Found this morning while I was zapping old files from my hard drive, a cheerful, public relations-y history of Springfield College in Illinois that I wrote for the college website shortly after its “partnership” with Benedictine University Lisle, which evolved into an outright merger and ended abruptly in 2014 when BenU closed down the Springfield campus and with it the traditional undergraduate program. I can’t read it now without a profound sense of irony. But hey, I was teaching a 200-level intro to public relations at the time, and PR guys gonna PR.
In the end, BenU turned out to be one more of a number of institutions that failed the Springfield community (imho), but the partnership/merger bought us 10 years’ time.
I found the old webpage on an archival website in 2012 and copied it to my hard drive. I’m copying it here (as a screengrab of the top of the archive.is document followed by the text copied and pasted below) in case it’s of interest to anyone else in the SCI-Benedictine community. I purely loved the anecdote of President Kennedy greeting the Ursuline sisters in 1963!
History: Growth in Every Direction
— Peter Ellertsen, Instructor in English and Journalism
Springfield College in Illinois has been offering a rigorous two-year college education in a community setting for nearly 75 years. Established in 1929 by the Ursuline Sisters, SCI was a pioneer in its mission of enhancing the ethical, intellectual and personal development of its students without reference to race, color, gender or creed. In January 2003, SCI entered into a partnership with Benedictine University to enlarge that mission. Building on the liberal arts heritage and traditions of both institutions, it will bring Benedictine programs and services and lead to a bachelor’s degree offered on the SCI campus.
SCI is Springfield’s oldest college. In 1929, higher education had “long been an urgent necessity in this city,” in the words of Bishop James A. Griffin, a founder of the College. So the new school was designed to serve the entire community. Classes were to be small, and they were to encourage “the prime factor in all education worthy of the name: close contact between student and instructor.” Courses in the basics like math, history and English were to be rigorous, and students were to be offered “ample opportunity for growth in every direction.” Personal growth and a rigorous foundation in the basics are still goals of the SCI community, reflected in our mission statement: “to provide students the best liberal arts education in the Ursuline tradition of a nurturing faith-based environment.”
Springfield’s new junior college immediately came to be called “JC.” Less than two months after it opened its doors Sept. 9, 1929, the stock market crashed. Through the Great Depression, men and women alike attended classes at JC, with a flourishing night school offering pre-professional courses in addition to the basics. It was a response to new challenges, but it was rooted in an Ursuline tradition of service that goes back to the 16th century. An early JC graduate, Dr. F. Paul LaFata, recalls how Dean Augustus Confrey “enrolled me in the college as a part-time special student taking English literature and European history because they could be worked into my (job) schedule.” Close contact with students and a personal approach to academic excellence have continued to be SJC/SCI hallmarks. “SJC gave me a chance, 18 years old and straight out of the Navy, to get some goals and some priorities while still at home in Springfield,” said Carl Winterrose, a World War II veteran and 1948 graduate who went on to a career in journalism and public relations. Through the years, that emphasis has continued. “Here,” said Nick Guthrie, who graduated in 1996, “I felt a sense of belonging in an environment geared toward goal-setting and advancement.” When we survey our students, they typically say at SCI they don’t feel like they’re just a number — and they like that.
From the beginning, SJC/SCI has given valued service to the larger community in Springfield, in Illinois and in the nation. It started in an old mansion, the George Brinkerhoff home, on the edge of town where the new federal highway (Route 66) jogged up 5th Street past Ursuline Academy toward the Illinois State Fairgrounds. At various times after it was donated to the Ursuline Sisters, the Brinkerhoff home would serve for classes, student housing and administrative offices. Students called it “the Castle.” Ursuline was the oldest girls’ high school in town, and the Ursuline Sisters had been part of Springfield since Abraham Lincoln was still a lawyer on the courthouse square. So if a co-educational, non-denominational college was something new, it had a heritage of service and community to build on. In 1930 the main classroom building was completed (later it was named for Mr. and Mrs. C.A. Dawson). Such innovations as an aviation program marked the 1930s, and JC’s founders stressed small classes as “educators are fortunately turning from the attempt to lecture college students into development of a more natural method, that of building up concepts through the interchange of ideas among the group.”
