The history behind a storied institution

Histories and traditions can be told in many ways. One of the unique story tellers of this great institution is our school’s seal, it serves as the official logo and brand. This emblem is on top of the letterhead that congratulates new students, on the official school shirt sold at Campus Book & Supply, it is affixed on the degrees of our graduates and is always displayed proudly on vehicle windows of fans and alumni alike across the Watermelon Warrior Nation.

Our great seal is a symbol of pride to all because it marks the history of Stanhope State. A large part of the affection for this symbol is that anytime there was a change in its design and creation, it was always approved by a vote from the faculty and student body. No Madison Avenue agency, no focus groups, no out of state consulting firm. Instead, it was a collaborative effort by our campus community. And that’s why we’re so proud of it. It reminds us of who we are, where we have been and where we are going.

For those wanting to know “the rest of the story," let’s break down the symbolism of the official seal and reveal the history behind it.


In the early days of the city of Stanhope, farm hands, immigrants and locals would gather at the Kepler Family Barn three times a week to read and educate each other on more than just the chores of the day. They discussed current events, read classical literature and taught themselves things like mathematics, economics, and politics. This quickly became known as “Stanhope Academy” around town. While this was an unorganized group, the farm families and local business leaders at the time were impressed. They knew that these hired hands were on to something bigger.   

These same leaders petitioned the legislature for funds to create a small state funded school for young people in the area. Their wishes were granted in 1897 when then Governor Francis M. Drake signed into law the creation of the State Junior College of Iowa at Stanhope, commonly referred to as the “Stanhope College”. But that is truly what it was- a two-year institution designated to enrich the young people of north central Iowa. A small campus was starting to be built and grew like a weed by the standards of the time, and given the number of Swedish and Norwegian immigrants, enrollment increased steadily. Since many students and faculty were bilingual, word spread quickly to young and old alike. Early recruitment flyers read, “The roads for education and self-betterment run straight through Stanhope, Iowa.” Community pride and the local economy continued to grow and thrive with the construction of the Parker Dorms 1903. This created lots of opportunity for the school and for the future. By the turn of the century, enrollment at Stanhope College had almost reached 400 students and was growing steadily. 

With the growing enrollment, another petition by the business leaders and community went to the legislature. The main reason was that the young adults of the town wanted to learn more and be successful for the future of their families and community alike. In 1910, the legislature passed, and then Governor Beryl F. Carroll signed into law, the creation of the State College of Iowa at Stanhope as a four-year institution, simply known to all again as “Stanhope College.” There was a great celebration in the middle of July, but those who supported the expansion locally never knew how much the impact of that celebration would endure in the future.

In what would become a true tradition of service for the college, as our country became involved in “the Great War,” many willing Stanhope College students joined the fight. For the first time of the school’s young history, enrollment became stagnant. Business leaders and college donors created a trust fund so that when the men returned home, they would be able to continue their education without having to worry about the economic responsibility of tuition.

After World War I, the soldiers came home, and the enrollment and growth of the campus went back to the same pace that administrators had been witnessing before the war. There was still a steady influx of immigrants, mostly from Scandinavia, and family farms grew as well as the city itself. As the roaring 20s came to campus, enrollment grew as large as 652 students. The biggest draw? The college had maintained the strong traditions of academic excellence they had in place since its inception, and the hands-on experience that local farmers provided benefited the students in securing steady work. This was a large part of deciding to develop the College of Farming.

When the stock market crash of 1929 occurred, to say that everyone was hurting was an understatement. But, with the can-do spirit of the student body, the loyalty of the faculty, and the continued support of the community, the growing college and local community became stronger. The pride we take in ourselves today is the same we have had since the beginning, because this great school is and always was a working partnership with the community. Even though times were extremely tough, in true Southern Hamilton County tradition, and the entire North Central Iowa region for that matter, the campus and local community became stronger than a bull at a little farm school south of Stanhope. “Stanhope College” at the time was the only school in the state of Iowa that had increased enrollment- they even broke the 1,000 student body mark.

Then December 7th, 1941 happened. As President Roosevelt called it, “A day that will live in infamy.” And with all of the great numbers of students there were on campus at that time, it became a very patriotic all hands-on deck effort. The situation completely depleted the enrollment on campus as the majority of students enlisted- just like everyone was doing in those days.

Through the worthwhile investment of tuition funds, alumni support and business leaders, “Stanhope College” was still open, but there was new different mission- supporting our GIs across the globe. The community sold War Bonds and collected scrap metal to make the guns and ships to fight back the horde of fascism. Care packages were sent frequently (with lots of Lucky Strike cigarettes) and mail service was constantly on the move. The attitude of the community was that if our school was going to be closed due to the war, let’s make it count so that if any lives were lost, they weren’t going to be in vain.

