Wayne State College

History of Wayne State College

New Generation of Students

Broadcasters at WSC

One of the most important happenings in Wayne State’s history occurred in 1949 when the legislature authorized the college to begin offering noneducation baccalaureate degrees. President Anderson had started promoting this idea shortly after he became president in 1935, but it was not until after the war and under the leadership of the state’s new governor, Wayne State graduate Val Petersen, that the legislature, over the opposition of the universities in Lincoln and Omaha, passed the legislation that gave teachers colleges the right to offer non-education degrees. 

An equally important but more subtle area of change was taking place in this era as well. A new generation of students would in gathering numbers begin remaking the face not only of higher education but of American society as a whole: a second generation of the American “youth culture” that had first emerged in the 1920s was revived and redoubled after World War II. Most of this development would be associated with the 1950s and 1960s, but early signs of a new generation of college students at Wayne State were evident in the 1940s.

Dr. John Rice assumes Presidency

Dr. John D. Rice was named the fourth president of the college in 1951. He was born in Grand Island, and graduated from Grand Island High School and Grand Island College. He received his M.A. degree from Columbia University and his Ed. D. degree from Colorado State College of Education, Greeley, in 1949. Prior to his being named by the State Normal Board to replace President Morey, Rice had been superintendent of schools at Aberdeen, South Dakota, since 1947. Before 1947 he had held superintendent positions in Holbrook, Arapahoe, Superior, Glenville and Kearney — all in Nebraska.

Just as Dr. Morey’s presidency was sadly cut short, so was Dr. Rice’s. After an illness lasting several months, Dr. Rice died in February 1956. 

Dr. William Brandenburg takes over as President

Dr. William A. Brandenburg was named the fifth president of the college in 1956. He held the office until 1973, the second longest tenure of any president after U.S. Conn.

Brandenburg grew up in Pittsburgh, Kansas, where his father was president of Kansas State Teachers College. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Pittsburgh and, after serving in the Marine Corps during World War II, he earned his doctorate from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Before coming to Wayne he was on the faculty of Ohio State University and had held the position of dean of the faculty at William Woods College in Fallon, Missouri and Northwest Missouri State College.

The 1960s

The 1960s brought dramatic changes to Wayne State, as to most other institution of higher education in America, but there was no sharp break between the 1950s and 1960s, and the early years of the 1960s were in many ways a continuation of developments already under way in the late 1950s. The prolonged and unprecedented period of growth that had started in 1953 with the end of the Korean War continued through the entire 1960s.

The fall semester of 1960 opened with another record number of students on campus. More than 600 of them were freshmen, and 50 started the semester sleeping on cots in a large open area in the basement of Rice auditorium for several weeks until better housing arrangements could be worked out. 

Enrollment feeds building boom

The approval in the fall of 1960 to build a new food service facility quickly grew into plans for an entirely new Student Union, which in turn allowed for the renovation of the old Student Union into a classroom and office building housing the business and social science programs. With the completion of the Student Center in 1962 approval was garnered for the funding of a new Fine Arts building, plus a new power plant and a natatorium addition to Rice Auditorium. In 1963 a prominent landmark, the campus water tower, was demolished as the campus was integrated into the Wayne city water system. 

In 1964 the building of yet another large dormitory and a new science building were approved. The dormitory, named after the long-time economics and sociology faculty member and social science division head O. R. Bowen, was completed in 1966. It was the first major departure from the campus’s traditional red brick academic architecture. The modern rise nine-story dormitory was the tallest building in northeast Nebraska and a prominent landmark in the city of Wayne. Bowen Hall was also the school’s second coed dormitory. The completion of the similarly modernist Carhart Science Building was delayed for several years, but completed in 1970. 

College Foundation created

Another important innovation in the fall of 1961 was the creation of the Wayne State College Foundation. Local Wayne, Neb., community leaders Henry Ley, Adon Jeffrey, Ken Olds and former Nebraska governor and Ambassador Val Peterson were the main forces behind its creation. Given the school’s rapid growth and the failure of state appropriations to keep pace, the need for an additional source of funds to support the many endeavors of the College was apparent. In November of 1961 the Foundation was officially incorporated, with Peterson as its first director. 