At the 10-year mark, a little more than half the students were men, about 50 percent were Catholic and half reported other affiliations. In the 1940s, JC went to war. The College was certified as a V-1 Naval Reserve training site during World War II, and $134,000 was raised for an ambulance plane called the “Mother of Mercy.” In 1946, enrollment hit an all-time high of 619 as veterans resumed their studies on the GI Bill. Postwar expansion culminated with completion of the Ira A. Weaver Science Building in 1961, and the Charles E. Becker Library in 1966. Librarian Marguerite L. Zimmerman reported it “was planned as a small, intimate college library, where the student is in friendly and intimate contact with the books he (and she) will use.”A glorious day came Oct. 19, 1962, as students and faculty gathered along 5th Street (no longer a federal highway) when President John F. Kennedy drove past on the way to a rally at the State Fairgrounds. “Hi, Sisters,” he called out as they waved. Later, on the way back to town, he stopped his caravan and thanked students for the warm welcome. In 1967 the school took a new name, Springfield College in Illinois, and continued in the Ursuline tradition of community, service, educational excellence. SCI’s system of governance was changing, too. In 1957 a lay board of trustees was created, and its powers grew over the years; in 1964 Mother Mary Borgia Fehlig, O.S.U., was appointed the College’s first independent president. In 1987 Robert Theodore Curran became the first layman to serve as president. With the Benedictine-SCI partnership, Dr. William Carroll is now the president of both Springfield College in Illinois and Benedictine University.
New curricula like radiology and computer science were developed in the postwar decades, as nursing, adult education and other more traditional programs were expanded to serve new needs. New challenges arose as a tax-supported community college and a state university came to Springfield, and to the challenges came new responses. The Village student housing complex was developed in the early 1970s, and the Dockson Plaza housing units were added 20 years later. The 1990s saw the creation of an Institute for Lay Ministry Formation, in cooperation with the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, to train lay people for parish leadership. Even today, SCI is adding new curricula, including theater arts, management information technology and forensic science. After a hiatus of several years, athletics returned to SCI in 1991 with men’s soccer and in 1992 with women’s tennis. We now also have volleyball, women’s soccer and softball, men’s baseball and golf. SCI teams have competed regularly in National Junior College Athletic Association regional and nationwide tournaments, but one award stands out: It is a special NCJAA certificate of merit awarded to the newly established women’s tennis team in 1996 for an overall 3.74 grade point average.
SCI continued its tradition of service to the community as students filled sandbags during the Mississippi and Illinois river floods of 1993, and SCI students have tutored youngsters in nearby Springfield public schools on an ongoing basis. As always, the College stresses a solid foundation in the basics, allowing the vast majority of its graduates to transfer to the college or university of their first choice. Classes continue to be small, and faculty and staff continue to take an interest in the students. Complementing the traditional day program at SCI now is a New Horizons accelerated degree program for adult learners; its first graduating class was awarded A.A. degrees in May 2002.
On Jan. 15, 2003, SCI entered a new era in partnership with Benedictine, a 3,000-student university in west suburban Chicago. “This strategic alliance between Springfield College in Illinois and Benedictine University transforms Benedictine University into a regional university,” said Dr. Carroll. “I am firmly convinced that alliances such as ours, make each of us a stronger and more viable institution, and will ensure our success and longevity.” Upon approval by the appropriate governing agencies, junior and senior level adult accelerated programs and graduate programs will be offered. And upper-division programs for traditional undergraduate students will be developed for courses leading to a bachelor’s degree on the SCI campus.
For the record:
I imagine all of these links are dead now, but just for the record, I downloaded the file to my hard drive from archive.is webpage capture on 11 Dec 2012 10:51:50 UTC. According to that download, which I’ll retain in my files, it was saved from: http://www.sci.edu/about/history.html (on a website that went dark not long after SCI was merged into Benedictine. The archive.is file included this information:
|All snapshots||from host www.sci.edu|
|Linked from||en.wikipedia.org » Benedictine University at Springfield nl.wikipedia.org » Gebruiker:Bartvs/lijsten/Katholieke universiteiten in de VS|
To my knowledge, the BenU at Springfield website went dark, too.
4 thoughts on “SCI institutional history on the college website up to the time of its 2003 merger with Benedictine”
I love reading the history of other small colleges since I spent my working life in one.
Why thanks so much! This was very much of a company history — posted on the college’s webpage after being thoroughly vetted by our PR person — but it was a remarkable little college. Sadly, the merger with Benedictine only lasted a little more than 10 years. They still own the property, but only because they haven’t been able to find a buyer. (Due to the downsizing of state government in the last 20 years, the institutional real estate market in Springfield is depressed … about 16 notches *below* depressed, in fact).
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My little college just got subsumed into a big university who maintain it will be unchanged. Right!!
Magnificent! Accurate and well articulated story of a mighty educational institution that came to a sad end.