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Half-Century Annalist Letters

As We Gather Close Again

David C. Simonson, Class of 1947

Delivered: June 7, 1997

President Tobin, members of the Class of 1947, friends of Hamilton:

Our class entered Hamilton in the summer and the fall of 1943, some of us not yet 17-years-old, some about to register for the draft, some who checked the mail each day for official brown envelopes from their local draft boards, and others who came to the Hill pending call-up to Navy V-5 or V-12 programs in which they had already enlisted. Officially, the Class of 1947 numbered 50 young men, but because so few civilian students were spread over the entire campus, to most of us recalling those days it seemed like there were only 30 of us. There are only 24 of us left. Sixteen have died, and 10 are shown in alumni records as "lost."

Although we all had probably completed complex college applications, it seemed that most of us were accepted at Hamilton after meeting with Director of Admissions Sid Bennett or College Secretary Wally Johnson, a far less formal system than present college applicants face.

Army Specialized Training Program soldiers, some 500 or 600, marched across the quadrangle to classes in meteorology and foreign languages. They lived in the dorms and were very removed from what we thought of as College life, which in those late summer and early fall days of 1943 centered about the Alpha Delta Phi house, where we freshmen lived. We were on a quarterly term system to permit us to complete as many courses as possible before most of us had to leave for service.

There was for us little of the famed Hamilton traditions that were described in the handbooks and old yearbooks we found in the Alpha Delta Phi library. We wore no freshman beanies, took no part in class tugs-of-war, experienced no intercollegiate sports and enjoyed no big band houseparties. There were no student publications. WHC, the College radio station, had been put on hold for the duration. There were no coeds. No cars on campus. Although the Chapel bell rang for classes, it never pealed for athletic victories because it served as an air-raid warning system. It was not until VE-Day in May 1945 that it rang out in joy again.

There were some Hamilton traditions still in force. We dressed for dinner every night — dressing meant shirt, tie and jacket. What could not be seen below the table was as formal or as informal as individuals wished. Before dinner, we gathered around the piano in the ADP living room. Owney Burns recalls that without fail, Rodger Ferguson played "Elmer's Tune" every night. After the war, Rodge, who is no longer alive, starred on the Continentals' basketball team, along with his brother, Danny. Rodge and his wife Marge also served as bridge-playing house parents at Squires House, halfway up the Hill.

In addition to four terms a year, we had 8 a.m. classes, something lost, I understand, in the present Hamilton experience. I remember hoping I could hold down my pancake breakfast while dissecting frogs and dogfish in Dr. Butcher's 8 a.m. biology course.

After the war, 8 a.m. classes posed other challenges. I dated the daughter of my English literature professor during a summer term on the Hill. Every morning after an evening date, I knew I could be expected to be called on at about 8:05, obviously a challenge that I had read the professor's assignment before dating his daughter!

One Hamilton tradition that was universal to the Class of 1947 was four years of public speaking. I first stood here in the fall of 1943, facing an empty Chapel, except for a senior, Jack "Daddy" Dabbs, sitting in the last row to hear if my voice projected adequately as I practiced my introduction to the public speaking tradition at Hamilton — in this case a memorialized piece from the Reader's Digest, a history of the now long-gone Empire State Express. I do not remember what advice Jack Dabbs offered, but I, as do probably most of the Class of 1947, will never forget the stentorian tones of "Swampy" — Professor Willard Bostwick Marsh — as he cautioned, "Please do not elide your vowels!" There are many wonderful memories of Professor Marsh, including the time he admonished a student to speak louder because it was snowing outside!

After a year at the Alpha Delta Phi house, those of us not yet in service were billeted in the Psi U house. We played hearts after lunch, then ran up the Hill, regardless of weather, for 1 p.m. public speaking classes — if I recall, exercises in extemporaneous speech.

We Hamilton freshmen were also introduced to English composition at a previously unimagined level. No matter what our high school writing reputations, Tom O'Donnell and Dr. Tom Johnston destroyed our egos and then rebuilt our writing habits on firm foundations that served us so well in later life.

We were introduced to required mathematics courses, intermediate algebra and differential calculus, with instructors such as Otto Plescia, John Van Alstyne and Boyd Patterson. The latter served as president of Washington and Jefferson University following his Hamilton tenure. The closeness of faculty to students, a very personal relationship, was never better demonstrated when more than 30 years later I was taking my oldest son on visits to colleges prior to his making applications. John Van Alstyne was, by then, a dean at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. His comment to my son was, "I hope you're a better math student than your dad!"

