Missouri military academy dating to 1880 will close

Wentworth Military Academy and College closing

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Missouri military academy and college that dates to 1880 and includes federal lawmakers, business titans and a famous zoologist among its alumni will fold at the end of next month, given waning enrollment, rising costs and an aging campus.

Wentworth Military Academy and College’s two top administrators announced the closure in letters Friday to cadets, students, parents and alumni, saying the assets of the site in 4,700-resident Lexington about 50 miles east of Kansas City will be liquidated as part of “an orderly closure.”

“Although everyone regrets this decision, we are proud that Wentworth successfully achieved its mission for 137 years, and many, many cadets and students obtained the knowledge and developed the character to be successful,” Wentworth’s board chairman, Regis McDonald, and president Michael Lierman wrote in a letter to alumni.

Allan Hallquist, a Kansas City lawyer who has represented Wentworth for the past quarter century, said Saturday that Wentworth has 220 cadets who boarded there. Fifty-five of them are high school students, and the rest enrolled in its two-year college program. The site also has roughly 300 civilians taking classes there.

“Wentworth has struggled for more than five years to break even and has tried different options,” including hiring consulting firms to bolster recruiting and develop alumni fundraising, Hallquist told The Associated Press. “But they continued to run deficits and are projected to dig a deeper hole.”

The accrediting Higher Learning Commission placed Wentworth on ongoing probation in November 2015, citing “concerns related to integrity regarding the college’s finances and resources to support its academic programs and operations.” The commission was to revisit that matter Monday, according to its website.

Wentworth’s prominent alumni include the late Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton, Wal-Mart co-founder James “Bud” Walton, and zoologist Marlin Perkins, who hosted “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” for more than two decades before his death in 1986.

Wally Hulver, a 79-year-old insurance industry retiree who graduated from Wentworth in 1956, called the news “really a shame.”

Wentworth “taught you a lot about life, about how to treat people. It was just, well, etiquette and made you aware of how you should be living,” Hulver, an Army veteran, told the AP by phone from his home in Lexington. “This is just a sad day for the old guys around here who went there.”

McDonald didn’t immediately reply to messages left Saturday. Lierman has an unlisted home telephone number. The academy’s website was inoperable, undergoing what it called “scheduled maintenance.”