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Frank Gray | The Journal Gazette

Howe Military alum laments likely closure

Fort Wayne resident Charlie Snouffer spent seven years at Howe Military Academy, graduating in 1972 (yearbook photo at left) from the school that will close if $2 million is not raised by June 2.

When Fort Wayne Community Schools decided in 2010 to close Elmhurst High School, the decision prompted tears from pleading students and even a lawsuit that took a year and a half to reach a conclusion.

Then, once the final day of classes had passed, droves of former students, some who had attended the school decades before, came to tour the school one last time and reminisce, get sentimental or just enjoy a bit of nostalgia.

People do that. They get fond of schools.

It's the possible closing of another school that prompted a message from a local reader, Charlie Snouffer of Fort Wayne.

Snouffer attended Howe Military Academy in northern LaGrange County for the maximum period allowed, seven years. He started there in 1965 and graduated in 1972.

Back then, he says, tuition was $3,000 a year, so he was a member of what he said was the 21 Grand Club, a reference to the total amount of tuition his parents had forked over.

Then, last month, Snouffer said he got an email from the school announcing that if it couldn't raise $2 million by June 2, the school, which has been around since 1884, would close.

Snouffer called the news a bit of a shock.

He has fond memories of the place and seemed to just want to talk about it for a bit.

“I loved every minute up there,” he says, and he has attended all but five of the alumni weekends, an annual reunion of sorts, since 1972.

Snouffer said he had one teacher who used a bayonet as a pointer.

But, he says, “It's not what a lot of people think,” a school for people destined for the military or kids with discipline problems.

“It was more academic when I went there,” and most of the graduates he knew went on to business careers.

Snouffer still keeps in touch with 20 to 25 of the students he graduated with, people who were a cross section of America, he said, from the South Side of Chicago, sons of factory workers and the children of auto company executives and foreign executives.

“When I graduated, of 45 graduates, half had a GPA of high B or low A. It's hard to stand out when you're with a bunch of geniuses.”

He described life at the school – getting up at 6 a.m., lining up at 6:15 in the uniform of the day, marching to mess for breakfast, then cleaning your room and lining up to report to classes.

But the world has changed.

Back in the 1960s, if you picked up a Boys Life or National Geographic magazine, the back pages would be filled with ads for military schools. When he started at Howe, the school had 500 students.

By the time he graduated there were 350, and enrollment continued to diminish. Those ads for military schools have all but disappeared, and news reports say Howe's enrollment was down to about 75.

That creates a problem when it comes to raising money.

As the number of students diminish, the pool of alumni, possible benefactors, has gotten lean. There aren't that many graduates to solicit.

But Snouffer looks at the world and wonders how many young people would tolerate the routine that students used to be required to follow.

“We were a bunch of blue-collar guys who took a lot away from the school and went out and did good stuff.”

“Parents and kids today can't comprehend that type of life,” he said.

“I'm stuck in my old-school ways,” he says. “It'll never be what I remember, what it was 40-plus years ago,” when society as a whole was still more formal, more disciplined.

Snouffer believes the school will close, which he calls sad.

“It was such a big part of my life,” he says.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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