A HISTORY OF LYMAN WARD MILITARY ACADEMY
formerly THE SOUTHERN INDUSTRIAL INSTITUTE, INC.
CAMP HILL, ALABAMA
Presented by: Colonel Wesley P. Smith
Lyman Ward Military Academy
A young boy once said to Dr. Lyman Ward, "You have been the best friend to the poor boys and girls of Tallapoosa County of 'ary' man in it." Dr. Ward looked at the lad and saw that his shining eyes were filled with tears. This emotional moment choked Dr. Ward a little and in blunt fashion he said, "I will take you in my school. You report to me Monday morning. Hereafter, you will be my boy."
Those simple words reveal more of the basic philosophy upon which The Southern Industrial Institute at Camp Hill was founded by Dr. Lyman Ward in 1898 than all the eloquent rhetoric ever could.
Dr. Lyman Ward was born in Watertown, New York. He was graduated from Watertown High School and St. Lawrence University. He became a Universalist minister and was sent to Alabama on a church survey. While in Camp Hill, he became interested in a school for boys and girls of limited means. On a sunny Spring day in 1898, young Lyman Ward, a visiting minister, stood in the pulpit of the Camp Hill Universalist Church and told the congregation of his discussion with the church trustees and of the conclusion that it would take a minimum of $5,000.00 to establish a greatly needed high school in the community. The small rural congregation was stunned at the suggestion of raising what seemed a staggering sum, and when the young minister asked for contributions and invited the congregation to come forward to sign a pledge book prepared for the occasion, an embarrassing hush fell over the chapel. For a moment, no one spoke or moved. Finally, a dainty, bonneted little lady, the mother of seven children, arose and made her way to the aisle.
"I want to make a pledge," she said as she proceeded forward, self-consciously, to take the extended hand of the minister.
"Yes, yes! Thank you, Madam, and how much will you pledge?
"Twenty-five cents," she said almost apologetically, and added hastily, "Payable in the fall."
Money was dear and not to be had until fall when the cotton crop was sold. With no funds, no permanent buildings and no staff, the new school did open. After operating for two years in a rented house, now known as the Leroy Langley home, the school was moved to a magnificent site that Dr. Ward had taken half in desperation. A real institution thus had come into being. A less determined man would have sunk, but Dr. Ward possessed an iron determination and an unselfish devotion towards his fellow men and he made what he started out to make - a place where poor boys and girls could be given a chance. For long years the school was more or less an experiment, living from hand to mouth, kept alive by the money Dr. Ward went everywhere to raise. A prospectus of The Southern Industrial Institute dated 1901 states that the school was located in Camp Hill in Tallapoosa County on a beautiful plantation of four hundred acres of land. It was opened September 21, 1898, and was chartered by the General Assembly of Alabama, February 8, 1901, as a non-denominational, private school for the training of white boys and girls in all useful industries and in primary and secondary academic courses. Tuition at that time was $20.00 a year. Each student was required to work five hours a day and on Saturday. The school operated its own farm, sawmill, carpenter shop and laundry. The first building was put up with student labor and was named Ross Hall for the' Honorable D. A. G. Ross, who made the donation sufficient to build it.
In the ensuing years, Dr. Ward began his work of traveling, publicizing the school, asking for scholarships, donations of money for equipment and current expenses. In later life, nothing was more certain to bring a hearty laugh from Lyman Ward than for one of his old Camp Hill friends to recount stories reflecting the suspicion with which his travels were originally viewed by some of the local townspeople. For example, when the youthful minister would drive through town in his open surrey on his way to the railroad station, some observer, noting the small trunks with which it was customary to travel in those days, was sure to express the consensus by the remark, “There goes that damn Yankee - You'll never see him again - watch what I tell you!" Actually, of course, Lyman Ward was off to raise funds to meet the steadily increasing demands of his school. Language and cunning were his tools. Some of his friends in the North even said he was a tyrant.
Actually, he was a strong, agreeable, likeable man and a force to be reckoned with everywhere in the state. And he had an unshakable faith in what he was doing. In later years he was to admit there was not much planning and very little vision in the beginning, but through it all, the basic philosophy of the school never changed - to help deserving young men and women to help themselves.
Indicative of the character of this man was the fact that he accomplished so much while in a land of strangers. Not only was he a Yankee in a South with memories still vivid of the tragic reconstruction era following the War Between The States, but he was a Universalist in a land of political and religious conservatism and he was a Republican. That he won the ungrudging respect and sincere admiration of all who came within the sway of his influence is evidenced by the fact that when he was seventy-eight years old he was honored by the Republican Party by nomination for Governor of Alabama, and even in the land of "Dixiecrats," polled an unbelievable number of votes in the general election.
Many years earlier Dr. Ward had brought his lovely bride, the former Mary Smith, to Camp Hill and they lived on the campus in what came to be known as The Haunted House, an antebellum mansion erected about 1828.
