HOWE — The Howe Military Academy campus seems oddly quiet these days.
While the lawns at the 63-acre institution are still as neat as ever, it’s hard to find anyone walking around the campus these days. The bells in the tower of Howe’s 117-year-old St. James Chapel still chime away the hours, but almost no one is there to hear them.
The Howe Military Academy is closed after 135 years.
The cadets left Howe in early June, and the school staff wrapped up their duties last week. Only a handful of administrators and a few members of the school’s maintenance team remain.
When Col. Tom Tate, Howe’s first-year president, announced in March that the school would be closing in June, ending Howe’s 135-year run, thousands of men and women who once wore a Howe Military Academy cadet’s uniform collectively mourned the school’s passing.
“It just broke my heart,” said Hugh Cook, a member of the Class of 1966 and former developmental director for the school.
Sad as the news was, it came as almost no surprise to most Howe grads.
“Yeah, we kind of saw it coming, ” said Charlie Snouffer, Fort Wayne, a Howe Class of 1972 graduate.
Howe Military Academy, once hailed as one of the finest military academies in the United States, joined a long list of American military high schools that have closed their doors. Just last February, officials of St. John’s Military School in Salina, Kansas, announced they too were closing the doors to that 131-year old school this year. Once, more than 125 military academies dotted the American landscape. Now fewer than 25 remain.
The short story is Howe ran out of money. The campus costs too much to maintain, and the school was too expensive to operate when compared to the money the school was generating.
Howe Board of Trustees President Phil Malone revealed in March the board was spending as much as $330,000 a month to keep the lights on and the doors open. Over the course of the last decade, Malone said the board had used all of the school’s $22 million endowment fund to stay afloat.
It seems like Howe’s history caught up with the school. Howe’s newest buildings are more than 50 years old. Its steam plant even older. But Howe’s downfall, if you ask those who loved Howe best, is a lot more complicated than just running out of cash.
Col. James Benson, a military school turn-around specialist who sat in the school’s superintendent’s seat during the 2018-2019 school year, said once he arrived at Howe he quickly realized the school’s fate was sealed.
“It was too late to save it, in my opinion,” Benson said.
The Howe Military Academy was born in the mind of John Badlam Howe, an educator, a banker, a lawyer, a LaGrange County resident and the namesake for Howe.
Born in Boston, Howe came west to Indiana to seek his fortune, said Col. Raymond Kelly, a former Howe headmaster and longtime Howe superintendent. Kelly wrote the definitive Howe military school history in his 1984 book, “Here’s Howe, the first 100 years.”
Kelly described John Howe as an ardent educator, successful banker and a self-taught lawyer. Howe is believed to have crafted Indiana’s second constitution, written in 1851, on a desk in his home in Howe.
A staunch supporter of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Howe bequeathed $10,000 in his will be used to help start a new school in what was then Lima to help train men for the church.
That school, the Howe Grammar School, was founded in 1884 by Howe’s widow, Francis Marie Glidden Howe, and the Right Reverend David Buell Knickerbacker, the third Bishop of Indiana’s Episcopal Church.
That first year, Howe enrolled just two students, Frederick Durett Eversole of Logansport and Albert Roy Keator of Fort Wayne. Two years later, Eversole was Howe’s first graduate at the school’s first ever commencement
The first of many larger-than-life figures to arrive on the Howe campus was Dr. John H. McKenzie, a renowned educator, veteran of two other military-style educational institutes and man of the cloth. He arrived at Howe in 1895, bringing with him a structured military model of education.
Still a small school, McKenzie quickly grew Howe into a campus with more than 135 students.
Ironically, 15 years later, Howe would drop the military component of its high school education. Facing growing resistance from parents and students who believed a military school would never be a top-tier educational institution, McKenzie dropped the military component at the high school in 1909.
Attitudes about military education however changed with the outbreak of World War I and McKenzie reinstituted the military program at Howe in 1918. Howe’s enrollment grew to more than 245 students in the post-war era.
