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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1919 Letter

Harold H. Reed

Delivered: June 1969

Gather close ye boys and men
And we’ll sing the praise again
Of the College on the Hilltop
Whose days shall never end

If, when those of our class who sit here today first sang that song, had given any thought to it at all, they would have called our 50th reunion “The Impossible Dream.” Yet today those 50 years do seem, in retrospect, but a brief and fleeting dream, how-beit not an impossible one. Maybe improbable, even unbelievable, but certainly not impossible for those years have been very real indeed.

The Class of 1919 was a small one when it entered in September 1915, and was one of the smallest since the earliest days of the College when it was graduated in June 1919. Actually, the College Catalogue of 1915-16 lists the names of 41 regular students, and two special students, whatever that meant – Robert Leslie McNair of Warren, Ohio, and Sydney Kellog Pardee of New York, N.Y. Then somewhere along the line — and again the record is hazy — we acquired Frank Carl Colridge, who later cast his lot with 1918 and considers himself a member thereof; William Lee Huntsman, Eugene Field Scott and Frederic George Yeandle.

Our college generation was torn by turmoil, uncertainty, strife and war which seemed at that time to be unique compared to the tranquil, cloistered years that preceded ours; but which we have learned to look upon as normal in the college generations since ours. Such is the degrading effect of war! What was then an earth-shaking catastrophe has become a commonplace way of life.

What a sad and sobering commentary that with all our vast increase in knowledge, learning and culture, our greatest advances have been in the field of creating even greater human suffering, destruction of God-given resources, and death in ever-increasing numbers.

Perhaps the half-century annalist of the Class of 1969 may be able to report a reversal of the trend, and write his letter in a world of peace, prosperity and plenty, with war, famine, pestilence, anarchism and catastrophic disease only a horrible memory. I sincerely hope so, for if such a reversal does not take place perhaps there won’t be a need for a half-century annalist.

But I digress. What I started to say was that because of the First World War, some men from 1918 returned after the war to be awarded their degrees with us; some of 1919’s men were graduated with 1920, and some did not return at all. When we received our sheepskins in June 1919, only 23 of our original class answered the roll call, and with us were three men from 1918.

The College Catalogue for 1918-19 shows 12 men in the senior class, the other 11 of the 23 being still in the armed forces, but when we filtered back after the armistice, the powers that be saw to it that we received our degrees in June 1919, albeit we were at least one semester short, and perhaps a little kinky on a grade here or there, but more of that later.

Our original get-together was on a frosty Fall evening in September 1915, under a full moon which aided and abetted our traditional enemies, the sophomores, a euphemistic term for the sadistic characters of the Class of 1918. As for us, being strangers in a strange place, and unable to tell friend from foe, we were assembled at the foot of the Hill by members of the junior class, and led as sheep for the slaughter, up the Hill and on to the campus between South and the Chapel. I am sure the rabble of Paris looked like impeccably turned out dandies compared to our guttersnipish outfits very generously provided by upperclassmen. I think the ragamuffin garments were kept in some secret closet from year-to-year in order to protect the freshmen’s new store clothes.

Thus arrayed, and armed with cans of red paint and paintbrushes, we were treacherously led into an ambush. The first thing I remember, being in the foremost rank, four men abreast, was a jet of water from a fire hose at the exact moment we stumbled over a wire stretched four inches or so above the greensward. And then the Philistines were upon us, and the Paint Night fight raged over the campus, and up and down the old athletic field until called off by the cane-toting juniors. Suffice it to say the sophomores applied far more green paint to us than the red paint we attempted to apply in return.

One of the outstanding memories of that melee, to me, has always been the sight of “Bugs” Stratten scudding down the filed under the glory of a full moon, and attired in nothing at all but splotches of red and green paint. It was indeed, a sight to behold.

As I remember it, there were still traces of paint in the hair of a number of us even up to the Christmas vacation.

At the time we accepted this barbaric practice as part of our hazing, but I recall that the following year, when we held the strategic advantage, we seemed to have lost some of our taste for such horseplay, and when junior year rolled around, we met with our new Prexy, Dr. Ferry, and voted to outlaw this extremely dangerous and stupid routine whose origin is lost in the mists of antiquity.

