Benjamin J. Stone

Delivered: Reunions, June 1982

Wherever one turns these days, he encounters the analyst: the stock market analyst, the political analyst, the financial analyst, the psychoanalyst, and on and on. Only at Hamilton College, however, is there a need for a different breed — the A-N-N-A-L-I-S-T. The demand is not heavy — one a year will suffice — but it is an enduring demand and has continued unabated on this campus since the 1860s. This kind of annalist is a chronicler — one who records the events of successive years. And the word chronicler, I am sorry to point out, comes from the root chronic, which means “of long duration, lingering” – so settle back!

You may, however, exercise your right of not listening, as was done in this very room by the late Charles B. Rogers, devoted trustee of the College and father of our contemporary Phil Rogers and of our classmate Ralph Rogers. I remember that Mr. Rogers used to sit up there in the balcony on Sunday mornings and place in front of him the little black box, which was the receiving apparatus for his hearing aid. If the sermon did not measure up to standard, Mr. Rogers would unobtrusively but audibly click off the machine. Why waste the batteries? You may do the same.

Perhaps it was the half-century annalist who Lewis Carroll had in mind when he raised the question in his poem, The Second Voice:

“Shall he, grown old among his peers,
Through the thick curtain of his tears
Catch glimpses of his earlier years,
And hear the sounds he knew of yore,
Old shuffling on the sanded floor,
Old knuckles tapping at the door?”

The assumption is, I think, that the half-century annalist will survey only the past 50 years and will portray the exploits and accomplishments of his own class. But just as the life and character of an individual cannot be fully understood without some reference to his forebears, so the nature of a college class must be viewed, I think, against the background and history of the institution. My classmates and I came to this hilltop in the fall of 1928, apprehensive and uncertain, yet vaguely feeling that we would somehow leave our mark on Hamilton College. In retrospect, we see that Hamilton has left her mark on us.

Elihu Root, whom some of us can remember seeing as he strolled across the campus, wearing his cape, delivered an address on the occasion of the Centennial celebration of the College in 1912; he said, in part: “… the original qualities and standards of an old institution are transmitted through a long and continually changing series of individual members who differ widely from each other, but who, coming find, and going leave, the institution essentially the same. Great endowments, stately buildings, public favor and prosperity — these things cannot produce or take the place of that indefinable and mysterious quality which has been transmitted from a remote past — and which gives to the institution a personality of its own…”

An indefinable and mysterious quality, transmitted from a remote past!

Transmitted from the year 1765, when young Samuel Kirkland, so anxious to become a missionary to the Oneida and Seneca Indians, left Princeton before his graduation to adventure into this frontier region.

Transmitted from 1779, when Kirkland, because of his experiences among the Indians while a missionary, became an advisor to the federal government on Indian affairs and gained the confidence of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Horatio Seymour, in an address given in 1873 at the dedication of the Samuel Kirkland monument in the College Cemetery, said of Kirkland: “He was not only a link between two great eras in the history of civilization in America, for he lived and acted in the periods of our colonial condition and of our national independence, but he was also the last of the chain of missionaries, Catholic and Protestant, whose religious teachings and political influences had so much to do with shaping the destinies of our country.”

Transmitted from 1792, when Samuel Kirkland and others petitioned the Regents of the State of New York that “Alexander Hamilton and fifteen other persons” be incorporated under the name of trustees of Hamilton Oneida Academy. (The same petition, incidentally, made mention of the trustees of the Academy of the Town of Schenectady, which subsequently became Union College. I refrain from comment, except to say, “Thank God it wasn’t Colgate!”)

Transmitted from 1793, when the subscription list for the Hamilton Oneida Academy building showed only a few cash contributions, but many such as “Timothy Tuttle: 500 feet of clapboards, 1000 shingles and 10 days of work,” or “Nathaniel Griffin: four pounds in cash, six pounds payable in grain.” Money was scarce in that frontier community, and the economy was largely one of barter and manual labor.

“Transmitted from a remote past.”

Transmitted from 1799, when President Timothy Dwight of Dartmouth College visited the new academy and wrote in his diary, “This seminary is already of considerable importance, and contains 52 students, of both sexes, under the care of two instructors… An academic building is erected for it, 88 feet long, and 46 feet wide, of three stories, on a noble, healthy eminence, commanding a rich and extensive prospect. It is, however, but partially finished.” I might add that this building, Hamilton Oneida Hall, stood just a few feet away, between the Chapel and South College. I might also add that President Dwight observed that, at that time, Utica was “a pretty village containing 50 houses.” Truly a remote past!

