Delivered: June 3, 1995
Fellow classmates, alumni, and friends of Hamilton:
Greetings and welcome to History 45 — a short course in life at a small liberal arts college for men in Upstate New York during the 1940s.
We will begin this session with a quiz. The format will resemble the popular television show Jeopardy. The category for the first round is American Colleges. (For answers, see footnotes at the end of this letter.)
Of course, the correct response or each of the above is, "What is Hamilton College?"
The category for the second round is College Classes of the Mid-20th Century.
Those of you here today who are "chronologically privileged" (that is, over 69) can easily name the Hamilton Class of 1945.
Those of you who are younger can easily guess the correct class, because you are here today to listen to one old grad wax nostalgic about Hamilton of 50 years ago through the traditional reading of the half-century annalist letter.
Oh, by the way — the "Final Jeopardy" question is, "Which one of those 130 youngsters, after 54 years, would be required to repeat Public Speaking 1?"
You are now looking at him!
If you want to know just how that situation came to pass, I suggest you ask Gil Adams, our reunion chairman.
As for me, I accept this challenge and consider it an honor to have been asked (that is, railroaded) to be class annalist.
I want to thank the many classmates who sent me letters with material for this discourse. I also want to thank Frank Lorenz, the College archivist, and his staff for their collective assistance to me in research and preparation for this documentary.
On the annual occasions of class reunions, we usually celebrate the anniversaries of those years when classes graduated from college. But, if we were to define the Class of 1945 as only those who received their diploma at the 135th Commencement in June 1945, we would include only eight people.
So, we go back to September 1941 and count those who matriculated as freshmen — there were 130, and add eight who transferred in a year later, which gives us a total of 138 members in the Class of 1945.
I remember Wally Johnson greeting us at freshman orientation as "alumni," and saying that once you have matriculated at Hamilton you are regarded as an alumnus. Later I realized what this really meant when I received repeated requests to participate in the annual fund drives.
Just who were those members of the Class of '45? We were young, eager, intelligent but unsophisticated. As Stan Hubbard put it, we were possessed with "the blithe confidence that we would show 'em."
Geographically, most of us (about 85 percent) came from New York and adjacent states. They were: 111 from the Northeast; 13 from the Midwest; one from California, and four from outside the continental U.S. The latter four included two from Europe who had only recently taken up residence in the U.S. (Peter Burnett from Germany and Mark Field from Switzerland), Fred Lam from Hawaii (not then a state) and Al Montes from Mexico City.
Scholastically, the class was considered a "superior" group. There were 19 (about 15 percent) who were either valedictorian or salutatorian of his class in secondary school; and virtually everyone had participated and achieved leadership positions in one or more extracurricular activities, including athletics, music groups, school newspaper or student government. In short, talent was evident in generous amounts.
In his speech at the opening of the College, President Cowley said, "Unless I'm very much mistaken, the Class of 1945 will make an even better record than the Class of 1944, which achieved the highest record made by any freshman class for many years. At the first orientation meeting at the Chapel, President Cowley announced that each freshman would be asked to come up to the podium, give his name, hometown, name of secondary school and tell three facts about himself. And forthwith, he called the first man.
Talk about learning in a hurry that Hamilton stressed public speaking! There was a lot of nervous stammer and shaking knees, but as Hi Green recalls, Herb Patterson broke the ice with his deadpan humor. When Herb's turn came, he said, "I'm from Johnstown, New York, only 60 miles from here, and I came by bus. I'd have been here a lot sooner but that Greyhound had to stop at every other telephone pole."
It took three sessions to get through the entire class, but eventually every freshman got the chance to see and hear every other freshman. We learned a lot about each other, including career goals, favorite sports, hobbies and tastes in music and girls. Also, we gained a sense of class unity and esprit de corps that led to success in two subsequent events.
First — not only did the highly motivated and organized freshmen defeat the sophomores in the flag rush — but they also won the relay race, the tug-of-war and two out of three wrestling matches.
Capturing the flag was accomplished by clever tactics rather than brute force. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the flag rush, picture this: a small red pennant suspended 12 feet above the ground by a rope strung between two trees in front of South dorm, with 100-plus sophomores standing shoulder to shoulder under it. When the referee gives the signal, 100-plus freshmen charge out of the Chapel and rush to capture the flag. Usually, there is a massive free-for-all under the flag for three minutes.
