What’s in a name?

The history behind the names of some Ferris buildings

Ferris campus still houses buildings that were constructed dating back to 1929. Have you ever wondered where the buildings on campus got their names?

This information is courtesy of the University Archives, which has compiled a detailed list of the history behind the names of all your favorite buildings.

The Alumni Building was built in 1929 and is the only building that survived the campus fire in 1950. Originally, it was a multipurpose building right next to Old Main, one of the first buildings on campus built in 1894. The Alumni Building was named after the thousands of alumni who donated funds towards its construction.

Birkam Health Center was built in 1957 in order to replace the Ferris Institute Hospital, another victim of the campus fire in 1950. In 1988, the center was named in memory of Dr. Frederick Birkam, a former Ferris staff physician and chief of medical services.

Cramer Hall was known as the first “skyscraper” residence hall when it was built in 1968. The building was named after William Cramer who not only taught botany and biology at Ferris but was known for spending countless hours in the woods looking for specimens while running a greenhouse in the Old Main building.

Merrill Hall was built in 1961 and receives its name from Karl D. Merrill who held an impeccable track record at Ferris through attending, teaching and serving as the Dean of Commerce and Dean of Men. He eventually became Vice President of Ferris in 1937 and acting President of Ferris in 1952.

Miller Hall was built in 1963 and was named after Judge William Miller. Miller had a private law practice and also served on the Ferris Board of Trustees from 1950 to 1962. He was a Delta County prosecutor for eight years before serving as a probate judge for 13 years.

The Prakken Building was constructed in 1951 with it’s original name the “East Building.” It was renamed in 1976 after Lawrence Prakken, an Ann Arbor native and member of the Ferris Board from 1950 to 1977. Prakken contributed to the formation of the Michigan College of Optometry and was also an educational publisher.

Rankin Student Center was built in 1958 but was renamed in 1972 after Donald Rankin. Mayor of Big Rapids for three years, Rankin also served as the Ferris Dean of Men, Dean of Students and Dean of Student Services throughout his 30 year old career at Ferris.

Starr Educational Center was built in 1962 and was named after Raymond Starr who played a significant role in the state’s acceptance of Ferris as a state institution. He was the first chair of the Board of Trustees in 1950 and he also had a career serving as Michigan’s attorney general, an associate Michigan Supreme Court judge and a federal district judge.

Top Taggart Field was constructed in 1957 and named after former Ferris football player, William Clinton “Top” Taggart. An end and halfback for the Bulldogs, Taggart returned to Ferris as a coach in 1912. He also formed the Petroleum Oil Company, allowing him to remain a strong financial supporter for the Bulldogs. He received an honorary doctorate in 1964 from Ferris and a Distinguished Alumni award four years later.

Travis Hall was built in 1961 and named after Bert Scott Travis who graduated from and taught at Ferris. He taught a wide variety of subjects including civics, mathematics and spelling while also working in the business office. He was a co-owner of the school starting in 1921 and lasting until 1931.

Ward Hall was built in 1963 and named after Mary Rood Ward, a prestigious woman who worked her way up from a business office assistant in 1931 to the Dean of Women in 1943 where she remained until 1951.

Williams Auditorium, originally called Starr Auditorium, was built in 1962. The auditorium was renamed in 1986 after Governor G. Mennen Williams who accepted Ferris as a state school in 1950.

For more information on other building names on campus, you can visit the University Archives Collections in Alumni 101 or ferris.edu/alumni/historical.