Of course, we went through all the other rah-rah practices, such as the tie row after Chapel on the first day of classes, followed by the relay race around the quadrangle, and Paddle Day, which was another holdover from the Spanish Inquisition.

I’m sure you recall that each freshman arrived at the final hygiene and physical education exam in June armed with a sturdy paddle which he had lovingly fashioned with his own two hands, or had acquired at usurious terms from a sophomore who had cherished it since the preceding year, and as each finished his paper and turned it in and left the building, he had to run the gantlet manned by those who preceded him, at which time each man took a healthy swat at his posterior as he ran past at high speed, or at least at as high a speed of which he was capable.

I believe some paddle swingers could have exceeded Babe Ruth’s home run record had they entered professional baseball. None could bear better witness to that fact than Ralph Spinning who, as I recall, was the last man; and that night ate dinner in a vertical position, or at least so Jack Bratton, his fraternity brother, deposes and saith.

Nor must we forget the class dinners, when the Sophs tried to kidnap as many Frosh as possible to prevent them from attending; and the Frosh returned the compliment in kind. Of course, neither class know exactly when the other would hold its dinner, except that it would be between Halloween and Christmas, so there were many alarms and excursions which came to naught. It was never quite clear to our members why Prof. Myers of the physical education department called a joint meeting of both sections of the freshmen class on the very afternoon the sophomores took off en masse for their Utica dinner. Was this purely coincidental, or was there an element of connivery present?

If my memory serves me correctly, and I’m sure it does, Jack Bratton was treated to a very stimulating dip, fully clothed, in the icy water of the old swimming pool into which he was unceremoniously tossed by some unfeeling Sophs when he returned from the dinner in the wee small hours of Thanksgiving morning, at which time the water was only three or four degrees colder than the ocean off Point Barrow, Alaska.

And, oh yes, Bugs Stratton lay under a couch for what seemed like years while Burt Hawks and his cohorts of Sophs sat on, and around it, trying to figure out where he could have gone to escape capture.

But to regress for a moment to Halloween of our freshman year. As was the custom, we serenaded several of the professors at whose homes we were sure to get handouts of doughnuts and cider, but sometime between midnight and dawn an ancient buggy mounted the Chapel steps, and ever more amazingly a cow found her way to the front of the pulpit. Whether the preponderance of blame rested more on the sophomore class or not is still a moot question, but at chapel the following morning, Prexy Stryker, on the very verge of apoplexy, invited one and all to stand not upon the order of going, but to go at once for a period of two weeks.

As Bill Marsh remarked to me when drilling me in a classroom for a chapel declamation, “I don’t know whether this is supposed to be a penalty or a reward, letting everyone out of morning chapel for two weeks. It means a little more sleep each day.”

Well, that was Prexy Stryker’s way of doing things, and our class was most fortunate in having two years under his administration and two years under Dr. Ferry. I truly believe we benefited greatly by having the maximum time possible under each president.

It would be difficult to conjure up a picture of two men more diverse in make-up and yet of one mind in so far as the good of Hamilton was concerned. Stryker, an ordained minister of the Gospel by no means meek and mild, but rather with the truculence of a crusader brooking no interference; and Ferry, handsome, suave, with the calm, calculating mind of a great mathematician, and the self-assurance of a polished diplomat who will achieve his goal while winning his opponents to his views, and making them like it.

One was a distinct individualist, handling even the most minute detail himself because he was convinced no one else could do it as well; the other an administrator and executive who helped men grow by placing upon them responsibilities, and then, through his faith in them, achieving far more in the long run. Perhaps to present day students both men would be squares, or kooks, but to us they were men to be respected, emulated and admired: if not right at the moment of contact, at least as the years rolled along, and we saw in retrospect the imprint each had had upon our lives.

Dr. Stryker was wont to boast that Hamilton was a small college where he could recognize every man by the back of his neck, and while I had my doubts at first, they were dispelled early in my course. I was on my way from the library to the D.U. House late one sparklingly clear winter afternoon with not a cloud in the bluest possible sky, and the westering sun was making the deep snow twinkle with millions of diamonds where the purplish shadows of approaching evening did not fall. As I passed the Chapel and headed down the recently plowed path through the snow, I heard the Chapel door open and my name bellowed as by a bull of Bashan.

