Professor Henrie shares the precarious history of Prescott College

By Rebecca Antsis
Staff Writer

On the old campus:
It was a residential school mostly … they had two sets of dorms and it was kind of rural. When they first built the school in 1965 it was on a dirt road. To live in town, you would have to drive six or eight miles each way to get to school.

On the classes:
I joined something called “The Center for the Person,” based off Karl Roger’s “Center for the Study of the Person.” There were a lot of crazy people there at the time. They taught courses like “Dancing in the Moonlight.” Anyways, they were doing all kinds of strange, wonderful things.

On the bankruptcy:
One of the problems was that the scion of the family that owned half of General Motors, Charles Kettering III, was the president’s contact and he was our backer. He was in the process of getting either loans or gifts for us to pay off the debts which was about five million dollars, but he was out walking his dog, and his dog got loose, ran out onto the highway and he went after it, and got run over and killed — Charles Kettering the Third. His family said, “We never approved of this Prescott College … this hippie college, we’re not interested and we’re going to cut off all gifts, grants, all loans.” That pretty much closed us down.

So the Board met in the middle of the night on December 18, 1974 and passed the resolution that we would go bankrupt. It was just nuts — Jim Stuckey had a group of people in Mexico, we had people everywhere. We couldn’t even get in touch with them.

The President said, “Get your stuff off campus.”

On rebuilding the college:
The faculty said, “You know, maybe we don’t need all this big campus and all this stuff to have a college. … We are the college.”

So that afternoon we had a meeting on the soccer field … it was anybody who wanted to be there. We were standing around in this big circle talking and somebody put a hat in the middle and said “Empty your wallets.” That was our endowment.

And then we all met during January and Jim Stuckey was finally elected the new president.

We started having classes at the Hassayampa Hotel downtown.

We had a lot of new students come actually, even though the college was unaccredited. … We had no money … no anything. But we had the teachers, we had the students.

We did all the stuff that the college does just between us all. Anything the students wanted to do we would find somebody that could help them.

On the direction of the new school:
I think a lot of our motive was just to stay alive try to beat the odds and create a little school that was innovative and different. The general thing was to survive and build this thing against heavy odds; [it was] kind of an adventure. And I think it was to preserve the experiential, outdoor, environmental aspect. That’s when we really got into environmental issues [1975]. For one reason or another all of the people working in outdoor education — all of them — stayed and so they became a much bigger portion in the school, and also environmentalism was taking off. So we were in the perfect position for that.

This article appeared in the May 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.

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