Herbert Grant, for whom Grant Science Center was named in 1965, learned the value of hard work at an early age. Grant was the son of local Scottish and Welsh coal miners, but gave up that work to get an education. He spent the better part of four decades inspiring other young scientists.
Grant was born in Arnot in 1883 to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Grant, one of the original pioneer families in Tioga County in the 1850s. His father was of Scottish descent and his mother was a native of Wales. The Arnot of the late 19th century was unlike the sleepy little town of today. In fact, Arnot was the largest town in terms of population in the county at one point, with a population of about 3,500.
Arnot owed its prosperity to one thing: semi-bituminous coal. At the age of 14, Grant left school to work in the mines. Young Herbert toiled in the mines for five years. He worked at mines in both Arnot and Landrus, another once thriving town that has completely disappeared except for notations on maps and a marker near a forestry road. Around the turn of the century, there was a major mine strike that led to recognition of the United Mine Workers union. Around that time, Grant resolved to escape the life of a miner. Mining then was hard, dirty, dangerous and unhealthy work.
In 1902, Grant, at the age of 19, enrolled at Mansfield State Normal School. One newspaper report discussing his retirement noted that the work was no easy task considering Grant’s limited education. In spite of that, he graduated with a teaching certificate in 1905 and his first teaching assignment was at the dying town of Landrus, where he had so recently worked in the mines. Because the mines were closing, people were moving away from the town and the following year, Grant was named principal at Arnot and placed in charge of 600 pupils.
Grant married another Mansfield State Normal School graduate, Merle Cogswell (class of 1906) of West Auburn, N.Y., in 1908. Merle, who grew up on a farm, had been teaching in Lancaster County. That same year, the young couple moved to Westfield, Tioga County, where Herbert was principal and Merle was the first grade teacher. They taught there for five years and successfully reformed and modernized the curriculum. Herbert also started the first basketball team in Westfield and an annual track and field meet that drew large crowds. In 1911, Herbert received word from county superintendent W.R. Longstreet that Westfield High School was upgraded from a third class to a first class high school. (That same year, Superintendent Longstreet, who also served as a professor at the Normal, was replaced by Edmond Retan, for whom Retan Center is named.)
The Grants briefly left the area in 1913 and Herbert earned a degree from Columbia University, specializing in chemistry and physics. In 1915, the Grants returned to Mansfield Normal School. He taught chemistry and she was supervisor of student teachers at the Model School, then housed in the building now called Belknap Hall. She taught both the Normal School and elementary school students at the Model School. The Normal School students dedicated the yearbook to the Grants in 1920 "in recognition of the faithful service they have given at MSNS."
Most of the Grants’ tenure at Mansfield was under the supervision of Dr. William R. Straughn, who is credited with changing the institution from a normal school to a state teacher’s college. Three of the pallbearers at Dr. Straughn’s funeral in 1936 would later have facilities named in their honor. They included Grant, John Myers (Myers band field) and Dr. John H. Doane (Doane Center). In addition to teaching science for three decades, Grant continued his interest in athletics, playing on the tennis team and golfing. He won the Corey Creek championship in 1930. Merle served on the golf club’s house committee. During the war years, Herbert did his part for the war effort. One newspaper account noted that the couple spent the summer of 1942 in Rochester, N.Y. while Herbert worked for Bausch and Lomb Optical Works. Herbert retired from teaching in 1945.
While Herbert’s main interest was chemistry, which he passed on to two generations of Mansfield students, music was a close second. He was a member of all of the musical organizations at the Normal School as well as Knights of Pythias Band in Arnot, the Community Orchestra in Westfield, the New York Young Men’s Symphony, and the band at Columbia University. He was also a member of a unique organization called the “Supers” Club, which supplied men for mob scenes at the Metropolitan. That organization gave men the chance to hear operas that they would not otherwise attend. By all accounts, the Grant home in Mansfield was usually filled with music and guests.
The Grants also passed that love of music to their children, all of whom became prominent musicians in their own rights. According to the article discussing Herbert’s retirement, all three children became professional musicians. Robert, who had been supervisor of music at Wellsboro Schools, became director of instrumental music at East Aurora, N.Y. and vice president of the New York School Music Association. Phyllis married a talented musician at the University of Michigan. Carolyn became a prominent flutist in New Orleans.
In the Mansfield community, Herbert was also generous with his time. He served at least 20 years as the treasurer of the Mansfield Methodist Church. He was also a member of the Free and Accepted Masons’ Friendship Lodge in Mansfield as well as Zebulon Arch Chapter 296 and the Coudersport Consistory. Following his retirement from the college, he was elected assessor for Mansfield Borough, a job that no longer carries the same level of responsibility that it once did.
Herbert passed away April 2, 1962. Though his obituary does not list a cause of death, it was likely due to cancer. Two months after his death, the Wellsboro Gazette noted that a donation in Herbert’s memory was made to the Tioga County Cancer Society. Mrs. Grant sold the home and lived with her children for many years.
Herbert taught science at the same location that current science students take classes. A science facility existed at that location in the early 1930s. That building was demolished in the late 1940s and replaced by the eastern wing of the present structure. It was originally called Case Hall. In 1967, the building was formally dedicated to Herbert Grant. On Oct. 17, 1968 Merle, Carolyn, and Robert returned to the campus and the family unveiled a bronze plaque in memory of Herbert.
Additions to Grant Science Center, including the western wing, were completed in 1970. That project added a 100-seat planetarium (later named for George B. Strait), a fish lab, and a greenhouse. It also more than doubled the available space for science instruction. (That same year, a small explosion in a chemistry lab caused minor injuries to two students.)
In a fitting postscript to the life of this remarkable educator, Carolyn Grant Morey returned to Mansfield in 1987 to take advantage of a program called elder hostel. That program provided senior citizens with the opportunity to take college classes. Carolyn did attend Mansfield for a year before pursuing her musical education at the Julliard School of Music. As an adult, she was a secretary in the music department at the University of Rochester as well as a member of the university orchestra there.
Even though Carolyn was visiting the science center, she had good things to say about the music department both on campus and in the local schools. “My musical training at Mansfield was fantastic. From elementary school to high school and right up through my one year at Mansfield, I feel I was better prepared for Juilliard than the other students,” she told the public relations office for a story that was later published in local newspapers.