History of Memorial University


In 1900 the National Encampment of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) voted to establish Memorial University, a college located in Mason City, Iowa. Its purpose was not only to educate, but also to instill patriotism in its students, and prepare them for an active role in American society. The University was closed in 1910. This portion of the SUVCW website is intended to continue this noble cause and to encourage patriotism, good citizenship and provide a basic knowledge of the American Civil War.

In 2008, an education course for Junior and Junior Associates of the SUVCW was developed by the SUVCW National Committee on Americanism and Education and made available through this web site.

In 2009, the curriculum of Memorial University was expanded with the development of an Officer Training Course for members of the SUVCW. This course was a vision of Commander-in-Chief David V. Medert and was achieved through the efforts of a Special National Committee on Education and Leadership established by the 127th SUVCW National Encampment.


In 2015, the Memorial University Redesign Committee was appointed to reformat the Officer Training Course’s exams into multiple choice.  Its mission morphed into developing an introductory course the following year and into developing a staff leadership course in 2020.

Courtesy of Brother Robert J. Wolz



First National Patriotic Instructor & First President of Memorial University:

Rev. Walter J. Patton

The 1906 National Sons of Veterans Encampment in Peoria created the office of National Patriotic Instructor. The first brother to be appointed to the new post was Wisconsin PDC Rev. Walter Jervis Patton.

A popular Methodist clergyman, Rev. Patton was born July 7, 1856, in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and was ordained in Philadelphia in 1877. He came to Wisconsin in 1887, preaching in Pewaukee and Sheboygan. In 1891, he was ordained an elder, and in 1893, appointed pastor of Milwaukee's Asbury Church, with 273 members, before being transferred to Green Bay. In Conrad's History of Milwaukee County (Vol. 2), he was described as "a man of fine promise, who gets hold of the people." His father, John R. Patton, had served three years in Co. K, 109th Pennsylvania Infantry, seeing action in many campaigns, including Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg.

In 1892, Rev. Patton was elected Commander of Sheboygan's Carl Witte Camp #37. Under his leadership, the Camp was organized as dismounted cavalry, fully armed and equipped.

In 1894, Rev. Patton was appointed Department Chaplain and published direction on the observance of Memorial Day. He was active, energetic and enthusiastic in the cause of the Sons of Veterans. In 1895, he ran for Dept. Commander, but lost. Pushed by friends to run again the next year, the 40 year-old minister won the election from a field of seven other candidates. After his term as Dept. Commander, he served as Chaplain-in-Chief (National Chaplain) and ministered in West Superior, Wis.

In his role as National Patriotic Instructor, Patton was called to become president of the Sons' Memorial University in Mason City, Iowa. The 1899 National Encampment proposed sponsorship of a military college and the following year, the site was approved and the regents elected. In 1901, the cornerstone was laid for the Liberal Arts building, the only collegiate structure built there. In September 1902, the building was opened to students and the first graduating class was the Class of 1903 with seven graduates.

By 1906, the school was beginning to show the effects of malnutrition and Rev. Patton immediately set out to raise funds for the school. He labored long and hard to arouse waning interest in the Sons of Veterans organization. But there were sectional differences. Many members had wanted the school built in the east. Patton was unable to achieve the goal that he had set and in 1910, the school closed in mid-year for lack of funds.

Patton stayed in Mason City another year, to see the "Harvard of the West" liquidated and the building used as a temporary high school, before returning to Wisconsin. He had been able to keep the university open for four years against impossible odds and had somehow found time to complete work for his doctorate. He never again served in a major position in the Order, although he continued to attend the National Encampment for several years.

After his Memorial University presidency, he ministered to congregations in Wauwatosa, Berlin, Kaukauna, LaCrosse, Oshkosh, Princeton and Sturgeon Bay. Besides the Sons of Veterans, he was active in Masonic Lodge, Knights Templar, Eastern Star, White Shrine, Odd Fellows and Rotary.

In 1916, his wife, Loretta, became paralyzed and suffered greatly until her death in 1921. He remarried the following year and the two moved to Berlin, Wis. in 1925.

Since 1901, Dr. Patton had been a member of Milwaukee's C.K. Pier Badger Camp #1, but dropped his membership in 1924. He retired from the ministry in 1929 and died on December 30, 1943 at the age of 87. He was buried in the Masonic section of Oshkosh's Riverside Cemetery, Sec. R, Lot 1. He was survived by four sons: Walter D. of Mt. Dora, FL, Howard G of Youngstown, OH, Ralph of Kalamazoo and Guy E. of Berlin; and a stepdaughter, Mrs. F.J. Harris, Sturgeon Bay.


Information Sources:
Riverside Cemetery, Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Membership Records, C.K. Pier Badger Camp 1, Wis. Dept. SUVCW
Press Forward the Good Work, History of the Wis. Dept. SUVCW, by PCinC Steve Michaels, Milwaukee, 1997 and 1999