Central to the heart

Legacy Family Spans All 5 University Names

By Ellen Blaize, '11, '13

Dockery Old

I’m a proud member of a UCM legacy family. Legacy families are students and alumni whose family members — including parents, stepparents or grandparents — attended or currently attend UCM. Through these families, the heritage of the university passes from generation to generation. To me, it means I’m part of a shared history. It means being able to tell stories, reminisce and relate with multiple generations of relatives: four to be exact. With every name change came another graduate in our family.

 

STATE NORMAL SCHOOL NO. 2

My great-grandma, Myrtle Bell (Randall) Pitchford, graduated from Normal School No. 2 in 1913. Her brother, Alva Randall, was a student in 1915 when the original campus was destroyed by fire. Shortly after the blaze, churches in town opened their doors to the university to use for classes.

Myrtle’s husband, my great-grandpa Ava Pitchford, also went to the Normal School. He arrived by train in 1914, and having never been to Warrensburg, accidentally walked to the courthouse thinking it was the college. Although Myrtle didn’t marry him until years later, Ava and Alva were college buddies.

Back then, the school year was divided into four terms, and tuition was free; students simply had to pay a $5 incidental fee per term. According to a 1914 publication, students were required to submit “satisfactory evidence of a good moral character” from a “person of well-known integrity” on their admissions application. Textbooks were furnished at a rental fee of $1 per year, along with a $3 deposit to ensure proper use and safe return.

The school did not have dormitories, which meant students boarded at private houses in town. The house my great-grandma lived in is still standing, on the corner of Grover and South College streets. She had an upstairs room with no heat and helped the homeowner cook and clean.

Although students attended Normal School No. 2 to become teachers, there was a diverse selection of classes, including Electricity and Magnetism, Household Management, Carpentry and House Building, and Penmanship. I have my great-grandma’s 108-year-old leather-bound yearbook, in which the senior class was asked to provide a suggested epitaph to go next to their picture. My grandma always got a kick out of reading to me her mother’s entry. I like to think I inherited her sense of humor.

Myrtle Randall

 

Central Missouri State Teachers College

My great-uncle, Bob Becker, graduated from Central Missouri State Teachers College with a music degree in 1942. He was drafted into the war that year, so his mother walked in his place and accepted his diploma at commencement. He was a member of the College Quartet and the Crescendo Club, a campus organization started in 1924 for the purpose of cultivating an appreciation of good music. Paul R. Utt, for whom the Utt Building was named, was the organization’s sponsor. During Bob’s time as a student, tuition was only $20 per quarter.

According to the 1940 yearbook, there was a substantial increase in enrollment from 750 students in 1936 to 1,290 in 1939, which prompted an expansion both in staff and facilities. Many new positions were created, and two new buildings were added: the Walter E. Morrow Health and Physical Education Building, now part of the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, and the Ward Edwards Building, which was originally the university library but today houses classrooms and offices such as Admissions, Career Services and Financial Aid. The two new buildings were constructed of local sandstone shipped from Warrensburg, nicknamed “the Quarry City,” in 1845 to build the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City. When the courthouse was destroyed, the stone was recut and shipped back to Warrensburg to construct Morrow and Ward Edwards at a total cost of nearly $500,000.

The cornerstone of Ward Edwards was laid on Nov. 11, 1938, and a copper memorial box containing college information, newspapers, a Bible and a Masonic penny was placed inside. Both buildings were ready for use in the fall of 1938, Bob’s first quarter on campus.

Ward Edwards Cornerstone

 

Central Missouri State College

My grandpa, David Becker, graduated from Central Missouri State College in 1946, the year the institution became known by that name, with an Industrial Arts degree. It was also the university’s 75th year — the Diamond Jubilee. The commencement speaker at his graduation ceremony in 1946 was the one and only J.C. Penney.

Before he passed away, I had the chance to ask Grandpa some questions about his time on campus. His first visit to Warrensburg was in 1938 when his older brother, Bob, started college. He followed suit in 1942 and was only in school for a couple of months before he was called into the draft. After failing the Army physical because of a high heart rate, he decided to continue on with his education.

When the V-12 Navy College Training Program moved in to Yeater Hall during World War II, what had once been a dining area with linen tablecloths and fine dishes became a mess hall, where Grandpa got a job serving food. He lived at 106 Broad Street, a house near campus that is now the Newman Center, UCM’s Catholic campus ministry. As an Industrial Arts major, Grandpa spent much of his time in the Powerhouse and Fine Arts Building, a brick structure constructed in 1904 that housed the Industrial Arts Department on the main floor and a heating plant in the basement. Also known as “West Hall,” the building stood southwest of Old Main (the west end of the current quadrangle) and was demolished in September 1968.

A fond memory Grandpa shared was returning his textbooks at the end of the year and getting his $3 deposit back. He used that money to go with friends to Riggles, a popular Warrensburg restaurant. “As soon as we got the $3 back, we’d hightail it down toward town and get a tenderloin for 50 cents,” he recalled.

