers who had been inducted into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Hall of Fame in prior years were automatically inducted into the Missouri Western Athletic Department’s Hall of Fame. That included Doug Minnis, baseball coach; Rhesa Sumrell, softball, basketball and volleyball coach, and coordinator of women’s athletics; and Gary Hazelrigg, head athletic trainer.
Additionally, six players and a coach had been inducted into Missouri Western’s Football Hall of Fame, and these were also folded into the department’s new Hall of Fame: Coach Harold Cagle, and players Zack Workman ’74, Chris Faros ’73, Dave Hedrick ’75, Bob Heimbaugh ’76, George Blakley and Tim Hoskins.
Long-time Athletic Director Charlie Burri had been named a charter member by President Dr. Janet Murphy when he retired in 1984, and he was the emcee at the induction ceremony. Dr. M.O. Looney, Missouri Western’s president from 1967-1983, gave the keynote address at the 1990 ceremony and was inducted into the Hall of Fame for meritorious service.
1st Faculty Chair
The first Faculty Chair at Missouri Western was for Dr. Elizabeth Latosi-Sawin and her Writing Across the Curriculum program, which had been established in 1984. In 1990, Leah Spratt donated $200,000 to establish the faculty chair.
The program was developed to improve student writing skills, regardless of their major or discipline. Through workshops, guest speakers, book discussion groups, on-campus conferences and individual consultations, Dr. Latosi-Sawin strived to help faculty reconsider their teaching methods in an effort to improve student writing and critical thinking.
Dr. Latosi-Sawin organized the first ever off-campus retreat for faculty; hosted the only formal faculty debate about instructional techniques; published Critical Literacy, a nationally distributed newsletter, for two years; and conducted the first critical thinking assessment of graduating seniors. Additionally, Writing Across the Curriculum developed guidelines for writing-intensive courses in Liberal Arts and Sciences and conducted several research projects and surveys.
The program became well known when faculty members published and presented papers about it at many national conferences.
Dr. Latosi-Sawin directed the program until it ended in 2000.
1st Alumnus on Board of Regents
Robert Roth ’73 was the first alumnus to serve on the Missouri Western Board of Regents. He served 1992-1998. Roth was president of Hillyard, Inc.
1st R. Dan Boulware Convocation on Critical Issues
In an interview after she retired, President Emerita Dr. Janet Murphy said convocations were a tradition on many campuses, and she wanted Missouri Western to establish that tradition to provide an enriching experience for students.
Although several convocations featuring guest speakers had been held off and on over the years at the St. Joseph Junior College and Missouri Western, Dr. Murphy is credited with establishing the R. Dan Boulware Convocation on Critical Issues.
The College’s first R. Dan Boulware Convocation on Critical Issues in 1993 featured Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian. His topic was “The Disuniting of America,” and it drew approximately 3,000 to the M.O. Looney arena.
In an interview after she retired, Dr. Murphy recalled that, right before the procession into the M. O. Looney Complex arena, Schlesinger turned to her, surprised, and said, “There are 2,000 to 3,000 people in there!”
“I turned to him and said, ‘Well, I didn’t know how many would come.’”
1st Student Athlete Banquet
The first banquet to honor student athletes was held in 2000, co-sponsored by the St. Joseph News-Press. Nikki Glasgo, women’s tennis, and Rick Moeckel, football, were named Student-Athletes of the Year. Bill Grigsby, “Voice of the Kansas City Chiefs,” was the guest speaker for the audience of more than 300. A special valor award was given to Jeff Holland, a football player and 1985 graduate who had been shot in the line of duty as an Omaha, Neb., police officer.
1st Graduate Programs
University designation in 2005 allowed Missouri Western to offer graduate programs.
Two master’s degrees were offered for the first time in the fall of 2007 – a Master of Applied Science with a Chemistry option and a Master of Applied Science with an Information Technology Management option. The first hooding ceremony for master’s degrees was held at the spring 2009 commencement for 12 graduates.
Seth Lyons ’08 was the first alumnus to win a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Store in the Craig School of Business’s entrepreneur competition that began in 2009. Seth and his wife, Kelsey ’08, paid off their store in Silverthorne, Colo. in a little over two years. In 2013, the Lyons opened a second franchisee, a WhichWich? Superior Sandwiches, next to their Rocky Mountain store. In 2014, they sold the RMCF store to Caleb Mackey, one of the winners in the May competition.
“Steve Craig deserves all the credit,” Seth Lyons says of the unique entrepreneurship program. “If it wasn’t for his vision, it would not have happened. I’m just proud to be a part of it.”
1st Chiefs Camp
Missouri Western welcomed the Kansas City Chiefs and more than 60,000 fans to the first summer training camp on campus in 2010. A new Griffon Indoor Sports Complex with an indoor football field opened in time for the NFL team’s camp in July of that year. The Chiefs were contracted to hold their summer camp in St. Joseph for five years, and in Missouri for 10.
1st Interactive Memorial
The Walter Cronkite Memorial opened in Spratt Hall Atrium in 2013. It is the first extensive and permanent memorial of its kind in the U.S. to honor Walter Cronkite, who was born in St. Joseph, Mo., in 1916. Another first was the production of “Cronkite,” a live, multimedia presentation featuring a professional actor that became available to memorial visitors in 2014.