But this time, while Flip Manusche led the charging frosh against the front wall of sophomores, Ed Flynn was quietly boosted up at the outer perimeter to pull down the rope supporting the flag. One of the freshmen (I don't know who, exactly) got the flag; the sophs shouted "foul" but the judges, Wally Johnson and Art Evans, ruled that our technique was perfectly legal and awarded us the victory.
When it came to the wrestling matches, a very special talent within our class came brilliantly to the fore. We had learned at our chapel meetings that Bob Russell was a champion wrestler. We also knew that he was blind. Bob's pinning of Fred Griffith in the heavyweight match was just the beginning of our admiration for this most versatile student, athlete, bridge-player, hitchhiker and future English professor and author.
The second event was the production of Hamilton's first freshman variety show. The obvious choice for chairman and master of ceremonies was Herb Patterson, and within just three weeks a two-hour program was staged in Commons, thanks to a lot of help from Ed Guillion, newly appointed public speaking instructor; Mrs. Nesbitt, wife of George L. Nesbitt '24, professor of English; and Mrs. Patterson, wife of Boyd C. Patterson, professor of mathematics. Gordon Marx organized the "Swingaroos" band, Elton Francis wrote and directed a "mellow-drama" titled "Corn in Iowa," and Mark Field directed a chorus line of 1945 Rockettes (apparently attired in scanty female garb). Individual acts of musical and other assorted talents filled the bill, with Lee Bristol bringing down the house with his impersonation of Beatrice Lillie singing "I'm a Campfire Girl."
The publicity gained from having our pictures in the Continental and from the variety show tended to puff us up a little too much. In spite of our early successes, and being dubbed the "Wonder Class" by Cowley (or was it Dave Beetle in the College publicity bureau?), we were rank amateurs, woefully inept in the basic skills of academic pursuits. The "wonder" was, "Could we hack it?"
The sophomores, refusing to be cowed by their defeat at the games, were bent on enforcing the roles that all freshmen must follow:
First: Always be the first to greet upperclassmen and faculty when meeting on campus. (Really a good practice.)
Second: Never walk on the grass. (Remember those red shale paths?)
Third: Always wear your "beanie."
This is an authentic 1941 frosh cap, maybe the last real "slimmer" in existence. It cost 75 cents at the College store. Although "impossible to be worn with dignity," we nevertheless wore our caps with a mixture of humiliation and pride; in time we outgrew them, and finally we made jokes about the pea-green freshmen and their frog-caps.
Actually, we were the last class to wear green caps. In the fall of 1942, the Class of '46 sported beanies of Hamilton blue with class numerals in buff.
The fall of 1941 was a good time to be at Hamilton. Enrollment was at an all-time high of 452. Following on the heels of construction of the Alumni Gym and swimming pool, the College had spent $150,000 on the modernization of practically every one of the academic buildings and dormitories. Showers replaced ancient bathtubs in Carnegie, and new student lounge rooms were created on the first floors of all three dorms for improved community living. (Does that sound familiar?)
The attic of Root Hall had been converted into sky-lighted studios to house the newly created Art Department with Professor of Art Karl With (recently emigrated from Germany) and Artist-in-Residence William C. Palmer.
And in the basement of Root Hall, the original College radio station — WHC — was being set up under the technical direction of French Professor Wentworth Fling. Many '45ers, including Frank Miller and Ed Kelly, were participants in this popular new extracurricular activity; and who could forget the thrilling broadcast of the 1942 football game, live from Union College, with the play-by-play announced by our own "Voice of College Hill," Jack St. John.
Football at Hamilton hit a new high in the fall of '41, under new coach Forest Evashevski, when the Buff and Blue had its highest scoring season since 1902, thanks to the spectacular running of "Mercury Milt" Jannone '43.
The new swimming pool made it possible for Hamilton to put an official swimming team into intercollegiate competition for the first time in its history.
Under coach Jean Gélas, Hamilton was enjoying a unique reputation as a small college with an excellent fencing program. A graduate of the French military academy, and an expert in hand-to-hand combat, Gélas coached soccer and tennis as well as fencing. Ellis Bradford, recalling Gélas' physical strength and agility, writes: "I never knew him to verbally chastise a fencer who turned up out-of-shape for practice; he just made the one-on-one lesson with the student so exhausting that the message was delivered without words."
