Davenport University debuted in Grand Rapids in 1866, just 16 years after the city was incorporated. Following many decades of growth and transformation, Davenport has become a leading institution of higher education with campuses across the state of Michigan helping students achieve their career goals in business, technology and health professions.
Founded as Grand Rapids Business College by Conrad G. Swensburg, a Union Army veteran fresh out of service following the Civil War, the college held its first classes on Jan. 25, 1866, with 16 students registered for courses in bookkeeping, penmanship, business law and arithmetic – the standard office skills of the day.
M.E. Davenport Era
After operating under various names and in several locations in downtown Grand Rapids, the institution was on the brink of closing its doors in 1910 when a new teacher, Michael E. Davenport, saved the day. Rallying the remaining staff, he kept the doors open and assumed control of the school that would soon bear his name. Under Davenport's leadership, the school expanded statewide over the next several decades and became a non-profit institution in 1954. The reputation of the school grew within the community as its graduates assumed positions of leadership in business. M.E. Davenport faithfully served the institution as president until his passing in 1959, leaving a solid legacy on which his successor could build.
Robert W. Sneden succeeded M.E. Davenport as president. Sneden attended Davenport-McLachlan Institute (now Davenport University) from 1937 to 1940. While serving in the army during World War II he was married to Davenport’s daughter Margaret. After the war he began his professional career at Davenport in a variety of roles. He served with distinction as president from 1959 until his retirement in 1977, adding campuses statewide, expanding academic programming for students, and achieving accreditation through North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
When the reins of presidential leadership passed to Donald W. Maine in 1977, Davenport continued to build on the rich traditions and legacy of its past to prepare students to become the business and community leaders of tomorrow. Under Maine's leadership, Davenport developed from a college offering only associate degree programs to a fully-accredited university providing undergraduate, graduate and online degrees. Maine served as president and chancellor from 1977 to 2000, introducing bachelor's programs in the 1980s and master's programs in the 1990s.
Creation of Davenport University
Under the leadership of Randolph Flechsig, president from 2000 to 2009, Davenport’s three separate colleges -- Davenport College, Detroit College of Business and Great Lakes College -- were unified into one Davenport University. Flechsig led development of the W.A. Lettinga Campus south of Grand Rapids, which is Davenport’s only residential campus and serves as home base for the University’s administration. Flechsig also reintroduced Davenport’s athletics program, which today includes 24 men’s and women’s teams in a variety of sports, including national championship teams in hockey, lacrosse and rugby. Affiliated with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), Davenport competes in the Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) for most sports.
Today, under the leadership of Dr. Richard J. Pappas, Davenport University is aggressively pursuing Vision 2015, which calls for a culture of quality, leading-edge programs based on the needs of students and the marketplace, high standards of measurable excellence, and results that exceed employer expectations, empower Davenport graduates and foster stronger communities. Under Pappas’ leadership, Davenport is expanding again with new facilities like the Peter C. Cook Center in downtown Grand Rapids, and new programs, including the University’s first doctorate (in Physical Therapy).
Since its founding in 1866, Davenport University has grown to become the second largest private, non-profit institution of higher education in Michigan. Serving more than 11,000 students through 12 locations across Michigan and online, Davenport eagerly embraces a future of growth and new opportunities while also understanding and honoring the rich legacy of its storied past.