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Half-Century Annalist Letters

The Magic That Will Never Die

Milton P. Kayle, Class of 1943

Delivered: June 5, 1993

Classmates of 1943, ladies and gentlemen:

I quote the 17th-century French philosopher Pascal, who wrote, "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose." To which I add: "Et ce-qui me donne le plus de poblemes en Francais, c'est la pronciation." Translation: "The more things change, the more they stay the same, and I could use a little help with my French pronounciation."

Some 50 years ago, on the evening of Jan. 13, 1943, I appeared on this platform along with Larry Spellman, Don Watkin and John Van Alstyne. We were participating in the 75th McKinney Prize debate. Upon its conclusion, I was judged the winner, at which point President William Harold Cowley came forward, shook my hand and said, "Congratulations, Milt, you were the best of four lousy speakers!" At the risk of disturbing the equanimity of Don Watkin, who is here this weekend, I chose to open my report with that pejorative review of our performances that night for a number of reasons.

First, to put things in proper perspective, have you ever wondered, as have I, how anyone can have the temerity, much less the hubris, to undertake the Herculean task of class annalist? My predecessor annalists complained that they had been "railroaded," "snookered" or "corralled" into taking on the task. In my case, it was the persuasive letter writing talent of our reunion president Bob Bankert, which convinced me that if I turned him down, I would be afraid to meet my Maker.

Moreover, in any evaluation of the years of the Class of 1943 at Hamilton, the effect of World War II is predominant. Ours was the first class that, thanks to the 1942 summer session, was offered the option to graduate after three-and-a-half years. So, with graduation ceremonies slated for some of us 18 days later, and with Uncle Sam waiting in the wings, you can understand our less-than-vigorous approach to our assignments that night.

Finally, President Cowley's blunt appraisal of our performances highlighted for me the nature of the role that he played during our time on the Hill. The story of his abbreviated tenure as Hamilton's 11th president is very much entwined in the life and times of the Class of 1943. Well over a year ago, I wrote to the 100 members of record of our class asking for their help in this task. Over a third either wrote me or called me long distance — in prime telephone time at that. For this I am truly thankful, and I regret my inability to include all of their comments in this report. In a burst of candor, some sent me stories that would rate inclusion in The National Enquirer. But have no regrets, dear classmates, your literary contributions were not in vain. They will repose in the College Archives, subject only to your written protest received within two weeks of this date. In the law, we call this an estoppel.

Speaking of the College Archives, I am pleased to join in what has become a rite of passage for class annalists in singing the praises of Frank Lorenz, the College publications editor, and his archival assistant Wally Wuensch. They not only give a helping hand to the class annalist, they hold his hand as well. As a matter of fact, thanks to the superb facilities of the archives, I found a copy of the letter Dr. Cowley sent me after the debate in which he explained that he believed one should "strike while the iron was hot" to make a lasting impression on students, and he criticized the absence of imagery in my arguments. So here I am, 50 years later, recounting that incident. Dr. Cowley did indeed make one hell of an impression on me, but don't expect too much imagery from me today.

On Sept. 18, 1939, 17 days after Hitler had invaded Poland, 158 men registered in the Class of 1943. To quote Hamilton Life, the campus weekly newspaper now resurrected as The Spectator: "One hundred and fifty were honest to goodness freshmen with verdant chapeaus on their noggins" [John McClennan, even in those days a man of distinguished bearing, recalls those "damned beanies."]; four freshmen [that is, held back for minor academic deficiencies]; and four were familiar faces who were readmitted after scholastic difficulties [that is, "flunked out"].

We were a pretty parochial bunch, all but 20 coming from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Chuck McLean, Duluth, Minn., won the honors for the greatest distance from home. In those days, Hamilton was identified to the uninitiated outside of the Mohawk Valley as "the college attended by Alexander Woollcott." This advice led to this exchange: "No, not Colgate University. That school is in Hamilton, New York; Hamilton College is in Clinton, New York." How ironic that Woollcott's ashes were delivered by mistake to Colgate University, then forwarded to his classmate, a grief-stricken "Bobo" Rudd.

While a number of our classmate returned to Hill after the war, and others, including such loyal Hamiltonians as Bill Barnes and Larry Lindemer pursued their diplomas in different venues, 44 of us participated in stripped down commencement ceremonies on Jan. 31, 1943, and on the following June 7, 34 more seniors graduated. As observed by Walter Pilkington in his 1962 definitive history of Hamilton's first 150 years, when we first set foot here in 1939 we were about to participate in a regime that would prove as tumultuous as any the College had known to that date. Under 40 years of age, Dr. Cowley came to Hamilton in May of 1938 with the avowed objective of making it the best college in America. At that time there had been no thorough revision of the curriculum since 1913, and the College was operating at a deficit of some $11,000 a year, a sizeable sum in those days.

