How Sweet It Was

Paul S. Langa, Class of 1948

Delivered: June 6, 1998

President Tobin, members of the Class of 1948, friends of Hamilton:

During my undergraduate years at Hamilton, and later in the business world, I experienced many opportunities to make presentations before a variety of listeners. The spectrum of subjects covered could be characterized as falling comfortably between the ridiculous and the sublime. However, I never expected to enjoy the unique privilege of standing behind this rostrum, with the honor of presenting the half-century annalist’s letter. Well, today that opportunity presents itself, and I intend to take full advantage of it. As a captive audience you have subjected yourselves to remain until I am finished. Nevertheless, I ask only that you restrain any impulse to applauds, cheer, or catcall until the end of this offering.

World War II — sometimes referred to as “The Big One” — had a significant impact on the so-called Class of ’48. Specifically, of the 113 diploma recipients in June 1948, only some 50 entered Hamilton in 1944. The remainder were those with initial class designations of 1942 to 1947, transferees from other colleges, students bringing with them military college credits and a few, through acceleration, who graduated in less than four years. I, for example, entered in the fall of 1944, went into the military, returned in the fall of 1946, completed my requirements in January 1950, received my diploma in June 1950 and yet wished to be considered part of my original Class of 1948. Often the 1940s are referred to as the “Crazy Mixed-Up Years.” Mixed up, assuredly, but questionably crazy. Sort of reminds one of the Abbott and Costello skit, “Who’s on First?”

A portion of this letter involves statistics, and, since statistics are frequently boring, I think it best to expose them to you early on, while you are still awake.

The Class of ’48 was surveyed, and the following represents the data provided by the 35 respondents. With the exception of one, who remains widowed, all are married and a few for the second or even the third time. They, naturally with some assistance from their wives, produced 132 children, or an average of 3.77 per family. The winner in this category is Bob Brewer, having 11 offspring, with Al DeLucia and Bill Kellerhals tied for second, each with seven. There was little or no contest concerning grandchildren, since Bob Brewer boasts a total of 18.

Eighty-three percent, or 29 or the 35 respondents, served in the military in World War II, with an average service period of 2.69 years. Several served again in the Korean conflict, such as Leslie Shaw, who chalked up six years of dedicated patriotism between both engagements. The service branch distribution is Army 15, Navy 6, Air Force 1, Marines 1, and Coast Guard 1. Special mention should be made of Lasse Dyrdal, who was with the Norway Resistance Movement for two years, and Lee Trachtman, who suffered the indignities of a German prisoner of war camp for four months in 1945. Our most decorated classmate is John Ellery, the recipient of the French Croix de Guerre, the New York State Conspicuous Service Award, the U.S. Patriotic Civilian Service Award, a Presidential Citation, a Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters and a Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters. It is safe to say that no matter where the enemy struck, it was to face the wrath of a Hamilton man.

Although we celebrate our 50th anniversary this year, it should be noted that the majority of our class first set foot on this beautiful and magnificent campus 54 or more years ago. Because of the devastating effect that World War II had on the fraternity systems in most small men’s colleges, there was not one active fraternity on the Hill in 1944. As a result, all 50-some-odd of the civilian student population were housed in South Dorm. The accommodations were magnificent and spacious. In most cases, two students were assigned to a suite of three rooms, each with his own sleeping quarters and sharing a large study and lounging area — with an active fireplace. HOW SWEET IT WAS!

Some military units still remained on campus, but we were separated from them and hardly knew they existed. There was little or no need for the operation of Commons, and the administration leased the Alpha Delt house, which served as our eatery and meeting place. Yes, there was a dress code. Shirt, tie and jacket were required at dinner, and this elegant custom continued throughout the fraternity system once it was reactivated in 1946. What was visible above the table was considered important and representative of a “gentleman.” The invisible below the table was viewed as insignificant and left to one’s own imagination. Since many returning veterans were married, and predictably more would respond to such an invitation during their undergraduate years, “G.I. Village” was established in 1946. It was located between the Delta Upsilon and Alpha Delta Phi houses and had 50 apartments in 13 buildings. In addition, 22 married veterans were living in Carnegie at the time. How prolific these couples were is not a matter of record, but we do know that they provided plenty of opportunity to make some money “babysitting.”

