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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1902 Letter

Charles Kendall Gilbert

Delivered: June 1952

The task assigned to the Half-Century Annalist is not an easy one. You expect him to tell you what this College was like 50 years ago. My classmates who are here will agree with me, I am sure, that to go back over fifty years and picture this dear old place as we knew it when we were here — to make those good old days live again — is a difficult undertaking.

There are records, of course, which show the activities in which we were engaged and the curriculum with which we struggled. The names of the faculty who patiently tried to help us in that struggle are listed for us. Their names stand out in our memories with increasing respect and appreciation.

Like the classes before and after one of us had our pet designations for them — “Prexy” Stryker, of course, and Square Root and Old Greek and Little Greek and Snitzie Brandt and Bill Squires and Pretty Smythe and Bugs and Bib and Rocks and the others. Those titles implied no disrespect. But we can realize today that we were often problems to them, just as in our daily encounters with them as men of high character and strong personality as well as outstanding scholarship. The years have demonstrated the influence they had upon our lives.

And we remember, of course, the rather primitive conditions under which we lived — very different from what they are today. We carried our own water to our dormitory rooms and often, on cold mornings, we had to break the ice in our water pitchers when we washed our faces. We depended on stoves for our heat and carried our own coal and paid for it ourselves. There were no automobiles, of course, in those days, but we did have a livery stable down in Clinton where we could always hire a horse and buggy if we wanted to take our girlfriends out for a ride. And the O&W had very infrequent trains that got us to Utica and back, though we always had to walk the Hill.

We had our class rows, as I well remember, when as freshmen we found the sophs waiting for us as we came out from our first morning Chapel and there was considerable roughhousing as the upperclassmen looked on. We had our turn a year later when we mixed it up with the freshmen. These class rows were an established practice in those days. They contributed to our class allegiance, perhaps, and helped to keep us in our place. For the same reason, it was only the upperclassmen, as I recall, who were permitted to wear the college cap.

Then, every year, on Halloween there was a lot of deviltry which was usually an annoyance to the faculty and our College neighbors. We always found this damage on our term-bills. I remember one occasion when a group of underclassmen, after a night of arduous labor, got a cow up into a third story classroom in “Old South.” The much more difficult task of getting it down was left to the College authorities.

I vaguely recall that there was a place facing the Square down in Clinton where we used to sneak in for a bottle of beer once in a while, but I do not think there ever was any drinking on the Hill in our time. Cocktail parties were unknown in those far-back days. Our carnal indulgences were pretty much limited to the things we found in Madam Kelley’s store — an important institution in our days here on the Hill.

There are many other things that might be mentioned and tales that might be told that would show something of what College was like 50 years ago, but, after all, they are contributing factors in the creation of what we might call the atmosphere, the fellowship, the spirit that made this College what it was 50 years ago. And these are things that are not easily put into words. We only know that our four years here did something to us that left its mark upon our later careers. Perhaps it was because those days we had together here taught us how to live with people — the most important lesson any man can learn. I am sure that the men of 1902 will agree with me that out of our experiences here has come a loyalty to our College which has remained with us down through the years even though that loyalty may not have found the tangible expression it ought to have in those days of Hamilton’s urgent needs.

The Class of 1902 graduated thirty men. With the exception of the four or five who came from Brooklyn and Buffalo and Binghamton and Utica, all those men grew up in self-contained little country villages that had little to offer, these many years ago, in the way of cultural or social advantage. We all lived a rather crude and simple life. I say that because I came from a little country town. I knew little of the outside world. College was for all of us a very exciting experience. Life here was very different from anything we had known before.

And we soon found ourselves members of a big family. We did things together. We had many common interests. We all had our home in a fraternity house — the Emersonians lived in their own home. And in those houses, when we were freshmen and sophomores we were under the stern direct line of the juniors and seniors. Then as upperclassmen, we kept a hand on the latercomers. It was a wholesome relationship and it gave us something we needed.

Then again outside as well as within our classrooms we had many common interests. If men were not themselves engaged in athletic contests of some kind, they were on the sidelines rooting for the team. We had our dramatic club which put on its shows in nearby towns. We had a College glee club which did likewise. Then, too, as I recall Prexy Stryker frequently got us together on the Chapel steps and led us in singing all kinds of popular songs. And whether we liked it or not, if we didn’t have any cuts left, we always began the day in the College Chapel.

All this produced a family life — a college spirit — which left its mark upon that raw but responsive material which 1902 brought to this Hill. I think it was a life and a spirit which made Hamilton somewhat unique among the colleges of our day.

It is interesting to observe its effect upon the men of our Class as they left the Hill take up their dealings with life. I know something of the careers of those men. Their names are not in Who’s Who. We didn’t have many men like Clark Minor who, as we know, as won great distinction in the industrial world and among his great leaders of this day. And we think of him, too, as a man whose appreciation of his College has made him one of its most generous and active benefactors.