It is said that when a man is drowning his entire life rushes before his mental vision, and I assure you mine did the same at that moment wondering what offense I had committed for which Prexy was banishing me to Siberia, or Union.

As I turned around and in a no doubt wavering voice said “Yes, Dr. Stryker,” I saw him standing on the top step, holding two or three books in his left arm like the Statue of Liberty and making a sweeping gesture with his right which I was sure meant “depart hence at once,” but instead he said, “Isn’t that the most beautiful sight you have ever seen?”

I was willing to go the second mile and agree that it might be the most beautiful I should ever see.

That was Prexy Stryker, all right. He could take the hide off a man for getting one of the 66 books of the Bible out of its proper order in his class, and before the day was out to do something tender and helpful for him. And he yielded to no man in his love for Hamilton, and the beauty of its campus.

One more anecdote may help to convey to those who did not know him something more about the man. He had a flair for the dramatic at all times, but particularly while in the pulpit. One Sunday afternoon, he paused in the middle of his sermon, placing his right hand over his eyes, indicating deep thought as he searched his mind for just the correct word in Greek. Now it so happened that it was the Sunday after Prom and many were woefully short on sleep. Next to me, Roy Shirley was settled down for a long winter’s nap, and doing his best under adverse conditions to catch up on his sack time, when Prexy shouted the word he had sought and flung his arm in a sweeping gesture so he was pointing directly at Roy who had been rudely awakened by his bellow. Only my restraining hand on Roy’s knee prevented him from leaving immediately, thinking he was being bawled out before the assembled multitude.

When Dr. Ferry took over, his first gesture of friendliness, as indicated previously, was to consult with upperclassmen on some of the more barbarous traditions and practices such as the Halloween pranks which led to Jack Bratton, as president of the class our sophomore year, being hailed before the Justice of the Peace in Clinton because someone had made off with a buggy which had been used to adorn the Chapel. All was settled amicably and harmoniously, I might add.

It was also at this time that Paint Night and some other hazing stunts such as Gym Shows, which were not only dangerous but at times humiliating as well, were relegated to limbo and we started to grow up.

Many changes were effected that marked the dividing line between the small, isolated college on the Hill, and a more modern expanding institution, but unfortunately the war clouds were darkening, and before long students were to join the colors, and life would never be the same again. You may recall one slogan of those days, “The War to End all Wars.” How heroic it sounded, and how wrong it proved to be!

Along came the S.A.T.C., Student Army Training Corps, and all sorts of regulations and restrictions, so by the end of our junior year, the enrollment was greatly depleted, and during the summer of 1918 so many more men entered the service of their country. The campus was well nigh deserted when classes resumed in September.

In the bull sessions before that time, the war loomed very large, and there was much soul-searching as to whether to finish the year, or the entire course, or enlist at once. One night when we were discussing getting into officers’ training school, Fergy, my roommate, remarked that if I should be commissioned first, he would not salute first, knowing me as he did, if we ever met. It so happened we were commissioned the same day, but as time went on and more serious things took place this was forgotten until one bright autumn day in Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville, Ky. When I was battalion adjutant and conducting guard mount, I about-faced, gave a snappy salute, and said, “Sir, the Guard is formed,” and who should be Officer of the Day taking the salute but Fergy with a most unmilitary Cheshire grin from ear to ear. I’ll leave it to our mathematicians to figure out what the chances were of that happening in a camp of 85,000 men.

Those of us who returned to complete our college careers had a deeper realization of what it all meant and a sobering attitude that looked askance at a great deal of the horseplay, hazing, etc., that formerly had seemed amusing; and I believe we looked up to the faculty members with greater respect and appreciation.

We attended, at various times during the years, the chamber music recitals that were held in the charming homes of Dr. and Mrs. Saunders, and Professor and Mrs. Seely-Brown; and Sunday evening conversations entirely in French at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Shepard, who always saw to it that there was plenty of cake, cookies and other goodies before the evening ended.