It might be of some interest to know that in 1946, 12 fraternities reactivated and that 77 percent of the student body belonged to them. Freshmen were required to wear “beanies.” Those are the little skullcaps that make one look rather silly. The only things missing were the big Mouseketeer ears and a rotating propeller on top. However, they did provide a way for distinguishing a “freshman” — people who thought they knew everything but didn’t — from upperclassmen-people who knew they knew nothing and realized they were at Hamilton to learn. Fraternity life was a major contributory to the campus culture in the ’40s, and, to a few, it is an understandable shame that some scheme could not be devised in order for them to exist in today’s environment.

Transportation was at a premium. Although the automobile had long since been invented, its presence on campus was almost nonexistent. Although College rules, which prohibited cars to be on campus, except those owned by upperclassmen or students with physical disabilities, were a deterrent, the primary preventative was that we just plain couldn’t afford them. Walking was the prevalent mode of transportation. That is when you keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get somewhere. Somewhere, other than around the Hill, meant Clinton, a thriving community in the ’40s with a population of about 1,800 and two establishments that could conceivably be identified as restaurants. The Alexander Hamilton Inn was one of them and where a good representative group of faculty and students could be found on Friday nights. Our gatherings can best be defined as mildly controlled bashes since Saturday classes were, in most cases, just a few hours away.

Two vehicle incidences come to mind which I will share with you, both involving Lambda Chi, which was then located off campus and at the foot of the Hill. Bud Sherman owned a Model A Ford and set a record one winter morning by transporting, in one trip, 12 fraternity brothers up the unplowed Hill and to their classes. And “Red” — last name omitted for good reason — had a surplus World War II Jeep, which he decided to field test one spring day. He invaded the College golf course and brake-tested his Jeep on several greens. The damage was indescribable and repairs costly, but “Red” was satisfied that his brakes were in proper operating order.

For all intents and purposes, there were only two major political parties represented on campus, Republican and Republican. Any Democrat with good sense would only admit to being a citizen, and hopefully, in good standing. The unquestionable leader of the Republican delegation was Professor Patton, who in his inhibited manner was able to blend economic and conservative political theories most convincingly. I am certain that he was singularly responsible for a number of “party” converts.

The Hamilton environment in the mid-1940s was peaceful yet exuberant and exciting. Many changes were made in the executive branch of the administration. We enjoyed and substantially benefitted from the outstanding leadership of three presidents, namely Thomas Rudd, David Worcester and Robert McEwen. The positions of dean of the faculty and dean of the College were combined and John Blyth was appointed acting dean. He was subsequently replaced by the ever-respected and remembered Dean Winton Tolles. The stalwarts of “higher echelon” were Wallace Johnson and Sidney Bennett, who maintained their respective positions, secretary of the College and secretary of admission, throughout the period.

Existence on the Hill at that time was like living in the eye of a hurricane. Calm, quiet and somewhat relaxing, yet surrounded by a whirlwind of history, knowledge, unyielding standards and a dedication to excellence in the teaching of the liberal arts. The ground rules were fair but firm. All well-appreciated the demands of the playing field. The College expected a great deal from us and we expected a great deal from it! There is no doubt in the mind or memory of anyone of the Class of ’48 that Hamilton not only met, but surpassed our expectations. We would like to believe that we at least satisfied our half of the bargain.

We were given benefit of an academic flavor that left nothing to be desired. The honor system provided us with two messages. One, we were accepted as adults, and two, we were expected to act like adults. It worked! Small classes were not the exception but the rule. The civilian student-to-faculty ratio was 5:1 and 8:1 in 1946. Because of the small class size, it was not uncommon for a professor to waive a final examination since he knew what each student learned or didn’t learn in a semester. Why offer anyone the opportunity to “goof off” for six months and then “cram” for a final examination, and pass?

Regardless of one’s goal, all students were required, as a condition for graduation, to take four years of public speaking and to pass a proficiency examination in foreign language. These requirements may not have sat well with some of us during our undergraduate years but were appreciated in later years. They were a vital component to a well-rounded liberal arts education. Strong consideration could be given to their reinstatement, HOW SWEET IT WAS!

