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Howe Military Academy to close after 135 years

April 5th, 2019

By Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

Ongoing budget shortfalls are forcing Howe Military Academy to close after the current school year, officials announced Monday.

“Fiscal challenges associated with a vast, but aging, campus, small class sizes, highly educated and qualified faculty and staff, and robust programming and student opportunities come at a very high cost – one that our business model is not able to support,” the announcement stated. 

Thomas Tate, Howe's president and a retired Army colonel, wrote the public letter, which was also signed by Phillip Malone, who chairs the academy's board of trustees. They blamed “rising costs and declining enrollment for more than a decade.”

The 135-year-old private boarding school on 100 acres in LaGrange County faced a similar financial crisis five years ago but was able to avoid closure after a graduate donated $2 million.

At that time, a board member said the school needed at least 110 students to break even. It's unclear how many students were enrolled in grades 7-12 this year.

The school, about 40 miles east of South Bend, is less than 100 miles from another northern Indiana military preparatory school, Culver Military Academy.

In an column published by The Journal Gazette in April, then-president James Benson, a retired Marine Corps officer, described Howe Military Academy.

“In a rapidly changing world and in the unpredictable economy that we exist in today, a need exists for military college preparatory schools like never before,” he wrote.

Benson blamed family issues and some schools' lack of rigorous academics and failure “to demand obedience” for many of society's ills.

“Thus, increasing portions of our youth include those lacking in self-esteem, physically unfit, underachieving, possessing little respect for authority and absent any real ambition or focus in their lives,” he wrote.

Benson said a military-style environment provides students with “self-esteem, self-discipline, focus, independence, and organizational and time management skills.”

“Times have changed from the days when military schools were the destination for wayward boys referred by the local judge,” he wrote last year. “Today's middle and secondary school military academies are frequented by young men and women with service academy aspirations and those who simply need better academic preparation for admission to the college of choice.”

The academy, which opened in 1884, began admitting young women in 1988. The school has more than 5,000 alumni worldwide, according to its website.

Howe Military Academy's notable graduates include Web Hayes, grandson of President Rutherford B. Hayes; William Ball, a vice president of the former Ball Brothers Co.; and Thomas Parker, inventor of the ice cream Drumstick. 

Officials promised in Monday's announcement to “provide support and assistance to families, faculty and staff in making alternative plans for next school year to ease in this transition.”

All academic, athletic and extracurricular programs scheduled for this school year will go on as planned, they said.

“While this is a time of sadness as we come to the end of an era, we celebrate the success, camaraderie, and friendship that Howe has provided to so many,” Tate wrote.

“We are grateful to the surrounding community and LaGrange County,”  he added, “and we would like to express our sincere gratitude to the many generous individuals, families, foundations, and corporations who have given selflessly and helped us faithfully serve our mission for 135 years.”

Categories LayoffsClosures