Rockford Career College celebrates 150th anniversary
Rockford Career College is celebrating its 150th year in 2012. The college will host a 150th Anniversary at a banquet scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 29, at Giovanni’s Restaurant and Convention Center, 610 N. Bell School Road. This formal recognition of the college’s sesquicentennial year will celebrate the graduates — past and present — and the significant role the college has made in the growth of the city’s business and industry.
Cost for the event is $25 per person. Reservations are required; deadline is Sept. 14. Contact Jeffrey D. Swanberg, director of College Relations, at (815) 967-7321 or e-mail email@example.com.
Rockford Career College ranks fifth in the list of oldest business operations in Rockford and is the oldest college of its type in the state of Illinois. The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities has placed the college in the No. 5 spot in their list of the oldest continuous operating career schools in the United States.
In 1862, 10 years after Rockford was chartered and one year after the start of the Civil War, Rockford Business College (as it was known then) opened its doors to the community. During that same year, Abraham Lincoln presented the Emancipation Proclamation, and Rockford was chosen as the site of a temporary Civil War training camp. One year later, 1863, Lincoln gave the famous Gettysburg Address.
Rockford Business College preceded the first issue of the Rockford Morning Star (1888); the paving of East State Street (1889); and the first passenger train to arrive in Rockford on the Illinois Central Line (1889). All this occurred before the city’s population had reached 23,534 as reported in the 1890 census.
Contributions span 150 years
Many contributions have been made to business and industry by students who have attended the college. Among the first of many successful members of business and industry who studied at the college was a young man named A.G. Spalding (class of 1866).
After completing his bookkeeping and commerce courses, he was introduced to baseball and began pitching with Rockford’s Forest Citys team. In 1869, he was employed as a bookkeeper at the Rockford Register Republic [newspaper]. Following the formation of the National Association, baseball’s first professional league, in 1871 Spalding joined the Boston Red Sox. Not liking the way the game was being played, he crafted the National League and performed as a very successful pitcher until he retired from playing baseball in 1887.
After retiring as a successful player, Spalding went on to publish the first official rules guide for baseball, developed the first “official” baseball and took a group of Major League players on a world tour to promote baseball and his newly-found business, Spalding Sporting Goods. The rest is history.
Shortly after Spalding retired from baseball, his alma mater became part of one of the most successful chains of commercial schools and colleges in the United States, joining the Brown’s group of business colleges founded by G.W. Brown of Jacksonville, Ill. Although Brown acquired the college in 1892, it was not called Brown’s Business College until 1902. It remained a part of the Brown’s system until 1941, when its name reverted to Rockford Business College. At one time, Brown had as many as 30 schools under his ownership throughout the Midwest.
Even prior to the turn of the century, both men and women attended the college. The 1893-1894 college catalog lists the entire student body of 1893. At that time, the college, located in the new D.J. Stewart Building, 113 S. Main St., had 576 students. Students were attending from many of the surrounding Illinois and Wisconsin communities as well as from many other states. Recent immigrants also came to the college to enhance their career skills.
An 1893 graduate, Edwin Brush of Garden Prairie, founded a feed and grain store in Belvidere and later a haberdashery. Although a successful businessman, Brush’s great love was for magic, and in 1902 he left business and became the first magician to perform at a national Chautauqua event. He spent the remainder of his life in the world of magic and business, eventually becoming one of the country’s most famous magicians.
A leading Chicago daily posted in 1910, “The Brown’s system is the greatest business school organization in the United States.” As Rockford’s business and industry grew, so did the number of outstanding young men and women who attended the college. One was a Swedish immigrant, Hugo Olson, who arrived in Rockford in 1893 at the age of 15. He attended Rockford public schools and then went to Brown’s Rockford Business College to take commerce courses. After working with an insurance company and eventually joining Rockford Tool Company and Rockford Milling Machine Company as a secretary and general manager, he was eventually appointed by the Sundstrand brothers in 1926-27 to be the first president of their new Sundstrand Machine Tool Company (currently known as Hamilton Sundstrand). Olson died in 1949.
Changes: Names, locations, programs
Though the college has changed locations only a few times over the past 150 years, its reputation for offering a first-class career education has never wavered.
During its first few decades, the college was located in the hub of the city occupying addresses on South Main (the D.J. Stewart Building) and West State Street. The longest the college remained in one location was its address at 317-319 W. Jefferson St. The college was on Jefferson Street from 1935-1986. After Jefferson Street, it relocated to 730 N. Church St. from 1987-2008. Currently, it is located in a beautiful, made-to-order campus in the former Colonial Village Mall at 1130 S. Alpine Road.
Along with the change in location came a change in name. During two millennia, three centures and 16 decades, it has been known as Rockford Business College, Brown’s Rockford Business College, and for a brief time in the late ’60s and very early ’70s as Midstate College of Commerce; today it is appropriately named Rockford Career College to reflect what the college prepares students for — careers, not just in business or commece, but a wide variety of career paths.
When the college opened in 1862, students were primarily trained in commerce and the secretarial sciences. Practical penmanship was even offered. As times changed, so did its curriculum. In the late ’60s, Fashion Merchandising and Travel Consulting appeared. Karn Mejhudon, who was inducted into the Career College Association’s Hall of Fame, studied Travel Consulting at Rockford Business College in the mid-’70s.
Today, the college offers Information Technology, Veterinary Technician, Pharmacy Technician, Paralegal, Massage Therapy along with Business Technology and Medical Technology programs. Its goal is the same today as it was in 1862; place highly-trained students into the workforce where they are ready to enter into a career of their choice.
From the Sept. 12-18, 2012, issue
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