The UW regents worked with a state level coordinating committee for higher education to determine locations for the two-year extension campuses. They had already established the precedent of working with local governments where the state of Wisconsin would pay for faculty, equipment and other needs for the campuses if local governments paid for construction and maintenance of the buildings. Wisconsin Rapids wanted the two year campus, as did Marshfield; however, Marshfield's business and political leaders promised a new building with financial support from the city, whereas Wisconsin Rapids preferred to remodel an older building and spread the cost among the adjoining towns and villages.
After some give and take at the county board level, Wood County offered the UW Regents two sites for a future campus: Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids. The Regents along with the State Coordinating Committee on Higher Education decided in favor of Marshfield. While the early and strong offer of financial support for a new building was important, other factors influenced the final decision: Rapids was closer to the Wisconsin State University at Stevens Point, therefore there would be little need for a two-year campus there. Marshfield, on the other hand, provided a broader rural service area to include western Marathon County, eastern Clark County, and northern Wood County. Finally, the availability of the clinic and hospital provided a unique occasion for developing a nursing program.
Ground breaking took place in the fall of 1963 overshadowed by the national tragedy of President Kennedy's assassination. The cold, drizzled November day of the ceremony would be remembered by all. In many ways the campus' local history has been an integral part of and mirrored larger national trends over the past forty years. Expanding educational opportunity and creating cultural awareness had been a part of John Kennedy's "New Frontier" as well as Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society." There has been an unflagging commitment to education, culture and contribution to the local community ever since the doors opened. The local community has responded in turn, increasing the demands on the campus resources, making full use of the public facilities made possible by the state, city and county.
Response to the campus was so great that within four years of opening there was a need for expansion. The three original buildings—Clark, Leopold, and Felker—had been pushed to the maximum extent of their capacity. The all purpose room (currently the student services center) served as the site for the cafeteria, theatre, and film series screenings. Enrollments had jumped from the initial 350 to nearly 500. The Wisconsin idea, as embodied in the campus, was a success and the drive to enlarge the facilities went on. After several years of more give-and-take with the Wood County board, the city of Marshfield worked to enhance the campus by adding three more buildings by 1971: the Laird Theatre and Fine Arts Building, the Learning Resources Center (now the Hamilton Roddis Memorial library), and the gymnasium. Throughout the entire first decade of establishment and expansion the campus kept a unique feature, the nearly 30 acre arboretum, used by the biology staff as a living laboratory to instruct students in the complexities of environmental science. Given the fact that the science building is named for one of America's premier environmentalists, Aldo Leopold, the arboretum's existence and service is certainly justified.
In 1973, there was a major reorganization of higher education in Wisconsin. The legislature created the University of Wisconsin System with the principal campus in Madison and bringing in the other public college as "University of Wisconsin" campuses. Until this time they had been known as "Wisconsin State University" campuses. As part of this reorganization, the campus in Marshfield became consolidated across the state with all other two-year campuses (there were 14 by this time) and incorporated as the UW Centers. No longer classified as an extension of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Marshfield assumed even greater importance as a transfer campus serving the central Wisconsin region.
The campus' presence in the community and region has been marked by years of public service going beyond the long-standing contributions to arts (such the Campus Community Players) and the sports programs. More than 10,000 students have come through the doors to attend classes here; many thousands more have attended adult enrichment opportunities along with the myriad cultural events. With the most recent expansions and remodeling (1997 and 2002), students benefit from the growing number of online and other expressions of the "virtual classroom experience."