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History

A History of

Miami Military Academy

 Miami, Florida.

                                                        

By
Ken Stewart, Class of 1960

with contributions from Alumni Cadets and Staff

George Edgar Merrick

During the early 1920’s, George E. Merrick, (1886–1942), a real estate developer and builder, was constructing new residences in a frontier Florida suburb, Southwest of Miami.

As more and more land was developed, and homes built, Merrick felt there was an urgent need for a private school to serve families attracted to the, “up-scale,” community.

Merrick thought that a “military style” boarding school would be ideal.  The institute would train and equip young men to “lead useful and valuable lives,” said Merrick…  And…  It would also help attract more “upper class” families, to the community, if they knew there was a private school nearby.

J. R. Williams ’62

In his quest to fulfill his desire, Merrick recruited a noted educator from Fort Smith Arkansas…  J. R. (Jesse) Williams.

Merrick’s proposal to J.R. was that, “if he, (Williams), would come to South Florida and head up the proposed school, he (Merrick) would donate the land”…

Williams accepted the offer…  The Coral Gables Military Academy was opened in 1924.  History is unclear if Merrick also financed the construction of the facility.

The campus included a, two storied; U shaped main building of Mediterranean style architecture.  Serving as barracks and classrooms for about 45 cadets and staff, that included Williams and his wife Bertha, the campus also included some barren land.

The surrounding acreage was put to use for planting vegetables.  Harvests from the gardens, planted and maintained by the cadets, were used in the institute’s kitchen.

Merrick’s idea was a success right from the start.  With J.R. Williams at the “helm,” the Coral Gables Military Academy’s enrollment increased to a point where, within a few years, a larger facility was needed.

The academy was moved from Coral Gables to suburban Miami Shores, Northeast of Miami.

Dedicated in 1933, keeping the school motto of ” Boys TodayMen Tomorrow”, the new school was renamed Miami Military Academy…

Situated on the shores of Biscayne Bay, and fronting on U.S. 1, the main North-South thoroughfare, the new 30-acre campus included a number of, fortress like, military style buildings.

With the main entrance gate located at 10601 Biscayne Boulevard, the original buildings were built were closer to the street, than the Bay.

The “Administration Building,” with its twin circular towers, was closest to the street facing North to the Parade Ground that fronted on Biscayne Blvd.

The “West Barracks”, was located between the administration building and the “Rotunda”, at the Eastern most point of the campus. A classroom building flanked the East side of the parade grounds, and just behind was the Mess Hall and Laundry.

The entire campus was screened from street traffic by a high hedge.  Enrollment was less than 100.

From its new beginnings, in 1933, through the World War II era of the 1940’s, Miami Military Academy continued to grow and flourish under the supervision of its founder, Colonel J.R., Jesse, Williams.

By the mid 1950’s, enrollment climbed to over 200 boys in grades 1 through 12.

While many cadets’ families were from the surrounding South Florida area, much of the increased enrollment was due to heavy recruiting efforts in the Northeast U.S. and Latin America.

Of the seventeen members of the Class of ’58…  Thirteen graduates were from seven, different, Latin American countries.

The 50’s also saw the Academy’s, “Independent,” military style school status up-graded to a National Defense Cadet Corps facility.

This certification, by the United States Department of The Army, now meant that cadets could drill with “authentic” Army issue M-1 Rifles… and, the Academy could retain its rating as an “Honor Military School.”

With the new NDCC certification, and, cadets instructed in military tactics from official U.S. Army issued books and manuals, Miami Military Academy continued to grow.

F. R. Williams1 ’62

Academy founder, J.R. Williams, retired from day to day activities in the late ’50s, turning over administrative duties to his son, Col. F.R. (Reed) Williams, U.S.A.R.

As new academic subjects were added, along with the more formalized military department, enrollment continued to increase to over 300 by 1959.

Colonel Reed Williams was instrumental in acquiring the NDCC certification, and by doing so, had to insure the Army that military classes would become more formalized.