When he retired in 1946 at the age of 67, Coach Gélas could still chin himself with one arm.
All Hamilton men, from 1920 to 1960, remember "Swampy" Marsh — that is, Willard Bostwick Marsh, Class of 1912, Upson Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory. With his sonorous, foghorn voice and tweedy-college-professor appearance, he was truly a character who personified public speaking at Hamilton. Although most students complained about the four-year requirement, most alumni praised its everlasting value. The freshman course was known as Declamation. The student was required to stand on the platform in the Chapel before a class of 30 or more freshmen and heckling sophomores, and recite a speech from memory. It was a very nerve-racking exercise for most of us, and although the experience was indelibly impressed into memory, nobody can remember the speech — nobody, that is, except Charlie Lee. He was so apprehensive and totally distraught over his first declamation that he ended up having an emergency appendectomy the night before.
When Charlie came out of the anesthesia in the recovery room, he was heard reciting his speech. To this day, he can recite, word-for-word, the opening line, which was: "The fate of the American people rests more surely on our souls than on our weapons…" I guess the moral of the story was, if you want to be sure to remember something, have your appendix removed.
In spite of Dr. Cowley's prediction at the opening of college in September that "by the turn of the year we'll be fighting," most of us were oblivious of the war in Europe and the ominous developments across the Pacific. We were busy with our academic challenges and felt quite safe and comfortable on this serene hilltop in Central New York.
Then, suddenly, on an otherwise unremarkable Sunday afternoon, the fateful events of December 7, 1941, only three months into our first semester, changed forever the Hamilton of our youth.
Initially, the students' reaction to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and entry of the U.S. into war was one of dismay and confusion. The first concern of the College administration seemed to be to help the students cope with their anxieties and individual problems. On Monday morning, fourth-hour classes were dismissed early so that all students could hear President Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech to Congress over the radio. Later, several meetings were held to discuss the draft situation and enlistment choices. Cowley advised: "Keep your shirts on and don't go running off half-cocked. Wait and see where you can best serve your country."
Some students did indeed leave within weeks, but most sought ways to optimize their individual situations by concentrating on their academic work, getting the best grades possible and trying to finish the college year before enlisting or being drafted.
The College cooperated by accelerating academic schedules, providing summer sessions (beginning in 1942) and granting diplomas to those completing their required credit hours ahead of normal schedules.
The fall of '42 brought intensive recruiting and enlistments into various specialized training programs offered by the Army and Navy. By Christmas vacation, two-thirds of Hamilton's 400 students had been sworn into one of the military services, and about 100 of the Army men were expected to be called by the end of the semester in January 1943.
There were three commencements in 1943: in January, June and September. Along with growing numbers of undergraduates being drafted or enlisting, the student population declined rapidly.
President Cowley was concerned about the long-range future of the College, fearing that the war would cause an overemphasis on technical education and that small liberal arts colleges like Hamilton would suffer severe pressure to either change or go out of business.
Spending considerable time to Washington, Cowley sought and obtained several contracts with the armed services, which would utilize College facilities and provide revenues to keep the College "in business."
Three major programs were implemented:
Total enrollment in July 1943 was nearly 700, with approximately 600 military students but only 75 civilian students.
Cowley described the College as "essentially an army camp with (only) a cream-puff coating of education."
But, so it was that Hamilton survived.
The summer of 1943 brought the biggest exodus of civilian students from the Hill. The Navy's V-12 programs placed 64 Hamiltonians in two groups at nearby colleges: 25 at Colgate and 39 at St. Lawrence University. I happened to be sent to St. Lawrence. That was an experience! There were more Hamilton men at St. Lawrence than there were St. Lawrence men. And the coed population was 250. Talk about joining the Navy to see the world! We were nearly in heaven. Although most of us were at St. Lawrence University for only eight months, at least three St. Lawrence girls eventually became wives of Hamilton men.
The military programs at Hamilton continued through 1944, but as the war in Europe began to draw to a close, the programs were terminated and the "military" was gone from the Hill by February 1945, leaving a civilian student body of about 60.
In June 1945, just weeks after V-E Day — at what would have been our commencement — only eight men received their diplomas from Acting President Thomas Brown Rudd. Five of those eight were members of our class: Rod Coupe, Donald Feinberg, Howard Jamison, Arnold Keller and Charles Leber. (The others were Frank Child '44, John Douglas '46 and Clyde Simpson '46.)