According to Kelly’s book, McKenzie is credited with bringing Howe national recognition. Kelly described McKenzie as a natural leader, and a bust commemorating McKenzie stands just outside St. James Chapel.
The next seminal figure in Howe’s history arrived on campus in 1924 as a French and history teacher. Burrett B. Bouton had already spent 10 years as a teacher on the Howe campus when in 1934 he was selected to become the school’s first superintendent. Prior to Bouton, Howe’s chief administrators were always men of the church. Bouton was an educator and remained as the head of Howe until his death in 1965.
Bouton, said Cook, was a larger-than-life figure around campus. He was at the helm of the school during what Kelly describes as Howe’s Golden Age, the 1950s and early 1960s.
Enrollment at Howe skyrocketed during World War II, reaching 300 students in 1944 but falling back to 255 by 1950. Enrollment then started to steadily climb and reached almost 420 students by 1965.
It was during Bouton’s time as superintendent that Howe saw the arrival of its greatest benefactors, Ray W. Herrick, along with his son, Kenneth, a member of Howe’s Class of 1940.
Herrick, a one-time associate of Henry Ford, founded Tecumseh Products, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of air conditioning compressors. The Herricks came to Howe in 1952, supposedly with the “idea of doing something for Howe.” Herrick quickly committed to building a new indoor swimming pool for the school.
But his generosity didn’t stop there. Over the next 15 years, the Herrick money built the six dormitories, a dining facility, an infirmary, the lower school academic building and gymnasium, a canteen, the school’s Academic Annex, an addition to school Libey Library and a new kitchen at the summer camp. A statue of Ray Herrick stands near Howe’s Administration building.
Howe also enjoyed athletic success during its golden age.
Several cadets won state wrestling titles in the 1940s and 50s. Its basketball teams won county and sectional championships. John Burton, a Howe swimmer, was named an All-American in 1959.
Hugh Cook arrived at Howe in 1960, and admitted to being a mischievous kid. He said Howe gave him the structure to channel that energy toward his studies. Cook graduated near the top of his class in 1966.
“I had a very good time at Howe,” Cook recalled. “Very few downsides. It was my home.”
Howe enrollment continued to be stable in the 1960s with 400 or more cadets on campus each year.
That’s when Crest came calling on Howe.
Procter and Gamble, Crest toothpaste’s manufacturer, funded Crest tests at the school, using Howe’s cadets as test subjects. Half the cadets were secretly given toothpaste containing Indiana University researcher Dr. Joseph Mueller’s recently discovered stannous fluoride toothpaste formula. The other half the cadets were given toothpaste without stannous fluoride. Howe was the perfect environment for the tests. A cadet’s day was so carefully structured the school even dictated three periods per day when cadets were expected to be brushing their teeth.
Cook remembers being issued a simple white tube of toothpaste. To this day, Cook maintains he had no idea what group he was in but said his dental check ups were good.
Procter and Gamble produced several television commercials at Howe that were aired nationally.
Snouffer, who arrived on the Howe campus in the fall of 1965 as a sixth-grade student, said he thinks his parents first got the idea to send him to Howe because of those toothpaste commercials.
Bouton died suddenly in 1965, and was buried on the grounds of Howe, just outside of the St. James Chapel.
He was succeeded in the superintendent’s office by Col. Raymond Kelly, another longtime Howe educator and headmaster. Like Bouton, Kelly had a limited military career, but was an experienced educator.
Kelly saw Howe’s enrollment climb to 458 students in just his first year. But as the war in Vietnam raged on, those numbers started to fall to the mid-250s. In his book, Kelly blamed those numbers on the unfavorable attitudes Americans held about Vietnam.
Life on campus was never easy for cadets, and was often described as Spartan. Still, Howe appealed to some students.
Bren Fries, whose father had been a Howe Class of 1949 graduate as well as member of the school board of trustees, arrived at Howe to complete his high school education. Fries said the decision to attend Howe was his.
“Howe gave me discipline and a structured life I certainly didn’t shy away from,” said Fries, a member of Howe’s class of 1983.
