Roosevelt Military Academy
The Roosevelt Military Academy was located in Aledo, Illinois between 1931 and 1973.
William & Vashti College was a college in Aledo, Illinois from 1908 to 1918.
The school was founded by William Drury, a longtime resident of Mercer County, and was named by him in his will as William and Vashti college to commemorate the memory of himself and his wife, Vashti Drury. By the will of Mr. Drury, the school was to be located in that city or town of Mercer County which would offer the largest bonus for its location. The city of Aledo, having offered more than any other locality in the county, secured the school. The purpose of Mr. Drury was to found a non-denominational school where the student could not only secure a complete classical or scientific education, but where he could also secure such practical instruction as would fit him for some particular employment. A campus of about 16 acres was acquired and the main college building, a boys' dormitory, a gymnasium, a heating plant and residence for the president were erected.
William and Vashti College built a successful record of education, athletics, and extracurricular activities and continued to plan for future improvements to campus. Unfortunately, America's involvement in World War I brought William and Vashti's success to a halt. With many of its students joining in the war effort William and Vashti College was forced to close in 1918.
ROOSEVELT MILITARY ACADEMY
(Jerry Guinn, class of 1950, research from the Mercer County Museum, Aledo, Illinois)
After the ending of the first World War, the buildings of the William and Vashti College [in Aledo, IL] stood empty. The decreased enrollment and lack of finances had taken its toll. For four years the campus was unused except the use of the administration building by the Aledo High School while Northside School was under construction. Then, in 1924, the buildings were taken over by a military school, and were occupied by that institution for nearly fifty years.
Fire had destroyed the buildings of the Kansas Military Academy at Oswego, Kansas, in March, 1924, and Col. Clyde R. Terry, its owner, needed a place to relocate. He had heard of the vacant campus at Aledo and made arrangements to transfer from Kansas to Illinois. On March 16, 1924, Col. Terry, five teachers, and forty-four cadets arrived on the train in Aledo, and Illinois Military School had begun.
The Kiwanis Club fed the new arrivals, and they were made as comfortable as possible in the new quarters. On March 27, the institution was chartered in Illinois, and the military school was in business.
Financial assistance came from Aledo businessmen, who formed a board of trustees. The William and Vashti property were acquired by paying its indebtedness, $17,081.42, and additional money was borrowed against the campus to pay $9,000 for rehabilitation of the property for its new use and $5,000 for promotion of the military school. The board subscribed an additional $22,000, and another $14,000 was raised locally to provide operating capital for the institution. The board of trustees, as stockholders, were to own the campus until Col. Terry could arrange to purchase it himself.
The school grew rapidly, and in 1927, against advice of his associates, Col. Terry entered a contract to use the property of the defunct Hedding College in Abingdon, Illinois, as a branch for the senior grades, 10th through 12th and a junior college. In 1929 the school was extended even further with the addition of another branch at Menominee, Michigan. The onset of the depression meant too much financial pressure, and Col. Terry was in trouble.
In 1926, Claude Niles, a Chicago businessman, contributed bonds that were valued at $50,000 to be used for the construction of Niles Hall, a new dormitory. Construction was begun, but the bonds were not sold. The crash of the stock market in 1929 destroyed their value, and further problems arose. The depression added one more dimension to the financial situation because enrollment decreased immediately. The end result was bankruptcy for Col. Terry and Illinois Military School in 1931.
The board of trustees then decided to operate without Col. Terry because they still had claim to the property because of the original investment. The rest of the buildings and equipment were purchased in a bankruptcy sale. All of the school was consolidated at Aledo with most of the faculty and of the cadets being moved there.
Soon after this change, the cadets chose the new name, Roosevelt Military Academy, in memory and honor of Theodore Roosevelt. The school made it through the depression because the local trustees were willing to borrow against their own property to provide the funds. The debts were paid, and Roosevelt Military Academy became one of the better such schools in the country.
In 1943, the board selected Col. Glen Millikan as the superintendent, and he remained in this capacity until its closing in 1973. In an article in the [Rock Island] Argus, Col. Millikan reminisced about his total of 45 years with the Academy. it is quoted in its entirety as follows:
Just as the first World War had taken its toll upon William and Vashti College, so the Vietnam War and the general reaction to military schools closed many such institutions. The enrollment at Roosevelt Military Academy declined, and inflation drained resources. The reputation of the school was in danger, and the trustees along with Col. Millikan decided to close rather than reduce the standards. By the time the academy closed, 4,676 cadets had attended RMA.
The local businessmen who set up the academy in 1931 were James A. Allen, Herschel J. Blazer, D. R. Farr, C. C. Barr, John Murphy, Sr., Oscar E. Carlstrom, Dr. M. M. Marquis, Dr. A. C. Sells, George Des Lauriers, and George Detwiler. At the time of the closing the board consisted of H. 0. Stutsman, Virgil Anderson, Glen Millikan, David G. Lawson and John Lemon, all of Aledo, plus Premo Westal. Chicago, and M. R. Hallstrom, Hoopeston.
After Roosevelt Military Academy closed the buildings and contents were sold at auction. The Academic Building was razed to make way for a housing facility, Vashti Village, that exists today. The two dormitories remained vacant for many years and were demolished in December of 2017. The former dining hall is still in use by the Mercer County Health Department and Project NOW's Head Start program. The former stables and machine shop are currently privately owned.
The City of Aledo worked with local volunteers to construct a memorial to William and Vashti College, Illinois Military School, and Roosevelt Military Academy in 2018. The memorial stands just to the north of an oak tree that was sent to the Roosevelt Military Academy in 1938 by Edith Roosevelt in honor of Teddy Roosevelt's 80th birthday. The tree and memorial will help future generations understand the legacy of service and community pride embodied by the institutions that once occupied the ground on which they stand.
Thank you to the Roosevelt Military Academy Rough Riders Alumni Association, Jerry Guinn, and Jack Gwynne for sharing their research in order to compile this history.