Transmitted from 1804, when the academy reported to the New York State Regents that its total value, including building, land, library and equipment, was $5,102; that its annual income from tuition was $494; and that the two teachers were paid a total of $604.

Yes, and transmitted from 1812, when the academy trustees received a charter from the regents “to found a college, by engrafting the same on the said academy… the name thereof shall be Hamilton College.” It is interesting to note that this took place eight years after Alexander Hamilton’s tragic death.

It is not my intention to give a history of the College, but rather to suggest the matrix from which it was evolved. A frontier country, missionary zeal, strong religious principles, great respect for learning, a vision of what might be accomplished despite poverty and hardship, the strong personality of Samuel Kirkland and the men who worked with him, the devotion and support of the trustees — each of these elements is a part of that matrix. And today, as Hamilton College stands only a few steps away from the 21st century, those same elements have influenced the direction in which the institution has moved and have contributed to “that indefinable and mysterious quality” of which Elihu Root spoke.

Time has a way of telescoping itself as we grow older, and 50 years of looking back are far shorter than 50 years of looking ahead. As an undergraduate I was impressed with the idea that I was attending a college that was founded in the dim and distant past. Fifty years later I seem to view things through different glasses. Maybe it’s because my maternal uncle graduated here in 1897 and my grandfather in 1865. Suddenly the Civil War doesn’t seem so far away in time as it used to. Indeed, the entire 205-year history of the United States seems shorter than when I was a schoolboy, probably because I am now aware that my father was born in 1858, his father in 1806 and his father in 1775 — just four generations from here to colonial America! Of course, the Stone family has always taken a little longer than most people to get things done!

My experience of being a member of a three-generation family at Hamilton is far from unique. Indeed, 30 members of our class are listed in Mr. William Love’s monumental genealogical study, published in 1963, which surveyed the 567 families that have sent three of more members to Hamilton. Our classmate Horace Holley surpassed the rest of us, having a total of 21 Hamilton men among his relatives. The degree of loyalty reflected by such statistics is, I believe, another element in the total makeup of this College.

I think it is probable that the members of our class had seen very few college campuses prior to enrolling here — certainly this was true for me — and therefore we had little basis for comparison. We didn’t realize that we had come to what has been described as “one of the three most beautiful colleges in America.” We soon became aware, however, of the beauty of this place — the magnificent vistas of hills and valleys, the spacious campus with its stately trees, the panorama of the changing seasons.

No description of mine can compete with the quaint language of the Reverend Mr. Gridley, who was one of the curators of the College grounds and who wrote in the 1850s: “... it is no vain thing to suppose that the minds and hearts of students will be benefited by daily walks through such grounds, and in view of such a varied and wide-spread landscape: these peaceful shades and sunny slopes and laughing streams — this hum of cheerful industry — the music of distant church bells… these skies, ever changing and ever beautiful, and the seasons rolling through them —what mind can be brought into the midst of such scenes without deriving from them essential profit?”

Our classmate Harry Porter recently expressed this same thought more simply: “As I look back, I am pleased and a bit surprised to realize how aware I was, during my student days, of the beauty of the Hamilton campus — the trees, the lawns, the pleasant scale of it all — and of Root Glen, and of the surrounding country-side.”

Those of us who were city-bred perhaps had a heightened sensitivity of these riches of nature. I don’t recall that we talked about such things, but occasionally some of us made attempts to capture the beauty of our surroundings in a composition or a sonnet. Mercifully, any such efforts on my part have been lost to posterity! However, the celebrated American poet Clinton Scollard, who grew up in this neighborhood and graduated from Hamilton, surely had Root Glen in mind when he wrote these words:

“… I followed the clear calling of a wren
Deep to the bosom of a sheltered glade,
Where interwoven branches spread a shade
Of soft cool beryl like the evening seas
Unruffled by the breeze.
And there — and there —
I watched the maiden-hair,
The pale blue iris-grass,
The water-spider in its pause and pass
Upon a pool that like a mirror was…”

One classmate writes that he hasn’t taken part in alumni gatherings, but each summer, en route to his camp in the Adirondacks, he takes “a nostalgic stroll around the campus.”

And so another element of that “indefinable and mysterious quality,” which has been “transmitted to us from a remote past” is, I suggest, the sheer beauty of the place in which we spent our undergraduate days.