These were very trying times for the school, the entire state of Iowa and of course the country. But, Iowans are a tougher bunch than most. We received the telegrams about students or alumni who had been wounded or killed overseas, and was a sobering reminder of what our students had sacrificed. This later became the cornerstone of Stanhope Park War Memorial Stadium (finished in 1950) of which today is a great place of celebration on Saturdays in the fall. Entering the stadium gives students, faculty, alumni and fans a gentle reminder of the ultimate sacrifices that were made, and honors all from our university family that served.

After the surrender of both Germany and Japan, these soldiers, sailors and airmen came home. And then there was the GI Bill. Again, just like in the past, enrollment at the college picked right up where it left off. The State College of Iowa at Stanhope grew from 1,000 pre WWII, to 3,000 post WWII. Not a bad number for a little Agriculture school in rural Iowa. And once again, in the true history of the institution, not only was there a yearning for learning, but also an opportunity to get hands-on training in agriculture production. This became a staple of our now world-renowned College of Farming- preparing to be producers that ultimately feed the world.

As the college grew at this exciting time in the school’s history, there were a number of fun developments on campus. Particularly, the athletics department. Before the war, the only varsity teams offered on campus were baseball, basketball and track and field. Football was a club sport that mostly competed as a junior varsity sport, playing junior college exhibitions for the most part. But, the return of so many veterans that came back wanted to play football. Why? Because while they were away at war, they heard so much bragging about their comrades’ local college teams. And in 1947, the first varsity football team was established, which began a storied history. The other development during this era would transform not only by a new name, but by unprecedented growth.

The drumbeat of momentum for the State College of Iowa at Stanhope to become a true leader of making the ag producers of tomorrow for the state and the Midwest region was deafening. Not only from a progress perspective and tangible results, but with a budding athletics department that was now putting the school on the map. The Stanhope Warriors, as they were known, beat the Iowa State College in Ames and tied the State University of Iowa in 1949. Of which is the reason that these schools will never have us on their schedule to this day. The President of the University of Iowa, Virgil Hancher, explicitly wrote a memo to then athletic director, Paul Bretcher, after that game that read, “Keep those hicks off of our schedule and let’s focus on the Big Ten. Them damned Scandahoovians!!! They aren’t the little brother anymore, they’re damned tough.” When asked if a similar communication in Ames occurred after the team beat Iowa State 12-9, a school official told the Ames Tribune, “I can’t confirm nor deny that notion. They’re real tough for a bunch of farm hands.

As Stanhope student-athletes were achieving great success on the field, the true wins were in the classrooms. Different schools within the college were being developed and delivering results. These included the College of Farming (of course), College of Engineering, the College of Art, the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Business. Stanhope College started producing real leaders from our graduating classes. The people in the big city of Des Moines, and the country, were starting to notice. Meanwhile, the community and region’s love for our institution swelled. So, what could take this institution to the next level?

When the “Stanhope College Warriors” tied Iowa 9 to 9 in 1949, the lobbying was already under way. Results were being proven in the classroom and on the field. But the pillars of the community, as well as a growing alumni donor support, started to flex some muscle. Enrollment was now at a robust 6,500 student body. School officials knew that a major “Stanhope Regent School” could provide for not only the potential of our college, but for the better good of the country, and never once thought to stunt the growth and opportunity that was at hand.

Then, in 1950, local farm families, business leaders and the entire North Central Iowa region petitioned the State Legislature. But this time there was a new mission: to make the State College of Iowa at Stanhope a true state big time regent university. There was pushback from members of the Board of Regents, donors and supporters of the other large secondary educational institutions. Their main argument was simply because the school was less than 20 miles north of Iowa State University in Ames. In the Sunday Des Moines Register and Tribune that weekend, the headline on the editorial page read, “WHY THESE HICKS?” But the opposite occurred, and it helped the cause on campus. Because of that publicity, the admissions office received over 10,000 applications across the state and across the country. Why? Again, Stanhope State had proven itself to be a great school, with enriching learning experience and more importantly a great community that truly supports and feels a responsibility to the institution.

In a good story where “the good guys win,” a unanimous vote led by the president of the State Board of Regents, Dwight Rider of Fort Dodge, the State College of Iowa at Stanhope officially became Stanhope State University, a major regent school. The state legislature passed a bill in both chambers which was signed into law by Governor William Beardsley on May 9th, 1951 at a large celebration ceremony in the newly built Stanhope Park War Memorial Stadium. That is why the admissions building is named Beardsley Hall and the large dormitory complex is called the Rider Quad, in honor of these leaders who made Stanhope State University a reality. It was a new name and designation that changed the school forever. 

And as the late great Paul Harvey said during his nationally syndicated broadcast in 1983, in honor of the centennial, as he told telling the story of Stanhope State University, “So now you know... the rest of the story.”


