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Brophy Arrives

Ferris Torch with short biography of incomming BrophyThe trustees expected a lot of Byron J. Brophy because of his experience in education, and Brophy did not let them down. From the day he took office, the well-being of the institution was uppermost in his mind.

Brophy was a native of Nova Scotia and had worked as an engineer in India and Australia. He, too, had some work at Indiana University and had spent nine years in public school administration in Indiana. Sometime during his engineering years in India he had lost part of a leg; he later wore an artificial one but very few people were aware of it.

He insisted on using the smallest wattage light bulbs.


Most significant of all, he had served as superintendent of Indian Education in Flandreau, S. Dak., where he directed a fully accredited senior high school specializing in training for the trades. He had also served as a director of the National Youth Administration (NYA) where he was assigned to develop training programs for critical war industries, and he served in the War Assets Administration where he was involved in a program designed to dispose of surplus war property as it was adaptable to the needs of education in the nation.

The newspaper article announcing his appointment as president stated that Brophy was intensely interested in youth and their problems "which is why he is leaving government service at this time."

The student newspaper, now called the Ferris Torch, gave a short biography of the new President Brophy at the top of page 2.

He was due to take over his duties July 1, 1946, but he was delayed in Washington until July 10. With the conscientiousness which he showed throughout his tenure as President, Brophy asked the Board of Trustees to appoint Dean Karl G. Merrill as Acting President until he could actually be on the scene. He then proceeded to give Merrill a list of matters to attend to before he came to Big Rapids.

Byron J. BrophySome of the faculty took exception to Brophy because of his pecuniary habits. He was wont to go around turning off lights, turning down the heat at night and over weekends, and he insisted on using the smallest wattage light bulbs possible. There is a story that one of the science laboratories was equipped with a 25-watt bulb. The students and the instructor wanted a larger one, and knew that President Brophy used a 100-watt bulb to light his office. One night the students traded their 25-watt bulb for his 100-watt one. Brophy was quick to find the displaced bulb, but he reportedly only smiled and never made any reference to its loss.

Those who worked closely with Brophy were impressed by his "I care" attitude about the Institute and felt that whatever he did to save money for the Institute was in the best interest of the school.

Another area where Brophy was misunderstood was in his salary. His contract called for him to get a percentage of the tuition collected. When he arrived on campus the enrollment was close to 500 students. The fall term of 1946 saw an enrollment which was 82 percent veterans of World War II. When the enrollment doubled with veterans seeking a quick way to master a saleable skill via their GI benefits, Brophy's income increased considerably. Perhaps a little jealous of his luck, those who were against Brophy felt that he should not have accepted this condition of his contract. Some even felt that he was making money for himself by turning off the lights and turning down the heat. Brophy's actual salary, however, was only $5,000 annually whereas Travis' had been $10,000.

Brophy's genuine interest in the school led him to continue looking for a buyer for it, following the pattern begun by the trustees under President Ward. Under Brophy's leadership, the school was free of debt but Brophy feared that a depression or an enrollment slump would set it back again.

Personal problems and Parkinson's disease played havoc with Brophy's health and he resigned in 1952. He was named President Emeritus in 1954.

In recognition of his achievements in spearheading the transfer of the Institute to the state, Brophy was honored by having a dormitory named for him shortly before he died in 1962. The college also conferred on him an honorary degree.

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