MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa — With Iowa Wesleyan University, Doug Moore is leading his third college closure, but only expects additional institutions to close their doors throughout the country.
“This is what I do,” said Moore, founding partner of Des Moines-based Highland Group LLC. “I shut down colleges.”
Moore is directing the liquidation of thousands of books, musical instruments, desks, microscopes, memorabilia and other items that are being auctioned, piece-by-piece, from the Iowa Wesleyan campus in Mount Pleasant, a town of just over 9,000 residents in southeastern Iowa. Backes Auctioneers & Realty is handling the online auction itself, taking place this month.
Iowa Wesleyan alumni, Mount Pleasant residents, representatives of other Iowa colleges and beyond have traveled to the historic, tree-lined campus to cart out clarinets, chairs, art, filing cabinets, bookcases and more.
A good number of the music books are going to the University of Northern Iowa, while the University of Iowa will be the new home to Iowa Wesleyan’s insect inventory — one of the agreements happening separate from the auction — and a giant map won in the auction (seen at left) will be installed along the basement wall of a house north of Burlington.
Moore worked with the Henry County Heritage Trust to ensure Iowa Wesleyan’s historically significant items were preserved, including original records of the college’s founding in 1842, archives, portraits of all of its presidents, sports trophies and other memorabilia.
Pat White, treasurer of the all-volunteer Heritage Trust, said hundreds of records and artifacts will be stored in the Henry County Museum in Mount Pleasant, with a goal to make the items available for research.
Due to the financial situation with Iowa Wesleyan, which led to its closure in May, no funding was available for needed HVAC upgrades or other associated storage costs, but a grant is covering some of those upgrades and White hopes alumni and community members will help out with other expenses.
“Iowa Wesleyan was such a big part of our community, not only physically, but historically,” she said. “It’s a huge chunk of the story of Mount Pleasant.”
Linda Gerdner drove from Burlington to pick up a special auction item last week.
A graduate of what was then Iowa Wesleyan College, she was saddened by the closing, but excited to have the high bid on a crest-stamped wooden captain’s chair with the college insignia.
The captain’s chair sits in the president’s office of Iowa Wesleyan University. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
“There are so many memories here,” Gerdner said. “This is the heart of Americana.”
Moore predicts the closing of hundreds of small colleges like Iowa Wesleyan due to an “enrollment cliff,” the costs of earning a degree, demographic changes and other factors.
He called the departure of more than 800 students, along with faculty and staff, “a bit of an economic hit” for the town.
Downtown Mount Pleasant is seen in August 2023. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
“But Mount Pleasant is thriving,” he said. “Mount Pleasant isn’t going to be devastated by this. This is a great community.”
See final photos of The Mill in Iowa City and more from Iowa Wesleyan University’s auction and campus.