“Wayne State College” becomes official

In 1960 the state of Nebraska ended the two-year normal school teaching certificate, and Wayne State granted its final two-year degrees, severing its last ties with the old normal school days. In the summer of 1963 the state belatedly recognized the expanded role of the state’s teachers colleges when the legislature officially dropped the words “Nebraska” and “Teachers” from their titles and added their locations to the official designation of the institutions. The “Nebraska State Teachers College” at Wayne became “Wayne State College,” and the “Wayne State” label that had been used regularly since 1910 finally became an official part of the school’s title. 

In the spring of 1962 a long-time feature of Wayne State came to an end when the campus high school closed its doors after its final commencement. Following nationwide trends, the growing number of teacher education students at Wayne State had outgrown the capacity of the campus school to accommodate student teachers, so that more and more student teaching was being done off-campus in area schools. That, combined with increasing budget needs in other areas, led to the closing of the junior and senior high schools. Two years later, the kindergarten-elementary school was also ended, and a major change ensued as the campus school was renovated into the new Hahn administration building and the education program moved into what had been the “Admin” building since 1914.  

Kennedy, Nixon and LBJ

In 1964—for the first time since the 1930s—Wayne Staters supported a Democratic presidential candidate, with LBJ winning an even larger landslide among WSC students than he did in the nation at large. In 1968, student politics had shifted even further to the left. The Vietnam War left President Johnson extremely unpopular, and in a primary straw vote Robert Kennedy was by far the most popular candidate, followed by Eugene McCarthy, with Johnson getting less than 2% of the vote. While Nixon was favored for the Republican nomination, both Kennedy and McCarthy defeated him easily in mock election votes. 

The Peace Corps attracted an amazing amount of interest almost immediately after its creation. Peace Corps recruiters found Wayne Staters a receptive audience, and by the mid-1960s several dozen WSC graduates were volunteering for the Peace Corps each spring. 

Civil rights and Vietnam

The national civil rights movement often seemed a somewhat distant issue for Wayne Staters in the early 1960s, but it did have some impact on the campus. During the Christmas break of 1960-1961, a foreign student attending WSC went to Mississippi to observe civil rights protests, and wrote of his reactions to the protests and to segregation in the Wayne Stater after his return. By the early 1960s there were at least a few African-American students enrolled at Wayne State every year, and the numbers continued to grow steadily, albeit slowly, as the decade progressed. A similar upward trend from a small base also occurred with Hispanic students. 

Deepening American involvement in the Vietnam War in 1964 and 1965 quickly became an important focal point of student activism at Wayne State, as well as elsewhere in the U.S. In the fall of 1965, just after large numbers of American combat troops were sent to Vietnam for the first time, the Wayne Stater began to carry items concerning anti-war protests on other campuses, and there were frequent and heated letters from Wayne State students for and against U.S. actions in Vietnam.

The “Free University”

In the aftermath of the Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations in 1968, Ernie Chambers, at the beginning of his notable and controversial career in Nebraska politics, came to Wayne State and attracted what was called in the Wayne Stater a “massive” audience to hear his controversial views on civil rights issues. Chambers’ powerful presentation brought the issue of civil rights and racial discrimination to Wayne State students, many of whom had little experience with racial minorities before arriving at Wayne State. 

One of the positive developments of this period was the creation of a group of Wayne students and faculty members who volunteered to perform tutoring services on the nearby Winnebago Indian reservation. For several years more than 100 Wayne students made weekly trips to the reservation for this purpose. Eventually this led to a decision to focus attention on improving Native American education on a larger basis by training teachers specifically to be more aware of Native American culture and issues.

The end of an era

At the turn of the new decade, things were still progressing admirably for Wayne State College. The school continued to graduate students in record numbers as previous enrollment highs were coming to fruition. New faculty members were brought on board and dorm occupancy continued to stay close to 100 percent. 

Dr. Brandenburg’s resignation as president of Wayne State College in 1973, after 17 years at the helm, marked the end of a major era in Wayne State’s history. Brandenburg would be remembered as one of the most influential presidents in Wayne State College’s history. He helped change the culture of the school as it made the transition from a teaching college to a more comprehensive institution. Ten major building projects and two large remodeling projects were overseen. 

Dr. Brandenburg stayed on at Wayne State to return to teaching, recalling “Teaching is my first love. I want to finish my career the way it began, teaching.” Sadly, it was not to last, and Dr. Brandenburg died in 1975. In his honor, the original Wayne State administration building was renamed the Brandenburg Education Building as a lasting tribute to his long and distinguished service to students, the college, the community of Wayne, and northeast Nebraska.