Intermountain Union College
Helena/Great Falls/Billings, Montana
Kathy Bolem, who had eleven relatives—including her grandparents—attend Montana Wesleyan/Intermountain Union College, has placed portions of her grandmother’s yearbooks online. She graciously scanned more sports photos for me to use.
Intermountain Union College was formed in Helena from a merger of Montana Wesleyan College and College of Montana from Deer Lodge. After twelve years in Helena, the three-building campus was severely damaged by earthquakes on October 18-31, 1935. The walls collapsed on the new gymnasium. Damage to the classroom building and the dormitory ultimately made both uninhabitable. For a short time the college moved to Great Falls before accepting an invitation to share the campus of
Billings Polytechnic Institute.
Yearbooks of Intermountain Union show a campus with the standard student activities. The college enrollment appears to be around 150 with 60 Freshmen and 14 Seniors. In addition there was an academy. IUC was strong in debate, participating on a national stage. In 1925 the men’s team made a 10-match trip through Utah, Colorado and Montana, while the women’s team was making a 7-match tour of Montana, Washington and Idaho. Earlier teams had debated in Pennsylvania. Two literary societies—Daedalian and Philodorian—supported the oratory and debate activities. The college also had a chapter of Pi Kappa Delta, the national honorary fraternity for debate.
Though IUC shared a campus with Billings Poly, and students could access each other’s classes, the two schools maintained separate identities until 1947, when they merged to create Rocky Mountain College.
Bricks and Mortar
The third home of Montana Wesleyan College was Mills Hall. The second building of that name was located at 1539 11th Avenue in Helena. By the time of the merger with College of Montana, it served as the women’s dormitory. Damaged in the 1935 earthquake, it was abandoned when the school moved to Great Falls. Renovated, it served as the home of Deaconess School until 1970, when that school moved to a new location. Mills Hall then served as headquarters for the Montana Department of Corrections until 2010. Derelict, it was razed in the spring of 2015.
Mills Hall in 1923 (Image courtesy of Intermountain.org)
Colors: Orange and Blue
Team name: Panthers
Sports activities at Intermountain Union proceeded from Montana Wesleyan days without a break, the new entity retaining the same team name and colors.
The Panthers experienced little success in football. College Football Data Warehouse shows only two winning seasons. Common opponents included Mt. St. Charles (now Carroll), Montana Mines (now Tech), Montana Normal (now Western Montana) and Billings Polytechnic (now Rocky Mountain) in Montana, Ricks JC (now BYU-Rix) and Southern Idaho (now Idaho State) in Idaho and Dakota Wesleyan in South Dakota. Formerly conference rivals of Montana and Montana State, the Panthers later began playing Freshman teams from those schools.
Intermountain Union also fielded a women’s basketball team in 1925-26 at a time when some areas of the region played a six-member half-court game and some played a five-member full court game. IUC women also played intramural tennis.
An interesting Intermountain Union College concept was the “I” Club. While this group served the function of a support group for men’s athletics, requirements for earning the coveted orange “I” suggest that it was itself a sports group . Members were required to hike 100 miles and be proficient in volleyball, basketball, baseball, and tennis and “survive an initiation.”
The 1925-26 women’s basketball team had a 3-4 record against high school and independent teams, sometimes playing men’s rules and sometimes women’s. (Image from Prickly Pear, courtesy of Kathy Bolem)