Freeman Junior College
Freeman, South Dakota
1903-1986 (academy still operates)
The 1977 Pioneer is available from Internet Archive. The Argus-News of Sioux Falls had regular coverage of school events. John D. Unruh and Samuel J. Steiner have an online history of the school in the Mennonitesches Lexikon. Many Hands, Minds and Hearts (2000) by Marie J. Waldner and Marnette D. (Ortman) Hofer is a book-length history of the school.
South Dakota Mennonite College, “a church school which would provide German religious teacher training courses,” was chartered in 1900 and opened in 1903 with 109 students. By 1907 the Argus-News reported four programs: a two-year prep program, three-year academic and normal programs, and a four-year biblical program. In 1923 the school began offering college-level courses; Freeman Junior College was accredited in 1927. In 1977 the Pioneer shows a student body of 50 junior college students 63 academy students and eleven special students. In addition to the regular academic curriculum, F.J.C. offered special programs in Farm and Ranch Management, Electronics, Early Childhood Education, Practical Nursing, Secretarial Work, and Business Education.
Freeman College quickly developed a reputation for strong liberal arts programs. In 1914 the Argus-News reported a debate team had been organized to challenge Menno High School. In succeeding years Sioux Falls College, Dakota Wesleyan, Huron and even the Agricultural College began to appear on the debate schedule. There was also a school drama—often of a religious nature—was performed annually. The music department also developed performance talents. Students participated in The Messiah in 1914 and by 1920 were performing an annual cantata each Christmas season. Around 1930 the college chorus began annual tours. By 1977 the chorus, involving more than half of the junior college students, toured into Manitoba.
In 1986 the Mennonite Weekly Review reported that Freeman Junior College would close because of “mounting debt and dwindling enrollment,” but that Freeman Academy would remain open with plans for junior high classes to be added. The program has since been extended through elementary and primary grades down to kindergarten and daycare.
1977 practical nursing graduates. Image from the Pioneer.
Bricks and Mortar
The first building was completed in 1903 at a cost of $7,000. A two-story frame structure, it contained four large recitation rooms, a library, an office, and an assembly room. Now known as Music Hall, it also houses kindergarten and primary classes. The first brick building on the nine-
acre campus was the gymnasium/auditorium, built in 1923 at a cost of $12,000. Measuring 59 by 96 feet, it was described by the Argus-News as “possibly one of the best in the northwest for a school of this ranking.” It now serves as the industrial arts building for Freeman Academy.
In 1926 the school added Mennonite Memorial Hall, the new administration building. Measuring 112 by 64 feet, it was a three-story brick structure, containing the chapel, and classrooms for manual training and domestic science. Today it also houses classrooms for grades 3-12 as well as the computer labs.
Pioneer Hall, the new gymnasium/auditorium, was added in 1949. Built of local brickcrete and constructed with a great amount of volunteer labor, it provided seating for 2,500. Since athletic events have moved to the newer Sterling Hall (2008), Pioneer Hall now serves as a venue for musicals, plays, banquets and receptions.
Team name: Bobcats
School colors: Maroon and Gold
Freeman College began playing basketball after World War I. Among early opponents were Yankton College, Freeman High School, and Sioux Falls College. But after Freeman became a Junior College, their low numbers placed them at a disadvantage at that level. The 1977 Pioneer shows an eight-member basketball team selected from a pool of perhaps twenty male students.
Opponents were Freshmen teams from larger schools or varsity teams from small regional schools such as Nettleton Business College, Nebraska Central College, Trinity Bible College, Sioux Empire Community College, Wessington Springs Junior College, and National Business College—as well as their own alumni.
Freeman College had, at times, fielded a women’s basketball team. However by 1977, the only women’s sport was volleyball. That team split games with Dakota Wesleyan and Sioux Falls.
The 1976-77 Bobcats. Image from the Pioneer.