Becoming a College
Our story begins in 1959 with a grassroots effort by local educators and employers to create and sustain a dynamic workforce with strong technical skills.
They believed that a two-year college would provide that workforce and give liberal arts freshman and sophomores an affordable alternative to a university education that didn’t compromise quality.
Exhaustive studies in 1960-1963 supported their beliefs. On January 15, 1965 Washtenaw County residents voted by a 2:1 margin to establish Washtenaw Community College.
Six men were elected to the college’s first Board of Trustees that day from a field of 38 candidates. They were:
Edward Adams, Jr., president of the National Bank and Trust of Ann Arbor
Evart W. Ardis, University of Michigan director of Bureau of Appointments
Richard C. Creal, educator and department head at Ann Arbor’s Slauson Junior High School
Samuel T. Harmon, engineer and president of Sensor Dynamics, Inc.
Ralph C. Wenrich, University of Michigan department chair of Vocational Education
Kenneth L. Yourd, an attorney and assistant to the University of Michigan Medical School dean
Other candidates with significant voter support were Anthony J. ‘Tony’ Procassini and Elvira Vogel. These influential individuals were staunch supporters of the college and advocated for the studies that led to its formation. They served on several college committees during its founding years; Procassini was elected to the Board in 1966.
On September 12, 1966, Washtenaw Community College welcomed its first students. More than 1,200 enrolled that inaugural semester.
WCC’s first campus
Washtenaw Community College operated out of an eclectic mix of buildings on the east side of the county in Ypsilanti’s Willow Run community from September 1966 to December 1969. These buildings included a bowling alley, church, elementary school and a WWII Quonset hut.
The former St. Alexis Catholic Church and parish hall were used for student registration, data processing and maintenance. A Quonset hut that once housed the parish’s elementary school provided space for the first WCC Children’s Center.
An abandoned bowling alley frequented by employees at the Willow Run bomber plant years earlier became the college library, student lounge and counseling and faculty offices.
Foster Elementary School, built in 1943, was transformed into WCC’s main classroom building. A Willow Run Village fire station became headquarters for the WCC executive leadership team.
The Radiography program convened in the lower level of the University Reform Church on Huron Street in Ann Arbor for the next four years. Automotive classes were taught at a former dairy distribution center on Carpenter Road until 1990.
It only took 100 days
Transforming this haphazard collection of mismatched structures into a working college campus was a monumental undertaking. When college leaders decided in May 1966 to offer classes that fall, the task became overwhelming.
Undaunted, they set about hiring the faculty, support staff and administrators they needed. They created degree and certificate programs; developed, printed and distributed the class schedule countywide; and renovated or converted the buildings for instructional or office use all within 100 days.
Expectations were high when registration began on September 12, 1966, with classes starting three days later on September 15. More than 1,200 students enrolled in 40 occupational areas and general student transfer options.
In September 1967, WCC graduated its first students—12 individuals completing the one-year Inhalation Therapy program. The first full commencement ceremony was held on June 8, 1968 with 47 graduates, among them future Michigan Speaker of the House the Honorable Gary Owen.
The Miracle in the Apple Orchard
In December 1965, 235 acres of land stretching across Ann Arbor and Superior Townships were purchased for the college’s permanent campus. The parcel, known as Huron Valley Farms, was an apple orchard planted and farmed by the Franzblau family.
General Motors President F. James McDonald called the new campus The Miracle in the Apple Orchard. As chair of the Ann Arbor Chamber Education Committee at the time, McDonald was one of the early supporters of the college. Groundbreaking took place in October 1968.