Wartburg College was founded in 1852 in Saginaw, Michigan, by Georg M. Grossmann, a native of Neuendettelsau, Bavaria. Grossmann was sent by Pastor Wilhelm Löhe to establish a pastor training school for German immigrants. The location of the college moved many times between Illinois and Iowa until permanently settling in Waverly in 1935. Also in 1935, St. Paul Luther College of the Phalen Park neighborhood of Saint Paul, Minnesota merged into Wartburg College.
The college is named after Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany, where Martin Luther was protected during the stormy days of the Reformation. Student and alumni groups often travel to the castle, and the Wartburg Choirhas performed in the castle several times. Waverly and Eisenach are sister towns, and they often swap foreign exchange students. The college is proud of its German heritage, and celebrates an annual student-declared one-day holiday Outfly, a deliberately mistaken translation of the German noun Ausflug. Another German element of campus life is the granite inscription on the Chapel: “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott“, which English-speaking Lutherans sing as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”.
Campus buildings are named after places and people in Wartburg’s history, including Grossmann, Luther, Saginaw, Galena, etc. The college is nearing the end of a long-term effort to unify the architectural appearance of the campus, with new music, library, stadium, cafeteria, and science buildings over the past 15 years. An array of skywalks and building corridors now allows students to walk from one end of campus to the other without having to go outside.
In 2008 the new Wartburg-Waverly Sports and Wellness Center, an indoor athletic complex co-sponsored by the city of Waverly, opened. The new center includes a performance arena, an indoor track, and natatorium. It replaces Knights Gymnasium, the longtime home of Wartburg basketball and volleyball, as well as the Physical Education Center which formerly adjoined the old gym.
The longstanding rivalry between Luther College in Decorah, Iowa and Wartburg College has produced colorful moments over several years. The origins of the rivalry are vague. Stories of pranks date back to the 1940s. The rivalry has, for the most part, been characterized by fun and good sportsmanship. The rivalry rose to new heights in October 1996, when two clever Wartburg cross-country runners rented a light plane, flew to Decorah, and dropped leaflets on the Luther campus. The incident was reported in every major newspaper in Iowa, got national mention on the Fox network and made Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the most memorable college pranks of the 1996-1997 year. The creativity in the rivalry continued when student staff members of the college radio station, KWAR, secretly entered a float in the Luther College Homecoming Parade. The staff members decorated the float as an environmental club – the Organization of Nature Enthusiasts – from Luther College. In front of judges stand, the float quickly changed colors from blue and white to orange and black. The float continued all the way through town and onto Luther’s campus, with numerous Wartburg students joining the procession from the crowd as the parade passed them.
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