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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1907 Letter

Guy W. Gordon

Delivered: June 1957

Here’s to Prexy Stryker, Oh,
The man who makes the whole thing go
He thinks he’s a heller, don’t you know
Oh, here’s to Prexy Stryker.

For ten years, our parents had read in the daily papers of the progress being made at Hamilton College, and of Melancthon Woolsey Stryker, its President. They had read of the many gifts to the College, of its new buildings and new facilities, of the sermons and speeches of its President. They had read of Commencement, of the award of honors and prizes. They had read of Clark Prize Oration and Prize Debate, together with the comments in the newspapers that “Hamilton men can talk,” that the “College is peerless in the arena of oratory.” They noted that many of the graduates came from high schools of small towns such as ours; that some would become teachers, some ministers, some lawyers, some business men. To them the College appeared to be the right place to equip their sons for the opportunities that would come to those prepared for them.

As we became “College conscious,” we read for ourselves such things as this: “The peaceful environment of the Hill, the venerable campus, with its many traditions and vistas of rare beauty, the calm seclusion of the home of learning, make for high thought and eloquent expression.”

Things such as these turned our minds, and eventually our feet, toward the Hill early in September of 1903, when we came, looked, and were conquered.

Within one and a half hours after we called at Dr. Stryker’s office, our entrance requirements had been satisfied, costs and scholarships had been discussed. Under his leadership, we had toured the campus, with stops at the Chapel, at the Recitation Halls, and at Commons. We had seen Steuben Field, had inspected rooms in Old South College, and six days later, Leon G. Ross and your annalist were settled in South-North-Fourth-Back-Corner. Our entrance increased the enrollment of the College to 191.

As we moved into Old South, we were greeted by one who visited our rooms from day to day throughout our four years and became very dear to us.

Oh, here’s to Dust and Ashes Pete,
The man who keeps the buildings neat,
He thinks he is the thing complete,
Oh, here’s to Peter Kelley.

We found a campus of which “Old Greek” once said “to spend four years on this broad hilltop—is an education in itself,” and what Alexander Woollcott once described on the radio as “the most beautiful campus in the world with the possible exception of Uppsala in Sweden,” and a place which some of us have not been able to leave during these last fifty years without a touch of homesickness.
In his 50-year letter, delivered in 1951, Dick Drummond said “we entered Hamilton in what was unquestionably the beginning of its “Golden Age.” Within a few years, most of the physical plant had been made new. Carnegie, “the grand new dormitory” of which Prex dreamed, was under construction, and went into use in our Sophomore year. Plans were ready for occupancy when we graduated. The library was adequate for that day, but a new fireproof building was planned. Few colleges of our day had anything like the plant and equipment we enjoyed.

We found a President, a faculty, of character, ability and unusual devotion. Of course, in those days, supposed all College Presidents were like Dr. Stryker, but we have come to know that few, indeed, are the men anywhere, any time, in any field of endeavor, like him. He administered the College from the Hamilton Record, Director of the College Choir, Superintendent of new construction, and (as I have indicated), the Entrance Committee. He had no secretary. He cleared his desk with his own pen every day. He presided at Morning Chapel and preached at Sunday Chapel with such effect that few men used all of their “cuts.”

He taught Bible, Public Speaking, Debate, Ethics, and Christian Evidences. He championed a liberal arts education with emphasis on mathematics and the ancient languages. He wouldn’t consider the shorter and easier courses then offered by some of the universities. His dynamic personality became so identified with the College that, when people thought of one, they thought of both. We were fortunate, indeed, to have the intimate association with that personality of teacher and student throughout our full four-year course.

The first of the other seventeen members of the faculty to appear before us was Hank White. He gathered us in the Chapel the day before College opened to tell us we College men (not asses) and to act the part. We were to come before him, from day to day, while he drilled into us the fundamentals of the Mandeville System of instruction in public speaking. In later years, we have raised a prayer of thanks for his patience. We believe sincerely that the Mandeville System provides mechanics for effective conversation, teaching, and pleading. May then men here ever learn to say as well as to write the English language and may the College retain its past glory when it was said that “Hamilton men can talk.”

We were one of the last classes to have the privilege of instruction from Square Root. He taught us much besides mathematics. All of our lives we have heard him say in his high-pitched voice: “If you have a speech to make, stand up and make the speech, and then sit down, but don’t forget to sit down.” And we can’t forget his eloquent and convincing talks which filled the Y.M.C.A. rooms to capacity. At our Commencement he could only watch the procession from his window – he passed away soon afterwards. Our affection for him has lingered on. Gilbert of our Class married his daughter, Laura, (both now deceased. And their daughter, Alice Gilbert Dorow, is the adopted daughter of the Class of 1907.

Some of our “Greek men” believe “Little Greek” was the best teacher they have known. A classmate writes, “Bill Squires taught us more than many College courses offer.” His Bible Classes were a liberal education. Woody had a large influence on college life and conduct. Our 1907 Hamiltonian was dedicated to Davy, - an able and understanding teacher and a real friend. We loved Davy. I think he knew it.

Other members of the faculty for whom we also had great respect and affection were Schnitz Brendt, Bugs Morrill, Pills Saunders, Bill Shep, Bib Ibbotson, Stink Saunders and Tom Nichols.

