125 Years

A collection of 125 details from Graceland’s history for you to enjoy.

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Our Graceland history is made of everything from impressive buildings to major decisions, but it is also intricately woven with bricks and paint, and with the interests of the people who determined it. The first 125 years of the Graceland experience includes vision, trials, love, undoubtedly some snorting laughter — and everything in between.

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There was just one graduate in the first graduating class of Graceland College. 

Frederick Madison Smith was presented the first Graceland diploma June 15, 1898. The son of Joseph Smith III, Frederick’s Graceland legacy lives on today. He is the namesake for the library on the Lamoni campus, as well as the snack shop within it, playfully named Freddie’s Café. 

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Briggs Hall was the second building built on Graceland’s Lamoni campus. 

Throughout its history, Briggs Hall has housed classrooms, a dormitory, the home economics department and a library. Today, Briggs Hall houses the C.H. Sandage School of Business, the humanities department faculty offices, the information technology services department and classrooms for general use. The three levels of Briggs stairs are notorious for causing students to lose their breath as they make their way to class. 

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The name of the Higdon Administration Building was chosen to honor the three members of the Higdon family who collectively served as the college’s president for nearly a quarter century. 

Earl T. Higdon ’27, 1964-66 William T. Higdon ’49, 1966-74, 1992-97 Barbara J. Higdon ’49, 1984-91 


The religion major, which was first made available in 1956, was Graceland’s first modern-day four-year bachelor’s degree program. 

Today, Graceland offers a religion and philosophy minor on the Lamoni campus as well as a Master of Arts in Religion through the Community of Christ Seminary. 


Courses during Graceland’s initial years were divided into five programs: 

collegiate (with classical or scientific emphases), preparatory (a two-year high school equivalency offering), commercial (business instruction), shorthand and typewriting, and music. 


The class of 1945 had 75 students, but just six of them were male. 

By 1944, during World War II, Graceland had begun to resemble an all-female school, as male enrollment became limited to those who were not yet 18 and those who could not pass the army physical exam. 

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There were seven lettermen during the first track and field season in 1909. 

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Big G Lake is an eight-acre body of water. 

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Nine teams have been inducted into the Graceland Athletics Hall of Fame. 

1953 men’s basketball, 2003 1962 men’s track, 2008 1963 wrestling, 2009 1973 men’s volleyball, 2004 1975 football, 2005 1979 men’s volleyball, 2019 1986 women’s volleyball, 2007 1998 men’s volleyball, 2013 2004 women’s soccer, 2010 


Bud O’Dell ’59 received $10 in the contest to name Big G Lake in 1959. 

The actual big, yellow G was added in November 1960 and had yellow paint mixed into the concrete. Today, the space between the lake and road where the G is located has grills, benches and a dock, donated by the homecoming honor class of 2011, and is often used for student recreation. 

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11 students registered for class on the very first opening day of Graceland College Tuesday, Sept. 17, 1895. 


During the 1968-69 school year, intersquad club hockey team the Flyers won the 12-game club conference. 


William “Duke” Dudek, a 1965 graduate, holds the Graceland record of 13 varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball and track. 


Field hockey became Graceland’s first intercollegiate varsity sport for women in Fall 1965 with a team of 14 student-athletes under the organization of coach Betty Welch ’48. 

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There were 15 original houses when the house system first began in 1962. 

THEN There were seven men’s houses (Aaron, Agape, Closson, Edwards, Faunce, Stewart Manor, Tiona), seven women’s houses (Audentia, Belavera, Kimball Manor, Sariah, Shalom, Solah, Traver) and one house for married students (Electa). 

NOW There are 17 houses: eight men’s (Agape, Cheville, Closson, Faunce, Orion, Powell, Stewart Manor, Tiona), eight women’s (Amici, Aponivi, Hanthorne, Khiyah, Paloma, Sariah, Shalom, Solah) and one for nursing students on the Independence campus (McKevit Manor). 

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There were 16 students enrolled in nursing studies when President William Higdon announced the creation of the baccalaureate degree program in nursing in April 1968. 