Against all this background, we of the Class of 1932 are gathered to recall and celebrate and reminisce about our days here, and to evaluate the Hamilton experience in terms of our own lives — yes, and of the many lives that have been taken from us. The 154 freshmen who donned their green caps in the fall of 1928 were, I judge, quite typical of the post-World War I classes. We would have to admit to provincialism, for the great majority of us came from New York State. By the time of our graduation our numbers had been cut in half, partly due to the high academic standards of the College, but even more to the Great Economic Depression that engulfed the country after the Stock Market crash in 1929. While we led a rather sheltered, monastic, ivory-towered life, to some extent cut off from the outside world, still the Depression loomed larger and larger on our horizon, and it was to affect our lives for years to come.

I think we could fairly describe ourselves as a solid class, producing our share of scholars, campus leaders, good athletes and those who supported our bewildering variety of extra-curricular activities. We must have worked at our books and profited from our instruction because we were able to amass an impressive number of advanced degrees following graduation. The 1980 edition of the Alumni Register listed 77 living members of our class; among them were 13 doctorates in one field and another, 16 law degrees, 13 master’s degrees and four other advanced degrees, for a total of 46. Still other classmates had pursued advanced studies outside of degree programs.

Armed with so much learning, we dared to spread our wings, geographically speaking. The 1932 Hamiltonian indicated that only 13 out of 77 in the graduating class came from outside New York State, and all but two of that 13 were from bordering states. I myself came from far-off Washington, D.C. — and people used to hang around just to hear my exotic accent! But now in 1982 only about 40 percent of us still reside in the Empire State, and the rest are distributed all across the land, from New England to Texas, from Michigan to Florida, from Maryland to Missouri, and more.

We can be proud and grateful that three members of the class have served the College as trustees: Mike Maijgren, Walt Pritchard and Bill Woodcock. Walt also served a term as president of the Alumni Association, and Mike played an important role in the early days of the outstandingly successful Clark Minor Fund, which annually contributes $240,000 to the College and which has built up a market of value of nearly $3,700,000. Other classmates were officers in their regional alumni organizations. Bill Woodcock wrote me last winter: “One of the reasons Hamilton is so great today is that able and concerned alumni have given of their time, skill and money to help Hamilton. I know that Walt would agree with me that the alumni representatives on the Board of Trustees were a strong influence for progress. This should not be taken as a negative comment on the administration at all, but rather as a compliment to those alumni trustees who have worked so effectively with fine administrations.”

Many of us will remember that, as undergraduates, our thinking was affected by the aftermath of World War I. I would guess that, for the most part, we were pacifists and isolationists. War clouds were again on the horizon in the early ’30s, and we reacted by saying in effect, “They won’t get us involved in a war; we’ll take off for Canada or someplace.”“ Meanwhile Adolf Hitler was increasing the strength of the Nazi Party, and he was swept into power in 1933 on a rising tide of nationalism and economic turmoil. In rapid succession he annexed Austria, the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia. When he invaded Poland in 1939 he brought on the full-scale war in Europe. The United States still wanted no involvement in another European war, but our thinking was gradually shifting. When Pearl Harbor stunned the nation in 1941, the barrier was broken and the United States plunged in. So did 58 members of the Class of 1932, more than half of them serving as officers.

When I agreed at our 45th reunion to take on the half-century annalist assignment, I didn’t give the matter much thought — it was a long way off, and I probably wouldn’t make it anyway. But last spring I looked at the calendar and panicked. I fired off an S.O.S. to my classmates, and I am grateful to those who took the time to reply. Much of the resulting information concerned careers and families, and Newt White, with his usual energy and efficiency, is putting that material into our hands in printed form. But in addition, there were various thoughts and recollections that are appropriate to my purposes here this morning.

The most frequent theme expressed by my classmates is that of the Hamilton faculty. These men became our friends. They were scholars (25 doctorates, 23 members of Phi Beta Kappa and the only living American member of the French Academy in a teaching faculty of 40 — very impressive for a small rural college in that day). They knew how to teach and how to get us to learn. They are very much alive in our memories today, even after 50 years; their nicknames are recalled with affection and with the clear indication that we admired and respected them. It is not so much the subjects they taught as it is the men themselves we remember. Listen to these excerpts from the letters I have received:

Item “A frowning but really shy ‘Supe’ Super in French and Spanish, bored but usually patient — truly ‘a damned and unforgiving countenance — but it lied’.”