Under faculty leadership, the College was a Christian college. When we heard one of these men at Morning or Sunday Chapel or at the Y.M.C.A. we were enjoying a great cultural privilege. One of my classmates writes “We appreciated later the required first hour on Monday morning – Bible study or religion in some form.” We met our professors not only in classrooms but in their homes. Upperclassmen were, on occasion, invited to dine with them – even the Prexy. Where can students have association of that kind with such men except in a small country college?

There were fifty-one of us when entered. In the Sophomore year there were forty-three, Junior year thirty-two and thirty-two graduated, of which thirty started with us. Our world was small. The long arms of Federal and State regulation seldom reached our way. Sam Adams hadn’t brought about regulation of the food we ate. No war touched us. No student had, or dreamed of having, an automobile on the Hill. The one automobile Clinton was used only on Sundays in good weather. Telephones were a luxury. We presented an outstanding record of scholarship as we entered nor as we left, but I think award of honors and prizes was not withheld from us because of lack of merit. The usual number was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. We furnished Hamilton’s first Rhodes Scholar. Davy once said that classes, like colleges, have their distinguishing characteristics. He said “If a 1905 man makes a rather indifferent recitation, his classmates turn and look at him with dismay — as if to say — ‘Why don’t you do your work?’ But if a 1906 man flunks cold, his Classmates turn and beam upon him as if to say ‘you are one of us.’” We claim no such distinguishing characteristics. Suffice it to say that, after announcement of yearly honors, some of us hurried from Chapel to give three cheers for “hoi polloi.”

We furnished few athletes but we had men on all athletic teams who acquitted themselves with honor. In 1907 our basketball team, coached by Captain Kuolt, defeated the strong Princeton Team in Soper Gymnasium. Most of the men not active in athletics took some part in the College Church, the Y.M.C.A., the Glee and Instrumental Clubs or the College Publications.

We had our fun, too, sometimes at the expense of the faculty. Our criticism of 1908 in Wednesday Chapel was such that Hank White banished us. That “ill wind” blew us into the arms of Prexy who conducted Sophomore declamation with great decorum in the Hall of Philosophy. The first laugh was at Hank White’s expense but the last laugh was his because his burdens were lightened and each of us was required to deliver two declamations during the term instead of one.

Of course, we had a hand in the Halloween night when the cannon and many other things got to where Prex thought they shouldn’t be, though Prex never blamed us, and we never confessed. In the winters of Freshman and Sophomore years we enjoyed continuous coasting – going halfway to Clinton in about a minute. What a thrill? One trip would remove the “cobwebs” and send us back to our work with a clear head.

The “fair sex” came for the Freshman and Sophomore Dances in Clinton and for Junior Prom and Senior Ball on the Hill, for the Fraternity Dances and the occasionally for a football or basketball game. Otherwise, few women visited the Hill.

The gym floor was almost always active during the winter months. There was the Chess Club, the Whist Club, the Royal Gaboons, the trips to Utica to see Julia Marlow, Grace George or Richard Mansfield, and the long trip back to the Hill with a flat pocketbook. Of course, we could punctuate our walk to Clinton with a dip in Oriskany Creek as was done by some sturdy men in January of our Junior year. At times water and snowball fights were poplar, and enthusiasm mounted to the point that windows were shattered, and other damage done. In that case, the College repaired the damage and added the cost to our term bills.

While writing this letter, I have considered what the College did for each of us – what we were when we entered and when we graduated and what our accomplishments had been – what the College does for the average man who enters it. I have thought of each man of 1907 and especially of the fourteen men who are gone.

One of them was Kenneth A. Sprague of Roscoe. The only member of the first graduating class of Roscoe High School, he entered Hamilton at 16, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his Junior year. On graduation, he returned to Roscoe. On account of his father’s illness, he gave up his plan to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Within ten years he had built the family General Store into a Department Store, had become an officer and director of three lumber companies operating in Georgia and North Carolina, had become a director of the local bank, of which he was President when he died. While conducting these and many other business activities, and doing practically all of the land surveying done in his area, for the rest of his life, he served as a member of the Roscoe Hose Company for forty-eight years; of the Roscoe Central School Board thirty-two years; of Chamber of Commerce twenty years; of the Local Draft Board covering all of Sullivan County fourteen years; of New York State Forest Practice Board of the State Conservation Department ten years; of the Liberty Loomis Hospital at Liberty, N.Y. seven years; as Trustee of the Congregational Church of Roscoe twenty-five years. Active in the founding of some of these organizations and for a time President of many of them, he was a leader in practically every local forward-looking movement.

Our Class didn’t include men of great fame like Charles Dudley Warner, Clinton Scollard, James S. Sherman or Elihu Root. It did include such men as Ken Sprague, men who were not interested in security but in accomplishment, who were not only interested in self but in service, men who were and are leaders in the activities of their communities.

In one of his Baccalaureate sermons Dr. Stryker said “The ideal is not a few exceptions but a high average. Success lies not in surpassing your fellowmen but in surpassing yourself.” I think most men who graduate here have surpassed themselves, and are equipped to lead. After a few years, men remember little of the “book learning” of which they were so conscious here. But I think that by association, with their surroundings, with their professors and, if you will, with the spirit which bore and nurtured this College, Hamilton graduates acquire a serenity of mind, a sense of real values of life and an inspiration to achieve those values. These may be among the greatest assets of their lives.

May these influences persist. “May the College continue to send throughout the land men of ‘high average,’ to lead and to serve, wherever they may be. May the luster of this fine institution never dim. May the white spire of the Chapel ever beckon young men.

What toll and trust whilere begun
Increase from more to more
Till all the tasks of Time are done
And man’s long march is O’er.