Today, there are 659 Graceland nursing students: 34 pre-nursing in Lamoni, 90 in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in Independence, 28 in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing and 490 in the Master of Science in Nursing online programs, and 17 in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program. 


Just 17% of the student body on the Lamoni campus was made up of part-time students during the 2018-19 school year. 


There are 18 members on the Graceland University Board of Trustees. 


Graceland received 19 enrollment applications from participants at the first Spectacular hosted on Graceland’s Lamoni campus in 1973. 

Today, Spectacular is the largest single gathering of prospective student guests, enrolling multiple students every year. 


Marietta Walker donated the first 20 acres of land to Graceland (of her farmland) for the Lamoni campus in 1893. 

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Students who wish to earn an honors degree from Graceland must complete a minimum of 21 semester hours of honors credit. 

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In the fall of 1970, Graceland’s Independence campus offered tuition at just $22 per semester hour for accredited courses in religion and general liberal arts. 

The courses offered were Bacteriology taught by John A. Edwards ’39 and assisted by Mildred Kemp, Theory in Group Leadership and Recreation taught by A.H. Edwards ’55, Races and Minorities taught by Lloyd R. Young ’50, Service Playing taught by John W. Obetz, Church Music taught by Harold Neal, and Educational Psychology and Measurement taught by Raymond G. Williamson. Approximately 70 people enrolled in these courses. 


In 1946, 14 dormitory rooms in Marietta Hall were remodeled into 23 practice rooms to accommodate increased enrollment in applied music. 

Today, in addition to their coursework, students majoring in music — as well as students majoring in other academic programs on campus — can take part in diverse performance opportunities, including chamber choir, jazz band, concert choir, symphonic band and Graceland Harmonium. 

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24% of Graceland University students enrolled in internships during the 2018-19 school year. 


Closson House earned a $25 theater party and a large group picture when they won the first house float contest at the 1962 homecoming. 


The Alma Mater Hymn, Graceland’s official alumni song, was written and composed by Roy Cheville ’21 in 1926. 

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New football stands resembling an inverted T cost $27K. 

They debuted at the west side of the field prior to the start of the 1960 season and remain the home section for Huntsman Field today. 

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The new Patroness Hall originally opened as a women’s dormitory for the 1952 fall semester and contained three wings with 28 residence rooms painted in pastel colors. 


George N. Briggs served as Graceland’s president for 29 years from 1915-44. 


The price of a year’s tuition in 1906-07 was $30. 


Graceland currently offers 31 undergraduate majors on the Lamoni campus. 


There were 32 graduates in 1915.

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Tess Morgan Hall was named in recognition of the Graceland faculty member who taught English for 33 years and served as dean of women. 

The first wing of the women’s residence hall was constructed with 33 two-person rooms. 

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Graceland wrestler Bob McDowell ’78 finished his regular sophomore season in 1976 with a record of 34-0. 

McDowell went on to become Graceland’s first NAIA national champion in wrestling when he won the 150-pound weight class final at the national meet in March of that year. Graceland’s wrestling program was discontinued in 1982 and was reinstated in 2013. The university’s second national champion in wrestling was sophomore Brennan Swafford ’22, who won the 165-pound weight class final at the 63rd Annual NAIA National Wrestling Championships in March 2020. 


Graceland Swim Club won its first-ever opening meet by 35 points (70-35) in a dual against Southwestern College at Wichita, Kansas, in January 1975.


At a peace vigil for the Persian Gulf War Jan. 14, 1991, a candle was lit in Cheville Chapel at noon and continued to burn for 36 hours, always under watch of someone in the sanctuary. 

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There were 37 graduates from Graceland in the year 1917. 


There were 38 states represented by students on Graceland’s Lamoni campus during Fall 2020. 


There are 39 steps between Ackerley Track and the top of the bleachers at Huntsman Football Field. 

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Just 40 students occupied Walker Hall, designed to house 120 people, during the Great Depression in the spring of 1933.

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41% of students on the Lamoni campus participated in visual and performing arts activities during the 2018-19 school year.


In April 1968, 42 faculty members overruled 27 others in a vote that lifted the ban on dancing at Graceland.