Dr. Cowley was an advocate of "Holism," a philosophy which postulated that the social, physical and moral development of the student was of equal importance to his intellectual growth. These goals for men and women at the college level seem obvious today, but in the 1940s, Dr. Cowley's prescription was the subject of controversy both on the Hill and off. It is against this background that our years at Hamilton are played out. As recalled by Bill Archibald, Dean of the Faculty Frank Humphrey Ristine greeted us in our first meeting in this Chapel with these words: "Look at the man on your left and the one on your right. One of them will not be there when you graduate." That dire prediction was never put to the test of time, thanks to the intervention of World War II.

A new College publication, The Student Handbook, warned that "intoxication, the bringing of liquor to or receiving it on College premises, and the possession or sale of it there will be counted a serious offense against College discipline." This alcohol prescription was relaxed somewhat after our freshman year, which strengthens Ken Mackay's questionable claim that his participation in the operation of the first portable bar in the history of the College was strictly legitimate.

And, would you believe, as verified by Bill Rogers, we played with fire! The incendiary property of men's hair tonic, "Vitalis," a popular Bristol-Myers product, was the source of flames shot from the top floor of Carnegie dormitory into the stairwell, necessitating dousing with buckets of water thrown from the same top floor. In one case, three of the first-floor occupants were flooded out. Bill Schmidt admits to the payment of a $19 fine as a co-conspirator in one such enterprise. Given the alcoholic and the non-incendiary, but nonetheless damaging, escapades of the students today, as reported by The Spectator, " Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose."

Dave Mead reminded me that the new gymnasium awaiting us upon our arrival here led to our early introduction to fundraising for the College. Our class eventually pledged $5,000 toward the cost of furnishing the lockers in the gym, a gift commemorated by the posting of a plaque, which to this day I have yet to find. As Tom Adams observed, Wentworth Fling's plumbing and heating systems gave birth in our freshman year to Hamilton's radio station, WHC. Those call letters could be taken to stand for "Hamilton College" or "William H. Cowley" to his delight — take your pick.

We sang a lot in those days with the College Choir as popular then as it is today. Ed Fawcett and Mac Bristol recall the annual College-wide class song competition on the quadrangle with the nights at North dormitory when around midnight the shot of "Sing" reverberated through the building. Men of all faiths assembled to sing the hymns featured in Sunday chapel services and those stirring Hamilton songs with such lyrics as "Gather close ye boys and men" and "We come to bang our hammers on triumphant walls." It is to be regretted if the advent of coeducation at Hamilton has assured the demise of that musical treat — a small, but nonetheless bittersweet, cost of the introduction of women on the Hill.

The words of George Fetter express the feelings of many of us about the faculty we knew: "Without a doubt the most impressive aspect of Hamilton College was the quality of the faculty. They brought out the best in us, even when we didn't know it was there, and they were not under the 'publish or perish' doctrine characteristic of modern universities. Teaching came first." My correspondents remembered such outstanding teachers as Tom Johnston for his meaningful guidance in freshman English composition, "Digger" Graves for his brilliant expositions on European history and "Bobo" Rudd for his inspiring lectures in English literature.

Among the new faces making their appearance on the campus were Sid Bennett, in the role of the assistant to the president, to relieve the ubiquitous Wally Johnson of some of his administrative chores; Campbell Dickson, in the newly created office of Dean of Students, a lawyer, educator and of most recent fame, assistant coach of football under the legendary Fritz Crisler of the University of Michigan; Charles Knudson, a classmate of Dr. Crowley at Dartmouth, who headed the Romance Languages Department after the retirement in our sophomore year of the much-respected William Pierce Shepard; Tom LeDuc, immediately nicknamed "the Duke," replacing that irrepressible gentleman of the South, Milledge L. Bonham, who passed away in our junior year but will always be remembered for his omnipresent eye shade, colored notebooks and brightly decorated maps; the erudite economist, Michael Heilperin, who, as a former professor at the University of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, brought the realities of the outside world of political strife to our campus, and due to his sallow complexion, bushy eyebrows and black-rimmed glasses, was destined to be known as "Black Mike;" the impressive, bewhiskered Count Carlo Sforza, former minister of foreign affairs, in self-imposed exile from Mussolini's Italy, who briefly offered courses in political science; and Karl With, a refugee from Nazi oppression, whose art history classes made such a lasting impression on his students.