But 1902 has not produced many great men as that term is commonly understood.

I am reminded of a tale that was recently told me by a good friend in New York, who is one of our most prominent lawyers. He was asked to speak at an annual meeting of the Ohio State Bar Association and his address produced quite an ovation. When he sat down the presiding officer referred to him as one of the great men of our country and on the way back to their hotel in a taxi they were talking about the dinner and the president’s reference to him as one of the nation’s great men. He asked his wife how many really great men she thought were in this country and she replied “There is one less than you think.” Perhaps we all ought to have wives like that.

It is not easy, of course, to appraise the real value of human achievements. It is hard to measure the contribution a man makes to the community in which he lives or the influence of his life upon his fellow men. But to me it is impressive to note the careers of these men from little country towns who serve with us here in 1902. Wherever they have gone, whatever their profession, they have won the respect of all who knew them. However obscure or inconspicuous their position they have done much to enrich the world in which they live…and I know that they would be the first to recognize that it was due to what Hamilton did for them.

I might cite the case of Art Naylor as an example of what I mean, the secretary of our Class who departed this life last November. He was a man when we all loved and admired as he was looked upon as one of the leaders of our Class. He came to us from a little place upstate called Pulaski that few of us had ever heard of. When he left the Hill he did not become what the world would regard as a man of prominence. But some years ago he was made the Superintendent of Schools in a fairly large and important community to which I made frequent official visits. I knew its people, and I came to know their high respect for the Superintendent of Schools. I was enabled to know something of the influence he had upon that whole area in which he served for many years, and the deep regret everybody felt when he retired. And we know that to the end he proved himself a loyal and grateful son of Hamilton.

We have others like him whose names I might mention, but I don’t want to embarrass them. Men who came from simple homes in little country villages who have gone down from this Hill with something that has made them highly respected and very useful factors in the communities in which they lived and worked.

As I recall the rather rough material that composed our Class of 1902, the places from which we came and our attitude toward the world in which we were living fifty years ago I am reminded that when Samuel Kirkland put his place hereabout might learn something about life ad prepare themselves to share in the life of the new republic that was taking shape. As we observe its working over the years we can rejoice in the fact that has been its continuing function. And I might add that, as in 1902, so today there are Indians who need to be tamed and equipped to share in and protect and promote that kind of citizenship that will enable our nation to measure up to the ideals which our forefathers committed to it.

I have always remembered the Baccalaureate Ssermon that Dr. Stryker presented at our Commencement. He took his text the words of the Prophet Hosea: “Ephraim is a cake not turned”; and he gave us a very forthright and vigorous talk about half-baked men. There are plenty of such today as there were back in 1902. And it is good to know that Hamilton is doing something about it as it did in the days when we were here on this Hill.

We can rejoice in the fact that the atmosphere and spirit which meant so much to us in our college days still prevails. But we need to recognize that like all our colleges and universities, Hamilton today is facing some anxious and critical problems that arise from the changing conditions of our time. And we know that there are financial needs which challenge our loyalty today. In appreciation of all that this place has done for us, we must share in meeting those needs.

Then, too, we know that there are academic standards, which must be maintained. We can rejoice in the fact that Hamilton held its own even in our far-back days against those institutions that were becoming unduly modernistic in their educational policy. And we are confident that it will do so today. As in our time so today its essential function is still to prepare men for their dealings with life. That, as I see it, is the real test of the curriculum now as it was fifty years ago.

I trust that I am not out of order in speaking as I have. I realize that I have departed from the conventional form which the Half-Century Annalist is supposed to follow. This certainly is not the learned dissertation such as you have had on these occasions in previous years. But thinking back to my days here on the Hill and remembering all that this College meant to me as 50 years ago one naturally becomes somewhat emotional and sentimental.

Certainly as 1902 looks back to the good old days the College provided for them, we rejoice in what is going on here today — to find that the same old atmosphere and College spirit still prevails. And we cannot but feel that Hamilton is extremely fortunate today in its wise and understanding President, as it was in our days, and in the kind of men that are serving on its Faculty — and not least of all, in the improvements in its physical equipment that have come since we were here. Mindful of what this College was like fifty years ago and of all it did for us, we cannot but be deeply concerned with these things and the endeavor that is being made to carry on in the good old ways.

The conditions of the world in which we are now living and the anxious problems which tomorrow presents show us the desperate need that all this College has done and is doing to equip men for their dealings with life.

I would like to close with a quotation from a hymn which Prexy Stryker wrote for a hymnal he got out for use in the College Chapel of our day—a copy of which I snitched when I left the Hill and which I still keep:

With all the sons who loved these walls,
The living and the dead
We sing our happy College halls
And days too quickly sped.

Let generous hope and high behests
These brightening ways adorn.
Our Mother’s ancient honor rests
On children yet unborn.