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Graceland finalized the $43 million purchase of SkillPath in January 1995. Revenue from SkillPath’s learning and development programs has provided millions of dollars in scholarships to Graceland students over the past 25 years.


Graceland offered students participation in 44 clubs/organizations during the 2018-19 school year.

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The title of Distinguished Professor, Graceland’s highest title for active faculty members, was first conferred during commencement 45 years ago in May 1975 to Bruce M. Graybill ’52, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and Velma Ruch ’41, Distinguished Professor of English.

Graybill and Ruch were the only two people to be given the title during Graceland’s first century. Steve Anders ’73 is the only other faculty member in Graceland’s history to receive this honor, which was conferred during commencement May 16, 2010.

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Graceland’s computer science and information technology major was developed by Dennis Steele and introduced 46 years ago in 1974.

Upper division courses during the program’s early years were Switching Theory, Computer Design, Modeling and Simulation. Today, the hybrid major is designed to provide hands-on practical experiences that come from an information technology and theoretical basis that comes from computer science. That allows students to develop a skillset that combines important elements from the two disciplines.

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Roy A. Cheville Chapel rises 47 feet at its highest point, minus the cross that was added to the building in 2015.


There were 48 students in the first officially designated summer school session in 1954.


There were already four students at Graceland from Alaska when it became the 49th state in January 1959.

Those students were Mike Briggs ’60 of Anchorage, Lola Condit ’60 of Mount View, Marilyn C. Porter ’60 of Fairbanks, and Rena Ann Wight ’60 of Anchorage.

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During his speech at Graceland’s 50-year anniversary celebration, the first graduate, Frederick Madison Smith, expressed his hope that Graceland would have an entire building for a library, a building devoted to science, two additional dormitories, and a memorial building for those who had fought and died in war. He also spoke of his desire for Graceland to evolve into a university. All of these hopes were realized during Graceland’s next 50 years.

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Graceland’s student body was 51% female for the 2018-2019 school year.


Graceland first began offering a psychology major 52 years ago in 1968.


There were 53 bachelor’s degrees conferred in 1962, but there were a total of 254 graduates that year, including those who received associate degrees.


54 cans of paint were in the Facility Services stockroom when this fact was written.

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During the summer of 1969, the North Door Singers went on a 55-day overseas USO tour with more than 70 performances in Japan, Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines and Guam.

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Baseball has been a sport at Graceland for the last 56 years.

It was originally introduced in 1896 as the first sport offering for students but disappeared during the early 1920’s. Baseball was then revived on an intercollegiate basis during the spring of 1964.


The enrollment in 1897 was 57 students, reported by the Graceland Arena, Graceland’s second student newspaper. The paper’s editor was Frederick M. Smith.


The Graceland Ramblers, a singing group spurred from a 1978 winter term class, performed in 58 shows during their final summer tour in 1988.

Tour locations included Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, South Caroline, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Ontario and Grand Cayman.

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Graceland has offered business administration, English and history academic programs for 59 years. 


Graceland’s original land designation was about 60 acres.

George Barrett surveyed the original college grounds and is credited as the man who gave Graceland College its name. He worked as a civil engineer and marked off the first acreage of the college land in Lamoni into 146 lots prior to construction of the administration building.

Frederick M. Smith, who had assisted in the surveying, wrote in the March 1903 Athenian Arena, “Just who suggested the name, we do not know, but are inclined to think that it was ‘Colonel’ George Barrett, who surveyed and laid out the grounds in ‘lines of grace and beauty…'”

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With a 61.0-second first-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles, Wendi Simmons ’91 became Graceland’s first female athlete to win an NAIA national championship in 1989.

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According to the 2018-19 Graceland fact book, 62% of Graceland’s Lamoni campus student body were student-athletes (excluding student coaches and managers).


It takes approximately 63 steps to get from the front door of the Higdon Administration Building to the front door of Newcom Student Union.


Briggs Hall is 64 feet wide at its base. 


In 1897, Graceland’s first acting president Professor Joseph T. Pence, earned a salary of $65 per month.

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There were 66 contest entries to name the Swarm Inn in 1963.