Among the favorite stories of our classmates, Don Nichols recalls the night when Professor Mattingly's horse, Polly, got loose and several of us received a phone call with the high-pitched voice of that refreshingly unpredictable teacher of Latin inquiring, "Is my horse on your lawn?" Bob Rosenblatt remembers being admonished by Otto Liedke for bringing to his class an unauthorized German "expert" to assist him in German 1-2. The expert? Bob's 9-year-old brother, Peter.

John Van Alystyne recounts the day in German class when Dr. Hauch, while reading a play by Schiller and pacing between the aisles, suddenly fell to the floor to the astonishment of the class, and then quickly got up — brandishing his book as if it were a sword. The class, three lines in the translation behind the good professor, had treated his sudden fall as a heart attack rather than his realistic dramatization of the play. John Calder evoked memories of my dear high school friend, Mende Shulman, who left his vale of tears much too early in his life. Mende, whose sense of humor enlivened us both in and out of class, became a member of the Class of 1944, despite my tutoring efforts as his roommate. After the war, Mende returned to the Hill with a more talented roommate, his wife, whose academic abilities validated his claim to a degree in 1947. A number of our classmates followed that course of marital return. One of them, Bill Spicer, pointed out the benefits of such an arrangement, that is: release from the immediate concerns that dominated our earlier campus life — the availability of beer and sex.

Speaking of marital unions, a number of our classmates, I among them, report their good fortune in finding their lifetime mates while at the College or immediately thereafter. The secret of such marital longevity, according to one pundit? Frequent separation and increasing loss of hearing.

Football played an important role in the well-rounded campus life Dr. Crowley was dedicated to give us. In our freshman year, the 7-6 victory over Rochester broke a nine-game losing streak that merited comment in the sports pages of The New York Times. That in turn led many of us to engage in the traditional marathon ringing of the Chapel bell that Saturday from mid-afternoon to midnight, much to the consternation of the native Clintonians whose police finally quelled this tolling of victory.

The big news in our junior year was the replacement of Coach Art Winters by Forrest Evashevski, the University of Michigan teammate of All-American Tom Harmon. Evasevski spent only two years at Hamilton on his way to the Big Ten, but his coaching, with Campbell Dickson taking over in the last months of 1942, led to respectable win/lose statistics in our last two years on the Hill. And who can forget the gridiron achievements of Milt Jannone, appropriately dubbed "Mercury Milt." Having never played football at Waterville High School because it had no team, Milt at one point in our junior year, as the highest scorer in the East, won national acclaim, including a feature story in The Saturday Evening Post touting his All-American potential. But, as a measure of a man, Milt wrote me that his moments of greatest pride came from the pending graduation of his granddaughter, Lisa Eaton, and the matriculation at the College this past year of Lisa's sister, Lori.

Debates on campus and off, as recalled by Herb Crumb, and our participation in the Model League of Nations that convened at various colleges, played important roles in our extracurricular activities. Along these lines, a number of our classmates recounted the sheer terror of freshman declamations, and others, like Dick Valone, remembered the hilarity of exchanges with the inimitable Professor "Swampy" Marsh. Quite a few observed that the mandatory preparation and delivery of extemporaneous speeches were valuable experiences bearing fruit in their subsequent careers. Alas, the lamentations of the alumni on the demise of the compulsory public speaking courses at the College fall on deaf ears within the present faculty.

Almost three quarters of our classmates joined fraternities at the end of our freshman year, thus exposing themselves to the legendary tortures of Hell Week. An alternative to such affiliation was available to our classmates by way of the Squires Club, which was established in 1938 due in good measure to the support of Dr. Cowley. It is worth noting that during the 1942 summer session we ate all of our meals at the Hall of Commons and lived in all three of the dormitories with fraternity membership not the deciding factor in such arrangements. As a result a unique campus-wide collegial atmosphere developed that, according to a number of my correspondents, proved to be a refreshing interlude in the social life on the Hill. I served as steward of the Hall of Commons that summer, and I belatedly express commiseration with my classmates in their complaints about the quality of the food. It was the end product of our chef, if I may use that term, whose names escapes me but who I do believe had been a cook on a Barge Canal tugboat. Incidentally, to my initial horror, I found a unique dishwashing and drying procedure in operation in our kitchen. It involved the artful rapid succession by Ted Searle, the pitcher at the washing machine, into the talented hands of the catchers, Vinnie Cardone and Ben Sherwood of the Class of 1944. As a tribute to the skills of these men, the chinaware damage that summer was minimal.