Until 1931, there were a lot of different unofficial school colors worn by the “State College of Iowa at Stanhope.” Many shades of blue, reds and gold were used. This was mostly due to the Scandinavian heritage of the region (more discussion on that later.) While Iowa State was becoming a power house in agriculture studies, the kids at “Stanhope College” were actually making a difference and producing in the field, literally. As everyone knows, after World War II, the G.I. Bill gave an opportunity for many former soldiers, sailors and airmen to better themselves in the middle of the great state of Iowa. And many of these war vets got jobs with local farmers for extra spending money.

While these students worked for extra cash and gained invaluable experience, the age-old rivalry of farming implements grew: Farmall-McCormick-International Harvester versus John Deere. Red versus green. After the first year of having true varsity athletic teams in 1947, the student body voted to make the school’s official colors to be “Farmall Red” and “John Deere Green”. While it was a vote for solidarity to all of the students who worked local farms, the lighthearted rivalry continues today about which farming implements are the best, and friendly ribbing still comes out during alumni association get-togethers.

3. "1883"

Many believe that the school started at the time of city’s incorporation. The gathering of “Stanhope Academy” that was attended by local farm hands and residents were actually holding their learning sessions a couple of years before 1883. The reason why regional historians and school officials mark that year as the school’s founding is simple: That’s when they started recording attendance at the learning sessions and classes. In the spring of 1884, after crops were planted of course, the first graduation ceremony was held on a Sunday at a local church. While graduations are now held at the historic Stanhope Park War Memorial Stadium, the tradition of a having a special church service during commencement week is still adhered to today and they rotate services every year at different congregations.


These are a symbol in tribute to the great agricultural production program in the College of Farming. Stanhope State is a true ag school through and through. And through the ingenuity and results that our students made in both in the classroom and the field, are the standards of modern farming across the United States and the entire World.



Everyone is aware of the rich Scandinavian heritage across the region and this is another nod to that. In fact, the original unofficial nickname of the athletic teams and traditions on campus was the “Warriors,” as in a Viking warrior. It wasn’t until 1958, a year after the very first Watermelon Day, due to the overwhelming success and community pride, the student body voted to establish the school’s official mascot as the “Watermelon Warriors.” More on that in a few.

The influence of the heavy Swedish and Norwegian heritage is very well established in Stanhope State traditions today. No surprise, most of them include food! In all campus cafeterias, they have been serving Swedish Meatballs and the casserole of the day way before Ikea made it a staple in their stores. No matter what is on the menus of the day, you can always get a plate of meatballs and gravy sauce, and the casserole of the day that has brought smiles to hungry students for decades. It’s also not considered an official sanctioned alumni association events without these dishes being served. There are unofficial events too, which were documented on ESPN and ABC while games of the week brought tailgaters in the parking lots of Stanhope Park Stadium serving their best family recipes to fans and friends alike. Lee Corso loves the Swedish meat balls and the tater tot casserole everytime when College Gameday is on campus.

At Homecoming, other than the parade and crowning of school royalty, the big event is the lutefisk eating contest. Both students and locals compete as to who can eat the most salt cured, smelly fish in a limited amount of time. The popularity of this tradition seems to get bigger and bigger every year and is always before the big bonfire and hotdog roast the Friday night before the Homecoming football game.

Then there’s Finals Week every semester where local volunteers bake the good stuff. And by good stuff, this means kringla. And for those hard-working students, it’s just a quarter, and is available at all campus cafeterias with a cup of coffee. Even in the era of Starbucks and fancy coffee houses, this is still a quarter. The tradition started with a local women’s coffee group who appreciated their commitment to educational excellence. In 1950, for a nickel in the campus cafeterias, students got unlimited coffee and kringla. Of course inflation came and went, so now it’s 25 cents. And because that same women;s coffee group is generous with both their time and enthusiasm, that price is freezed indefinately. Still, not a bad deal for study time fuel, right? 


In another nod to the background of the area, the Nordic Cross is affixed to the shield of the emblem. Not only is this a nod to the flags of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, etc., the Nordic cross on those flags is a symbol of Christianity. Since those first meetings in the Arif Kepler’s barn, every learning sessions started and ended in prayer. Asking for guidance, strength and enrichment of their minds as they gathered to serve the Lord with everything they learned. This is still a tradition held today with the campus ecumenical ministry organizations.

Since the beginning of this great institution, the overwhelming support of local churches and spiritual communities have been a blessing to every mission of the university. And the student body has always reciprocated with recognizing the heritage and the Christian tradition that all started in a barn of the community’s settling. 