The contest began Oct. 24 and was supposed to end Nov. 15 but was extended into December to allow for more name suggestions. In December, the contest’s prize was announced to be a newly designed Graceland blazer. Students submitted entries in the slot by the door to the MSC roller skating booth. Suggestions were judged by a committee, with the Council on Student Life selected the name “Swarm Inn” in January 1963 based on the suggestion “The Swarm Room” by Edwards House freshman Les Hall ’68. On Feb. 1, 1963 The Tower reported that the name “typifies the purpose and activity of the snack shop. Since Yellowjackets do not hive, but instead gather in a swarm, an appropriate center for their gathering and activity is the ‘Swarm Inn’.” 21 of the 66 entries used the words “hive,” “nest” or “honeycomb.”


Over a weekend in February 1960, 67 women moved into the newly built first wing of Tess Morgan Hall.


Graceland first introduced a studio art concentration 68 years ago in 1952.


The only Yellowjackets jersey to have ever been retired is the #69 football jersey. 

It belonged to Jeff Criswell ’86, who went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL.


The nursing major attracted 70 students during the fall of 1969, when juniors in the baccalaureate program first enrolled in Independence.

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Graceland College’s phone number in 1898 was a simple two-digit 71.


The Big G (letter not lake) is 72 feet from top to bottom.


There were 73 collegiate degrees conferred in 1925 with 97 total graduates.

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Graceland had 74 full-time faculty during the 2019-20 school year.

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During her years as a faculty member, Celia Schall ’47 directed 75 theatrical productions, more than any other instructor in Graceland history.

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Meals were served to 76 people in the first-floor commissary of the original Patroness Hall when it opened Feb. 18, 1909.

Students were assigned to tables for a two-week period, and hosts carried in meals in a family-style dining system.


Graceland’s last Associate of Arts degrees were conferred on 77 graduates at the commencement ceremony held May 25, 1969.


There were 78 students enrolled in Enactus class during the 2018-2019 school year.


As an educator preparation program in Iowa, Graceland must abide by Iowa Chapter 79, which governs the standards these programs must meet.

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80 blocks make up the wall sculpture in the Shaw Center lobby.

The clay wall mural, entitled The Seed, ws commissioned in 1979 by Jay ’64 and Cherry ’65 Newcom in honor of Jay’s parents, Loyal and Arden Newcom. It was designed by Dan Keegan (Graceland art faculty member from 1974-76 and 1980-90) with assistance from Kauila “Mel” Clark ’67 (Graceland art faculty member from 1971-84), Ember Moonbourn ’75, Dewey Keaweehu ’84 and Patty Kochaver ’84.

The plaque for the mural reads, “Education nurtures the seed, or core of people, so they come into full bloom.” During the 2012 Shaw Center renovation, the entire mural was removed and replaced, which took a toll on the sculpture. It was repaired in 2014 in part by Kimberly Manuel ’01, who now works in the building as Assistant Professor of Theatre and Scene Design.

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Commitment ’81 was a four-year fundraising campaign announced in January 1977 that began with a $5 million target.

Two of the campaign’s goals were to raise money to construct a campus chapel and a performing arts auditorium, however, the success of the campaign allowed for the construction of the entire performing arts center as well as a chapel. JR Shaw ’56 served as the Commitment ’81 committee chairman, and the campaign ultimately raised $9,202,000 upon its conclusion at the end of 1981.

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The 100-foot flagpole west of the administration building was added 82 years ago during the summer of 1938.

It was donated by the classes of 1925-1932 and the class of 1938.


83 individuals have been inducted into the Graceland Athletics Hall of Fame.


When the gymnasium was located in Zimmerman Hall, the locker rooms in that building contained 84 women’s lockers and 158 men’s lockers.


There are 85 wood steps in the Higdon Administration Building, including the grand central staircase. 

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Gunsolley Hall opened in the fall of 1951 to 86 residents on just the first and second floors.


There were 87 graduates in 1937.


At the dedication ceremony for the Floyd McDowell Commons Sunday, May 14, 1961, a slide show presented 88 images from the career of Floyd McDowell, 1911-25 faculty member and dean who pioneered Graceland’s junior college movement.