If you will bear with a personal observation, for many years after our graduation, I had what I chose to call a "tortured love affair" with this College. I was deeply grateful for the scholarships and job opportunities, without which I, like many of my classmates, would not have been able to attend college. However, Hamilton College in our day, as was the case on many campuses throughout the country, reflected the mores of society at large, which condoned ethnic and religious prejudice. Students of my Jewish faith and most others of minority backgrounds were not offered membership in fraternities, a practice that just did not square with the values one expected to find in an institution espousing the virtues of a democratic society. However, with the return of men from their war experiences and the redeeming changes in national attitudes over the years, that became a thing of the past, culminating in the introduction of full opportunity rushing to the campus in 1961. So my faith in Hamilton College has long since been restored, as reaffirmed by my epistolary effort today, which was endorsed by many of my classmates in comments to me for which I am most appreciative.

And now, 50 years later, the role of fraternities at Hamilton, compounded by the co-educational factor, is the subject of review by special committees of the Board of Trustees. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Time constraints limit my ability to recognize the many contributions and achievements of our classmates. However, I would call attention to the admirable role that Don Watkin, with his back-up "Boswell," Charlie Hammond, has played as our class historian over the years; the tennis prowess of Phil Goulding resulting in his captaincy of the tennis team in our junior year; the victories of Dave Mead in Hamilton's initial inter-collegiate swimming competitions and his appointment as the College's first director of alumni affairs in 1958; the academic heights achieved by Otto Plescia and John Van Alstyne that led to their conscription as mathematics instructors on the meteorology faculty; the thespian talents of Tom Adams and Bill Klump that enlivened the Charlatans' productions; and the journalistic contributions of Jim Metz, which helped to keep the weekly newspaper alive until our last year on the Hill.

Certainly Lyman Ogilby, taken from our midst in 1990, deserves a special place in our memories for his leadership in student government, his stellar performances in baseball, football and hockey, and for his outstanding career in the Episcopal clergy, leading to his election as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1974. With justified pride, the College granted him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1963.

Finally, any annalist would be remiss if he failed to call attention to the roles played in the well being of Hamilton College today by Mac Bristol and Hans Schambach. In talking about Mac Bristol, I run the risk of incurring his displeasure in light of his sincere objection to any public recognition of his many contributions to the College. Nevertheless, our class history should record that Mac shared the co-captaincy of the football team with Milt Jannone; chaired the Honor Court; was elected to the senior honorary society Pentagon; and, along with Dave Barber and me, survived four years of Latin. After service as a Marine officer and a career as a top executive at the Bristol Myers Company, Mac devoted the major portion of his time to Hamilton as chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1977 to 1990. During those years, in addition to achieving national recognition for its scholastic standards, the College prospered financially and physically, with annual giving increasing nine-fold and with the endowment growing from $38 million to over $124 million. A recipient of the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the College in 1990, Mac, a life trustee, continues serving Hamilton to this very day.

As observed by the College in 1988 in granting him the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Laws, Hans Schambach exemplifies the reality of the American Dream. That degree, incidentally, is the only one Hans received from Hamilton College. He left the Hill at the end of our sophomore year because we could no longer afford to continue his studies. At age 14, Hans came to the United States from Germany in 1935 to live with his aunt and uncle, cook and custodian of the Alpha Delt fraternity (in which he is today an honorary member), and still found time to star on the varsity soccer team. After leaving the College, Hans eventually embarked upon a successful business career. The College, in turn, has been the beneficiary of that success through Hans' endowment of a very substantial scholarship fund for students from Clinton and other nearby towns, and through his generous funding of the Hans Schambach Center for Music and the Performing Arts. The College still benefits from Hans' services as a life trustee.

In February 1941, President Cowley, with the unanimous support of the Board of Trustees and the enthusiastic endorsement of the student body, announced his decision to turn down the offer of the presidency of the University of Minnesota in an emotional meeting in this Chapel. How is it, then, that some three-and-a-half years later Dr. Cowley, convinced that he could no longer command the support of the Board of Trustees, and, in turn, the faculty, would resign his presidency?

During his regime, the annual Alumni Fund, now officially recognized as having its modern beginning in his administration, increased over 10-fold, and the Friends of Hamilton giving program was initiated. The alumni organization was restructured; entrance requirements were liberalized; the curriculum was revised for freshmen; student government was strengthened; and academic departments, particularly in the social sciences, were enhanced. Finally, in addition to his wartime membership on national commissions dealing with higher education, Dr. Cowley's successful pursuit of military contracts for the use of campus facilities during the war guaranteed the financial survival of the College.

