Bracing themselves against strong winds and threatening skies, about 750 people gathered on the campus of Missouri Southern State College on Oct. 29, 1967, to hear Missouri Gov. Warren E. Hearnes talk about the school as a catalyst for progress.
Many in the audience had watched the college go from a dream on paper to brick-and-mortar reality in three years.
Hearnes, a steadfast advocate for higher education in Missouri, said the college was needed because of the increasing complexity of the world, and the uncertainty of what the future might hold.
“What we dedicate today can, with continued support, grow to meet the unknown needs of tomorrow,” said Hearnes.
Southern’s first academic buildings — Hearnes Hall, Spiva Library, Reynolds Hall and the fine arts complex — were dedicated by Gene Taylor, then the vice president of the college’s Board of Trustees. He would later become the U.S. representative for Southwest Missouri.
That dedication 45 years ago marked a new beginning for Southern, which had existed for 27 years as Joplin Junior College and three years as Jasper County Junior College. When it began in 1937, Joplin Junior College had 114 students and nine faculty members.
Now, 75 years later, Southern has grown into a university with an enrollment of approximately 5,600 students, 35 buildings and 200 full-time professors and 140 part-time instructors.
In its early years, Joplin Junior College was a branch of the Joplin School District. It formed after a meeting of 150 to 200 men and women 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 chairman of the movement.
The new junior college opened shop in temporary quarters in what then was Joplin Senior High School at Eighth Street and Wall Avenue. In the spring of 1938, voters in the Joplin school district approved a bond issue to renovate a building at the southeast corner of Fourth Street and Byers Avenue as the junior college’s first permanent home.