Old friends and shared memories came flooding back for the students of the erstwhile Joplin Junior College as they took a nostalgic stroll down memory lane during a gathering for their first-ever reunion on Friday.
The event began with alumni touring their old stomping grounds at the Joplin Schools Administration building/Memorial Education Center, located at 310 W. Eighth St, the building which initially housed the college within Joplin High School.
Lee Elliff Pound, director of Alumni and constituent relations at Missouri Southern State University, was one of the key individuals responsible for organizing the reunion.
“We do reunions for alumni and constituents throughout the year and we just felt it was time to focus on the Joplin Junior College alumni,” Pound said. “Missouri Southern has over 31,000 alumni that are graduates and then we have the ones that attended but may have transferred on, especially during the war years because they were drafted for World War two and then came back, some unfortunately didn’t come back.”
Jim Krudwig of Webb City, who studied business and attended Joplin Junior College from 1965-66, said he was pleasantly surprised to find out about the reunion.
“It’s a great welcome and it brings back a lot of great memories of trying to show up for those 8 o’clock classes.” Krudwig said.
Brad Belk, director of the Joplin Museum Complex, was on hand to offer a historic presentation about the school and how it fit into the community with a slideshow that featured many Joplin landmarks such as the Fox Theater, Memorial Hall, Junge Stadium, and many other local attractions.
“Joplin Junior College plays in integral role in the history of Missouri Southern State University,” Belk said. “The junior college became the foundation for the University. The story sometimes gets misplaced in the broader narrative but without the junior college, there would be no University.”
While addressing the alums, Belk told them, “You were pioneers of this great educational institution that we’re all so proud of today. Therefore, all of you should always be remembered, recognized, respected, and thanked.”
Veterinarian Dr. George Jackson of Murfreesboro, TN., who studied pre-med at JJC from 1954-56, credits the school with nearly all his success.
“I sat down two weeks ago to write down a brief outline of my life for 60 years and I looked back and saw that Joplin Junior College was the springboard that got me going,” Jackson said. “Joplin Junior College was very valuable for giving me motivation for further education as soon as I could get it. It made such a transition in our lives … for us to be able to get a start with a college education was a major thing.”
At its inception, Joplin Junior College, the precursor to Missouri Southern, had 114 students and only 9 faculty members and was a branch of the Joplin School District.
The college was created after a meeting of roughly 150 people was held in June 1937 in the Joplin High School auditorium. The group gave unanimous support to the founding of a junior college and chose William C. Markwardt, a Joplin baker and civic leader, as their chairman.
The institution found a new home at Fourth Street and Byers Avenue from 1938 to 1959. The building, which was originally constructed in 1897 and then nearly doubled in size in 1907, had previously served as the home of Joplin High School and later as North Junior High School before being renovated for use by the fledgling college.
The new home for the junior college was completed in time for the fall semester and diplomas were presented to 24 graduates on May 17, 1939. The school would later move back to its original building from 1959 to 1967 before transitioning into a four-year institution at the former Mission Hills estate.
Different graduates recalled their various experiences throughout the evening. For Gene Hays who attended JJC from 1948-49, his fondest memories were of Arthur Bowls’ Art classes and Marita Williams and her marionettes in English Lit class, as well as watching the west wall collapse.
Dave Currey of Houston, Tex. who attended JJC from 1963-64 recalled his accounting classes.
“I remember we had to be their Monday through Wednesday and if we got our lessons done, we were off Thursday and Friday, and I just thought that’s the way it was so I had some adjusting to do,” he said.
Dave’s brother, John Currey, was the first person to graduate with a diploma from JJC in 1939. John Currey was later named outstanding alumni at MSSU in 1997.
“It’s Important to remember where you came from, where you started and what it was like in the old days.” Dave Currey said.
Missouri Southern President Dr. Alan Marble was also on hand for the event and stated that Southern’s history is rooted in Joplin Junior College.
“This reunion is an opportunity for us to celebrate the students who attended JJC and who helped establish so much of what we hold dear today at Missouri Southern State University,” Marble said.
After the tour of the original campus, a reception was held at the Scottish Rite Cathedral located at 505 Byers Ave. featuring a dinner, remarks from Dr. Marble and Executive Vice President Dr. Brad Hodson, and a video presentation on the college’s history.