Back to the Academy
A legacy of learning keeps Franklin & Marshall Academy alive for its former students
Flanked by some of Franklin & Marshall College’s newest buildings, a bagel shop on Harrisburg Avenue is at the heart of a bustling corridor. Across the street, F&M students flow into and out of the majestic brick building known as New College House. To the east, pedestrians visit shops and restaurants at College Row. And to the north, members of the F&M community trek toward the Alumni Sports & Fitness Center for exercise and sports practice.
It’s the picture of a modern campus.
But on this Wednesday morning, the bagel shop is filled with memories of yesteryear. Taking a seat at their usual table near the shop’s large windows, Robert Wohlsen ’50 and Edward Hauck begin to chat about something dear to their hearts—Franklin & Marshall Academy, the private preparatory school owned and operated by the College until its closing in 1943. The academy launched as a preparatory wing of the newly founded Franklin College in 1787, preparing generations of boys in grades six through 12—and some who attended for a postgraduate year—for college. Wohlsen and Hauck, who both attended the academy, keep the school’s spirit alive during their weekly Wednesday meetings that began last year.
“I’m three years younger than Ed, but I remember watching his academy football team in 1940,” Wohlsen says as his eyes widen. “Those men looked so much bigger than me. What outstanding athletes!”
Soon the conversation turns to the late Ted Rupp ’35, the beloved academy student, teacher and wrestling coach who later became the College’s wrestling coach and the coordinator of academy reunions.
“F&M was Ted’s foundation, from sixth grade through the College,” Hauck says of his friend, who died in 2010. “His passion for the academy had a tremendous influence on us.”
“We visited Ted the last few years of his life,” Wohlsen says. “We’ve never felt that we filled the gap left by his passing. Now, we’re honored to carry on his legacy by helping to organize the academy reunions.”
Wohlslen, who attended the academy for several years until its closing, and Hauck, who completed a postgraduate year at the academy, are bound by a deep gratitude for the education they received there. They are among the 100 living “Academy boys,” or former students, who will mark the 70th anniversary of the academy’s closing this winter. Their story sheds light on a rich academic tradition that existed alongside the College until World War II.
“The academy is where a young boy turned into a young man,” Hauck says. “It’s where I learned to write and think.”
‘Total Preparation for Life’
The seeds for what would become the Franklin & Marshall Academy were planted when the preparatory school launched with newly founded Franklin College. For several decades, there were more students in the preparatory school than the College. When Franklin College merged with Marshall College to form F&M in 1853, the academy struggled financially. F&M President John W. Nevin urged the Board of Trustees to construct a separate building for the preparatory school, and in 1873, a new building was completed on land adjacent to where Steinman College Center stands today.
The academy began to thrive in the 1890s under the leadership of headmaster Edwin M. Hartman, who oversaw the growth of the student body to 140 by the turn of the century and a peak of 220 in 1926. Half of the freshmen at F&M College were academy graduates in 1901, and by 1917, the academy ranked in the top 12 preparatory schools in the nation in sending students to college.
A new building was constructed for the growing academy in 1908, known as the Main Academy Building, close to the spot that the Schnader Hall student residence occupies today. The building was dedicated as Hartman Hall in 1946 for its longtime headmaster, who guided the academy through the years spanning World War I and the Great Depression.
“Dr. Hartman was respected by all of us at the academy,” Wohlsen says. “I remember his fine German accent, especially when he led the singing of ‘Stille Nacht’ (Silent Night) during the Christmas season. He had such a tremendous influence on us that I wish I could have sent my own boys to his academy.”
Hauck, a star football player for the academy and later the University of Miami, presented the game ball from the academy football team’s 7-0 win over rival Mercersburg Academy to Hartman in 1940. “Dr. Hartman was the quintessential headmaster of a preparatory school,” he says. “It was an honor to give him the ball.”
The academy closed in 1943 in part because of Hartman’s poor health, and also the College’s need for building space for military training programs during World War II. But it continued to play a prominent role in the lives of its graduates in the following decades, many of whom credit the education they received at the academy for their successful lives and careers.
“The academy offered total preparation for life,” says Wohlsen, retired chairman of Wohlsen Construction Company. “It produced so many influential people in Lancaster and other communities, including doctors, judges, heads of department stores, and attorneys. The leaders were successful because of the education they received from academy teachers.”
A Flood of Memories
In the 1990s, Rupp invited graduates of the academy to submit memories of their time at the academy to a publication that would highlight the institution’s history. The result was “A Collection of Recollections: Franklin & Marshall Academy, 1920 to 1943,” published in 1993 to mark the 50th anniversary of the academy’s closing. Scattered throughout the book are names such as Mrs. Moorhead, “Uncle Joe” Rothermel, Paul King, Mike Lewis and Mrs. Ryder. Their effect on Hauck and Wohlsen is clear.
“I learned so much from Lem Clark, a teacher who expanded my reading into a variety of subjects,” says Hauck, a retired news reporter. “He introduced me to the world of theater, and taught me how to communicate.”
Wohlsen developed a passion for education at the academy in sixth grade after attending Mary Street School (now Wharton Elementary in Lancaster) for several years. “The academy was my introduction to a quality education. I always did my homework, and became interested in class for the first time. What was it about that environment that made things click for me? I think it was the teaching.”
Other students credited the academy’s rigorous and supportive academic environment for their successful lives.
“The academy shaped a whole new life for me,” wrote Paul Shaub, a student at the academy from 1942 to 43, in “A Collection of Recollections.” “Prior to coming to F&M, a high school adviser informed me that I would never amount to much, and that I’d better forget my desire to attend college. The academy atmosphere gave me the self confidence I needed to make a success of my life.” Shaub later became an artist and professor at Moore College of Art & Design.
The academy’s reach stretched beyond the classroom, from “The Oval”—the circular driveway in front of the Main Academy Building that was the heart of much student activity—to athletic fields, where sports teams competed against other preparatory schools of the day. Reminders of these and other aspects of academy student life remain visible in the Academy Room, built as part of major renovations to Shadek-Fackenthal Library in 1983.
The academy also lives on in the form of the College’s Dr. Edwin M. and Helen Stahr Hartman/F&M Academy Scholarship Fund, established by former academy students in the 1990s to honor Dr. Hartman’s devotion to education and the powerful role that Mrs. Hartman played in her husband’s career. And it lives through Hartman Green, the busy crossroads at the center of the present-day campus named for Hartman.
But its deepest meaning lies in the hearts of its former students. That meaning will be on display in earnest this winter, when another reunion takes place on the F&M campus. For Hauck and Wohlsen, it’s on display each week. As they finish their Wednesday breakfast at the bagel shop, they look out the window toward the campus that holds so many memories for them.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Franklin & Marshall Academy,” Wohlsen says.
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