‘An Idea Comes of Age’

New hardcover book chronicles university’s 125-year history

December 5, 2016

The third Stout Manual Training School building, with a 135-foot clock tower, goes up in 1897.

Four years in the making, University of Wisconsin-Stout has published a comprehensive, yet readable, history of its first 125 years.

“An Idea Comes of Age: UW-Stout, 1891-2016” was written by Jerome Poling, assistant communications director for UW-Stout’s University Communications and a previously published author.

The book was commissioned by Chancellor Emeritus Charles W. Sorensen to coincide with the university’s 125th anniversary this year.

“Even though I have spent nearly three decades at UW-Stout, I found this book fascinating and enlightening,” said Chancellor Bob Meyer, a UW-Stout alumnus who also served the university as a faculty member, college dean and administrator. “I know anyone who cares about UW-Stout will want a copy.”

The cover of Sorensen, a historian, said Poling has done an excellent job distilling the important historical facts and events that have shaped the university.

“UW-Stout has an important and relevant story to tell,” Sorensen said. “Jerry’s book tells that story in a very readable fashion while remaining true to the storied history of the institution.”

Poling said his goal in writing “An Idea Comes of Age” was two-fold. “One was to chronicle how UW-Stout came to be and how it grew and changed over the decades. That in itself is a fascinating progression. It opened as two-room private school. It’s now a state-owned university — the only one named after a person — with more than 40 buildings on 124 acres.

“The other, more challenging goal was to dig deeper and find out who and what drove the changes. The university has had leaders with very different personalities who faced unique challenges, internally and externally. Universities are shaped by their governing bodies, their people, their students and the times.”

The book covers the history of UW-Stout from its founding by James Huff Stout as Stout Manual Training School. Watershed events and periods include an 1897 fire that burned down the school, early political battles that ultimately secured the school’s future, challenges during the Great Depression and World War II, rapid enrollment growth in the 1960s and 1970s, major academic program growth beginning in the 1990s and the last two decades that have seen UW-Stout win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and be designated as Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University.

Jerome PolingUW-Stout was among the first in the state to offer four-year degrees and have a graduate school.

One chapter examines campus culture and student life. It includes vignettes on student activities, the history of homecoming, famous visitors such as John F. Kennedy and Billy Joel and the history of university athletics.

“Although UW-Stout is a vastly different institution than it was in 1891 and even the 1950s, it’s impressive to see how the dedicated leaders and others have passed down the school’s birthright still intact over the generations. UW-Stout’s mission in 2016 remains remarkably true to its founding philosophy by James Stout — to educate men and women, hand and mind, to serve the needs of a changing society,” Poling said.

It’s the first full-length published history of UW-Stout. A three-book set released on the 100thanniversary in 1991 included a short history, biography of James Stout and oral history.

The 512-page hardcover book, which includes nearly 140 historic photos, is published by Thomson-Shore of Michigan. It retails for $29.99.

“An Idea Comes of Age” can be ordered online through the Seattle Book Company and through Amazon.

Any profits from the sale of the book will be used for scholarships through the Stout University Foundation.

An Idea Comes of Age: UW-Stout, 1891-2016



Top: The third Stout Manual Training School building, with a 135-foot clock tower, goes up in 1897 near the site of its predecessors. At right is the new city school. The buildings were connected by a covered walkway.

Middle: The cover of "An Idea Comes of Age"

Bottom: Jerome Poling