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The end of an era.

I was saddened to learn that a certain boarding school closed its doors after 135 years.  The school that I am referring to is in northern Indiana located just south of Sturgis, Michigan.  The school was called Howe Military Academy located in Howe, Indiana.  It was a boarding school that educated children and teens from ages 10 through 20, 7th grade through senior in high school. I personally have known about the school since the 1990s but never had the chance to tour the school until a couple of years ago.  I was privileged and meet with the Commandant who was a retired army major.  I spent several hours with him at that time and was pleasantly impressed with him and the school. 

This school actually started in 1884 as a school for preparing boys for the priesthood in the episcopal church.  The school and the town are named after John B. Howe who was a committed educator who provided the funds to start the school and also build what appears to be a small cathedral named St. James memorial chapel.  Many readers of this article may be familiar with this school especially if you were passing by on the way to Shipshewana.  The school was hard to miss as there still is an M60 tank parked on the north side of the 100-acre campus but I don’t know how long it will remain there now. 

What is also unique about this school is the many famous and not so famous even infamous people who graduated from this school.  For instance, Thomas Parker who attended this school was the inventor of the ice-cream drumstick,  Gordon Wales, director of Roland & Martins laugh-in and William Frieder who was once the head basketball coach at U of Malso attended this school.  Another grad was DR. William Lee Kissick, who helped draft the Medicare act in 1965.

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And then how about the infamous Snuffy Smith of WWII fame.  Maynard H. Smith otherwise known as “Snuffy” was a ball turret gunner on a B17 bomber who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor on his first mission.  He got this dubious nickname by his colleagues who unflatteringly alluded to his resemblance to a cartoon character popular during that time.  His escapades on that one 90 minute mission read like an improbable movie thriller as he was credited with saving the bomber and the lives of most of the crew.  His plane was returning from a bombing mission over France when it was hit by antiaircraft gunfire that started several major fires on board.  Between fighting the fires located at several points in the plane, he also managed to man both waist gun positions (not simultaneously of course) to fight off enemy fighters.

After speaking to the commandant and other members of the facility on the day of my visit, I was saddened by the fact that this fine educational institute was closing after such a long and glorious history.  I can still remember as a youngster reading advertisements in magazines such as Boys Life, the magazine put out by the Boys Scouts of America.  Such advertisements back in the 50s and 60s highlighted military academies throughout this country.  At that time there were hundreds of them but then an anti-war movie came out of Hollywood called Taps starring Timothy Hutton, George C. Scott and Sean Pen.  This was a movie about how the students of a military academy take over the school campus after the school was to be sold.  The students hold off the National Guard for a period of time and as a result, several solders and students get killed.

As a result of this movie and the prevailing negative mainstream attitude toward the war in Vietnam, it caused the admission to schools of this type to drop off considerably.  Many of these schools have closed their doors over the years, in fact, there are only 31 of these private military academies left in the United States.

This saddens me because if the public school systems in this country held to the same standards, ideals, and values that were taught at this school I think that the overall grade point average would climb.  The academic excellence maintained at this school allowed the graduates to be accepted at well over 100 colleges and universities.  All of the top colleges here in Michigan are included in their list.  Annapolis and West Point are also included.

The school, the church and the campus will be missed by this writer as well as many of the local inhabits and alumni who attended this fine school.  This is truly an end of an era.

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