While the practical needs of the school were always pressing, Dr. Ward managed to assemble an impressive faculty. The school became the cultural center of the community with many concerts and plays given on its campus.
In 1899, 0. C. Ferrell, of North Carolina, inquired if he could enter the school and pay his way by printing a paper. And so, the first printing press came to Camp Hill, it proved to be one of the best assets of the school, for Dr. Ward used his paper, called The Industrial Student, in his never-ending quest for funds. The paper regularly went out to friends and alumni and somehow the needs were met, as indicated by the following - taken from the February 1924 issue of The Industrial Student - "We have needed $86.66 for dishes and the same friend who gives the tablecloths has given us money for the dishes, for which we were in great need."
So, the school enjoyed satisfying success for many years, reaching a peak in 1927 when the State provided $50,000.00 to build stately Tallapoosa Hall, which was dedicated in 1930. Shortly thereafter, the great depression began to take its toll. Dr. Ward's legion of supporters were no longer able to help. Throughout this dangerous financial crisis, Lyman Ward remained undaunted. His characteristic faith in a better day for The Southern excluded any thought of closing. His teachers shared his faith and stood loyally by his side - content with token payments. And thus, while public schools in the State were closing their doors from lack of funds, Lyman Ward and The Southern carried on. On Faith!
By 1942, Dr. Ward had given Southern his best for forty-four years and he brought back J. Brackin Kirkland and made him President. Mr. Kirkland was a Southern Alumnus who when on to Cornell to earn his B.S. and Master’s Degrees.
Mr. Kirkland was an energetic and resourceful man and in those first years he surely must have had to call upon all his resources for he was faced with decaying buildings and a dwindling enrollment - he and his lovely wife, Eleanor, had arrived on The Southern campus thirty days before Pearl Harbor. Mr. Kirkland plunged ahead, however, to repair buildings, build new ones and to improve and enlarge the work-study program.
Dr. Ward had stayed on as Chairman of the Board, and with Mr. Kirkland, appealed again to friends, alumni and supporters for help. From friends in Camp Hill, and some large industrialists in the state, came pledges of $50,000-00. The school was also now getting a small appropriation from the state. Gradually, the school took on new life and prospered once again. Among Mr. Kirkland's major achievements were a new dormitory, football stadium, well-stocked lake, and perhaps that of which he was most proud - a new barn - at the time thought to be one of the finest in the county. Mr. Kirkland's aim was to make the farm furnish one quart of milk, an egg, one-half pound of meat and fresh vegetables per student per day. Often, Mr. Kirkland could be found working side by side with his students.
Dr. Ward's legion of friends and alumni were greatly saddened when he passed away suddenly on December 17, 1948. He was laid to rest by his beloved Mary in a grove of trees on The Southern campus. Those who remember say the people came from far and near to pay homage to this distinguished man.
On May 21, 1948, Mr. Kirkland was elevated to Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Eli Howell, also a Southern alumnus, was named President. Mr. Howell graduated from The Southern in 1933 and had received the L.L.B. Degree from John Marshall Law School. He had served in World War II and was wounded in the invasion of Holland. He had married the former Elizabeth Henderson of Camp Hill.
For a time, Mr. Howell continued the work programs that had always been such an integral part of the school. But once again, the school fell victim to the changing times. The public-school system was now flourishing and the once crying need to help the poor rural children simply no longer existed. How proudly one could look back over the years. The Southern had reached thousands of boys and girls - giving the ideals, aspirations and education to make their lives successful and well balanced. It is never easy to change traditions and how Eli Howell must have agonized over the decision that it must be done. Finally, in 1955, with foresight and with great courage, he recommended to the Board of Trustees that the school drop the elementary school, no longer be co-educational and that a military program should take the place of the old work program. In keeping with the new outlook, it was decided to change the name of the school to Lyman Ward Military Academy, in honor of its founder.
Mr. Howell brought in retired military personnel to get the new program going. But the school's financial situation was already critical, and it took time to build the new program, become known to the clientele who were interested in a military school, and to prove that it could compete with the other long-established and well-known military schools. Time certainly was not a friend, and by 1959 the situation was indeed desperate. It began to look as though this time the school might not survive.
Mr. Howell resigned the presidency in 1959 amidst increasing indebtedness. Again, the school would be placed in a precarious financial struggle, but one thing in its favor was that the school once again would be directed by one of Dr. Ward's students and a graduate of The Southern. The new President, Wesley P. Smith, married to Peggy Joyce Pickren from Lafayette, Alabama, had joined the faculty at Lyman Ward in 1954 after receiving the B.S. and Master's Degrees in Psychology from Auburn University. There was no doubt that many who knew the pitiful financial condition of the school, and the age of its new President, considered the new appointment foolish. But sentimental feelings for the school and an unwillingness to see an institution that had been loved and cherished by so many fades into nothing helped to overcome what at that time seemed an insurmountable task.
