Bay College started from humble beginnings

ESCANABA – Fifty years ago Bay de Noc Community College held its first classes in the former Escanaba High School, located in south Escanaba. The first President, Richard Rinehart, registered the first two students, Gary Reese and Kay (Weingartner) Moreau. Classes began on Sept. 16, 1963, with 133 students enrolled. Classes offered the first semester were in the transfer, business, secretarial and technical curricula. Nursing classes did not begin until the following year.

Two of the first faculty, Dolores Samson and Arni Dunathan, are still living in the local community. Dolores recalls teaching three “college orientation” classes as well as secretarial courses. It was not uncommon for her students to get hired to work at Mead before they could graduate. Portions of the old building were in very poor condition and were off-limits for anyone. Students had to go outdoors to move from one end of the building to another. When President Kennedy was assassinated, classes were canceled and faculty gathered in President Rinehart’s office for support.

The prior November the college’s establishment had been approved by Delta County voters, along with mileage and a board of trustees. Suggestions for a college name were solicited from local residents. From a list of 44, “Bay de Noc” was selected. “Delta College” was ruled out, as there was already one in Michigan. Joseph Heirman was selected as chairman of the first board. A large study group of over 100 county residents had completed a planning and needs study that had been approved by state education officials.

Support for establishing the college came in a $100,000 bequest from the estate of Catherine Bonifas to the Escanaba Public Schools. Over a dozen scholarships were established by local businesses and organizations. Textbooks were sold through the Canterbury Bookstore. LaVerne Douck and Dorothy Baltic who are still living in the community were also hired the first year to assist in administrative support. Each had to perform a wide variety of duties, as there were so few staff.

Student activities developed soon. Intramural athletics, a film series and religious groups (one for Catholic and one for Protestant) were the first, along with Student Government and an All College Council. Students were encouraged to participate in the new Players De Noc Community Theater group.

Joanne Markham was one of those first students in 1963. She recalls close-knit ties with other students, faculty and even the president. She lacked the funds for tuition, so Dr. Rinehart found someone to sponsor her college enrollment. Other students assisted her in algebra and trigonometry, as she hadn’t taken the preparatory classes while in high school. Faculty hosted groups of students in their homes for special dinners and picnics. She recalls year-ending picnics at Pioneer Trail Park. Having completed her basic courses at Bay, she transferred to Northern for a program in social work. Her frequent comment on her experience at Bay was that “it was a lot of fun.”

As enrollment grew, so did the nature of student activities, and the variety of programs and courses. Technical programs were provided in drafting, electricity/electronics, welding and water treatment.

Planning began for the new campus near Danforth Road, with its several buildings. Student activities expanded to include inter-collegiate basketball, tennis and golf. A veteran’s club, student newspaper, and choral group were developed; dances were held at the Teamers’ Hall. A beauty contest had the winner advancing to competition at was then called Northern Michigan College in Marquette.