The recognition of the barn on the Kepler Family Farm, not only marks the early classes held since the beginning, but they are also a symbol to recognize the world-renowned Department of Livestock Production Sciences in the College of Farming. Alumni from this department have gone on to be the leaders in the productions of beef, pork and turkey. As we like to say in the College of Farming, many institutions can claim to be leaders in Agriculture, but our graduates actually produce and feed the world because of the hands-on experience and innovation they were exposed to at Stanhope State.


Hermes is the Greek god of athletics and this is the part of the University Crest that celebrates the pursuit of excellence of every one of our student athletes. The school has always had sports teams since the beginning such as baseball, basketball and others. These would be considered “club” sports by today’s inter-collegiate competition standards. It wasn’t until 1947 that the college competed under the laws and rule-making authority of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). All athletic programs competed as “Division I."

The only exception was the football program. In 1978, the Watermelon Warriors played under the newly designated “Division I-AA”, much like where the University of Northern Iowa plays today. This is now known as the Division I Football Championship Subdivision or FCS. Stanhope State lost to Florida A&M in 1978 and to Eastern Kentucky in 1979 for the Division I-AA national championships. The perseverance of this program was growing into national prominence, and in 1981, Stanhope State won its first national championship defeating Idaho State. It even avenged its ’79 loss by beating Eastern Kentucky in 1982, making them back-to-back national champions. 

Given the success and momentum with football, the athletics department with the blessing of school administrators, decided to move the program to Division I-A and compete as an independent program in 1983. This is much like Notre Dame, Penn State and the Service Academies did at the time. This marked the new era of Stanhope State Athletics where all sports programs completed at the NCAA Division I level for all varsity sports.

These programs include: football, baseball, softball, track and field, golf, cross country, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse, field hockey, volleyball, soccer, swimming and diving, gymnastics, tennis, rowing, rifle and bowling. The non-varsity club sports on campus are Ice Hockey and Boxing, and the athletics department is currently evaluating the merits of bringing these sports to a varsity NCAA Division I level.

We are proud the fact that the Stanhope State University Athletic Department has always been above the curve when it comes to Title IX. Our school has always been a national leader in the respect that we have both robust womens and mens programs no matter the sport as we are blessed to recruit the best athletes to compete at a national level- no mater the competition and other regent schools in the state of Iowa.


The Lamp of Knowledge on our University Crest represents the academic excellence of our graduates. Just like the candles lit in the Kepler Barn at the beginning of the self-enrichment sessions in the late 1880s, the leaders that this University produces the light of the world with their accomplishments and leads to the betterment of the world as a whole.

Our farming program is the standard as it has been well documented by the entire Agricultural Community. It has produced leaders in every single profession.  Graduates light the world because of their notion of self-enrichment that was the basis of those 3 times a week meeting in the Kepler Barn. Stanhope Staters pave the way, and the school and town are both proud of all of their accomplishments. 


While Stanhope State University was in the infancy of being a major state regent school, the community started a new tradition that has been a standard in Iowa. In 1957, the Stanhope Lions Club and town leaders started one of the greatest one day festivals of all time, Watermelon Day. A tradition that would not only make a must-attend family and community event, they started a precedent and standard for all small town community celebrations across the state. It's not only a fun day for the kids and town, but a tradition that is the envy of other communities in the region. Fun games, a great parade and the creation of a day for family and celebrating the greatness that is small town Iowa.

The slice of watermelon on the University Crest represents the beloved tradition in the region. The student body was moved by this great celebration, so much that by a vote of all enrolled students, they changed the nickname in the fall of 1957. Before that faithful day in the summer, Stanhope State was known as the "Warriors." Ironically, the school colors were already adopted as “Farmall Red” and “John Deere Green,” who knew that it would be the perfect storm for a rebrand, even before rebrands became a thing for colleges today!  

The Student Senate brought it to a vote a day after the first football game of the season in 1957. What was on the ballot? To vote on establishing an official nickname for the athletic teams. Like it was said earlier, unofficially for some reason, it was just known as the Stanhope State Warriors. All campus clubs, fraternities, sororities and organizations were on board. In a rare show of bi-partisanship, even the College Republicans and College Democrats were united behind it.

The movement was to make the official nickname of Stanhope State University to be the “Watermelon Warriors.” Of course, there was small debate on what a “Watermelon Warrior” actually was (and still is today). The school newspaper asked for input and tasked both the College of Arts and College of Business, to come up with this identity. But at the end of the day, the entire campus community adopted the nickname, "Stanhope State University Watermelon Warriors." Mascots and logos have come and gone, but to this day, alumni and fans are proud to have what ESPN’s Darrell Rovell remarked as, “The most unique college brand and identity of all time.”

So that’s the brief history and lore behind Stanhope State University as told simply by a school emblem. Just like anything in life, a lot of things happen by chance and for a reason. GO WATERMELON WARRIORS!!!!