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At the age of 89, the students and faculty unanimously gave Marietta Walker the title “Mother of Graceland” in 1923.

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At the time of Graceland’s 50th anniversary, RLDS (now Community of Christ) enrollment among students was 90%.

Today, students outside the Community of Christ faith make up nearly 80% of the student body.


The total enrollment throughout 1896-97 rose to 91 from 34 the previous year.


Final construction costs for Briggs Hall came to about $92k.


On Saturday, Feb. 1, 1969, the Yellowjackets defeated Missouri Valley 93-73 before an overflow crowd of 1,100 at the first Graceland men’s basketball game ever played in the Closson Center (now Morden Center) gymnasium.

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Graceland’s mascot has been the Yellowjackets for 94 years.

Graceland went 31 years without a nickname for its athletic teams. Sports reports on games during those years simply referred to a Graceland squad as “the navy-gold team.” In the fall of 1926, students and faculty decided to nominate nicknames, which were put up to a campus wide vote. The mascot name was announced in November 1926, as the Yellow Jackets, which was eventually melded into a single word. There was not an official design for the Yellowjacket mascot until around 1950.

The suggestion of the mascot was inspired by the many yellow jackets that buzzed inside and around the administration building. Sports enthusiasts back in 1926 reported that they liked the speed, the surety of aim and the fiery zip suggested this small fighter.

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Graceland Forever was written 95 years ago in 1925 by student Warren McElwain ’25.

McElwain was inspired to write a Graceland song after an enthusiastic chapel convocation, during which Roy Cheville ’21 expressed the hope that Graceland would someday have its own songs and suggested that Gracelanders should be the ones to write them.

McElwain went back to his room at Herald hall and prayed for guidance about Cheville’s words. One night, he dreamed he was at a college prep meeting and that there was a college band dressed in uniforms and leading a parade, playing a march he had never heard. McElwain awoke with the melody still in his mind. He hummed it over a few times and decided to write it down in the morning, but when he awoke, his mind was blank.

Later in the day, he began to recall parts of the melody until had it all in his mind and wrote down the tune. A few days later, he wrote the words while sitting in the library in the administration building. Graceland Forever was the only song McElwain ever wrote and published.

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Africa was first represented at Graceland 96 years ago when Michael Johannedes ’26 came from Cairo, Egypt, in 1924.


KLAL was a radio station broadcasting at 97.7 FM that began in Lamoni in 1984.

During the fall of 1987, the station was relocated from the Chief Lamoni Motel to a room on the MSC mezzanine. A student staff began regular broadcasts from 6-11 p.m. in October that year, but equipment failures ended the effort in 1988. Today, you can listen to Kbuz, Graceland’s student-run radio station, at radio.graceland.edu.


Crescents were first introduced at Graceland 98 years ago in 1922.

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“We want 99!” That was the chant from the crowd at the 1961 homecoming game when Clara Morrell, who served as administrative assistant to seven Graceland College presidents, became the only woman to ever play in a football game for the Graceland Yellowjackets.

She had been asked to suit up as #99 at the Friday night pep rally, and coach Harry Larche asked her to sit on the team bench for the next day’s game. After chants from the crowd — and with a safe Graceland lead over Tarkio in the fourth quarter — Larche sent Morrell into the game with specific instructions to run just 15 yards. In 1995, at the age of 79, Morrell donned her uniform again for that year’s homecoming pep rally. 


In 1929, Graceland President George Briggs made a promise to women students that Walker Hall would last 100 years. 

Just nine more to go…

Exterior of Walker women's residence hall entrance


There was an increase of 101 students from 1964 to 1965, when enrollment exceeded 1,000 for the first time in Graceland’s history. 1,058 students attended that year. 

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There were 102 graduates in 1941.


103 years ago in 1917, Graceland became Iowa’s first officially accredited junior college.


On Tuesday, Dec. 1, 1964, the second fire in the second Patroness Hall destroyed the entire contents of room 104 on the east wing. 


In 1945 at Graceland’s half-century mark, annual room rates for Walker Hall were $105. 

