Wubben and Rait led first expansion of what was then Mesa Junior College

Horace Wubben and Mary Rait would have been proud and probably a bit awed if they were to visit the Colorado Mesa University campus today.

Dr.Wubben, a one-time high school teacher, was the president of the university’s forerunner, Mesa Junior College, from 1937 to 1963, when he retired. Rait was one of three women teachers “on loan” from Grand Junction High School when the college opened. She stayed on to become the full-time teacher of modern European history, dean of women and the junior college’s first woman vice president. She retired in 1960.

Both Wubben and Rait are deceased.

While they may have fantasized about Mesa Junior College achieving university status, it is improbable that either Wubben or Rait envisioned such an outcome. They were much too busy in the late 1930s, 1940s and 1950s coping with the effects of the Great Depression and World War II on a still-fledgling school.

During the late 1950s and 1960s, the period when the college was beginning to expand, I covered the then-locally controlled institution for The Daily Sentinel. That coverage included the college board, a group of prominent Mesa County citizens. Unscheduled board meetings were often randomly called when there was some important decision to be made.

There was nothing sinister about his feelings, but Wubben was not fond of having the press at meetings. In the days before the Colorado Sunshine Law went into effect in 1973, many school and other public officials preferred that board disagreements not be made public, and Wubben was no exception.

However, The Sentinel seldom missed a board meeting. Wubben never asked, and I never told him, that Claud Smith and James Duggan, two long-time board members, felt strongly that the public had a right to know what was happening. I fielded many late-night and early-morning calls from one — or sometimes both men — alerting me to an impending meeting.

In a time when women were beginning to take up more active leadership roles, Vice President Rait didn’t attend every college board meeting, but was present at many of them, and she wasn’t shy about expressing her thoughts. I can remember a board meeting in Wubben’s old office in Houston Hall, where she disagreed with what he had just said. She spoke up firmly “But Horace ...” And, as I recall, her view prevailed.

Mesa’s first post-war building expansion got under way during the Wubben-Rait administration, beginning with construction of Mary Rait Dormitory in 1947, followed by Horace Wubben Science Building and the W.W. Campbell College Center in 1962. Both the dormitory and the college center have been replaced in recent years.

But the most formidable project under Wubben’s leadership, undertaken in 1958, was the formation of Rangely Junior College as an affiliate of Mesa College. That campus was formally opened in October 1962 with the first students graduating in 1964. The college separated from the Mesa College District in 1970 and became Northwestern Community College in 1998, according to Russell George, its current president.

When I knew her as her student, Rait was a tall, somewhat elegant woman with ginger-colored hair beginning to be tinged with gray and an intelligent, inquisitive face. I can remember her striding briskly down the college hall on the way to her classroom each morning. In cold weather, she often wore what was apparently a favorite brown-toned wool plaid suit and, in warmer weather, a yellow cotton dress with a full skirt and neckline bow. She wasn’t a beautiful woman, except when she began to lecture on modern European history. Then, her face lighting up and her voice brimming with enthusiasm, she took on a kind of classic beauty.

Wubben, a dignified, large-boned man with a pronounced receding hairline, was always immaculately groomed in a suit, dress shirt and tie. He may have worked in his office in his shirtsleeves, but whenever I looked in on him, he was always wearing a jacket. While he was friendly and addressed me by my given name, he always maintained a certain aloofness.

Several years after my college days, when I became a reporter, I began to call Miss Rait “Mary,” although I gulped a bit when I first tried it. She seemed to enjoy the familiarity.

However, although I had often heard his Rotary Club friends call him by his given name, I was never able to address Wubben as “Horace.” In my mind, that would have been tantamount to calling President Franklin Delano Roosevelt “Frankie.”

Mary Louise Giblin Henderson is a former political reporter for The Daily Sentinel who now lives in California.


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