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Photo courtesy of the Joplin Globe

Kelce Hall: from high school to business college

From 1951 to now, Kelce Hall has seen its years and held a number of students. Though located on campus, until 1971, Kelce Hall was not part of Pittsburg State University—at the time, Kansas State Teacher’s College—but instead acted as a high school titled College High. 

College High was built in 1950-51 academic year and then served as a laboratory school for education majors. This provided an on-campus location for students to receive hands-on teaching experience. 

“… This is where they trained teachers to be high school teachers,” Paul Grimes, dean of the PSU College of Business, said. “So students in education instead of going out and doing their practice training … they could do it right here on campus. So this was a functioning high school. And it served that way all the way up until the early to mid 1970s …” 

Kelce Hall served as College High for about 20 years, from 1951 to 1971 when it was discontinued as a high school. The building was then renovated in 1975, becoming Kelce Hall, after a sizable donation by Gladys Kelce. Kelce gave a $500,000 donation in honor of her husband to renovate the building for the Kelce College of Business, which was named in her honor. 

“… So that money was used to essentially transform the building from the old high school to a college building,” Grimes said. “So areas that used to be like for the shop, that was changed into faculty offices; a lot of internal work was done. …” 

According to Steve Cox, curator of special collections, College High was built during a time of expansion, as it was the time the Student Center was built also. 

“… That was a period of time that the university was growing, a lot of buildings, dormitories were being added in the early ‘50s,” Cox said. “And the fact that they named it after a donor is sort of, you didn’t see that as much back then and you do now. You go to any college campus today and see names on campus of people who may have never even stepped foot on that campus. They’ve given a lot of money, there are people out there with lots of money who like to give it away to worthy causes like universities and end up getting a building named after them. …” 

John Robb, College High and PSU alumnus, attended College High from 1954 to 1960. Upon graduation, he then attended PSU, graduating with a BA and MA in U.S. history. Robb was among one of the first classes to attend College High, graduating with about a 32-person class size—large for the time. 

Inside Kelce Hall currently, Robb identified how College High was laid out in contrast to the Kelce College of Business, though little has changed. 

“… The floors and the walls are identical, they didn’t change a thing,” Robb said. “… Mostly cosmetic (changes), I would say. It’s still much the same… inside and out.” 

College High housed students seventh through 12th grade and college professors were their teachers. 

“… Of course, all my teachers were professors in the education department and we had… student teachers, we were really good at scuttling student teachers, we were real professionals at developing them,” Robb said. “This was before they’d invented the block program they have now where the students go out into the communities for their student teaching, this was it, it was just a lab school. So it was a rare experience. …” 

College High functioned as an average high school with athletics, arts, music, and more. The Comets, as was College High’s mascot, faced surrounding area schools for sports. Amongst these visiting teams was PSU President Scott from Baxter Springs, who played basketball in College High’s gym as a high school student. 

“(College High was) pretty much a lot like any high schools at the time; sock hop dances, and basketballs games, and plays, and concerts,” Robb said. “Because of the student teachers—there was a really low student-to-teacher ratio because in every class there was four, five student teachers. So we had a lot of help and a lot of tutoring.” 

During this time, the college’s business, math, and English departments were inside Russ Hall, which gave Collage High students easy access. 

“It was like going to a private school, it was really unique,” Robb said. “The students who were really good would get dual credits, you know they’d get college credit, they’d just go across street to attend class…” 

The Comets still have close contact with each other to this day, holding reunions bi-yearly. Robb said approximately 100 retuning graduates attend. 

“… A lot of the College High graduates are still close friends either on Facebook or email, in fact we have our own Facebook page …” he said. 

Robb said he enjoyed his time at College High “immensely” and that “it was like a big family.” 

“One thing I really liked is everyone got to try everything,” he said. “I was in sports and athletics and music, and it was so small that if you put on a play you’d have to get the whole student body involved. …” 

Now, Kelce Hall is facing another renovation. According to Grimes, the expansion is set to start in spring 2020 and will take 18 to 24 months to complete. Currently, the Kelce College of Business is working to raise the funds required for the renovation. 

Even with the upcoming renovation, the college wants to remember College High and Kelce Hall’s history. 

“… We’re going to maintain one of the stairwells; the stairwell on the northeast corner, that stairwell will remain in place,” Grimes said. “And along the walls of that stairwell we’re going to have displays and artifacts from the history of the building, so there will be a permanent display of the fact that this was a high school because we still have a lot of community members here in Pittsburg who went to school here. … And we don’t want to dishonor their legacy, so we want to find a way to reflect that within the new building and there are plans to do that…” 

While PSU looks forward to the future and its modern renovations, College High alumni are glad that their school will stay part of the building. 

“I much prefer that to being bulldozed,” Robb said. “Because I know Dean Grimes very well and he’s pledged to our alumni to keep as much of it as he can, so I think that’s an excellent idea. Most of the alums are for it, they think it’s really good idea because the alternative is the wrecking ball and none of us want that. … It means a great deal because I was so close to it for so many years, so it’s a safe place.”

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