Item “Prexy Ferry: skillful conservative pourer of oil on troubled — even potentially troubled — waters.”

Item “While I think Hamilton today is a much better college over all, there will never be a better history professor than ‘Digger’ Graves, nor an English literature professor better than ‘Bobo’ Rudd.”

Item “My four years at Hamilton were the greatest years; I look back on them with a feeling of nostalgia and satisfaction.”

Item “I would rate my best Hamilton experiences as Choir and freshman English composition, proving that the professor (‘Smut’ Fancher) is at least as important as the subject. I’ve often wished I could duplicate that waxed mustache!”

Item “Walter Laves was my inspiration for wanting to work outside the U.S.A., and for quite some years I was in contact with him.”

Item “I remember, in the course of an evening’s stroll, being invited (with Ig Stewart, as I recall) into ‘Stink’ Saunders’ charming campus home and being shown a variety of photographic works of art, which were intriguing him at the moment.”

Item “I would go to Hamilton again – if I could get in!”

Item “I remember how, on the day that ‘Bobo’ Rudd read from Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, the walls of the classroom were lined with guys from other courses. I remember Bobo reading poetry and enjoying it so much he seemed to become oblivious to the class.”

Item “Remembered most are life in the fraternity, great professors, wonderful friendships, house parties, local gin mills, Chapel and public speaking — not necessarily in that order!”

Item “While my majors were in chemistry and math, the best career training in College for me was in writing and public speaking. I did a lot of both in the company, and it was much easier for me than for my chemical engineering peers.”

Item “Public Speaking — valuable if only for ‘Swampy’ Marsh’s advice, delivered in basso profundo: ‘Don’t ever make a speech unless you are prepared for it.’”

This last item puts one in mind of a few lines from Walt Whitman’s Poem of Joys:

“O the orator’s joys!
To inflate the chest — to roll the thunder of the voice out from the ribs and throat,
To make the people rage, weep, hate, desire, with yourself,
To lead America — to quell America with a great tongue.”

We recognized, I think, that exposure to men like “Swampy” Marsh and Cal Lewis was part of our education, and that the strict discipline of their program was good for us. I’m sure we all have memories of those sessions here in the Chapel — like the day in freshman year when Merk Wettlaufer mounted the platform to open the second round of freshman declamations, gave his opening line, which was something profound like “I like to play golf” — and was greeted with the traditional shower of pennies from the upperclassmen. Merk was disconcerted, to put it mildly, but everyone else enjoyed the moment — and Swampy smiled benignly.

In retrospect, however, many of us felt that we had been struggling with an out-moded form of oratory that was inappropriate to our time and to our needs. Memorized declamations, studded with formal gestures, a step to the right, a half-turn to the left — all the oratorical techniques of the 19th century — were of little help to 20th century men in their approaching professional and civic lives. Hamilton’s public speaking program was under fire during our years here, and the resulting reforms, so-called, at least in our era, did little to address the fundamental problems.

No matter. We had gained experience in getting on our feet in front of an audience and in attempting to control our fear. And the rest of the curriculum, while meager in comparison with Hamilton’s present-day offerings, seems to have prepared us for the world in which we lived, did our work, raised our families, and served our communities — a world which has brought its challenges, its disappointments, its successes, its sorrows and its joys. One classmate writes: “I feel that Hamilton engendered in me a genuine respect for learning and a sense of, or at least a useful beginning acquaintance with, ‘the best that has been thought and said.’ I find that the Hamilton climate, whatever it was, has proved to be a surprisingly persistent, pervasive and enriching influence in my life. I tend to believe that the degree of this influence, while it may not be unique, is surely unusual.”

Another classmate felt, during his undergraduate days, that he received what he called a “straight-jacket” education, without much inspiration to develop independent thought. But he adds, “I guess it’s all relative because, wherever I’ve lived, Hamilton’s reputation as a strong college has been recognized.”

Sixteen of us had the unusual opportunity of singing in the Hamilton Choir. I say “unusual” because this was a time when singing organizations in most colleges were glee clubs and quartets, rendering such golden-oldies as Sweet Adeline, Old Man Noah and Its Always Fair Weather When Good Fellows Get Together. First under Professor Chase, and then in our time under the inimitable Professor Fancher, the Choir performed, both on and off the campus, the finest choral music. I have an old program, which indicates that Bach, Palestrina, Schubert and Beethoven were represented in the Choir’s concert given at our Commencement. The exposure to fine music and to outstanding choral direction has enriched the lives of many of us for half a century. Kirk White has written me, “The Choir meant more than anything to me while at Hamilton and in later years. I continued singing as long as people could stand me and even sang in a show on Broadway while in service in World War II.”