To comply he established the “Military Science and Tactics Department” and added, recently retired, Regular Army, Navy and Marine Officers to the staff… and that move brought a new meaning to the familiar words…  “Drop and give me 20”

From the beginning… through the ’30s, to the ’70s and all decades between, no matter what “era” cadets attended, the consensus from all was the same…

Most said they “hated” academy life… at first…

It was so different from what these teenagers were used to at home…  Told when to eat…  When to sleep…  When to study…  Living with strangers… cadets had little, or no, privacy…  For some those first few days, weeks, or months, were pure Hell… for others it was worse.

For “better or worse,” most survived their first few months of regimentation…and although no cadet would ever admit to it at the time… most grew to like academy life…

As new cadets learned how to drill, how to put their left foot in front of their right … and how to carry a rifle…  They also learned the chain of command, and could recite the U.S. Army’s General Orders by heart.

Most cadets lived for the weekends and, if not confined to campus to march off demerits, could “escape” to normal civilization for a night or two, once a week.  Oh those weekends!

For some, the weekends of freedom were not enough, they would go “AWOL” usually only for an hour or two… to meet a girlfriend or to get a pizza at a neighborhood restaurant…  Many who were absent without leave were never discovered… but for others, who were… they spent future weekends in the “bull-ring”… or worse.

Every new school year saw that some familiar faculty instructors had not returned…  There always seemed to be a high turnover in staff…  To this day, there are still mixed opinions on whether or not cadets got a “good” academic education… but many graduates went on to very impressive careers, in spite of these opinions.

Of the staff that did return, year to year, many made long lasting impressions on the lives of the cadets.  For many, their admired staff members became “father figures” and lifetime friends…

J.D. Timms ’62

Of the many admired faculty, there was none other than Colonel J.D. Timms that would touch the lives of so many students…

Serving originally as a staff instructor, and later as Principal, Dean, and then

Superintendent, Col. Timms, came to the Academy in 1943.  He stayed for more than 30 years, and was considered the “backbone” of the Academy by many.

The cadet population was always made up of young men from many different states and countries…  The late 50’s saw a larger number of Latin American Cadets on campus than usual.  Most Central and South American countries were represented, but it was Cuba that provided the greatest influx.

With political revolution raging in their homeland, many Cuban cadets were sent to the academy for safety.  Many found separation from their families, and homeland, especially difficult…

But, no matter where their home, or what the situation that brought them, each cadets military academy “experience” would influence their entire future, one way or another…

Surely unrealized at the time…  These young men, from all walks of life, were learning extremely valuable lessons of personal survival, leadership and independence.  And yes…  DISCIPLINE, whether they liked it … or not!

The ever-increasing enrollment saw the original campus, fronting on the highway, become crowded and outmoded.  Soon a new campus took shape.

The original parade ground would be sold and developed as the site of the Apache Resort-Motel… soon to become a “hang-out” for those AWOL cadets, and host an occasional meeting of the cadet “Officers Club”.

By the ’58/’59 school year, the expanded campus included Williams Hall, a new multipurpose building on the South side, in addition to new faculty residences flanking the Northern edge of the campus.

 

Williams Hall 1957

 

The multipurpose building was a welcome addition that included a library, classrooms and an assembly hall. Williams Hall was just to the West of the, recently new,

McKibbin Hall 1956

McKibbin Hall – (also known as “A Company – B Company barracks”), built the previous year and named for the long time medical director of MMA.

Both new buildings faced north towards the new parade ground, now located in the center of the campus.

Mess Hall 1959

Administration Bldg /w Barracks & Clock Tower

 

 

 

 

 

Directly to the West of the parade ground, a new Administration building, with a second floor barracks, was built.  A new kitchen and “Mess Hall” was added nearby.

MMA Front Gate

Also making way for the Apache Motel, the main entrance was moved further East and North, to a corner of the campus, far from its’ original more prominent, location on Biscayne Blvd.

By the mid 1960s, the Cadet Corps had grown to well over 400 students.

The Senior Class of 1966 was the largest in the Academy’s history…  With 87 graduating seniors, the ’66 class was more than five times larger than the Class of ’56…  a decade earlier.

