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Author's Defense

This book was written without malice, but certainly not without forethought.

In 1956 when I came to Ferris in the office of institutional relations, I had not been on the scene a week when then President Victor F. Spathelf came to me with some centennial publications. "We will be celebrating our hundredth anniversary before you know it," he said. "Give it some thought."

In the subsequent years, I practiced on celebrations for FSC's 75th, the 80th, the 85th, and the 90th anniversaries. By the time the 90th rolled around, there was lots of talk about the 100th.

In my role as news editor for the institution in the 20 years following my arrival in Big Rapids, I wrote about and supervised photography for everything official that happened at the burgeoning school in such publications as the Expositor, (which became the FYI), the Alumni Journal, in the newspapers (local and regional and sometimes national) and in college brochures. And for those 20 years I edited the college's catalog. One can't help but learn a great deal about an institution by editing its catalog.

When I arrived, Ferris had only been in the state system six years, and Spathelf had only been at the helm for four of those years. Naturally many exciting events happened to talk about.

As background for my articles, I read a great deal about Mr. Ferris and the school he founded. During many of my waking hours and sometimes my sleeping ones, the college was uppermost in my mind.

Occasionally out of one of these "institutional pigeonholes" which I carry around in my mind, the thought would emerge: "Who is going to put this all together for a centennial history?"

But it was not until the day I announced my plans for retirement that I really knew who was going to get that job. While I was at lunch that day there had appeared "mysteriously" on my desk a volume on the centennial history of a state university -- one which had absolutely no connection with Ferris, but one which was a good example of what was expected in such a work.

Once I was hooked on the idea of writing the book, I began saturating myself with information I found by delving into the archives adjacent to the Ferris Historical Room.

For more than two years I read reams of unpublished material and volumes of published words; I talked to hundreds of people and sorted through numerous collections of photographs.

I developed a great kindredship with Mr. Ferris, noting that we shared some physical similarities. I became aware that the phrasing and style of his letters was also similar to mine. After I had digested all the available material, I spent another three years writing several drafts of this book until I found a style that I thought would be most palatable to the majority -- not too detailed, yet not too sparse; something that would tell a convincing story of this remarkable school.

The material I have presented is factual. I have made very few assumptions that are not documented.

And herein lies the first puzzlement. Some people are going to be disappointed because they won't find their favorite story in these pages.

The problem is that numerous legends have grown up around Mr. Ferris. In the oral histories recorded in preparation for this book, many told the same story, but not always in the same time frame, and versions of the stories varied with the tellers.

For instance, one of the most frequently reported stories from those who knew Mr. Ferris or said they did was about the time the men students strewed toilet paper all over their toilet room, and Mr. Ferris in retaliation tied corncobs to the stools, advising students that would be their just due until they learned that toilet paper was not to be misused.

Another frequently repeated legend was that Mr. Ferris "parked" his cigar on a tree stump outside his office when he arrived for work in the morning, retrieving it when he left for home in the evening, leaving it there all day long to the whims of whatever animals or birds might be in the neighborhood or at the mercy of whatever devilment some student might devise.

Actually there was no tree stump there, but there was a mailbox with a shelf under it for packages and such. It was on this protected shelf that Mr. Ferris would have likely "parked" his cigar.

In order to compensate for not reporting a favorite legend, I have tried within these pages to report other equally as entrancing, yet fully documented, events which characterize the man and the school.

After I finished my final draft, my critics and my editors have played the devil's advocate with their blue pencils.

And you, "dear reader," will never know whether I purposely or inadvertently omitted something you think was pertinent or whether it ended on "the cutting room floor."

I have, however, tried to capsulate what I think is a remarkable history of a remarkable institution.

Joseph E. Deupree
Big Rapids, MI
Nov. 1981

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