Here may I digress a moment to relate a personal experience that I am pleased to know never came to Bill Shep’s attention. Had it done so, his later years would have held naught but grief and sorrow. My wife and I were in Haiti shortly after our Marines had pacified the island, and we had an appointment with Dr. Daniel Theard, secretary of the Haitian Legation in Paris, who was home on leave. We were to meet at the Hotel Splendide, which was the leading hotel in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

After leaving our ship and strolling around the shops, I decided to ask a gendarme where the hotel was located and how to get there from that point. So I walked up to him and in my very best Bill Shep French, said, “Ou est l’hotel” — and that was as far as I got before he replied, “No speak English.” Whereupon I turned to my wife and remarked, “Well there goes six years of French shot to Hell.”

But as I was saying, which one of us can ever recall Bill Squires, Stink Saunders, Little Greek, Bugs Morrill, Paul Fancher or any other member of the faculty without feeling that his life was enriched by contact with one or more of these men.

Certainly, I would be most ungrateful were I to forget the kindnesses of these men, and I mention particularly Dr. Squires when first my father and one year later my mother died while I was in college. Perhaps that is why as my dear wife says, Hamilton is my second home to which I have returned at least once a year and even more often when serving on the Alumni Council, as president of the Metropolitan Alumni Association and as a fraternity officer.

But I haven’t been unique in that for almost every time I returned to the Hill, I would see someone else from the Class of1919, such as Gardner Parks, Roy Perkins, Fergy or Jack Bratton.

And this raises a point which I consider unique in the annals of friendship. Jack and I first met at about the ripe of old age of 8, or perhaps even earlier, when we lived in the same apartment building in Manhattan. We entered P.S. 11 together and were in the same class each term until, in the eighth grade, my family moved to the suburbs, and we of necessity attended different high schools but always kept in touch, visiting weekends, and when college years approached, imagine our surprise to learn that independently of each other we had selected Hamilton. So what would be more appropriate than to board the same train at Grand Central, and with our goods and chattels, arrive on the campus together for a four-year stint. Even our callings in life were similar for we both carved out rewarding careers in sales and sales management.

Perhaps this is a good point at which to discuss our various fields of activity in the years after graduation. No doubt our most distinguished and certainly best known member was Irving Ives, who served long and honorably in the United States Senate after a distinguished career in banking, education and the New York State legislature.

We had another outstanding figure in public life graduate with us, although technically he was a member of the Class of 1918 who finished his course with us because of the interruption caused by World War I service. I refer, or course, to Phil Jessup whose illustrious career in the fields of international law justice, and statesmanship, needs no comment from me.

Then there was Bart Miller, who had the distinction of being the last of 18 Hamilton Millers in a direct line from Dr. Linus Merrill Miller, Class of 1840. All were leader in their professions of lawyers, physicians and/or educators. Ten were Phi Beta Kappa — a mighty proud lineage!

It would be impossible within the compass of this letter to record the business and professional activities of our entire entering class, so we must be satisfied to mention the careers of our living members. As mentioned above, Jack Bratton, insurance; Leonard Ferguson, manufacturing; Bill Huntsman, minister; Bill McLean, merchandising; Gardner Parks, broker; Roy Perkins, educator; Albert Hopkins Pierce, PBK, architect; Ted Skinner, PBK, educator; Hal Reed, sales management; Roy Shirley, chemist; Ralph Spinning, journalist; Waldron Stone, advertising manager; Chester Stratton, educator; Rush Valentine, certified public accountant; Stuart Wheeler, finance; and Frederic Yeandle, PBK, educator.

Each in his own sphere of influence has left his imprint on many lives and how far-reaching this has been, or will be; and how many will eventually have benefitted by what each has done in his calling is known only to God.

Since our 45th reunion five members have traveled along the level of time to that undiscovered country whose bourn no traveler returns.

The first one I would mention, because he and his charming wife Kay attended our dinner that year is Robb MacKie. While most of us served in the armed forces for longer or shorter periods, Robb made the army his career from the time he enlisted in 1917 until his retirement in 1952 with the rank of lieutenant colonel, having served with great distinction in various theatres of war and peace. While a captain, he was in command of the U.S. Army Band from 1935 until 1939, and later was personnel chief on General Eisenhower’s staff in London before being called to Washington, D.C., to direct rehabilitation centers.

