Le Mars, Iowa
I had the map of Le Mars, IA, firmly in mind when I came up from Sioux City in May, 2012, but I immediately became lost (in a town of fewer than 10,000 residents). However, the Chamber of Commerce was able to point me in the direction of the Westmar campus. I obtained the 1914 Pilot through the Westmar alumni association.
Westmar College was a school of many names. It was founded as Northwestern Normal School in 1887. By 1889 it had 150 students studying in five divisions—normal, business, music, elocution, and military drill. In 1892 Le Mars Normal School was organized by local business people to take up the effort begun by Northwestern. In 1900 the United Evangelical Church took over the school and renamed it Western Union College. In the same year a devastating fire forced a rebuilding of the campus, much of the funding coming from citizens of Le Mars.
In the course of the 20th century, Western Union College developed liberal arts curricula. But during World War II it added a naval aviation cadet program. It also opened a venetian blind factory to provide employment for students. In
1948 the name of the school was changed again to Westmar College, a name it held until 1990. In 1990 it became a part of a Japanese-based global educational consortium and was renamed Teiko-Westmar. The United Methodist Church—successor to the United Evangelical Church—withdrew support. Shortly thereafter, the school’s accreditation was suspended.
In 1995 the school was purchased by Advanced Worldwide Education of California and the name was changed once again to Westmar University. The city of Le Mars again assumed ownership in 1996, operating the school as an independent, liberal arts college. Unable to meet financial obligations, the school closed its doors after 107 years in November 1997.
The 1955 yearbook shows a typical small liberal arts college. The student body numbered around 475. Most majored in typical liberal arts disciplines—history, philosophy, economics, biology, natural science. Elementary education was the largest professional field. With the exception of the YMCA and YWCA chapters, student organizations tended to be discipline based.
Bricks and Mortar
In 1901, after the great fire, Thoren Hall, named for the first president, was opened, serving as a classroom/administration building and musical conservatory. Due to deterioration and instability, the building was razed in 1990. Another brick structure, Dubs Memorial Hall, was added in 1920, housing the liberal arts.
After the college closed, Dubs, was one of three buildings demolished in 2002. Other campus buildings have been sold or “repurposed.” When I visited, the old campus was alive with people and activity.
Thoren Hall in 1914 (Pilot, Courtesy of Westmar College Alumni Association).
Team name: Eagles
Colors: Blue and White (However, the 1914 Pilot speaks of the “old gold and maroon.”)
Western Union fielded teams in football, basketball, and tennis. The 1914 Pilot shows a women’s basketball team, but gives no indication of any games played.
Le Mars Normal School played the first recorded football game in 1894. The school played off and off through 1917, and continuously 1919-1942, 1946-1951, and 1953-1997. The high water mark of Westmar football came in the years 1964-68 when The Eagles went 39-5-1. They were undefeated in 1968 (9-0). In 1987 the Eagles were selected to play in the NAIA Division II playoffs, losing to Wisconsin-Stevens Point 50-24. Westmar was a charter member of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, withdrawing in 1960. Their great teams of the mid and late 1960’s were champions or co-champions of the Tri-State Conference.
(Above) members of the 1913-14 women's basketball team strike a winsome pose. Their coach (inset) is the quarterback on the football team. (Pilot, Courtesy of the Westmar College Alumni Association)