Vignettes about Events & People


Before Cowley had dorms, students lived in private homes and apartment buildings.

Dormitory History

From the beginning of the college in 1922 until the mid- to late 1960s, the college had functioned predominantly as a commuter campus. Most of the students were Arkansas City or Cowley County residents, certainly within driving distance to the college. The few who were non-residents were able to obtain housing from private citizens.


During the 1960s, the number of students coming from outside Cowley County began to increase dramatically. College personnel such as Del Heidebrecht, Ben Cleveland, Bill Scott, and Dr. Gwen Nelson attempted to secure privately owned facilities in which students could rent. At the same time enrollment was increasing, the college also was losing potential students because of a lack of housing.


Heidebrecht, Cleveland and Scott began to solve the problem by identifying private individuals who would be happy to cooperate with the college in an effort to ease the situation. Some early pioneers in that venture include Aileen Haynes, Norman Iverson, George and Betty Sybrant, Vic Bryant, Aubrey Foster, Elmer Morris, Vera Tipton, Ethel Young, Walt and Ruth Fesler, Bruce and Dorothy Smith, Chuck Dumenil and Fern Culmer. And when Dr. Nelson and his wife Lu discovered that it was next to impossible for non-resident African American students to find housing, the Nelsons purchased a house at 215 N. Fifth St. to rent to all students: black, white, athletes and non-athletes. These efforts helped, but other approaches to solving the problem needed to be explored.


The College Endowment Association recognized that it could support the college in the area of student housing. On Aug. 3, 1973, the Endowment Association purchased a rest home known as the Avalon House, located at 1325 N. First St., from Ava Stanley. The building had formerly been known as "Stricklen Hospital." The association’s intention was to lease the facility to the college at the beginning of the 1974 spring semester. The house could accommodate 30 students. But before students could move in, the property was destroyed by fire. The association used funds from the insurance settlement and the sale of the property to purchase Green Manor, located at 112 E. Central, on Aug. 1, 1974, and the Lesem Apartments (later known as Tiger Hall), located at 413 W. Fifth Ave., on Nov. 8, 1974. These facilities were capable of housing up to 40 students.


The next properties purchased were Bengal Hall (220 N. Third St.) and South Hall (203 E. Madison Ave.) on May 13, 1977, and College Hall (307 S. First St.) on May 20, 1977. The final purchase was the Purdue property (411 W. Central Ave.) on Aug. 23, 1977. In the meantime, the college purchased the Kitchens property (116 S. Fourth St., later known as West Hall) and the Purdue and Worthington (also known as Center Hall) properties, completing possession of the west side of the 100 block of South Third Street. The number of students housed by all of the facilities was less than 100.


In June 1979, the college purchased Tiger Hall from the Endowment Association. The apartment building was built in the World War I era by the Lesem sisters as a new concept for gracious living near downtown Arkansas City. The three-story structure made available dormitory space for 32 students, plus an apartment for a resident manager.


Housing students in nine separate facilities was still a problem, and the Board took matters into its own hands to reach a solution. Plans were drawn for a college dormitory to house 80 students. After many alterations in the planning process, ground was broken on the new dormitory on Nov. 22, 1979, and it was ready for occupancy when the fall semester opened in 1980. It attaches to the north side of the Nelson Student Center. In December 1996, the dormitory was officially named the D. Robert Storbeck Dormitory after Bob Storbeck, a member of the Board of Trustees from 1994 until his death on Jan. 24, 1997. Since the construction of the Storbeck Dormitory in 1980, the college has built three additional housing units. The building known for years as the Fourth Street Dormitory was ready for occupancy in time for the 1987 fall semester. Its capacity was 40 students. Expansion of the facility began on Jan. 2, 1989, bringing the capacity to 86 students. The building, now known as the Kirke W. Dale Dormitory, was completed in time for the 1989 fall semester. The William R. Docking Dormitory was ready for occupancy at the beginning of the 1994 fall semester, and the college’s newest dormitory, Oscar Kimmell, was completed in time for the start of the 2001 fall semester.

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