In the spring of 1893 I decided to construct a suitable building for my school. Plans were prepared by Mr. Hollister of Saginaw and Mr. Edwards of Owosso was the successful bidder. The total cost of the building was to be about twenty thousand dollars. I had accumulated something more than five thousand dollars, which was on deposit in the Northern National Bank of Big Rapids. When the foundation and the framework for one story was completed, the bank failed.
The builder had, on the grounds, more than ten thousand dollars worth of material. Mr. Edwards rightfully demanded his payments in accordance with the contract. I saw bankruptcy for myself and the builder staring me in the face. An appeal to the other bank brought no success. I appealed to building and loan associations in vain.
It occurred to me that possibly former students could be induced to purchase certificates of stock in small denominations. The response was generous. Not only former students but friends of former students made liberal purchases. No gifts were received and none were asked for. Through this help I induced a building association of Detroit to furnish sufficient money to enable me to complete the building.
In January 1894, when the building was dedicated, the name Ferris Institute was substituted for Ferris Industrial School [sic incorporated, see note page 232, "1898"]. I felt that in the light of my experience the school was in no sense industrial. Up to this time department records or systematic records of any kind had not been kept, consequently at this writing, I am unable to describe with accuracy the number of departments or even mention actual members of the faculty. The maximum attendance occurred in the summer sessions when we enrolled six or seven hundred students.
In 1896 I decided to build a special heating plant. This plant was nearing completion when the Mecosta County Savings Bank failed. This blow was severe, because the money for building the plant was on deposit in this bank. Furthermore, hundreds of students had money on deposit, and everyone had previously received my personal guarantee of its payment. Every student except H. J. Wilson received one hundred per cent of his deposit. He refused to accept a larger percentage than regular creditors received.
In the general conduct of the Ferris Institute no important changes occurred nor were planned until the Spring of 1898. Plans were prepared for a three story structure South of the original building. The declaration of war against Spain made postponement necessary. Nearly all of the Ferris Institute boys who were eligible, enlisted. It was useless to even advise the unfit to remain at home. Everybody was determined to have a hand in the conflict. The general attendance was not affected to any very marked degree.
In 1901 work on the building proposed in 1898 was begun. On the first floor provision was made for chemistry and pharmacy. The second floor was equipped for biology, literature and drawing. The third floor was for shorthand and typewriting.
During all these years the Institute grew steadily. Telegraphy, music, drawing, and kindergarten were added. It was while the school was down town that kindergarten was introduced. This department never had a large enrollment, even after the State permitted the Institute to grant life certificates. The kindergarten embodied one of my educational dreams, consequently I made vigorous efforts to convert the dream into a reality. Up to the present hour America refuses to recognize to any large extent the fundamental value of this educational provision. During the World War the Vocal Music and Drawing department discontinued.
The profitable departments have always been English, college preparatory, pharmacy, telegraphy, business and shorthand. All of the foregoing except the college preparatory appeal to man's commercial instinct. Food, clothing, and shelter even in this enlightened age command the activities of man. One ray of real sunshine has broken through the clouds. I rejoice in the fact that the college preparatory department continues to grow. Many men and women who were deprived of high school opportunities, or who ignored these advantages, enroll every year. Ferris Institute college preparatory graduates never fail in the higher institutions of learning. They are the students who know the value of an education, and knowing the value of an education they work with untiring zeal. The standards of the Ferris Institute are higher than those of most other preparatory schools, hence the success of our graduates.
At this writing the Ferris Institute is beginning its thirty-ninth year. Every morning during all these years thirty minutes have been devoted to "Morning Exercises." These exercises open with congregational singing. Now and then the music is special. Twenty minutes remain for readings or short talks by the president. In these readings the lives and thoughts of many great men and women are presented. Every possible effort is put forth to awaken the students to a realization of their possibilities. The talks are on the great themes of life sometimes on various phases of conduct as revealed in the daily lives of the students. Thousands who have gone out from this great school testify to the worth of the Morning Exercises. I have always entertained the notion that the majority of mankind sleep twenty-four hours a day. Awaken students to a realization of what it means to live and they will have little difficulty in performance. The Morning Exercises are a happy introduction to the day's work. I ought to add that whenever great men or great women are available, they are invited to speak to the school.
On investigation I find that the majority of students, even college graduates, are not readers. The American home is largely responsible for this condition. Likewise the school is more or less blameworthy. Someone chancing to read these lines, may challenge my statements. There is a kind of mental dissipation in the form of reading story books, newspapers, magazines, which is a hindrance to real reading the reading of great books.