I like to read about former presidents at Northern because the university’s top position often sets the tone for the operation of the institution, and each president is very different. We’ve looked at Ogden Johnson who was an interim president, and today we’ll look at Henry A. Tape who was Northern’s president from 1940 – 1956.
Before coming to Northern, Tape got his bachelors and master’s from University of Michigan and then a PhD from the Teacher’s College at Columbia University. He was the first president at Northern to have a PhD. He also authored the book, “The Community School” in 1938.
The world was changing during Tape’s tenure and the university had to adapt. It was the end of the depression, WWII and then the post-war climate. Northern grew in response with the implementation of GI Ville and Vetville, which were housing communities for veterans returning from the war; Carey and Spooner Halls, which were female and male residence halls; and Lee Hall, Lydia Olson Library and the Peter White Hall of Science, which were academic buildings to account for the increase of students at Northern. In fact, with Tape as president, enrollment reached 1,000 students for the first time.
Tape oversaw a critical point in Northern’s history when being a lasting and competitive university became a realistic dream. Names that are now mainstays of Northern’s identity were administrators and community members during Tape’s time: Carey, Gant, Gries, Meyland and Don H. Bottum. The university’s name also changed from Northern Michigan College of Education to, in 1955, Northern Michigan College.
At the end of his presidency, Tape fell into multiple bouts of sickness. The first time was for about four weeks in April and May of 1954 and the second in April 1957. The first time, Tape and his wife Flora went to stay with their son Gerald in Long Island, N.Y. for treatment of a duodenal ulcer. Without the ease of e-mail, Tape kept in contact with the university and helped plan the construction of Spooner Hall through letters written by hand and with a type writer, and an interim administrative committee was in place while he was away.
It was this second illness in 1957 that Tape announced his retirement, which brought to light the massive amount of praise that people felt toward Tape.
Ethel Carey wrote, “I wish that I could adequately express my appreciation for all that you have done for me, personally. I can’t. But I hope that after our long association you sense my deep gratitude for having made my work pleasanter here.”
Some NMU presidents have seen even larger change in their tenure, but what makes Tape a good president, I think, is that he left Northern with so much to look forward to. Many buildings were planned and to be built in the near future, curriculum was changing to be more aggressive, and a student council was created to give students a voice on committees and administration decisions.
In an editorial after Tape planned his retirement, The Northern News wrote, “Never before has there been such a spirit at Northern as has developed since Henry Tape became president.” The newspaper also noted the improved relationship between faculty and students and faculty and administration, and said that “good fellowship, scholarly achievement and cordial relations are the present pattern of Northern life.”
Written by Lucy Hough