By MURRAY BISHOFF
Drury University President Todd Parnell discussed local history and Drury's future involvement in Monett at last week's meeting of the Monett Kiwanis Club.
Parnell, the 16th president of Drury, noted his own personal ties to Monett from his wife, a member of the Salzer family. He acknowledged Drury's 14th president, John Moore, a Monett native, and spoke about how Drury has long been involved in communities around Springfield, where the university is located.
Founded in 1873, Drury was the subject of substantial competition among southwest Missouri cities for hosting rights at the time. Neosho made the first bid, followed by Springfield, Lebanon and Pierce City.
Establishing a university in the model of Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale was a vision shared by Congregational Churches, of which there were 10 in southwest Missouri at the time. The debate over who would build the school was wrestled over in two meetings at the Congregational Church in Pierce City in November 1872 and March 1873. By the final meeting, the Springfield contingent had marshalled its resources to offer a deal and land worth $47,000, against the Neosho deal valued at $41,000.
The final vote was four and a half for Springfield and four for Neosho. Parnell, who has a degree in history, admitted he did not fathom how a half vote can be cast, but it was nonetheless pivotal.
The first Drury president pitched the idea of the college at the sons and daughters of Civil War veterans on both sides. Drury could be the place where they could "sit down and argue over issues their parents killed each other over," Parnell said.
Drury's first graduating class had 39 students, half of whom were women and seven of whom were Native Americans. It took another 100 years for an African American to graduate. Parnell said Drury has had a commitment from the beginning to provide education for the average person.
In 1947, Drury began to reach out to underserved territories. The first satellite campus opened in Fort Leonard Wood, followed by seven more in Cabool, Licking, Lebanon, Rolla. A satellite in Monett opened in 2007.
Cabool provided an example of how the university likes to work. Parnell said families in the community earn less than $30,000 a year. The primary employer, Brown Shoe, had closed its factory. Drury renovated the building, turning what had been a big empty place in the middle of town to a center where 2,000 people have graduated over the past 20 years.
Drury has continued the approach in Monett. Ann Saunders, director of Drury's program at the Southwest Area Career Center, said dozens have gone on to complete bachelor's degrees at Drury after finishing an associate's degree in Monett. The first four-year student will graduate in May.
"We're getting good students who are doing a good job, and they're staying in the community," Saunders said.
Drury's program in Monett is geared for non-traditional students, Saunders continued. About 25 percent are Hispanic. Many Monett High School students come to Saunders for assistance in applying to Drury. For those who question whether they could get the chance to attend Drury, Saunders said, "they absolutely can, and do."
"Monett is very consistent with what we do overall," Parnell said. "Monett has a bright future, and we want to be a part of it."
Drury's program is presently pressed for space. Parnell said the university has been exploring how to expand its role in the community. He has had talks with Glen and Sharon Garrett and hoped to announce a new phase in the university's presence later this year.
Kiwanis President Frank Washburn presided at the evening meeting, held at Big Baldy's restaurant.
The Kiwanis Club generally meets at noon on Tuesday for a meal and program usually at Happy House restaurant.