With V-J Day following in August, it wasn't long before Clinton and the College began to greet returning Hamiltonians bent on getting, at long-last, that coveted Hamilton diploma. Veterans, supported by government subsidies and youngsters relieved of the draft swamped the admissions office with applications. By the fall of 1946 Hamilton was back on track as a liberal arts college, for men only, with a great faculty and a fine reputation.
But, there were some differences.
The campus and buildings were just about the same as we had left them. About half of the faculty of 44 were new, but most of our favorite professors were still here. Among the missing were Coaches Prettyman and Gélas, Dean Dickson and President Cowley.
We had a new president — David Worcester — but, tragically, illness prevented him from fulfilling the strenuous duties of leading the College. Thomas Brown Rudd, the controller when we were freshmen, was acting president for much of the time from Cowley's departure in late 1944 until the day before graduation in June 1947, when the trustees reluctantly accepted Worcester's resignation and appointed Rudd to the full presidency (the College's 13th), just in time for him to sign our diplomas.
The most dramatic change was in the student body. Enrollment stood at 582, a third larger than pre-war. About half were veterans and many were married, some with children.
John Tobin recalls what married life was like as an undergraduate. Returning to the Hill in the spring of 1946, John and Margie were among the first 10 couples to set up housekeeping in the north end of Carnegie. The College provided each unit with a refrigerator, a gas stove and a shelf unit for kitchen use, but made no changes in the rooms or the plumbing. The toilet served for garbage disposal, and laundry machines were available in the basement of Commons.
When the married student population continued to grow, the College and the federal government built a temporary housing complex down the hill behind the Delta Upsilon and Alpha Delta Phi houses, consisting of a dozen former army barracks remodeled into some 50 apartments. Officially designated North Village, but called G.I. Village by the vets, it became the home of dozens of student families for a decade or so, and Carnegie reverted back to a dorm for single men.
In addition to the Tobins, several other '45ers brought wives back to Hamilton, including (to my recollection) Lee Bolte, Karl Kiralis, Dick McLean, Doug Michell and John Richardson.
Life for newlyweds on the campus of the all-male students was unique, to say the least, but the ladies soon adjusted to the situation with admirable élan. They enjoyed use of the library and swimming pool, were allowed to audit some courses (without credit) and supplied real women for female characters in Charlatan productions. HamNews even had a gossip column.
Overall, the addition of women of college age to the staid campus (although they were not available for dating) was a very pleasant harbinger of what Hamilton would become two decades later.
The Class of 1945 reappeared on the Hill in significant numbers after the end of World War II. Only seven had graduated before leaving the Hill. Jack Dabbs and Charles Krahe had accelerated and received their degrees in June 1944, and five graduated on schedule in June 1945. Of the 131 classmates that left without diplomas, just about half (62 in the fall of '46) returned and eventually graduated: two in 1946, 34 in June 1947, another 20 in 1948, eight in 1949 and one in 1951. Eventually two more A.B.s were granted in 1963, and one in 1973, to '45ers who by then were already practicing physicians. The grand total of Hamilton A.B.s was 75.
Sixteen had sufficient credits to enter graduate school without bachelor's degrees, and hence did not return to the Hill, and at least 18 others obtained bachelor degrees at other colleges. Thus, the known aggregate yield of college graduates of the Class of '45 is at least 77 percent — a very significant achievement, considering the times.
There were three of our class who could not return, having lost their lives while in the service of their country. They were Roger Bowen, Ralph Eisert and Edward Mils. All three were lieutenants and pilots in the Army Air Corps. Their names appear on bronze plaques on three of the pews here in this Chapel, along with all the other Hamilton sons lost in World War II.
At least 60 members of our class (roughly half) earned degrees above the A.B. Seventeen became medical doctors, four dentists, five clergy, 11 lawyers, and 14 entered the field of education.
Hamilton has awarded honorary degrees to three of our classmates: Charles Leber (D.D., 1960), Robert Russell (Litt.D, 1963) and Lee Bristol (LL.D., 1968).
Five of our classmates have served as Hamilton trustees: Lee Bristol, 1971-79; Ellis Bradford, 1974-77; Richard FitzSimmons, 1975-79; John Tobin, 1978-(now a Life Trustee); and William D. Love, Jr. 1980-91.