Scarcely had our 45th reunion ended when word reached us of the passing of Jim White, who died June 9, 1964, shortly after retiring as vice president and general manager of the Aluminum Company of Canada, Ltd., terminating a 44-year career in the aluminum industry throughout which he rose from a pot room trainee with Alcoa to the top-most echelon. But at no time was he too preoccupied with business to prevent his demonstrating his great humanitarian qualities.

Then last summer death claimed Bill Welsh, whose life calling was the field of insurance in Pasadena, Calif. I had not seen him for many years prior to our moving to California from New York City upon my early retirement from business to teach at UCLA for a year, but then Ethel and I met him and his lovely wife frequently at the Huntington-Sheraton in Pasadena, presided over by Steve Royce ’14, president; and Vince Burns ’27, general manager, particularly, at Hamilton alumni dinners.

For many years I lost touch with Ken Morrow, although my wife and I saw the Morrows a great deal while we lived in Buffalo as newlyweds; and indeed the Alumni Register listed him as “address unknown.” Perhaps he had received some hurt or disappointment which left him apathetic toward Hamilton, but a report of his death in September 1967 reach us last year, and so I record his passing as one that has occurred since our last previous reunion.

Another passing that I felt very keenly because of the sincere friendship and respect that increased through the years was that or Paul Hamlin on August 24, 1968, bringing to a close a brilliant career as lawyer, educator, author and lecturer. His activity as a professor was confined not alone to New York and New Jersey, for he spent several years as a teacher and athletic coach in Yale-in-China following his graduation from Hamilton.

And while speaking along this vein I must not fail to mention the sorrow our members felt at the passing of Dr. Robert W. McEwen. My wife and I had had a very close and pleasant relationship with Dr. and Mrs. McEwen during and after the years I served on the Alumni Council and president of the Metropolitan Alumni Association, and we felt his death very deeply.

But that is all the more reason for us to extend our wholehearted support to his successor, our new prexy, Dr. John W. Chandler, who has entered into the presidency of Hamilton at a most difficult time for all collegiate institutions, whether public or private. In fact, I sometimes wonder if a man who seeks the presidency of a college in this era is boldly courageous, or has already gone round the bend. However that may be, we salute you, Dr. Chandler!

That brings us to changes in the curriculum, which seems to be occurring in a fast and furious manner, but one change will always remain in the minds of two of us. As you may recall, during the Stryker era three years of Greek were required for an A.B. degree, and not having had any before entering, Rushmore Valentine and I in our delegation of D.U. were faced with the prospect of Greek through our junior year. With all the English, Latin, Spanish, French or German we were carrying, we needed Greek like we need a well developed case of smallpox, so imagine our frustration when, after our final Greek exam of our junior year on a Thursday, the trustees met on Friday and voted that Greek would no longer be required toward the A.B. degree!

Upon learning the news, we repaired to the center of the quadrangle, where I delivered a healthy kick to his nether regions, and he reciprocated with a boot that would have made an offensive half-back of the Packers green indeed with envy.

But seriously, there was a benefit derived from the course for even though our knowledge of the Greek language may have faded rapidly, the blessing or our association with Dr. Fitch, affectionately known as “Little Greek,” have never dimmed.

Who can say what or how far-reaching the influence of each professor has been, or will be. In gathering materials from our members, I was impressed by the warmth of affection that this one or that one had for one or more professors — Swampy Marsh, Cal Lewis, Bugs Morrill, Bill Shep, Super, Browney, Carruth, Fancher, Bill Squires, Brandt, Prettyman, Trot Chase, Stink Saunders and on and on. All were dedicated scholars whom we respected and admired, some to a greater degree than others, but I am sure I can speak for all our members in saying that it never and I do mean never entered our heads to rise in revolt against any one of them. Nor did we ever consider for a moment treating them with disdain or derision. We looked up to them, and they in turn treated everyone of us as a gentleman and a scholar. Would that were still the case today in the academic world!

Would that colleges were still tranquil, calm oases in a busy and distraught world where young people, boys and girls, could spend the most impressionable years of their lives acquiring knowledge, culture, reverence for Almighty God, and the morals and attributes of clean upstanding learned men and women. Rather that than having one campus after another become the battlefield of destructive ideologies with all their filth, degradation and licentiousness that the Communistic world has been allowed to foist upon our youth. Let us strive daily to restore decency and respect for law and order to our campuses.

