Published in The Mobile Register - Moblie, Alabama
By CHARLES CROFT
CAMP HILL, AL -- Like a unit of the armed services, Lyman Ward Military Academy pursues a mission.
"Our main focus is college preparation," said Mike Burke, academic dean of the boys boarding school in this small Tallapoosa County town about 250 miles northeast of Mobile.
He said the school's selling point is that it offers a "structured environment" with small classes, experienced teachers and supervised study periods. "We try to create an environment that creates good habits. We use the military structure to create an environment to study."
All of Lyman Ward's 2003 graduates were accepted into colleges or universities, Burke said, adding that he expects this year's graduating class will duplicate that achievement.
Andrew Loflin of Andalusia agreed with Burke's assertions.
For Loflin, 18, who will graduate in May after four years at Lyman Ward, it was not a case of love at first sight.
"After the first week, I didn't want to be here, but other cadets, teachers and family members told me to stick it out, and it would get better. It did."
Loflin's record indicates it got much better. He has served as captain of the school's football team and captain of its color guard, has participated in wrestling and soccer, is a member of the Beta Club and Scholars Bowl team.
"In May, when I look back on it, I'll say, 'I made it. I lasted four years in a military school, and it just made me better in the long run,'" he said.
Indeed, the school's military culture seems to hold some allure for him now. While he is unsure of his plans for college, Loflin said, he is considering The Citadel, the military school in Charleston, S.C.
Loflin said what he would miss was the camaraderie. "It's like having 150 brothers. There's sharing between people who work together and live together as a team 24-7."
Bradley Chisenhall of Foley, a junior in his second year, also found the beginning tough but says it was worth sticking it out.
Chisenhall, 17, said he was experiencing disciplinary problems while attending school in Foley, so his parents decided to send him to Lyman Ward.
"It helped me a lot," he said. His grade point average at Lyman Ward is 3.6, compared with 1.5 at Foley, and he plays football and basketball. And he has had no disciplinary problems.
But it wasn't easy at the start.
"The first week, I wanted to leave. I wrote my mom and told her I hated it."
But after a while, "everything was good. I made some friends here," he said.
"They're real happy," he said of his parents. "They're proud of me."
Chisenhall said he hopes to attend the University of South Alabama and study journalism. He said he's not sure if he will go into the military, but if he does, he probably will choose the Marine Corps.
Burke's description of the first few weeks of Lyman Ward make Loflin and Chisenhall's initial reactions understandable. He said the first 3 weeks for new cadets is a "training program," during which they learn how to wear the uniform and maintain their room in the prescribed manner, learn to march and study the school's history. Their instructors are experienced cadets.
And, if they don't learn in the 3 weeks, the training continues until they do, said Burke.
Even after the initial training, the military approach continues. Instructors, who are retired military men, check the dormitories each day, while cadets are in class, to make sure things are in order. And each Saturday morning, cadets undergo full inspections of their quarters and uniforms.
Current enrollment is 155 boys, which, Burke said, is average for the school of grades 6-12. The cadets come from 25 to 30 states, but the bulk are from Alabama, Georgia and a strip of the Gulf Coast between Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and Gulfport.
The student body also includes cadets from Belize, Germany, Guatemala, Hong Kong and Mexico. Burke said cadets from foreign countries frequently learn about Lyman Ward from family members who have attended the school.
The annual cost for a cadet to attend Lyman Ward is about $16,500, Burke said.
The school, which occupies about 350 acres, had its beginning in 1898 as Southern Industrial Institute, which was intended by its founder, Lyman Ward, to educate rural youth.
Ward grew up in New York state, where he was a teacher before attending theological school. He was inspired by a speech by Booker T. Washington and decided to come the Alabama, the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia as an itinerant preacher.
He was touched by the region's poverty and need for educational opportunities, according to "Their Country's Pride: The Centennial History of Lyman Ward Military Academy" by Jerri Beck.
He decided he wished to start a school and began to seek donations in churches and communities in East Alabama.
The first donation he received was $500 from William E. Trimble, a cotton planter at Camp Hill. D.A.G. Ross, also of Camp Hill, donated $1,000, and thus Ward chose the community as the site of his school.
Ward visited Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee in 1898, and the great black educator contributed $800.
That was not Washington's only contribution to the school. Ward and some of the students were constructing a building and were experiencing difficulty making bricks. Ward sought Washington's help. According to which account one believes, Washington either sent a couple of students from Tuskegee to help the builders in Camp Hill the art of brick making or he came himself.
Washington was not the only famous educator to take an interest in SII. Julia Tutwiler paid an unannounced visit to the school in the early 1900s, according to the Academy's historical accounts. She persuaded Ward to allow her to invite his students to transfer to Livingston Female Academy in west Alabama, which she wanted to make co-educational. After her presentation about the advantages the students would reap from attending her school, her listeners held a vote and unanimously decided to remain in Camp Hill.
In addition to academics, SII students worked at such things as constructing more buildings at the school, cutting wood and planting and tending crops.
Ward retired as the school's president in 1942 and died in 1948. In 1955, the school eliminated elementary and co-educational programs, adopted the military approach to education and changed its name to Lyman Ward Military Academy.
One thing that has not changed from the school's very beginning is the stress on a vigorous approach to life. Summing up the way the school operates, Burke said, "We work hard, play hard and study hard, go to bed and then do it all over again the next day."
Copyright 2004 Mobile Register
This note added 2/15/2004 by Brian Brunner '64.
Thank you so much for writing and making me aware of the link to the Mobile Register article about Lyman Ward. It is touching to read contemporary students' comments about the Academy and to learn that the school is still fulfilling its purpose as it has done for so many years. These interviews could have been done during my tenure at Lyman Ward, and the students' responses would have been the same. I heard identical statements thirty years ago from my students at the Academy.
It is comforting to know that in this age of so much immediate change Lyman Ward Military Academy has remained steadfast in its commitment to educate young men and has continued to fulfill its destiny to make the world a better place by giving our country and the world capable members of society.
Thank you again for bringing the article to my attention.
John T. Strunk (L.W.M.A. faculty member 1967-1974)
"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless." - Mother Teresa