Missouri Travel: College of the Ozarks
If you are traveling to the Branson, Missouri area and are looking for a fun and affordable outing, consider a visit to College of the Ozarks. Located just south of Branson near Hollister, Missouri, College of the Ozarks is unique, both as a tourist destination and as an educational institution.
Founded by a Presbyterian Missionary in 1906 as the School of the Ozarks, the college has evolved over the years into an interdenominational, baccalaureate institution with a decided emphasis on an industrious Christian lifestyle. Their nickname is Hard Work U, because students are required to maintain a strong work ethic, earning a large portion of their tuition by holding jobs on campus that teach hands-on vocational skills that will train them for their future careers. The remainder of the tuition is supplied by donations to the college. Consequently, students graduate with zero student debt, and the institution itself does not carry any debt or participate in any government student loan programs. Its unusual status as a tourist destination in a region decidedly dependent on tourism helps to generate revenue that pays the tuition for the college’s very select student body. Enrollment is limited to those who have demonstrated financial need and a strong academic commitment.
The campus boasts a number of unique attractions. Entering the campus, visitors first pass the Keeter Center, which houses Mabee Lodge and the Dobyn’s Dining Room. Mabee Lodge has high end accommodations ranging in price from $189 to $299 a night. They also host conventions and meetings. Reservations are recommended for the Dobyn’s Dining Room, a beautiful and sophisticated restaurant staffed by students in the culinary arts program. Dinner menu entrees range in price from $13.95 to $24.95, with the lunch menu prices topping out at $14.95. The food is delicious and the portions are generous, but clearly the Keeter Center appeals more to a couple or a group of adults with extra money to spend on a special outing. Families with young children (especially those who prefer fast food) should save the experience for another time. The rest of the campus tour is more economical and is more suitable to a family experience.
The Gaetz Tractor Museum showcases tractors from various dates in farming history. This is especially appealing to little boys of all ages (and their dads). Every child is fascinated by stories from their parents and grandparents about their experience with this or that tractor (my own children loved hearing about the tractors their grandparents rode on, and even saw a tractor that one of their grandfathers still owns and uses on a regular basis). Near the Tractor Museum is the Alton Jones Dairy, with about fifty cows being cared for by College students, as well as educating visitors about the process of dairy production. The College of the Ozarks Greenhouses are home to the McDade Orchid Collection, and orchids and other houseplants can be found for sale there.
The Edwards Mill is run by a twelve-foot water wheel, and students mill flour and whole-grain meal, which are sold in the mill. Also being produced and sold at the mill are woven textiles and baskets created by students. Students at the Fruitcake and Jelly Kitchen make fruitcakes, apple butter, and an assortment of jellies, all available for purchase. Visitors are invited to witness the making of these products. The Tractor Museum, Dairy, Greenhouse, Mill, and Fruitcake and Jelly Kitchen are all free of charge to visit. Other free attractions on the campus include the Williams Memorial Chapel, the Star Schoolhouse, and Point Lookout, offering a beautiful view of the Ozarks.
The Ralph Foster Museum, a three story tribute to the history of the Ozarks, charges a small admission fee to adults. Children 18 and under are admitted free. The Museum has a children’s area that includes a life-size teepee and guinea pigs, as well as other activities appealing to children. The rest of the museum houses a diverse selection of historical knick-knacks, including the original truck from “The Beverly Hillbillies” and an extensive collection of taxidermal specimens. The gift shop has unique items that are reasonably priced, including a number of small items that would satisfy any child’s insatiable need for souvenirs.
I recommend visiting College of the Ozarks early in the day, and during the school year if possible, when student life and activity is at its peak. In any case, keep in mind that some attractions, such as the Tractor Museum, are not air-conditioned, and the climate control system at the Ralph Foster Museum was insufficient to keep the building comfortable on a very hot day. The museum closes at 4:30 P.M., so keep this in mind before driving to the campus late in the afternoon. All in all, the College of the Ozarks is an enjoyable destination that is off the beaten path, for anyone looking for a break from Branson’s frenetic tourist scene.