GVSU’s History in West Michigan

Grand Valley State University is a great school with an almost 60-year record of excellence in West Michigan. As we approach GVSU’s diamond anniversary, it’s good to take a look at some of its historical highlights over the years. What do you know about GVSU’s history?

It Began with an Idea

GVSU started out as an idea. After World War II, education expanded as the economy grew, but not all Michiganders had the same access to public education. In 1958, the Michigan Legislature commissioned a study by Dr. John Russell to determine if a new four-year college was needed to serve Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, and Ottawa counties. As a result of this study, in 1960 the legislature signed Public Act 120 into law, and Grand Valley was born. 

Following that legislation, a private fund drive was launched to raise the money to build and operate the college. This fund drive raised $1,350,000 and purchased the 876-acre site of the campus in Allendale as well as funded the construction of the original Grand Valley State College. The school’s name was the result of a naming contest. 2500 people entered this contest with several of them suggesting the final name. 

By 1962 GVSC had a president, Dr. James Zumberge, and workers had broken ground for its first academic buildings. Did you know that the school’s first library was located in “The Pink House,” a small ranch house with a two-stall garage? Yes, it was actually pink.

Grand Valley State College Opens

The 23,000 students studying on one of GVSU’s three campuses today might be surprised to learn that in 1963, during its first semester, there were a total of 226 students enrolled, all freshmen. By this time the buildings in Great Lakes Group, Lake Michigan Hall, and Lake Superior Hall were completed. The next year, the Seidman House, opened as a student center and bookstore.

Serious fans of the Lakers might know that the schools first teams were known as the Bruisers for two years. This name came from the black and blue (and white) school colors. In 1965 the student body chose the Lakers name from contest submissions, and that became the official name of Grand Valley’s athletic teams.

Notable Moments in GVSU’s History

In 1969, there was a freedom of speech scandal involving the Grand Valley Lanthorn which had printed an issue that contained both vulgarities and obscenities. Many in the larger community complained and, as a result, the Ottawa County sheriff arrested the Lanthorn’s editor and the county prosecutor closed the newspaper’s office. GVSC sued both of them and Michigan’s Attorney General ruled in favor of the college and free speech.

Grand Valley grew larger over two and a half decades, adding a College of Graduate Studies and satellite campuses or centers in downtown Grand Rapids, Holland, Muskegon, and Traverse City. The L.V. Eberhard Center and Meijer Public Broadcast Center were dedicated. 

In 1987, when Governor James Blanchard signed a bill that designated GVSC as Grand Valley State University, enrollment was approximately 9,000 students. The 1990s saw enormous growth of both the physical campus and the student body, and by the year 2000, the number of students was at 18,579. 

That year the Richard M. DeVos Center, the Steelcase Library, and the Beckering Family Carillon Tower were dedicated as part of the expansion of the Downtown Grand Rapids campus. This campus was named in honor of Robert C. Pew, former chairman of Steelcase. Steelcase had donated the land for this campus. 

In 2004, with enrollment at 22,000, GVSU reorganized into a college system once again with the following colleges:

  • College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • College of Interdisciplinary Studies
  • College of Community and Public Service
  • College of Education
  • College of Health Professions
  • Kirkhof College of Nursing
  • Seidman College of Business
  • Seymour and Esther Padnos College of Engineering and Computing

Over the past 20 years Grand Valley has only gotten more comprehensive. It now offers 95 undergraduate degrees and 43 graduate degrees. It’s also built or added to its physical campus, filling out the 876 acres with resources for every kind of student, local, national, or international. It has something for everyone, and has become a wonderful asset in West Michigan. 

If you’re deciding which university you should go to, you can’t go wrong with Grand Valley. GVSU’s history in this area illustrates its connections to both famous and ordinary Michiganders who have gone on to make a difference after they graduated with a GVSU degree. We at Meadows Crossing are proud of our school and its history! Come and visit, and we think you’ll understand why so many others choose it for their education.

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