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Augustana Academy, Canton, 1884-1971

Augustana Academy, 1960s

As the oldest post-secondary school in South Dakota, Augustana University had an exceptionally rich history even before it came to Sioux Falls in 1918. Part of that history includes an affiliated prep-school that operated in Canton between 1884 and 1971. The high-school aged students at Augustana Academy experienced a type of schooling that was and still is rare in this part of the country. It was a boarding school and students lived there full time for a nine-month term, with holiday breaks that might or might not include a trip home.

The early history of Augustana College and its associated Academy can be traced back to 1835, but the Augustana as it is now known in South Dakota was established in 1860 in Illinois. The school was founded on Norwegian Lutheran religious principles and subject to church oversight. That oversight changed by organizational splits over time and by the various synods formed by those changes. Those in charge during the 1860s and 1870s set a goal of bringing Augustana to where ever Norwegian immigrants were settling during the westward expansion of the time. Moves between 1860 and 1884 earned Augustana the nickname, "the college on wheels." Canton, South Dakota, was the second-to-last stop for Augustana College. It merged with the Sioux Falls Normal School in 1918 and began offering classes in 1919. Augustana Academy remained in Canton and carried on until 1971, when it closed due to low enrollment, high expenses, and insufficient support from outside sources.

Sorum Hall - 1880s

Sorum Hall was the first building to house Augustana in Canton. It had been built as a hotel. Academy students were kept on a rigorous schedule:

6:30 A.M. – Arise, clean up and make beds

7:00 A.M. – Breakfast

8:00 A.M. Assembly and Roll Call, followed by devotions and a study hour

9:30 A.M – 12:05 P.M.; 2:30 – 5:30 P.M. – Recitation or Study

7:00 P.M. – Assembly and evening devotions

7:17 P.M. – Study Hours Begin

10:15 P.M. – Lights Out

Student tuition in 1894 was about $100.00. By 1917 it had almost doubled.

Recollections of students who attended Augustana Academy are published in the book, "We Would See Jesus - Augustana Academy 1860-1971" by Lynwood E. Oyos. Some remembered hauling coal and tending small coal stoves barely capable of keeping the dormitories warm. Others remember that the food left something to be desired.

“We had scanty meals - - usually syrup and bread – but we paid only $1.50 to $1.75 a week.” - Olaf M. Norlie.

But some students, including O.E. Rolvaag, who would achieve fame as the author of the book "Giants in the Earth" found the meals more than adequate. Rolvaag's childhood in Norway's Lofoten Islands included periods of exceptional poverty.

"They should have had thin gruel and sour herring for every meal - - the way I remember we had meals for two winters when I was a boy." Ole E. Rolvaag.

Sorum Hall (L) and Main Building

Sorum Hall was moved to a site on the east side of Canton in 1901. Construction of the Main building began that same year.

1923 "Saga" Yearbook Page

Students also enjoyed extra-curricular activities including sports and various special interest clubs including a "Latin Club."

Canton, SD

Augustana Chapel

As is the case with all church-sponsored schools, religious studies and worship were a part of daily life.

Archie Gubbrud, 1929. Gubbrud was South Dakota's 22nd Governor (1961 - 1965)

Well known Augustana Academy graduates include future South Dakota Governor Archie Gubbrud, class of 1929.

Augustana Academy Yearbook, 1942

Augustana Academy was not permitted to play in South Dakota High School Activities Association games or tournaments but did compete with other private schools in South Dakota and several smaller schools in Iowa. Academy teams had a special rivalry going with Canton's home town teams. (Lyle Eidsness, #33 above and #22 below, went on to a football coaching career that culiminated in a head football coach position at Augustana College during he 1980s.)

Augustana Academy was especially well known for its choral music programs.

Augustana Academy Choir - 1961

Mary (Harum) Hart (front row, far right), who went on to host the TV program "Entertainment Tonight" is another well-known Augustana Academy graduate.

Academy Students - 1968

Learn More:

"We Would See Jesus - Augustana Academy 1860-1971" by Lynwood E. Oyos

The History of Augustana University -

Augustana College and Academy Yearbooks and School Papers Online

Augustana - "Remembering the First 50 Years"