For me the outstanding Choir memories are the radio concert in New York City on Alexander Woollcott’s Town Crier program and the spur-of-the-moment concert we gave to 1,700 prisoners in Sing Sing Prison. The latter evoked one of the most sensitive and knowledgeable reviews that I have ever seen or heard in the form of a letter addressed to Professor Fancher and signed “New York State Prison No. So-and-so.”

How many Hamilton classes have produced an Olympic athlete? Walt Pritchard’s prowess as a distance runner was legendary on the Hamilton campus, but I believe we were all over-awed when we learned in the spring of 1932 that he had finished second to big Joe McCluskey in the mile at the NCAA track meet in Chicago. Chuck Estabrook was there. Says Chuck, “I was Walt’s ‘manager’ — what a laugh!” The NCAA meet led to Walt’s successful tryout for the 1932 U.S. Olympic Team. “Soup” Campbell, who never walked on this campus but always ran, went to Los Angeles to cheer Walt on, as he competed in the grueling 3,000 meter steeple chase — a race that Walt had never run before. He came in third in an era when the Finns traditionally dominated the distance races. No other Hamilton man, either before or since, has competed in the Olympic Games. Walt, we salute you! (Addition: Actually, two members of the Class of ’32 competed in the Olympic games. Subsequent to the giving of this address, Mr. Stone discovered that C. Ingalls Fisher was a member of the U.S. Olympic pistol team in 1936 and held the world record of the Olympic rapid-fire course. Fisher, an Army captain, died in service during World War II. N. Morey Eames went with Coach Prettyman to New York City for the tryouts for the U.S. Olympic hockey team. He was a talented and promising goalie (as was his cousin Fran Baker a few years later), but Morey was struck in the eye by a stray puck and had to withdraw from the competition.)

As we entered this building today, we passed within easy sight of the Alexander Hamilton statue. When that statue was dedicated in 1918, Eluhu Root said, “… the lessons of a century and a quarter have shown that the people of the United States owe to him a greater debt for the creation of the American Republic than to any other man save Washington.”

Why was this? Alexander Hamilton’s great contribution to the country lay in getting the federal government to restore national credit and to assume the states’ debts after the Revolutionary War. Congress was reluctant to travel this route. Hamilton needed the support of his political opponent Thomas Jefferson, and this he achieved through adroit compromise: Jefferson finally agreed to support the Hamilton plan in return for Hamilton’s support of Jefferson’s dream — namely, to establish the national capital on the Potomac. Thus financial stability in the fledgling nation became a possibility; the national banks were established; the federal government set about paying off the war debts; and confidence was restored.

Daniel Webster paid high tribute to this enormous accomplishment in his eloquent style (“Swampy” would have approved!). Webster said, “The rock of credit has been tapped and a healing stream of gold has poured forth, subdividing into a million rivulets, spreading to the deepest roots of society.”

Webster, of course, was speaking in fiscal and material terms. But for us, as members of the Class of 1932, we could say that another sort of rock has been tapped — the rock of the “indefinable and mysterious quality” of Hamilton College, “transmitted to us from a remote past.” And indeed a healing stream of traditions and experiences and associations has poured forth in abundance, enriching our lives.

Yes, even after 50 years, we can say to our alma mater, “We still will be thy boys.”

Benjamin J. Stone, Class of 1932

Benjamin Johnson Stone was born in Washington, D.C. He came to Hamilton in 1928 where he played varsity baseball and basketball as well as class football, and was head cheerleader. He also sang first bass in the Choir and became associate editor of Hamilton Life. A member of Sigma Phi, he served on the Interfraternity and Upperclassman councils, and was elected to Quadrangle, DT, Was Los and Pentagon.

Following his graduation Phi Beta Kappa in 1932, Ben Stone joined the faculty at Governor Dummer, the nation’s oldest boarding school for boys, where he taught Latin and mathematics, chaired the math department and coached JV baseball, soccer and league basketball. His major interest outside of education was music, directing Governor Dummer’s choir and that of Ascension Memorial Church in Ipswich for 25 years. After his retirement as dean of the faculty in 1975, he conducted speech seminars, wrote a monthly column for the local newspaper and remained active with the Historical Society of Old Newbury, of which he was a past president.

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