Walking into the campus library, visitors run across a plaque beside the painting of a young boy, “Mike” Alex Mossey. The plaque says little about the boy, whose joyful life ended in tragedy, but whose legacy at Hillsdale lives on.
Michael Alex Mossey was born on Oct. 2, 1954 to two Hillsdale alumni, Donald Mossey ’51 and Jane Mossey ’52. Mossey’s mother gave birth to him in Elkhart, Indiana, just over two years after graduating from Hillsdale.
While at Hillsdale, Jane Mossey was a cheerleader and a member of the Chi Omega sorority.
Her husband Donald Mossey came to Hillsdale after serving with the United States Navy in the Pacific theater of World War II, according to the South Bend Tribune. At Hillsdale, he was a football player and president of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity.
Donald Mossey gave his fraternity pin to Jane Mossey, formerly Jane Hill, in 1951. On August 15, 1953, the couple had their wedding in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the South Bend Tribune reported. In the following years, Jane Mossey gave birth to Michael Alex Mossey, along with three other children.
As a boy, Mossey lived with his family at a house just beside the St. Joseph River in Elkhart. When he was just 11, tragedy struck.
At 3 p.m. on July 17, 1966, Mossey became involved in an accident while boating with his friends on the river. After the accident, Mossey was transported to the Elkhart General Hospital, where the young boy passed away 11 days later on July 28, 1966.
“It was devastating for my parents as well as for the rest of the family, but remember I was ten, Mark eight and Lanie four,” Mossey’s sister, Merril McCarthy ‘79 said.
McCarthy said one of her favorite memories with her brother was when they used to take car rides with their grandparents.
“Mike loved to hear our grandfather tell King Kong stories,” she said. “We always wanted to ride in the car with our grandparents so we could listen to grandpa Brian tell those stories.”
Library Director Maurine McCourry said she empathizes with the Mossey family’s loss.
“I can’t imagine the grief the Mossey family must have experienced with the sudden loss of a child,” she said.
In the fall of 1968, two years after their son’s death, Donald and Jane Mossey committed $500,000 to fund the construction of what we now know as the Michael Alex Mossey Library. Mossey’s parents made this gift in their son’s honor.
“I don’t think it was a surprise that they named the library for him,” McCarthy said. “He was a bright kid and loved to read, so it made sense.”
Mossey Library was envisioned to be “much more than a library as we have known them in the past,” according to Hillsdale College’s library archives.
“The beautiful addition to our campus will make possible a great increase in resource material for our students,” the records read. The library would “house not only thousands more books, but will also make possible the use of vast new resources.”
The building was initially projected to cost $1.5 million, according to library archives. While the Mosseys’ grant didn’t cover the entire cost, records show that their grant was the “initial impetus toward realization of this magnificent building.”
Construction on the new library began in April 1970, and the building was completed in August 1971.
“We are grateful that they chose to honor Mike’s memory with the gift of a library for the college,” McCourry said. “I know the new building was sorely needed.”
Donald and Jane Mossey remained active in the college community for years after they donated to build a new library in their son’s honor.
According to library archives, Donald Mossey would go on to win the college’s highest honor, the Freedom Leadership Award, in 1998. He would also serve on the college’s Board of Trustees, becoming its longest-serving member as of 2003.
Jane Mossey would go on to become president of the Women’s Board of Commissioners, visiting the school multiple times per year and attending Center for Constructive Alternatives lectures.
“My parents were already involved at Hillsdale, they loved the school,” said McCarthy.
On Oct. 1, 1971, Mossey Library was dedicated with a plaque that still adorns the building’s entrance today.
“The sparkle in a child’s eyes, the laughter of discovery, the zest for truth, the serenity of thoughtfulness, the hope for tomorrow,” the plaque reads. “All these dwell in this structure for youth, now dedicated as the Michael Alex Mossey Learning Resources Center.”
“You just wonder what he’d be like today if he was still alive,” McCarthy said. “He’ll live on there long after we are gone.”