Houseparties and occasional trips to Utica served as necessary diversions from academia. A venture to Utica took planning and sheer guts. With the shortage of cars, the only remaining means of transportation was the “Utica Bus.” It only came as far as the Clinton Square and the last one leaving Utica was at 11 or 11:30 at night. Accordingly, in order to consider a Utica adventure you had to prepare for two rather long walks, and pack an overnight bag just in case you missed the last bus headed home. Houseparties were a different story. When one ended, anticipation and preparation for the next began. There were three each year, and dates began to arrive on Friday. They lasted throughout the weekend, and the female companion was so cherished that sleep was out of the question. Faculty members and their spouses were always guests, and their presence added an aura of dignity and charm. Many acted as chaperones, and the dates probably thought that they were there to protect them. Not true. I think they were there to protect their “boys.”

The physical and economic character of the College then was quite different from today. There was no Dunham Hall, Scott Field House, Bristol Campus Center, Bristol Swimming Pool, Burke Library, Beinecke Center or Schambach Center on the old campus. Nor was the Saunders House, the Rogers Estate or any of the fraternity houses used as student dormitories. In 1944, the total for tuition and room and board was $900 per year as compared to $29,450 for next year. The College budget in 1997 was $70 million with an endowment of nearly $300 million, as compared to $4 million in 1944. Hamilton has grown tremendously over the past 50 years. In comparison, we were small, very small, back then. But, HOW SWEET IT WAS!

Athletics during the war years were limited to intramural competition since the small number of civilian students prohibited the fielding of varsity teams. In 1946, with the war over, the reinstitution of the fraternity system and the student body back to its prewar level of 450+, sports again became an important factor in campus life. Varsity teams were established in football, basketball, hockey, baseball, track, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, tennis and golf. Over the spectrum of varsity competition our opponents included such colleges and universities as Princeton, West Point, Cornell, Williams, R.P.I., Middlebury, Lehigh, St. Lawrence, Fordham, Rochester, Haverford, Hobart, Colgate and our archrival, Union. Our win-loss record may not have been outstanding, but no loss was ever the result of the lack of ambition, spirit and the unrelenting desire to honorably represent Hamilton on the field of battle. Most of you are familiar with the Vince Lombardi quote, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Well, he may be responsible for the chosen words, but we practiced it in varsity and intramural competition where combat skills, learned in the military, were put to good use. Professional baseball talks of the famous double play trio Tinker to Evers to Chance. In our case, it is ice hockey, and we talk of Burns to Burns to Burns to Burns. Approximately 42 percent of our class participated in varsity sports and we, today, have the scars and pains to prove it. Interfraternity competition in football, softball, basketball and hockey was fierce and often observed by a large number of students and faculty.

The Class of ’48 was indeed a scholarly one. Eighty-three percent went on to graduate school in pursuit of their ultimate goals. The results of their efforts are impressive and worthy of recognition. They amassed 10 M.A.s, seven J.D.s and LL.B.s, four M.D.s, two Ph.D.s, two M.B.A.s, one M.S., one D.D.S. and one advanced degree in theology. Others did engage themselves in graduate studies, but identify their accomplishments as “incomplete.” I will spare mention of their names, but admittedly, yours truly was one of them! Interestingly, our class proudly announces that 32 of our relatives have enjoyed exposure to a Hamilton education, and I am confident that their advanced degree record is equally impressive.

The success of a learning institution is not necessarily measured by its fiscal prowess, but by accomplishments of its products. Our class can brag, modestly of course, not only of its accomplishments while students, but also for the contributions it made to society since graduation. Approximately one third of those who responded to our survey received honor recognition as undergraduates, Six Phi Beta Kappas, two Was Los, two Pentagons, one DT, one Pi Delta Epsilon, one Hawley Latin prize and one Soper economics prize.

Also among us were fraternity presidents, editors of several campus publications, WHC radio broadcasters, presidents and/or directors of various clubs and student activities, and representatives on the Honor Court, Interfraternity Council and Student Council. We carried this level of performance and involvement into all aspects of society, including Hamilton affairs, and many continue to do so in retirement. All of us are certain that our successes are a direct result of our exposure to the faculty of this classic institution of higher learning.