In many respects the goals sought by Dr. Cowley are in place at Hamilton today. In his final analysis, he was both a victim of his impolitic method of operation in his haste to bring changes at the College, and, because of the demands on his time in off-campus pursuits, a casualty of the war.

The effect of the war was reflected in the sea change in the atmosphere on the Hill, from isolationism and neutrality in our freshman and sophomore years to an all-out effort once the gauntlet was thrown down by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. After our return to campus in September of 1941, Dr. Cowley's prediction that by the turn of the new year we would be fighting came true some three months later on that fateful Sunday of December 7. As for morale on the Hill, and in the country at large, Professor Graves pointed out that Pearl Harbor did more to unite the nation in 10 minutes than a propaganda flood could do in months during World War I.

From that point on, we gradually adapted to the demands of total mobilization. Navy and Army recruiters appeared on the campus. Physical conditioning became a matter of prime concern. Coach Prettyman introduced a backbreaking obstacle course that forewarned of the tortures of military basic training soon to be endured by many of us. Jim Summers recalls Coach Gelas' advice on man-to-man combat: "Reach down and back, grab and twist!" More than 1,800 sons of Hamilton served during the Second World War in the Armed Forces. Fifty did not return. Three members of our class were included in that number: Gerald F. Dale, Charles D.L. Harrison and Nelson E. Simmons. All three were killed in air battles over Europe. In 1948, as a tribute to those who fell in battle, the interior of this Chapel was reconstructed. On each of the 50 pews in which you are now sitting, there is a nameplate for each of those men who gave his life for this country. Tomorrow at the traditional remembrance service in this Chapel, their memory and the memory of the 35 other members of our class no longer with us will be honored.

In conjunction with the funding of the reconstruction, a booklet was prepared containing a photograph of each of the 50 men who were lost in the war. Twenty-five of them would be immediately recognized by each member of our class. The enormity of their sacrifice was brought home to me so vividly when I first looked at the familiar faces of these once-vibrant, talented men of Hamilton. Those of us whom the Fates have blessed with survival to this day have no excuse for failing to do all in our power, limited as it may be, to make this a world worthy of the price they paid. The changes in the world we have come to know since leaving this hill are mindboggling. And yet, despite the tremendous advances in science and technology that have revolutionized our standards of living and made us, willing or not, members of a global society, we can indeed question whether the world we know today is better than the one we knew 50 years ago.

However, if in past decades society at times seems to have lost its moral compass, it has ever been so. Shakespeare put it so well: "The fault, Dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves..." In the 1850s, Ralph Waldo Emerson lamented that "Things are in the saddle and ride mankind." In the 1960s, Walt Kelly's "Pogo" proclaimed that "We have met the enemy and he is us." And in 1991, James Collier of the Class of 1950, in his book titled The Rise of Selfishness in America, documented in meticulous detail the decline of moral standards from 1910 to 1970. Indeed, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. But as President Roosevelt's Secretary of War Henry Stimson observed, "The worst sin of all is cynicism." Micah's biblical prescription, which Adlai Stevenson was wont to quote, still offers a guide for all mankind — "To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." The teacher who inspires the doubting student, and the public servant motivated not by material return but by his desire to make a difference, still bring balance into the world. For every Spiro Agnew and Jim Wright who misuse the public trust, there is an Elihu Root and Sol Linowitz who bring honor to their efforts in the national interest.

In the final analysis, it is to schools like Hamilton College that we look with hope and renewed confidence to instill in their students the values that should lead to a more civilized society. As President Payne has stated, "The goal of this College is education toward the necessity and capacity for responsible choice in an open and democratic world." In reviewing our years at Hamilton and the events following our departure, one must conclude that the Fates have looked kindly upon this valiant college on a hill. First, the time was ripe for Dr. Cowley to arouse the College to the challenges of his day and to set the course for its survival during the war. Then there was the serendipity of the merging of Kirkland with Hamilton which brought a welcome distinctive perspective to the performing arts that would not have been the case had the College initially elected coeducational status on its own. That merger took place during the 13-year period when Hamilton's fortunes were enhanced by the competent team of Martin, Mac and Joe – President Martin Carovano, Board Chairman Mac Bristol and that dynamic Director of Development Joe Anderson.

Finally, there is quality of magic about this place that inspires the alumni, men and women, the students and their parents and grandparents, and friends of Hamilton, to dig deep in their jeans for annual giving and capital campaigns to keep Hamilton in the forefront of the liberal arts colleges in the nation. It is this magic that brings us back so often to this beautiful campus with memories revived of friendships that have sustained us through the years.

As a popular song so aptly puts it: "That magic is in our souls, my friends, and that magic will never die."