Freeman Junior College (Freeman, South Dakota, USA)

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Freeman Junior College, a Mennonite school in Freeman, South Dakota, had its inception in the "South Dakota Mennonite College" which came into being in response to a feeling among the Russian Mennonite settlers in Dakota in the 1870s that the German language should be maintained and that there should be some Biblical instruction. This feeling came with particular force to Frederick C. Ortman during the winter of 1894-1895 while he was visiting the various Mennonite communities in Kansas, where he noted the good influence of Bethel College, particularly in training Mennonites to teach in the elementary schools.

Ortman took his burden of a Mennonite school to Elder Christian Kaufman in the winter of 1899-1900. Out of this meeting followed a series of meetings to which representatives came from the various Mennonite churches in the community. The idea of a Mennonite school became more popular with each meeting. At the fourth general meeting it was decided that since Freeman was very nearly in the center of the community the school should be built there. At the fifth meeting, held on 10 December 1900, a board of directors was elected and on the 14th of the same month a charter was obtained from the State of South Dakota.

The task of raising money was then begun. Construction on the first building, a frame structure costing $7,000, was begun in 1902. It was completed in time for school to begin in the fall of 1903. The dedication services were held on 25 October 1903. This building served for all instructional purposes until the completion of the new administration building in 1926 at a cost of more than $60,000. In the meantime two dormitories had been erected, one in 1906 at a cost of $6,000 and a second in 1915, costing $4,500. In 1923 the auditorium-gymnasium was erected at a cost of approximately $7,500. After the erection of the new administration building in 1926, two additional buildings were placed on the nine-acre campus. One was a men's dormitory built out of army barracks, with two apartments for faculty members. The other was the imposing new auditorium-gymnasium completed in 1950 at an estimated value of $125,000. It was named Pioneer Hall in honor of the settlers who first came to Dakota in 1874 from southern Russia. The men's dormitory was valued at $16,000. In addition to the nine-acre campus with its seven buildings the college in 1950 had two farms and a small endowment fund. Total fixed assets as per annual statement of 31 July 1953 were listed at $334,547.01.

When the school opened in 1903, the course of study did not comprise much more than the common school subjects, except for German. Even beginners were admitted during the first year. However, new courses were added as the school developed. In 1911 the Teacher Training Course was recognized by the State Department of Public Instruction. In 1922 the Academy was fully accredited. The following year the first year of college work was offered. By 1927 the University of South Dakota accredited the full Junior College course. In 1950 the school offered (1) a Junior College course; (2) a One- and Two-Year Teacher Training course; (3) an Academy course; (4) Bible courses; (5) special courses in Agriculture, Commerce, Farm Shop, and Home Making; (6) and work by correspondence. The Associate in Arts degree was being conferred in Bible, Teacher Training, Commerce, and Liberal Arts. In the earlier years all of the Bible classes and many of the other subjects were conducted in Ger¬man. But as the use of German declined in the homes, it was gradually less used as a language of instruction, so that by 1914 only some of the Bible courses were given in German. After that time German was only an elective modern language course.

The institution was not under the direct management of the Mennonite Church but operated under a board of trustees of nine members elected from a corporation consisting largely of members of the various Mennonite churches of South Dakota and surrounding states. Anyone who contributed $25 to the school became a member of the corporation, and each $100 contribution constituted a vote; no one, however, could ever cast more than 10 votes at a corporation meeting—five of his own and five by proxy. The name of the school has changed twice since it was incorporated—to Freeman College, and since 1939, to Freeman Junior College.

While established primarily for the benefit of the young people of the Mennonite faith, emphasizing the simple life, industry, the sanctity of the home, freedom of conscience, and Christian love as the guiding principle in all situations of life, the benefits and privileges of the college have been heartily extended to young people of other denominations. The Board of Trustees adopted the Statement of Doctrine of the General Conference Mennonites.

Hundreds of young people who have graduated from the various courses through the years have become active workers in the community life of Freeman as well as in other communities. In its first 50 years the leadership of the school changed quite frequently. The total enrollment in 1954-55 was 158, of which 46 were in college and 112 in high school. 

The Junior College closed in 1986, but the Academy continued, and is known as Freeman Academy. It offers grades 7-12.


Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 694 f.

Additional Information

Address: 748 South Main Street, Freeman, South Dakota 57029

Phone: 605-925-4237

Website: Freeman Academy

Presidents of Freeman Junior College and Academy

President Term of Service
H. A. Bachmann 1903-1904
John R. Thierstein 1904-1908
H. A. Bachmann 1908-1911
Benjamin J. Kaufman (acting) 1911-1913
Eddison Mosiman 1913-1917
Aaron J. Regier (acting) 1917-1921
Peter F. Quiring (acting) 1921-1922
Aaron J. Regier 1922-1927
Peter F. Quiring (acting) 1927-1928
Peter R. Schroeder 1928-1930
Peter R. Schroeder and Benjamin P. Waltner (committee of administration) 1930-1931
John D. Unruh (chair, committee of administration) 1931-1933
John D. Unruh 1933-1935
Benjamin P. Waltner (acting) 1935-1936
John D. Unruh 1936-1938
Benjamin P. Waltner (acting) 1938-1939
John D. Unruh 1939-1948
Edmund J. Miller 1948-1951
Ronald von Riesen 1951-1958
John H. Ewert 1958-1967
Howard D. Raid 1967-1969
Eldon W. Graber 1969-1972
David F. Wiebe, Waldo W. Kaufman and Walter A. Ortman (administrative committee) 1972-1973
Bernie Wiebe 1973-1976
Leslie Ortman 1976-1978
Leroy Saner (acting) 1978-1979
Art DeHoogh 1979-1986
Leroy Saner 1986-1994
Larry Horner 1994-2000
Marlan J. Kaufman 2000-2008
Pam Tieszen 2008-present

Author(s) John D. Unruh
Samuel J. Steiner
Date Published 2008

Cite This Article

MLA style

Unruh, John D. and Samuel J. Steiner. "Freeman Junior College (Freeman, South Dakota, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 2008. Web. 26 Jun 2022.,_South_Dakota,_USA)&oldid=165770.

APA style

Unruh, John D. and Samuel J. Steiner. (2008). Freeman Junior College (Freeman, South Dakota, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 June 2022, from,_South_Dakota,_USA)&oldid=165770.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 389-390. All rights reserved.

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