SPRINGFIELD — Two decades after the school closed, memorabilia from the University of South Dakota at Springfield has a new home — an inmate-built home from the state prison now occupying the former college campus.

After the college closed in 1984, its archives and memorabilia were moved to the Springfield Historical Museum. The college evolved as Springfield Normal School, Southern State Teachers' College, Southern State College and the University of South Dakota-Springfield.

As one of his last acts as governor, U.S. Rep. Bill Janklow (R-S.D.) announced Dec. 4, 2002, he was donating a 1,200 square foot building for the college museum. The building, under construction at Mike Durfee State Prison, is being built to specifications for a July 1 completion date.

The new college museum should be ready for the Aug. 9 all-school reunion in Springfield, said Jon Westling, a former teacher and coach who serves on the Springfield College Archives and Museum Committee.

"We were excited when we heard about Gov. Janklow's donation of the building," Westling said. "This was the boost we needed. Without this building, we wouldn't get far."

The museum already has a site, as Dr. Tom Monfore is providing the museum with free usage of his Main Street lot — where he grew up — next to the Springfield Historical Museum.

Monfore didn't attend the college but remains a strong supporter of the school and community. He attended the University of Wisconsin and now practices as a surgeon in California.

Monfore's donation has given the new college museum an important location next to the current historical museum, said Tom Stone, the final college dean at Springfield who serves on the museum committee.

"Dr. Monfore has made the lot available for as long as we want it for a museum. He is retaining ownership, but it's a lifelong lease at no cost to us," Stone said.

While the land and building represent major strides, much work and fund raising remains. The committee — Stone, Westling, Ray Willard, Don Van Cleave, Marcella Ludens and Clark Thomas — hammered out details at Friday's meeting.

"We figure it will cost $15,000 to get the museum placed on site. We have to raise the money so we are ready to operate the museum," Westling said. "We are trying to get an endowment started to handle annual maintenance and operation of the facility."

After the museum is moved on site, it needs utilities and interior work such as shelving and Sheetrock, Willard said.

"We figure we need $75,000 for our placement and endowment," he said. "We have raised about $16,000. As things get better, we look at it from the standpoint that it will be easier to raise money."

The committee faces as challenge in contacting alumni for fund-raising. While Springfield's permanent records are housed at USD in Vermillion, many of the alumni records for the 2,000 to 3,000 graduates were lost or destroyed. Still, alumni reunions have been held in Sioux Falls and Springfield.

The new museum, a free-standing building, will have a connecting walkway to the Springfield Historical Museum. Thomas, the current curator, will serve the college museum as well as the Historical Museum. He will oversee both museums, which will be open on Sunday afternoons from Memorial Day to Labor Day as well as other times by appointment.

"By moving our college materials over to the new museum, that makes more room for the Springfield Historical Museum. We are not accustomed to having that much room," Thomas said.

The march of time — which brings the deaths of alumni and the loss of archives and memorabilia — makes the college museum more crucial with each passing year, Stone said. He noted the preservation of a catalog from 1904 and programs from plays and games in the 1920s.

"Down the road, we envision getting more things from around the country, from all the college eras. The materials will help tell the story of the college," he said.

"It's extremely important that we get this done. We are losing a lot of very prominent people. Hopefully, this will help with family histories as children and grandchildren use the college for research."

The museum will help tell the entire history of the Springfield school, including the bitter and tearful battle to keep the school open, Stone said.

"I was campus dean and handled all correspondence during the last year of the college. There was a complete set of news clippings of stories and editorials from that last year," he said.

"They should be part of the history in the museum. Based on the information we had, we thought we were sold at one time."

During World War II, the college was down to 59 students including only six men in 1943. The following year, only one man enrolled. The college nearly closed in 1953 but survived for another three decades.

"There were challenges, but it was the happiest, friendliest campus anywhere," Westling said. "We had graduates who were teaching for 100 miles in three directions."

Ludens served as the college's administrative assistant and took a major leadership role during a president's illness. "We were a small college, whereas you could get lost at a bigger college elsewhere," she said.

The museum will provide a major boost in preserving the school's history, said Sandy Korkow, the Springfield Community Development Coordinator who has worked with the museum and college reunions.

"The space is a big plus. Anytime you add on to a historical project, you're telling the Springfield story," she said. "The museum, and the publicity surrounding it, create a bigger story. People learn what the college means to Springfield."

Korkow said she is amazed at the Springfield alumni across the nation.

"A college is a very special place, and preserving that part of Springfield is a very worth endeavor," she said. "You are honoring and respecting the lives of the students and faculty."

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.