Riggles small

 

Central Missouri State University

Both of my parents graduated when the institution’s name was Central Missouri State University, a change that happened in 1972. My mom, Debbie (Garber) Becker, earned an Elementary Education degree in 1976.

“I remember walking through the beautiful, flower-filled quadrangle on sunny spring days to meet friends at the student union,” she recalled. “We’d buy a Coca-Cola for 10 cents at the snack bar and play a game of spades.”

The student union then had beauty and barber shops, a bookstore, a faculty lounge and a large cafeteria that served some of the best food in town and was open on Sundays to serve locals after church. Instead of the splash pad that’s outside what is now known as Elliott Student Union, there used to be a large, rectangular fountain with colored lights. It was a popular prank among students to add soap and watch it overflow with bubbles.

One of Mom’s favorite campus traditions was the annual lighting of the blue spruce in front of the Administration Building at Christmas time. She remembers the name change from Central Missouri State College to Central Missouri State University very clearly, and the sense of pride and prestige it instilled in her and her peers. Two of her siblings, Diana Garber Allsbrook and Steve Garber, also graduated from CMSU, and her mother, Phyllis Garber, took classes toward a teaching degree while living in Yeater Hall in the 1940s.

“Everyone seemed to go to Warrensburg; it was a pretty popular school,” said Phyllis, who is now 97 years old. “I remember living in Yeater Hall, and it was pretty nice. I went to college in the summertime so I could teach school in the fall. I was 19 and taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Bridge Creek, Missouri.”

My dad, James Becker, earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Education in 1975 and a master’s in 1976. His fondest memories include performing in the Concert Choir and with the Madrigal Singers. In 1974, he saw Duke Ellington perform in Hendricks Hall. He remembers many Bible studies in the Alumni Memorial Chapel, where he met my mom in 1972. His sister, Nancy (Becker) Littlejohn, also graduated from CMSU in 1977 and 1991.

Women lived in the dorms on the west side of campus, and men lived in the dorms on the east side. “Life was much more conservative then,” Dad explained. The women had a curfew of 11 p.m., and the doors were locked until early morning. The men had no curfew and could leave their dorms at any time. After getting married in 1975, my parents lived in Hawkins Hall, a dormitory for married couples. Originally located just north of the Multipurpose Building, it has since been removed.

Ellen Parents

 

University of Central Missouri

I started as a freshman in 2007, a year after the institution had become the University of Central Missouri. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Media in 2011 and a master’s in Mass Communication in 2013. My brother, Timothy Becker, graduated with a Networking Technology degree in 2019. Being native Warrensburgers, we essentially grew up on campus. I learned how to ride a bike on the quad when I was 4, and my husband, Josh, proposed to me at the flagpole 20 years later. My brother had many birthday parties at the Union Bowling Center, and we never missed a homecoming parade.

One of my favorite memories is anchoring the news on Central Cable Network (CCN), the university’s local cable channel. I spent much of my time writing for The Muleskinner and worked my way up from assistant news editor to news editor. Thanks to one of my favorite professors, Charles Fair, I then landed a graduate assistantship as the managing editor. I also had fun covering events and creating videos for DigitalBurg.com as a student.

In my current position as an integrated marketing specialist, I’ve decorated my office in the Administration Building with memorabilia I’ve collected over the years that reminds me of each family member.

Ellen Office

 

Legacy Family

As UCM celebrates its sesquicentennial, I can’t help but think back on the past 150 years and all that my family has seen. My great-grandma was on campus when the Titanic sank. My great-uncle was on campus during the attack on Pearl Harbor. My grandpa was on campus during World War II. My parents were on campus near the end of the Vietnam War. I was on campus when Osama bin Laden was found — and now during a global pandemic.

There’s something so special about sharing an alma mater with my relatives. I’m able to feel a kindred closeness to a generation of my family that I never got to meet in person. Knowing that I’m walking the same paths and may be looking up at the same trees my great-grandma did more than 100 years ago is a connection that I would not have without this university.

In between our four generations, nearly 20 additional family members have walked the halls of Central. We have a shared feeling of nostalgia when we hear the Marching Mules practicing each fall, or the cannon go off when the Mules score a touchdown. Every homecoming turns into a family reunion, and we sing every word to UCM’s “Alma Mater” at commencement. We gain a little more UCM pride each time a new family member walks across the stage, and every new job opportunity feels like an exciting win for us all.

Most of all, we know that no matter what happens in life, we have the foundation of a meaningful and valuable education from a university near and dear to our hearts.

Ellen Blaize with Mo

The author, Ellen Blaize, with Mo the Mule in 2015

Are you part of a legacy family? If so, we want to hear from you! To learn more, visit ucmfoundation.org/legacy.

 

 

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