The mid ’60s also saw the NDCC military status upgraded to Reserve Officer Training Corps certification.

Just as the introduction of NDCC certification had done, a decade before, the new ROTC rating contributed even greater respectability to the Academy.

Along with improvement of its military status, additional upgrading of the Athletic Programs was also emphasized.

Athletic teams soon became “Power Houses,” in their division…  Many MMA football, basketball, and baseball teams were regular contenders in regional, and state, championship tournaments.

Cadets were recruited for their athletic abilities from all parts of the country. Football players were housed as a unit…  A “Seniors Only” barracks was established…  Academic standards were raised…  The Academy was becoming a major educational facility.

During those same mid 60’s growth years, there was civil unrest outside the confines of the Academy.

Because of the escalation of the Vietnam War, public opinion of the U.S. Military, and military schools, grew less and less popular…  Almost daily, there were Anti -War rallies at colleges and universities…  The protests and changing public opinion, caused enrollment a MMA to decline.

Eventually this general resentment towards the military would contribute to the demise of MMA.

Many other, similar, private schools had already closed…  Colonel Reed Williams continued to strive to find ways to keep the “family business” thriving throughout these troubled years…

In an attempt to stay in business…  In addition, to continue to provide an option to public education, to those few parents who appreciated the standards of military discipline and respect, a decision was made, by the academy administration, to open the campus to “Day Students.”

Having discontinued grades 1 through 5 some years earlier, the move to admit day students was seen as one way to subsidize the declining enrollments…

While “day only” enrollments were low, these new students were a monumental change in academy tradition.

The day students created new challenges for the MMA staff… as well as for the young men of the “traditional” Corps of Cadets…

For the first time in the Academy’s 46-year history, GIRLS were now “legally” on campus…  The first female student to graduate was Cheryl Timms, daughter of Superintendent, Colonel, J. R. Timms…  Cheryl graduated, with 76 other seniors, with the Class of 1970.

The years following that historic graduation ceremony, in 1970, continued to prove difficult for the Academy to survive.

The Vietnam War continued to escalate, and, because the war itself was so unpopular, military academies were even more unpopular.  With the continued decline in enrollment, most of the MMA faculty had seen the handwriting on the wall… many left to find new jobs.

Colonel Reed Williams was getting older, the effort to “hold on” got more and more difficult for him.

According to some members of the staff, his son, and Academy graduate, F.R. Williams, Jr. was to be the “heir apparent,” … But it was said, “Junior” had shown no interest in taking over the Academy…The decision to sell, was made…

The Colonel had been offered a tidy sum of money for the campus, from a developer…  The amount, reported to be in the neighborhood of 8 million dollars, was said to look very inviting…

Formal letters were sent out to parents of cadets, informing them that the Sophomore Class of 1972 would be the last to graduate….

Rather than celebrate its Jubilee Year, Miami Military Academy was to be closed at the end of the 1974 school year…

For 50 years, there had been a Miami Military Academy Graduation of Seniors who would celebrate their accomplishment by tossing their hats in the air.

The class of 1974 would be no different…  However, shortly after the “Last Class” cleaned out their lockers, the MMA campus was bulldozed…

The campus that served as home for thousands… had seen sons of graduates follow in their footsteps… was soon replaced with a luxury condominium high rise…

36 years later, approximately 30 alumni and their families celebrated special recognition of their alma mater, the Miami Military Academy, on Friday, October 22, 2010. Commissioners Sally A. Heyman and Joe A. Martinez co-designated Quayside Boulevard, from Biscayne Boulevard to East Dixie Highway, as “Miami Military Academy Boulevard.” The event took place at the entrance of Quayside Condominiums, the former location of the academy. The site resides in Commissioner Heyman’s district, and Commissioner Martinez is an alumnus.”

      

were all… “Boys Today- Men Tomorrow”.

22 Comments
  1. Janet Friedman Owens permalink

    Thank you so much for providing us the history of MMA. It saddened me at the time of MMA’s closing as I had only a one year stint at the school. I felt I learned more in that one year (10th grade 1973/1974) than any other year of public high school.

