Bill Caldwell: Ozark Wesleyan was a monument of education | Local News

After the Civil War, one of the signs that a city had matured was the character of its schools.

Public schools, though common in rural areas, were often little more than primary schools through grade six. Secondary schools could be found in major cities, but their attendance numbers were low. Being a university town meant having a window on the world of culture, music and literature, and professions.

This window opened in the region in 1924 when the Ozark Wesleyan College moved to Carthage. The campus is now home to the Catholic Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer.

Ozark Wesleyan’s roots go back well before 1924. The college was formed by the merger of three Methodist schools: Arkansas Conference College in Siloam Springs, Arkansas; Carleton College in Farmington, Missouri; and Marionville College in Marionville, Missouri.

Arkansas Conference College was a short-lived school in Siloam Springs. Founded in 1899, it gained the ability to confer bachelor’s degrees in 1905. It was a combination college and preparatory school with a combined average attendance of less than 70 students. It offered a classical liberal arts education, but struggled financially. As one memoir put it, it was “a story of defeat and disaster,” success and triumph being personal, not institutional. It finally closed in 1917.

Eliza Carleton

The oldest of these three schools was Carleton College, established in 1854. Its founder Eliza Carleton was born in 1826 in Virginia. Her mother died when Eliza was a baby. An only child, she was raised by grandparents in Virginia and Indiana. Eventually, she moved to care for her father’s home outside of Farmington in St. Francois County, Missouri.

She had attended various schools, but at 17 she had only had 24 months of formal schooling. Yet she was determined to learn. She learned Latin grammar from memory in nine weeks.

In 1845, she was 19 and teaching by subscription for $3 in trade or $2 in specie. She saved her money and, with the help of the Farmington Schools superintendent, was admitted to Methodist College of Arcadia. She was the first woman to be admitted with the understanding that she would drop out if she couldn’t keep up. Four years later, she earned her Bachelor of Arts as valedictorian.

She rented a log cabin north of Farmington in 1854 to found Carleton College. It started with 30 students. The school was officially incorporated by the General Assembly in 1859 as the Carleton Institute. After 24 years in the log cabin and surviving the Civil War, she moved it to a 16-acre campus in Farmington in 1878. A new four-story brick building housed the school.

She was the heart and soul of the school, even manager of the football team that once beat St. Louis University. Carleton ceded it to the St. Louis Methodist Conference in 1883, although she continued to lead it. The school offered a Bachelor of Arts degree in addition to being a preparatory school. Attendance reached up to 250 students.

When a new brick building was constructed in 1915 at a cost of $36,000, it looked like the future was bright. But that same year, Carleton died at age 89, and the school quickly sank. The new building was used for a year before closing in 1916.

The third school was Marionville College founded in 1872. Originally a project of the Lawrence County Teachers’ Association, it was adopted by Methodists. Beset by delays, its first building did not open until 1876. It was also a preparatory school and a college.

It played an important role in the city as enrollment averaged over 100 students in a city of less than 1,300 people. Other buildings have been added to the campus over the years. It changed its name to Ozark Wesleyan College in 1910. Although the college had eliminated its debt in 1920, the conference decided that Marionville was too small a town for future growth. We needed a bigger city.

Move to Carthage

Jasper County had made its mark in mining, manufacturing, and wholesale trade. Yet there were no colleges in the county. Rolla had the University of Missouri School of Mines and Springfield had Drury College and Missouri State Normal School. Even Marionville had a college. But there were none in Jasper County.

When the St. Louis Conference decided to move Ozark Wesleyan, they chose Carthage as the most likely candidate. However, this decision was conditional. A $1.5 million statewide fundraiser was launched on February 2, 1924, for the building and endowment. Jasper County’s assessed quota was $400,000, of which Carthage’s share was $300,000. If he didn’t meet his quota, the college would move elsewhere.

A pledge of $50,000 in cash kicked off the campaign along with several donations of $10,000. Students from prominent Carthage families led teams that surveyed the county’s business community. Headquarters for Carthage and the eastern half of the county was located at the Drake Hotel.

Advertisements appeared in the Globe declaring the benefits of this unique opportunity. “Go to college and live at home,” he said. A campaign office was opened at the Connor Hotel for the Joplin district under a well-known minister. He traveled to every town and mining camp from Carl Junction to Duenweg with the aim of raising $100,000.

At the end of May, Carthage was $2,900 below its target. The first week of June, Joplin was $9,000 short. Ads urged Joplin not to fail. Both districts eventually surpassed their goals of $6,000.

Although there is not yet a campus, properties south of Carthage have been purchased and the houses have been used as classrooms with some activities planned in the Carthage Memorial Hall.

Veteran minister and educator William Wirt King was named president. The first 50 students enrolled on September 15 and were then welcomed by King at Memorial Hall.

The conference selected the architectural firm Bonsack and Pierce, of St. Louis, to design the college’s main building. Of course, they chose the Ozark gray marble from the Carthage Marble Corp. Construction of the three-story building began in 1924 and was completed the following year, although classes were not held in the building until early 1926.

The enrollment of 225 students for the year 1925-26 surprised the administrators. Sports teams were strong; the football team was a “machine”. Student and faculty musical and literary programs were presented throughout the county, just as the 1924 advertisements had promised.

A million-dollar campaign in 1929 to boost the school’s finances began just as the economy was slowing. The Great Depression stifled new giving, old promises were broken, and indebtedness increased. The school struggled until the conference decided it could not support OWC. In 1932 it was consolidated with Central Methodist in Warrenton.

Carthage companies attempted to resurrect the school as Ozark Junior College along with the OWC faculty and building. It operated for two years from 1934 to 1935 but closed. A New Deal program preparing girls for college used the campus from 1936 to 1937.

Then it remained vacant until it was purchased by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1944 to establish a preparatory school for boys there. It was renamed Our Lady of the Ozarks and operated until 1971.

Four years later, the school was sold to the Vietnamese Catholic Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer, as about half of the order was made up of refugees who fled Vietnam as boat people. It has become the center of Marian Days celebrations for Vietnamese Catholics across the country.

The founders of Ozark Wesleyan and its precursors have dedicated their lives to the education of students. Their lofty ideals led them, in the words of one teacher, to build monuments to education, like Ozark Wesleyan, which still stands and serves to this day.