SPRINGFIELD — To honor their now-closed Springfield college, its supporters made a monumental decision.
They raised funds and commissioned a large monument, incorporating the school’s different eras in its 103-year-old history.
You could say the decision was set in stone.
The monument measures about 15 feet wide, 2 feet deep and about 4 feet high, according to committee member Lawrence Namminga. The project cost around $12,000 and has been placed in front of the college museum on Main Street.
The monument will receive a special audience this weekend, as the college holds its first reunion since 2015, Namminga said. He has lived in the area much of his life and graduated from Southern State College in 1966.
"We’re having the reunion on Saturday at the Springfield school gym," he said. "The monument was the main motivation for the reunion. We wanted to share it with as many people as possible and as early as possible, so we decided to hold another reunion. We’ll see how this one goes, and then we’ll make the determination if we’ll have another one in five years."
The reunion has drawn a great deal of interest, said organizer Janet Wagner. The reunion opens at 10 a.m. with coffee and a time for visiting, followed by noon lunch and a short program.
Wagner graduated from the University of South Dakota-Springfield in 1974 and has also lived most of her life in the immediate area.
"We were thinking we might have 150 or 200 people who would show up, but we have more than 250 people signed up so far," she said. "We have people from all over. They’re flying in, staying in hotels. Some just found out about it and are driving in. We are hoping good publicity will bring people out of the woodwork."
Wagner noted one particular alumnus’ enthusiasm. "We have a 92-year-old graduate who’s so excited. He can’t wait to get here," she said.
HONORING A MEMORY
The campus may be closed, but the spirit remains, Wagner said. The monument honors the ways in which the school served the region — from the original mission of training teachers to the introduction of vocational programs in the later years.
The monument committee had a good idea of what it wanted, Namminga said.
"We wanted the center point to come from Main Hall, which was our administrative building on campus," he said. "The other parts of the monument represent the school’s different names during its history."
At the same time, its members knew what they definitely didn’t want for features or a theme, Namminga said.
"We didn’t want it to look like a gravestone on each side, that this was some kind of death knell for the college," he said. "We have fond memories with friends and acquaintances that made it what it was, to remind us of the good times."
The public college, founded in 1881, was closed in 1984 and converted into a prison during the administration of then-Gov. Bill Janklow. The school was known by many names over the years — Southern Normal School, Southern State Teachers College, Southern State College and finally the University of South Dakota at Springfield.
IT’S THE PEOPLE
Thirty-five years have passed since the school’s closing, but Saturday’s reunion will remind others of what made the college so special, Namminga said.
In turn, the Springfield community saw the college as a vibrant part of its economy and social life, Wagner said.
"When the college closed, it wasn’t just the school. The closing affected the whole community and really the surrounding area and even the entire state," she said. "So many of the teachers had attended Springfield and were in schools all across South Dakota and into other states. We also had technical programs that were popular. Today, you hear that we need those kinds of programs again."
The former Springfield students, staff and friends sought to find a way of keeping the school’s history alive, Namminga said. As one of his last acts as governor, Janklow donated a prisoner-built home that was converted into a museum. The Main Street building was constructed by inmates at Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield, housed on the former college campus.
"The museum committee continues to emphasize the importance of the college and the impact of its programs in South Dakota and the surrounding area," Namminga said.
Tom Stone, who was a dean at the college, spearheaded the movement to start a museum for housing the school’s memorabilia. Previously, items were stored anywhere from the Springfield Museum, which featured community history, to state archives in Pierre.
He also played a key role in proposing the monument, taking the museum’s goal to the next level. The committee visited Yankton businesses to find suitable stone for the monument, and the members connected with Ultimate Edge and Landscaping for the design and work.
The design incorporated the two large sandstone rocks from Main Hall that said State Normal School. Field stones were cut and polished on each side, reflecting the changes from the different eras.
The Springfield committee has raised money for the monument but still welcomes donations to cover final expenses and future costs, Namminga said.
When starting the college museum, the Springfield committee raised about $100,000. The money was invested with the South Dakota Community Foundation to create an endowment for ongoing expenses.
In the same way, the committee wants to establish an ongoing fund for maintenance of the monument, Namminga said. He wants the museum and monument to reflect not only the college’s campus but also the special people and memories.
On Saturday, old memories will rise once again, Namminga predicted.
"Our emphasis is on people getting together. We didn’t want a big program, and we didn’t want it to take away from people spending time talking with each other," he said. "It’s been 35 years since the school closed, and we still have people who are devoted Pointer fans. They want to get together with their friends."
Wagner agreed, noting the reunions become even more special each passing year. Anyone can attend Saturday’s gathering at the Springfield school gym, which opens with coffee and cookies at 10 a.m. The noon lunch will be followed by a short program.
"You don’t need to be alumni," she said. "You can come and visit people that you know."
Wagner believes the museum and monument will stir many warm memories and a large dose of pride.
"When people go by the museum and monument, they can say, ‘That was me. I was part of it,’" she said. "It’s important for people to realize they were part of something that provided so much for others."
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