Fries said one of Howe’s greatest gifts was its ability to act as what he called a “leveler,” meaning students from less-than-ideal backgrounds were treated the same as those from families of means once they settled into campus.
“What I mean by that is maybe we had some kids here that came from not-so-perfect backgrounds, that maybe they needed a little bit of help to get on the right track,” he explained. “We were all on par at that school. I look back on that and I have a lot of respect for that. People could be treated as equals.”
Kelly retired in 1981, and died in 1988. Like Bouton, he’s buried on the school grounds, just outside of St. James.
After Kelly retired, Fries said the school’s superintendent office became something of a revolving door. The Howe grad said he continued to stay interested in Howe fortunes, but only at distance.
“The demise of Howe is difficult to pin on any one thing,” he explained. “Both micro and macro. The macro being you either evolve or you don’t make it. Howe didn’t evolve. A friend of mine was on the board and we would discuss things. I kind of saw it coming (Howe’s closing). I think its demise was extended by a few years when one benefactor came through and infused capital into the school to give it more time. But the truth is without significantly more capital and a change to the model, Howe couldn’t make it.”
A second-generation Howe cadet, Fries declined to send his own children to Howe.
Howe’s enrollment continued to decline through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. By 2012, the school enrollment hovered around 75 to 80 students.
Benson said the Howe board had difficulty finding the right person to sit in the superintendent’s chair, and that ultimately hurt the school.
“In the earlier days, the schools had superintendents who were there for a long time. And not many of them had done 20- to 30-year careers in the military,” Col. Benson said. “They had some military experience, but they were educators too. And they knew how to raise money, and how to leverage their assets to fill the beds. Let’s face it, if you can’t fill the beds, you’re not going to be around long.”
Benson said picking career military men to run a military school doesn’t always promise success.
“They tended to pick someone right out of the military, who has never made a payroll, who has no clue how to recruit and really doesn’t have any educational knowledge of a preparatory school. And they don’t know how to raise money,” he added. “All those things are prerequisites for the job.”
Benson also said decisions to postpone building updates and repairs created more financial problems than it solved.
Howe’s newest building is more than 50 years old. White Hall, built in 1967, has been in mothballs for years. Howe’s gym is so old it was once considered as a potential location for filming scenes for the movie “Hoosiers” set in 1950s Indiana.
Howe’s main academy building, the heart of Howe’s education, first opened in 1950, and Benson said the building shows its age. Its hallway carpet is stained, discolored and well worn, its ceiling tiles stained and drooping. Inside its classrooms, plaster is falling off the walls. Benson said those kinds of issues made it hard to convince prospective students and their parents touring the campus that Howe was still a top-flight academic school.
“That’s where deferred maintenance hurts you so much,” he said.
Those aging details didn’t go unnoticed by the alumni, either.
Snouffer said during a recent visit to Howe, his heart sank when he saw the shape its buildings were in.
“That was he hardest part, not so much knowing that the school was closing,” he said. “Seeing the condition of the campus and buildings, walking around campus and going through the buildings, now that was hard.”
Still, most alumni talk about the good times they had at Howe and the friends they made while in school.
“I still have 50 or 60 guys I talk to that I went to school with,” Snouffer explained. “We had some really good times together, and some really bad times … and the bad times really weren’t that bad.”
After more than 130-plus years, the Episcopal Church severed its relationship with Howe in 2017, citing significant differences of opinion about the school among the church, the board of directors, the administration and alumni.
Malone said the board closed Howe without debt. The campus is up for sale with a price tag of $4 million. Those associated with the school say several organizations have expressed an interest in purchasing the Howe campus although they can’t say who the groups are and how they might use the school.
Plans are underway to protect and preserve both the Howe Mansion and St. James Chapel.
Cook, who gave tours of the Howe campus when he was on the Howe staff, said people were amazed to learn Howe’s history, and in awe when they walked through St. James Chapel.
But he worried the world is losing something very special by losing the Howe Military Academy.
“It so hard to put into a single word, but the world is losing a very special set of values, positive values,” Cook explained. “Really, how much heritage do you get out of a public high school? Howe was a good thing.”