From this new beginning, the determination was made that if Lyman Ward was going to be a military school, it was going to be the best military school, if not in the country, at least in the South. The potential was there. A beautiful campus, plenty of room to grow, and the opportunity to offer a good, sound curriculum coupled with the discipline and regulated routine of the military program. All that was needed was telling the public what Lyman Ward Military Academy had to offer.
The first years of the Smith administration were frustrating because the old debts had to be paid off before new projects were begun. One of the key administrators in the new administration was Brig. General T. L. Futch, a retired Army General, who was hired as Commandant. Nothing upset General Futch and often he was called on for his wise counsel.
All the buildings, with the single exception of Tallapoosa Hall, were in very bad shape. The old dormitories were firetraps, furnishings were badly worn, there were no paved roads and student enrollment was at an all-time low. History repeated itself, however, when Mr. Robert Russell, a good friend and member of the Board of Trustees, through The Benjamin and Roberta Russell Foundation, gave $23,600.00 to rebuild Goodwill Hall. This was one of the original structures, built in 1909, and was made of handmade brick. The building was renamed for Mr. Russell. The Foundation continues today in support of many activities at the Academy.
Slowly things began to improve, and by 1962 enrollment had increased more than 100% and old debts had been greatly reduced. The time had come to really look to the future and a long-range expansion program was begun. Application to the Department of the Army was made and approval received for membership in The National Defense Cadet Corps, thus enabling cadets to receive units of credit toward college ROTC.
By May 1964, new entrances to the campus had been built, a new lighted football stadium had been completed, and a new rifle range had been erected, but more important, a new two-story modern dormitory was under construction. In 1967 an identical new dormitory was constructed on the opposite side of Russell Hall and a new dining hall, necessary because of the increase in enrollment, erected.
With the increase in students, the school became eligible in 1966 to apply for membership in the ROTC program. This was approved and added much to the school's growing prestige. As an ROTC unit, MI Division, the school was assigned two active duty personnel by The Department of Army.
Academics had always taken priority and Lyman Ward very early set as its goal accreditation by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. A loyal and hardworking faculty pursued this goal with diligence. Again, the school became the cultural center of the community as -10 of 13-plays, concerts by the Lyman Ward Band, and art shows became a regular part of the program.
During a temporary slump in the school year 1970-71, experienced nationally by all military schools, the decision was made to establish a Junior School. Lyman Ward would now have grades 6-12.
1972 was a banner year. The ROTC Unit received the Honor Rating with Distinction, the highest rating the Army awards to ROTC Units. The school also attained the long-sought-after accreditation in The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
In 1973 a much-needed gymnasium was constructed, and once again entirely financed by contributions from parents, alumni and friends. This provided a much better athletic program for the school and added greatly to the morale of its cadets. The Russell Foundation provided funds for an indoor swimming pool adjacent to the new gym.
Anyone who visits other military schools over the country will tell you quite frankly and proudly that Lyman Ward is second to none. While the basic concept upon which the school was founded had to change, it is still policy today to take any student who needs help. For example, the “A" student will make it anywhere, but Lyman Ward gives the others a chance, and the school awards thousands of dollars in scholarships every year to deserving boys.
It must be said at this point that The Southern or Lyman Ward Military Academy never would have made it without the support, often financial, and faith of a long list of distinguished men who have served, and still serve, on its Board of Trustees. They have given their time, their loyalty and their wealth of knowledge and experience. Words could never adequately express the gratefulness they so richly deserve.
In the early 1980's an event of great significance occurred. Colonel Smith contacted Mr. Solon Dixon, of Andalusia, and invited him to be the honored guest at Military Day. Mr. Dixon accepted and returned to the school for the first time since his graduation in 1922. Mr. Dixon had amassed great wealth during his lifetime, and the changes he saw at the school renewed his interest. Consequently, through the Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation, the chapel, the administrative building, a new supply building, and the Martha Dixon Library were built, and now an auditorium is to be added to that list.
Following Mr. Dixon's death in 1987, Mrs. Dixon has continued the Dixon legacy.
In June of 1994, the school opened with the largest number of students in its history and was completely free of indebtedness. After forty years of service to his alma mater, Colonel Wesley Smith chose this time to retire from the school. Colonel Smith was given the title of Chancellor Emeritus and still has an office at the school. He assists in fund raising, is a member of the Board of Trustees, and works with the alumni.
Colonel Albert Hovey, a member of the faculty and administration for 28 years, succeeded Colonel Smith as President, and the school has prospered under his leadership.
Now, as Lyman Ward nears its 100th year, the future has never looked brighter. The military school may soon be the only place where patriotism is taught, and emphasis placed on academic excellence and a disciplined way of life. The years ahead will be challenging, just as they were ninety-nine years ago, but today's leaders of Lyman Ward look forward to them with anticipation. To walk in the footsteps of a great man like Dr. Ward and to be given the opportunity to perpetuate his ideals begun so long ago, are the guiding principles of all hopes.
THE END Written in 1997