  2. Tom Klein permalink

    There is one memory, the enterance road onto campus was named Miami Military Academy Blvd.

  3. Robert E. Mark permalink

    Thank you for all of your hard work.

  4. Robin de Jong permalink

    Great site! Many memories , good job.

  5. VIVA MMA & the great memories we all lived… !!!!

    Ricardo Adolfo Martinez Porcell ’74
    Rep of Panama

  6. Hey! So great to discover this. I was National Cadet of the Year in 1966, loved MMA, played football and ran track, and chased girls when I could find them. What was the name of the motel right outside the gate? My dad retired from the Army and eventually taught at MMA before it was sold.

    • Hi Stephen,
      Great to hear from you. I was in the 7th grade in ’66 when you graduated. That was my first year. I remember your dad, he was teaching there my senior year. I believe he taught undergrad Social Studies. Now that I have your email address I can add you to Email list. You will notice the email section is password protected. I will send you an email with the password.
      Are you on Facebook? We have a MMA Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/MiamiMilitaryAcademyAlumni/
      Come and say hi to old classmates.

      Have a great day,

      Willis Baker ’71

  7. Hi Willis — Thanks for the email! I found two photos of my dad on the site! I had never seen them before so it was great to find them. I will check out MMA on Facebook. I don’t have a 1964 Yearbook. I only went to MMA in my senior year, 65-66. But I love looking at my MMA Yearbook.

  8. Leonard Gecewicz permalink

    I graduated in 1960 and would love to hear from any of my drill team members.

  9. Kevin Phelps permalink

    Nice to see we’re still being counted! Anyone know whatever happened to Maj Rohn?

  10. I enrolled at MMA in 1955, and left to go to Miami Beach Senior High in 1960. I was a 1st Lieutenant, acting Company Commander when I left. If I had of stayed, I might have wound up at West Point and then Vietnam. Was glad to find this site. Thanks.

    • Hi Dave, Glad to see you found this page. Are you on Facebook, if so, go to:
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/MiamiMilitaryAcademyAlumni and join the group. Once you join, I will be able to send you a friend request for those on Facebook from your time period.
      I have your email address, so I will send you an email to get some information from you for the Alert Roster.
      Wow, 1955, that was 10 years before I started.

      Willis Baker ’71

  11. Tim McDonald permalink

    Email sent to Don Boyd

    “My name is Tim McDonald and I went to MMA in 1969, 1970 and graduated in 1971. I just found your MMA website and it brought back many good memories. Although it is gone, I think all MMA attendees share a brother hood that is hard to explain. I am looking forward to the next get together. I live in Coral Springs and have been in South Florida all of my life. Good speaking with you! Most students at MMA called me MAC! tmcd98@aol.com

    • Hi Tim, Glad to see you found this page. Are you on Facebook, if so, go to:
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/MiamiMilitaryAcademyAlumni and join the group. Once you join, I will be able to send you a friend request for those on Facebook from your time period.
      I have your email address, so I will send you an email to get some information from you for the Alert Roster.

      Glad to talk to you again old friend.

      Willis Baker ’71

  12. Richard Emam-Zade permalink

    Great work Willis.
    Best regards,
    RE-Z

  13. neil flanter permalink

    great enjoyed reading post neil flanter gratuated in 1963

    • I Neil, nice to see you here. I added your email address to the Email Directory and Updated the Alert Roster.

      Pls email me to get the PassWord for the Email Directory.

      Willis Baker ’71

  14. Jerry Lyons permalink

    Along with MANY others, I’d like to know what happened to Holland McTier (Mac) Thompson, Class of 1965.

    I attended 10-11th and 12th grade and graduated in 66.

    Jerry Lyons
    Buck Private in 63
    2nd LT in 64
    Busted down to Buck Sgt. in 64.
    Master Sgt. in 65.
    Captain in 66.

    College in 66 majoring is playing cards in the Student Union.
    Married and Drafted in 68

    Left Vietnam as a Buck Sgt. in November of 69.

    Graduated College in 73 (different major and focus this time)

    Still working …having too much fun to retire…

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