In corresponding with me, the Class of 1948 made specific mention of those professors whom they felt had a significant impact on their lives. I, therefore, feel obligated to bring to your attention Doctors Liedke, McKinney, Graves, With, Rudd, Johnston, Nesbitt, Marsh, Bowie, Dale, Hess, Count, Ristine, Mattingly, Shute, Patterson, Lenczowski, Wickwar, Patton, McLaren and Ellis. The accolades cast upon these supreme educators were many, and each enjoyed some, if not all, of these attributes:

  • Possessed a natural sense of humor
  • Was a brilliant and superb scholar and an excellent teacher who was inspiring, patient, sympathetic and understanding
  • Demonstrated a sincere interest in students and had the ability to get them to excel
  • Was forceful and a perfectionist
  • Was able to make a difficult subject clear and fun
  • And, played a strong roll in developing a student’s communication skills

Thad Clark has fond memories of Professor Bowie. He is convinced that the good doctor hated teaching French but loved the theatre. Don Gardner relates that he signed up for what he thought was a “gut” course when he took one of Rev. Count’s anthropology classes. He confesses that he never worked harder or learned more. So much for trying to find a “gut” course at Hamilton! Dr. Mattingly not only found a student in Robert Gross, but also a good friend. Bob suggests that Professor Mattingly knew more about politics than Roosevelt; more about military strategy than MacArthur; and certainly more about Latin than he. Also, that his eccentricities were such that at times, in comparison, Bob appeared normal.

Socializing with the administrative and teaching staffs and their families is affectionately remembered. In the office and/or classroom they maintained a level of authority deserving of their positions. Once outside such elements of control they were just “one of us.” We enjoyed their humor and their ability to bend the elbow and keep up with the best we had to offer. Yet they were able to instruct or control the next morning’s class or meeting as though nothing ever happened. HOW SWEET IT WAS!

Many of us would like to share our memorable academic experiences with you. However, since time is of the essence I will restrict myself to a shade more than a few. Ellis Tarsches was scared by his first written examination with Professor Nesbitt and was introduced to the fact that the “C” was a gentleman’s grade at Hamilton. Interestingly, most registered “graduating” as their greatest achievement in four years! Not only was this true in Richard Puglisi’s case but he was made particularly happy by having his grandmother in attendance.

A minimum of two majors was another requisite for graduation. Alexander Lankler majored in political science, psychology and French. He explains that the sole reason he ended up with a major in French was because he just couldn’t pass the “damn” French proficiency. It is reasonable to conclude that most language majors suffered the same problem.

Dr. Charles Leonhardt enjoys telling about how he played a major roll in blowing up the organic chemistry laboratory. I am uncertain as to what field of medicine he later practiced, but it is a fair bet that it wasn’t research!

Torrey Dodson was elated, but surprised, when he received an “A” in biology. To this day he cannot remember, or explain, how he passed the French proficiency examination.

Alexander Zinn had the distinct privilege of tolling of the Chapel bell on VE-Day. It was a great day for Al, Hamilton and those of us still sweating it out in uniform.

Lee Trachtman recalls being one of five students in an “Old English” class which was regularly held in Dr. Ristine’s office. They were thrilled when he told them that they were the best class he ever had in “Old English.” Although I am not certain, I am reasonably sure that Professor Ristine said something identical, or at least similar, to one of my classes.

For the most part our presence on the Hill was targeted toward a rather serious objective: namely, to receive the best possible liberal arts education available and concurrently prepare ourselves for the trials and tribulations of the outside world. This, however, did not in any way negate the existence of humor in our daily lives. In many cases those experiences are the more vivid to our waning memories, and some are worthy of mention before they are forgotten.

Ellis Tarsches, with some of his friends, found distorted pleasure in taking advantage of innocent freshmen. They would wake them at five o’clock in the morning ostensibly to assure that they would not be late for their first class. Or they would take them to Utica for what Tarsches recalls as, quote, social activities, close quote.

There was the occasion when a student asked Professor Marsh what the difference was between pick and choose. Without hesitation, Swampy responded: “You choose up sides in a ball game and you pick your nose.” In another of Marsh’s public speaking classes, which was held in the Chapel, a student advised the audience that the subject of his presentation was “Getting Attention.” Being rather creative, he then proceeded to drop his pants.

Robert Gross and others found it amusing, if not downright funny, to watch Dr. Mattingly clean his horse with a vacuum cleaner.

One of us was locked out of his room by his roommate. Not to be denied access to his second-story abode, he stepped out on to the ledge and was wiggling toward an open window when he slipped and fell. Observers of the incident carried his unconscious body to the infirmary where, after a complete examination, nurse Schimmel diagnosed him as “suicidal.”

Richard Puglisi was responsible for a rather unorthodox burial when he put a dead bird in the bottom drawer of Fred Johnson’s desk. The act would not have been discovered had it not been for the “fowl” smell some two weeks later.

