Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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Mason City
Mason Township, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa

Globe-Gazette, Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Mason City Centennial Issue
Monday, June 01, 1953, Section 7, Page 25


[Section 7, Page 25] The Sons of Union Veterans at their national convention in Syracuse, N. Y., in 1900, voted to build a university "to commemorate the deeds of loyalty of our fathers and mothers." They decided to build the "university' in Mason City, Iowa. This action by the convention was a triumph for a group of leading Mason Cityans who had worked on the project since A. L. Sorter four years before had thought of the fantastic plan of establishing a "Harvard of the West" here backed by the finances and membership of the powerful veterans affiliate.

NOTE: Davenport Times, Davenport, Iowa, Wednesday, June 13, 1900. Adjutant General's Report ~ "Notes on Sons of Veterans":

A. L. Sorter, the senior vice commander-in-chief of the national officers, and junior vice commander of the Iowa Division is an old newspaper man of much experience, seven years, in fact. He is young in years, but stated that in his regiment he was captain of company A, 52d Iowa of Mason City during the Spanish-American war. There were 90 out of 100 who were sons of Veterans, although not affiliated with the Iowa Division. Mr. Sorter said also that he was chairman of the national military college committee, and concerning this proposition he had this to say:

What Sorter Says:

"The most important thing that will come before the S. V. encampment during its present session will be action relative to Iowa's candidacy for the national military college, which will be located by vote of the national encampment, at Syracuse, N. Y., in September next. This is a memorial university founded by the order and dedicated to the memory of the soldiers of the civil war and the noble women of war times. Already about two million dollars are in sight as an endowment fund and a big fight on location is looked for at Syracuse. Iowa, however, is going in to win. "The western states are all for Mason City, Iowa, and it is highly probable that Iowa will win."

In the century of its existence Mason City has spent huge sums to provide the best possible school facilities, but Sorter's ambitious dream stands as the community's mightiest effort to achieve distinction in the field of education. Those who originated and launched the project were to have the heartbreaking experience of seeing their dream grow dim and fade away.

Assisting Sorter, who was himself a member of the Sons of Union Veterans, were his father-in-law, H. E. Francisco, James E. Blythe, already recognized for his political organization work, and many others of the town's leading citizens.

As soon as the Syracuse convention gave the "go" signal, incorporation papers were drawn up for the National Military College Association, with the following officers: J. E. E. Markley, president; Dr. T. T. Blaise, vice president; C. A. Dyer, secretary; and W. J. Reinke, treasurer.

Corporation Formed

The first action of the corporation was to purchase 160 acres south of the Milwaukee station. Forty acres were set aside for the university campus and the remainder divided into lots and sold.

Architects drew plans for buildings on the campus, stressing "solitary grandeur and somber impressiveness rather than beauty."

The college campus was to face north with a library and chapel in the center of numerous buildings. The library was to be in the shape of a Greek cross with a chapel in the rear.

Pledge Card in support of Memorial University

Cornerstone Laid

"The Day of Jubilee is Here," hailed the Globe-Gazette on June 26, 1901, when the cornerstone was laid for the college's first building, a structure which today [1953] is the Roosevelt elementary school. The crowd was the largest ever seen in Mason City up to that time.

On Sept. 20, 1902, the widely heralded Memorial University opened its doors to the youth of America. Then came shocking disappointment and the haunting fear that the fanfare had been for naught. Only 40 students were enrolled, a considerable number of them from Mason City.

But Walter Doran, dean of the school, showed no pessimism when at the opening exercises he declared that the band of students before him "was small indeed compared to the thousands that will come." By the end of the first week hopes were renewed as some 100 students had arrived.

When the expected influx of students failed to materialize, the Rev. S. S. Wyant, president of the university, spent most of his time traveling in search of students and, even more important, in quest of money.

Hired New President

When Wyant failed to show progress in operation of the school, the trustees hired another president, Frederick Tucker of Minneapolis. By this time the dream of the "Harvard of the West" and a campus full of buildings was fading.

When Walter Patton was called from Wisconsin as president in 1906 he concentrated on raising funds, but found the interest of the Veterans organization was fast waning. Sectional differences played a part. Many of the members had wanted the school in the east.

The Class of 1903 had seven graduates. The graduating class of 1909 was the last group of students to receive degrees from Memorial University. The 1909-10 term closed in midyear for lack of funds. That was the last of Memorial University. Al Sorter's fabulous dream had come to an end.

Classes in 1911

When fire destroyed the high school (now [1953] the Lincoln school) in 1911, classes were moved to Memorial University. A few years later the Most Rev. James J. Keane, archbishop at Dubuque, bought the building and land for $180,000. In 1918 the Mason City school system purchased the property for $75,000 and converted the building into the Roosevelt grade school.

Memorial University, ca. 1907

NOTE: In the mid-1950's, Mason City Junior College moved from the high school building and into the newly remodeled Memorial University Building, located on the Roosevelt School campus. Mason City Junior College occupied this building for twelve years, then in 1970 moved to a 300-acre site located on the east edge of Mason City. By this time the college had been renamed North Iowa Area Community College. The Memorial University building was torn down in 1979.

Al L. Sorter left Mason City and relocated in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Rev. Walter J. Patton was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania on July 7, 1856, the son of John R. Patton who had served three years in Co. K of the 109th Pennsylvania Infantry during the Civil War. Rev. Patton was ordained in 1877, Philadelphia, and went to Wisconsin the same year. He served as Commander of Sheboygan's Carl Witte Camp #37 in 1892 and was appointed Department Chaplain in 1894. As National Patriotic Instructor, Rev. Patton was called to the presidency of Memorial Union and, despite being unable to raise the necessary funding, he was able to keep the school open for four years. After the university closed, Rev. Patton remained in Mason City for another year to see the school liquidated, then returned to Wisconsin, moving to Berlin, Wisconsin in 1925. He retired from the ministry in 1929 and died at the age of 87 years on December 30, 1943, interment made at Masonic section of Riverside Cemetery, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
SOURCE: suvcw-wi.org/dc_bio/patton_walter.html

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, December of 2014



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