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The first mass meeting of Graceland’s student government occurred 106 years ago on a Tuesday in March 1914. 


Graceland Community Lanes became the name of the Lamoni bowling alley at 107 N. Maple Street when the college purchased it in 1969. It is now Baughman Athletic Center and houses the workout facility for Graceland’s nationally ranked wrestling team. 

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108 issues of the Acacia have been published since 1912.

The college yearbook was first published in 1912 as a project of the Athenian Literary Society. The name is a reference to the acacia plant and was suggested by preparatory student Peter T. Chosokabe of Japan in a contest that drew more than 50 submissions. Chosokabe explained the significance of the Acacia name in a piece he wrote for the first yearbook. “The word shall be well compared to the distinctions of our college annual; the virtue of acacia to the virtue of Graceland College; the perfume of acacia to the sweet memories of old students; its euphonious sound to the peaceful atmosphere of the college location.” 


The first indoor toilet was installed at Graceland 109 years ago in 1911 on the second floor of Marietta Hall. 


During the first semester of OASIS (Older Adult Student Information Services) in Fall 1991, there were 110 married or nontraditional students at Graceland, making up 13% of the student population. 


The first reference to a bookstore at Graceland was 111 years ago in 1909, when Jeremiah A. Gunsolley was appointed by the board of trustees to fix up a room for a book and stationery store.


Graceland’s first officially assigned coach was Roy V. Hopkins, who joined the Graceland faculty 112 years ago in the fall of 1908. 

Hopkins coached football and track that school year, and in 1913, he coached the first organized women’s basketball team at Graceland.

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The first known alumni banquet occurred 113 years ago in 1907 during the first annual Alumni Day, which was the beginning of homecoming at Graceland. 

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There are 114 seats in Carol Hall, the acoustically perfect recital hall in Shaw Center. 

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Graceland’s first flagpole was atop the highest turret of the administration building, measuring 115 feet from the ground to the tip. 


The tune from hymn 116 in the RLDS (now Community of Christ) Hymns of the Saints was used to sing They Who Build, based on a poem written by Cleo Hanthorne (Moon). 

The lyrics were first published in the April 19, 1940, issue of the The Tower. 


Floyd M. McDowell Commons is 117 feet long. 

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The winning score of the first-ever Jeremiah Gunsolley Desert Classic Miniature Golf Tournament, held in 1987, was 118 points, scored by Doug Dobkins ’91 and Brent Millard ’90. This was an annual nine-hole event held inside Gunsolley and Graybill halls. 

Each house designed its own unusual hole running through the halls, house lounges and restrooms, and 26 pairs of student golfers competed alongside six noncompeting local celebrities: Dean of Students Tom Powell ’73, Registrar Jim Closson ’56, Bookstore Manager Ed Shields ’72, and professors Bill Norman, Bob Ramsey ’57 and Howard Booth ’60. 


119 years ago in 1901, Graceland’s first graduate and president of the board of trustees at the time, Frederick Madison Smith, was the commencement speaker and spoke to seven students who had graduated from the business department. 


One-act play festivals began as a Graceland theatre tradition in the spring of 1991. During the first three-weekend festival, 120 was performed as one of the plays. 

Written by Tracy Salter ’93, directed by J.J. Musgrove ’92 and starring Gevin Booth ’91, 120 was about a dystopian society contained within an apartment building where a young man’s identity is taken over by a cult-like society. 

The Graceland theatre department has resurrected the one-act festival in the past couple years. The students in a directing class direct a one-act play written from a playwriting class. 

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Graceland Student Education Association was first organized in room 121 of Kelly Hall Tuesday, Sept. 24, 1957.


Graceland’s first commencement ceremony was held over six days 122 years ago in 1898. 


Instrumental music was taught at Graceland as early as 123 years ago during the 1897-98 school year when Arthur H. Mills served as professor of music. 


In 1926, the college farm was made up of nearly 124 acres. 

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We estimate there are approximately 125 layers of paint on the victory bell. (25 paintings per year every year since it was power-washed and installed in its new location in the spring of 2015.)