Yankton, South Dakota
I came to Yankton from neighboring Springfield, SD, whose state college was converted to a prison in the same year that Yankton closed. The alumni director kindly provided me with a seal and photos. These have been supplemented by materials from the 1917 Okihe, the Yankton College yearbook.
Yankton College, founded in 1881, is the oldest college in Dakota Territory, predating the formation of the state. Founded by Joseph Ward, who also served as its first president, Yankton College was a realization of his dream to form a Christian institution of higher learning in Dakota Territory. It was long associated with the Congregational Christian Church—later United Church of Christ. From the start, Ward “laid down courses abreast of the standards customary at that time in old and well-established institutions.” Students had a choice of classical and scientific courses of study—the difference being the study of Greek. However, Greek soon became required of the scientific students. In addition to the four-year college program, Yankton originally offered a three-year preparatory program and a two-year sub-preparatory program. Yankton also offered special programs for music and art students, and soon added a teachers’ course. From five students in the first year, Yankton College quickly passed the 100-student mark.
In addition to the usual religious and literary societies, Yankton was very strong in music, forensics and drama.
Eventually, a debt of a million dollars and an enrollment of just 240 students became too much. After 103 years, Yankton College closed at the end of the fall semester of 1984. However, Yankton College remains a strong presence in the Yankton community with an active alumni office and a scholarship fund to support deserving college students.
Bricks and Mortar
The flagship building for Yankton College was the Conservatory, built on College Hill in 1882. Built of Sioux Falls jasper, it was dedicated in 1884 and came to be known as Middle Hall. Other early buildings were Dakin Hall, the young women’s dormitory built in 1890, and Ward Hall of Science, built in 1894. Dakin Hall burned in 1908 and was replaced by Kingsbury Hall in the same year.
Campus buildings sat idle from 1984 until1989 when the federal government purchased them for use as a prison camp. A 2006 Internet article, Prison Journal #9 notes that when the Bureau of Prisons took over, the campus was in “poor shape,” but that since then, all the buildings and grounds had been renovated. The BOP agreement with the city of Yankton prevents adding buildings, so that the campus remains at twelve buildings.
Team name: Greyhounds
Colors: Black and Gold
Yankton College began football in 1894. In 1917 they became one of the charter members of the South Dakota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. From 1960 to 1980 Yankton competed in the Tri-State Conference with private schools in Iowa and Nebraska. Yankton returned to the SDIAC in 1981, remaining until the school closed. The most successful seasons were as members of the Tri-State. In the three-season period 1965-67, the Greyhounds went 21-4.
The most famous alumnus of the football program is Lyle Alzado, who went from Yankton to a fourteen-year career in the NFL. Other NFL players from Yankton were Dean Wink (1967), Les Goodman (1973), and Reuben Mendoza (1986).
The 1917 Okihe shows varsity teams in basketball, track and baseball—in addition to football. At that time athletics for women were limited to inter-class and inter-society competition.
The 1915 Greyhounds scored only three touchdowns all season in compiling a 1-7 record. Image from the 1917 Okihe.
Middle Hall (Courtesy of Yankton College Alumni Association)