I’m sure Bill McLean will never forget, but always recall with a chuckle, Prexy Stryker asking, “McLean, do you take Greek?” “No Sir” replied Bill. “Then you are not educated!” I still can’t figure how Bill got away without Greek.

And that brings to mind Jack Bratton’s tender rebuke when Prexy asked in the Bible course Monday, “Bratton, how many pipes in the Chapel organ? You were concentrating on them while I was preaching.”

But Prexy Ferry also remembered his boys, as when he met Stratton in Times Square some years after graduation and looking down from his great height said, “Do they still call you Bugs?”

Stone’s favorite professor was Super because Supe never woke him if he fell asleep in Spanish or German, unless the weather was real good, in which case, Supe would invite him to continue his siesta under a campus elm. And speaking of that, Bugs says because he sat next to Stone in chapel, he recalls vividly his, Stone’s, coming into Chapel on nice, sunny days with a raincoat over his pajamas just before the last tap of the bell.

Super seems to have been the favorite of most students for as Roy Shirley remembers he always drilled his classes ahead of time on exams so everyone would pass.

But what of some of the other happenings of our day? I’m sure we can all recall the bitterly cold winter night of our freshman year, with snow piled high all over the campus, and the cry of “fire” rang out. We in the D.U. House, being the nearest neighbors, had been awakened by the crackling and glare of flames bursting from every window of the Sig House.

Those men sleeping in the Sig House were saved from serious injury by jumping into snow banks, losing everything they possessed. Because of the impassable roads the Clinton Fire Department could not get up the Hill, and from that happening a College fire department was born.

In our senior year the new Steuben Field was used for the first time, and what a marvelous improvement that was over the old one with ruts in the track, ponds on the gridiron, etc.

And I believe I am correct in saying that 1919 instituted the all-night senior dance at our Commencement time, with breakfast at the Hotel Utica at dawn. We and our girls had a time to remember but how our devoted chaperones must have suffered fighting off drowsiness and wondering what in the world the younger generation could see in such foolishness!

Although we were small in numbers, we made our talents count for we had members on almost every College organization then in existence. Stone and Ferguson were our warblers being on the Glee Club quartet; several on the track team including Parmelee, Perkins, Valentine and myself as captain; McLean was our football man; and of course we had Pentagon and Square men; Clark Prize orators, McKinney Prize debater, etc. Parks, Perkins and Spinning were our journalists. Parks and I held forth in the Hamilton Literary Magazine of blessed memory. But why go on? We did everything every other classes had done, but we did it better. If I have missed mentioning anyone, please forgive me for the gathering of data is a field in which a slip may easily occur.

Of course, our generation was marked by certain idiosyncrasies of dress and idiom as all college generations before and since. It was the era of the flapping galoshes, the plaid lumber jackets, the high laced boots and, of all things, white flannel trousers worn all year round through sun and snow, often adorned with autographs, fraternity insignia and eventually assuming an overall battleship gray hue. Still they were white flannels. It was also the time of stiff-bosomed shirts and gates ajar collars with tuxedoes and full dress. These, too, were holdovers from the Inquisiton, which I fervently trust will never return.

But who knows what time will bring? In his annalist letter in 1964, Carl Carmer wrote that his class entered at the end of the peg-top pants and turtleneck-sweater era. I quote “the turtleneck, it is my sad duty to relate, never had it so good and has not since then climbed back to its former status.” Unquote.

O tempora, O Mores — now the turtleneck has not only returned, but it is “in” and has even gone formal. Was Carmer “a voice crying in the wilderness” or a new arbiter of fashion?

No longer do we, as freshmen, conduct late-night forays to Mertz’s for a “chilly omelet” while he prepares a stack of sandwiches for the seniors back at the fraternity house at the close of study hours, and no more do we hear through the sparkling, frosty air of night when the full-moon is glistening on the deep snow, the cry of “Rooooad” as a sled going down with the speed of a jet shoots through the arbor on the Hill. No, the snows of yesteryear are gone, as are many of the customs which today seem almost barbaric; but the memoires linger on.

And although 50 years with their happiness and frustrations, joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, have come and gone since our commencement, yet

“While years — Carissima! grow cold,
We still will be thy boys.”