Bertram Portin and friends decided one day to make Alexander Zinn the recipient of their distorted sense of humor by building a snowman in his clothes closet. Hard to believe, but both Bert and Al went on to become doctors.

Fred Kuhner, once band president, decided in 1947 that something had to be done in order to put a little excitement into the staid campus existence. Without the knowledge or acceptance of the College administration, he, on his very own, hired the services of a young lady from Utica to perform as a “majorette” for the band; there is little doubt as to why the football stadium was sold out from then on.

Torrey Dodson, Jr., and Dick Carmer were roommates. They were about the same size so swapping clothing was not a problem. Torrey had one plaid suit and Dick was the proud owner of one pair of pants and one sports jacket. Through the clever application of switch and mix, they were known as the best-dressed men on campus.

Little did we know at the time that amongst us was a celebrity — Peter Falk. Many remember him as the campus comic who found personal satisfaction in being different and capable of the unpredictable. I, personally, have a clear recollection of him strutting about wearing what appeared to be a dark blue camel’s hair topcoat. That, in and of itself, may not seem strange, but I’m talking about late spring and early fall when the temperatures were in the early 80s. I wonder whether this current raincoat is just the lining of his old topcoat?

Linguistics was Lasse Dyrdal’s nemesis. He once asked a girl to go to the movies with him. She responded that she would be happy to take a “raincheck.” Since English was Lasse’s second language, she had to go on and explain to him what that meant. On another occasion Lasse was invited to an International Relations Club dinner at the Alexander Hamilton Inn. He was told that it was “Dutch Treat.” Lasse looked forward to some good Dutch food, only to find out that his budget was ruined for two months.

Much has been presented concerning the Class of 1948, but it would be incomplete without the mention of those who are no longer with us and have passed on to a better world. I ask for a moment of silence for William Allen, Jeffrey Aronin, Donald Birkby, Dwight Carter, Jr., Bradley Coates, Sidney Corbett, Gordon Coupe, Charles Crampton, Henry Formon, Jr., Leon Herndon, Robert Hill, John Kells, George Kopf, Jr., Benjamin Lake, Kenneth Moore, Peter Ostroff, Charles Pollard, Harland Taylor, Nathan Turkheimer, George Waldo and Arthur Westervelt. I am sure that these fine men share this morning with us, not physically, but certainly in spirit.

Now, good friends, I am pleased to advise that you no longer are to be exposed to our rambling remembrances. However, our class would like to close with a song that I have written for this occasion. As a Hamilton graduate, a trained expert in delegation, I now ask Fred Kuhner to assemble the group and direct us in our rendition of “Hamilton!” — HOW SWEET IT WAS!

Hamilton by Paul Langa

It isn’t very often that we get the chance to say
That we love our alma mater in a very special way.
No! It isn’t very often that we get this chance to say
That we love our alma mater in a very special way.

Hamilton, we miss you dearly, Hamilton, we proudly shout
You’re our cherished alma mater, of which there is no doubt.
Hamilton, our hearts are with you, Hamilton, your sons sing laud.
You took and made us into men, for which we’re very proud.

Hamilton, your mark is on us, Hamilton, we owe you much.
We’re products of your warm embrace and victims of your touch.
Hamilton, we are behind you, Hamilton, we’re at your side.
We, your sons, will never leave you, and so we sing with pride.

It isn’t very often that we get the chance to say
That we love our alma mater in a very special way.
No! It isn’t very often that we get this chance to say
That we love our alma mater in a very special way.


Paul S. Langa, Class of 1948

Paul Langa returned to College Hill in 1946, after a stint in the U.S. Navy, and was present on campus throughout the early post-World War II years. Following graduation in 1950, he began work in the corporate world as a personnel manager. He remained in the private sector for 22 years, becoming vice president of personnel and labor relations for Walter Kidde & Co. and Manpower, Inc. Most of his time and effort during those years was devoted to arbitration cases and contract negotiations.

In 1972, when the 600,000 employees of the U.S. Postal Service gained collective bargaining rights, Paul Langa was recruited by the Postal Service to assist it in effecting a smooth transition from a non-union to a union operation. He spent 20 years with the Postal Service, serving as manager of the arbitration division in the Eastern region and later as field director for human resources. He retired in 1992.

Over the years, he drew upon his speech training at Hamilton as a guest speaker at labor relations seminars conducted by the American Management Association and in making presentations at the Columbia Graduate School of Business Administration.

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