Legacy of Alma’s Founding Fathers:
‘We want a College of High Literary and Scientific Character’
In 1885, the Presbyterian Synod of Michigan appointed a committee to consider the establishment of a Presbyterian College within the state and to secure funds for its foundation.
This committee included notable names such as J. Ambrose Wight, who preached about the need for such a college, inspiring wealthy lumberman Alexander Folsom to pledge $50,000 to the cause.
With additional pledges, the committee found Ammi W. Wright, an Alma lumberman with several business interests who was eager to promote religious causes. He offered two buildings to the College and about 30 acres of land.
The first Board of Trustees was soon formed, and it included Wight, Wright, August F. Bruske, George F. Hunting and Thomas F. Merrill. Many of these names are now legacies that live on within the buildings on campus.
The board began the process of putting together the College’s first faculty in 1886. Hunting, who became Alma College’s first president, was a professor of moral and mental science. Other faculty members included Mary C. Gelston, Theodore Nelson, Joseph W. Ewing, Charles A. Davis and Kendall P. Brooks, Sr.
It was determined that the College should be based on the principle of a liberal arts education, with the board saying, “We want a college of high literary and scientific character, furnishing excellent educational advantages in all departments.”
While 96 students enrolled, the first year did not go without difficulty. Faced with a $3,000 deficit, it would be one of many years when expenses exceeded income.
As a result, faculty took pay cuts, sometimes returning the pay they had already pocketed, and Hunting was relieved of his faculty duties in order to spend more time fund raising.
Such sacrifices would go on to become a permanent reflection of Alma’s selfless character. They also were a mark of the bold leadership that founded the College.