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The Spirit of Culver has found her home

Jan Garrison

The Schrage Leadership Center


May 12, 2022

When the Class of 1929 decided to commission a statue based on The Spirit of Culver, the poem written by S.E. Kiser in 1913 to honor the heroes of the Logansport flood, one would think they would focus on the last line, “And first and always manliness.”

But, Bob Nowalk, curator of the Culver Academies collection, told those gathered for the dedication of the Schrage Leadership Center this wasn’t the case. The men of Culver decided on a woman, “and not just any woman but the Goddess of Wisdom, Minerva.” And, defying the standard of the day, the 1929 graduates commissioned a woman sculptor, Helen Doft, a student of Lorado Taft, to turn their ideas into form.

Doft replaced Minerva’s associated symbol, the owl, with a Culver Eagle helmet and provided her with a shield with the Culver Military Academy insignia. “She would be a sentinel, a protector, a listener; a female presence on a campus dedicated to the education of men.”

She was originally placed outside of West Barrack with a drinking fountain, Nowalk said, and to be in “the spirit of Culver” was to drink from the fountain of wisdom.

After more than 80 years outside, The Spirit of Culver was in need of care. When the restoration was completed, the statue was moved to the Crisp Visual Art Center to wait for “a more appropriate placement on campus.”

“And now she has found her home. Why do I say this? Because I believe the architecture of Culver speaks volumes about the care and vigilance of those of you entrusted with the happy burden of guiding Culver’s Mission,” Nowalk said.

“So, think of this: we educate students for leadership and responsible citizenship by developing and nurturing the whole individual - mind, spirit, and body,” he explained. “If the Huffington Library can be seen as embodying the work of fostering the development of the mind, the Memorial Chapel as attention to supporting the wonder of the spirit, and the athletic complex reinforcing service to the body, then the Schrage Center for Leadership with its vaulted ceiling, its open glass walled classrooms, its focus on the future, becomes the crucible of leadership and embodiment of Culver’s Mission.”

“What better piece of art to represent this for it is here that the Spirit of Culver lives.”

Mike Schrage ’66 said his father, Walter ’31, was on campus when the Class of 1929 dedicated The Spirit of Culver. But “I didn’t know there was a Spirit of Culver when I was here. I was just shining my shoes and brass and things of that nature.”

Over the years, though, the leadership qualities he learned at Culver have come though. While he admits that “joy” may not be word that comes to mind when he reflects back on his time on campus, “I’m blessed to have had the experience of four years here.”


The Schrage family with The Spirit of Culver


And with his daughters, Laura Schrage Campbell ’97, Melissa Schrage Contrucci ’99, and Stephanie Ann Schrage ’02, attending Culver Girls Academy, he and his wife, Jill, became more active in Culver. The actual work on the building has been 8-to-10 years in the making, he said. And the focus has always been “What could I give back for everything that the school has provided, not just outside but inside your heart.”

And for someone who “always wanted to be a part of this family,” Schrage said, he enjoys knowing that The Spirit of Culver will continue to stand guard for “generations to come” as part of the leadership center.

Culver Educational Foundation’s Board of Trustees Chairman Miles White ’73 said the new building is “a very prominent symbol of the importance the Schrages place on leading by serving, lending their time, expertise, and financial support to the construction of the Schrage Leadership Center.”

The building is also an extension of Mike Schrage’s leadership capabilities. After arriving on campus in 1962, Schrage engaged in various athletic activities and found himself to be leader on those teams. He also started the CMA’s precision drill team, which performed during the halftime of basketball games.

Now, Culver fields teams for both CMA and CGA, White said, and they “distinguish themselves in regional and national competitions, allowing more students to learn discipline, commitment, and leadership. Mike and wife, Jill, generously support the CMA Drill Team efforts through an endowment to this day.”

Schrage also started a competitive canoe team while a student, using it as a “great way to stay in shape for wrestling.” Through the years, canoe team members distinguished themselves in the sport, including racing in the Olympics.

And his leadership after graduating in 1966, includes running the family banking business, White said. He is now celebrating 50 years of service at Centier Bank. His service to Culver has included the Culver Legion Board and the Board of Trustees. “All the while, he has maintained the heart of a servant leader.”


Mike '66 and Jill Schrage (center) are joined by Miles White '73, Doug '90 and Cheryl Bird '90, Jacinta Ndubuisi-Obi '23, and Peter Wang '23.


“It was this principle that formed the nucleus of this project. In order to lead, one must serve.”

  • White also thanked the other project contributors:
  • The Desich Family (Rich ’94 and Jeff ’95)
  • The Bundy Family (Russ, Gil ’77, Bill ’93, and Bob ’99)
  • Dave and Ivy Chenn
  • The Smith Family Foundation (Walt Smith ’66)
  • The Harm Family (Craig and Tanya, Charles ’11, and Harrison ’17)
  • The Sommer Family (Todd ’71 and Molly, Tyler ’02, Mindy ’05, and Christy)
  • An anonymous donor

Head of Schools Doug Bird ’90 said leadership has become a buzzword in education and the results “can be hit or miss. But it’s not a buzzword at Culver.”

“Integrated leadership is a cornerstone of a Culver education as well as a major outcome for our young leaders in the making, whether at the Academies or the Summer Schools & Camps.”

The Schrage Leadership Center “will be the physical embodiment of that notion, anchoring the physical campus at this (west) end, providing a solid, prominent home for Culver’s leadership education department.”

The building is uniquely designed and purpose-built, he explained, including spaces that can be customized for large and small gatherings such as symposia, lectures, workshops, and seminars, in addition to the classroom settings.

“We owe our ability to take this next step in Culver’s leadership education in large part to Mike and Jill Schrage.”

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