Well, so much for history and statistics.
Now, after 50 years we have returned to the Hill once again, to meet in this Chapel, which to us always seemed to be the heart of the College, and to recall those exciting and inspiring days of our youth. For the record, there are 37 members of the Class of '45 here this morning.
Two departed classmates who played significant roles in the well-being of the College for many years, and whom we remember with high esteem and affection, were Lee Bristol and Bill Love. Hamilton counts Bristols from the beginning of the Colleges and Loves from the 1840s. Both Lee and Bill, of our generation, entered the College in the fall of 1941, spent two years on campus, served in the Army and Navy, respectively, and returned to graduate in June 1947.
As an undergraduate, Lee participated and excelled in just about everything, with the exception of athletics. Music was his forte — he was College organist — but he also wrote for Hamilton Life and the Continental, was a member of Charlatans, the Church Session and Pentagon. We remember him as a gregarious gadabout and the owner of an ancient raccoon coat.
While devoting most of his life to music education as an administrator, author, composer, organist and speaker, Lee worked diligently in support of Hamilton. While he was chairman of the Trustee Committee on Development, the College's $16 million Priorities for Hamilton campaign was conceived, and Lee traveled extensively throughout the country to promote it. Today the Lee H. Bristol, Jr. Fund for the Performing Arts perpetuates his spirit and devotion to Hamilton by supporting performances at the Schambach Center.
Bill Love was 1945's only original Californian. Known to his classmates as "Lover," he combined a fun-loving nature with modesty and a quiet charm. He became an extremely capable venture capitalist, involved with, among other things, the manufacture of plastic parts from Jacuzzis to hula-hoops. Living in California did not keep him from being a "hands-on trustee;" he was interested in and kept a close watch on virtually every phase of the College, especially athletics and buildings and grounds.
The William D. Love Field, named in honor of Bill's great-grandfather, Class of 1843, and the Class of 1945 Scholarship, which Bill established in honor of his classmates, are enduring examples of his love for his alma mater.
Some historians might label the Class of '45 as the World War II class, since our scheduled time here extended from Pearl Harbor to V-E Day.
I think we should describe the Class of 1945 as the transition class. We entered the "old Hamilton" — a staid, all-male, academic stronghold, steeped in tradition — a campus of old, ivy-covered buildings (with one exception — the new gym) with a classic education program taught by a venerable faculty. We experienced the beginning of the modernization of the College under President Cowley. We saw the military "occupy" the dorms and use the front quadrangle for a parade ground.
Then, when we returned at war's end, we saw a "new Hamilton," bursting at the seams with 30 percent more students, emerging into a more modern institution. Hamilton had not only survived another nadir in its long history, but amidst growing pains, it was on its way to a brighter future.
Future half-century annalists will relate many more and greater changes at the College. But only one or two more annalists will be able to recall the days of wartime Hamilton.
Some of the things, now long gone, that we remember with nostalgia:
In a few minutes this chapel session will close with the singing of Carissima. I hope you younger alumni, including those of the gentler gender, will forgive us if we sing the original words (when Hamilton had only male students), especially those last lines of the last stanza, which have special meaning for us:
"While years—Carissima—grow old,
We will still be thy boys,
We will still be thy boys."
And that's the way it was on this Hill, 50 years ago.
Answers to the Hamilton Quiz:
This year's letter was delivered on the 50th anniversary to the day of the scheduled graduation of the Class of 1945. However, on June 3, 1945, its author was not on College Hill but aboard a naval vessel off the Ryukyu Islands in the Pacific Ocean, serving with the U.S. Navy amphibious forces in support of the invasion of Okinawa. Like so many of his classmates, Clarence Aldridge had his college days interrupted by military service during World War II.
Released from the Navy in August 1946, the former Chapel bell ringer and drum major of the College Band returned to Hamilton to finish his studies and acquire his diploma in 1947. A 38-year career with the General Electric Co. followed, first as an accountant in Syracuse and later in Utica, where he retired as accounting manager in 1985. Residing since 1963 on Foote Road, not far from College Hill, Clarence pas participated enthusiastically in alumni activities as well as community affairs. A former president of the Clinton Historical Society and a close observer of the College, he is exceptionally qualified to provide retrospective insight on the Hamilton of his times.