The Class of 1947 boasted a math prodigy, Ivan King, who may have been the youngest of our class. He wanted to study spherical trigonometry and was given a text one Monday. By Saturday he had taken an exam and completed the test with a perfect score. Ivan later became president of the American Astronomical Society and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

We started to become "proficient" in a foreign language, another Hamilton requirement. As pre-service students, some of our memories of language studies were tempered by other matters. Chuck McKeen remembers leaving a French class and meeting me as I was on the way to a German course. "Your draft notice came in the mail today," he recalls my telling him.

Despite the smallness of our class, we expected an academic environment, unforgettable teachers and a small student-to-faculty ratio that brought most of us back to the Hill after the war. "Digger" Graves, Dave Ellis, John Gambs, Otto Liedke, Herman Hauch, "Bobo" Rudd and his dog, Jalon, George Nesbitt and "Jock" Sutherland are only a few whose classes encouraged us to return to the Hill after the war.

The closest to intercollegiate sports attendance was watching area high school basketball finals held at the College gym. We substituted for intercollegiate sports by playing six-man football leagues, complete with high-tops, pads and pre-war leather helmets, coached by Mox Weber. As part of the war effort, we studied fencing and boxing with Jean Marie Gelas. Some of us learned that the three-round bouts would be stopped if a nose got bloodied. I can recall Jim Polk requesting, "Hit me in the nose, quick!" Swimming coach Mark Randall taught us how to swim under burning oil when jumping ship.

For many of us, the old red brick infirmary next to Alpha Delta Phi provided APC pills for those with colds, doled out by the College nurse, Theresa Schimmel. The infirmary had an Addams Family look about it, as had the stories about those who had to be hospitalized in it.

Much of our class went to war. We returned as part of what Hamilton refers to as the "Crazy Mixed-Up Years." We came back to the Hill at different times, and at different academic levels, depending on military experience. But regardless of when we actually graduated, our reunion class managed to be known as the Class of 1947. We came back older, more mature and thankfully, with the G.I. Bill tuition and board assistance.

To accommodate returning G.I.s, Hamilton inaugurated summer sessions in which students took a full year in two subjects with classes held each morning. Afternoons, although probably designed for reading and studying, were spent on the College golf course, in the Root Glen or on the banks of the Oriskany Creek. Catching up on studies while in a bathing suit with one's feet in the icy waters of the creek was a wonderful way to spend a hot summer afternoon. And the summer sessions were major contributors to "Crazy Mixed-Up Years" as well as strong contrasts to famous snowy Hamilton winters.

Despite the lack of pre-service tradition, we took the lead in reviving campus activities as the post-war classes came in. The dramatic society, the Charlatans, put on its first post-war play in 1946. We revived student publications, at first with a Time-like magazine called Hamiltonews, later with a newspaper, The Spectator. We were encouraged in these efforts by class publicist Dave Beetle.

The College radio station, WHC, one of the legacies of President Harold Cowley, was reorganized and I can still remember Bob Pigott doing the play-by-play of our first post-war football game, away at Rochester. The first play was a screen pass, almost unheard of in those days, scooped in by Ants DiGregorio for a long touchdown. We didn't win that one, but the Chapel bell did ring for a 7-6 victory over archrival Union that fall of 1946. The football coach was a former Green Bay Packer, Bud Svendsen, who was quite a golfer as well. He was the only person I've ever seen hit over the College golf course trees rather than around them.

Intercollegiate hockey returned with Clinton's Burns brothers and Chuck Redmond leading the Continentals. In a victory over Cornell at Sage Rink, state troopers kept exuberant buff and blue fans off the ice. Before entering the service, we never learned Hamilton cheers. But we quickly learned to give them an H.

The fraternity system, now part of Hamilton's past, was reorganized. Many of our class, whether they ate at a frat house or not, lived in a College dorm. Five of us shared a two-room suite in South Dorm, sleeping in double-decker beds. The closeness developed lasting friendships. Some married members of the returning class lived in the quonset huts in what we referred to a "G.I. Village."

Unlike our pre-war experience, cars were allowed on campus, and on weekends we left regularly for Skidmore, Cazenovia, Wells and other female-populated campuses. And houseparties, especially Winter Carnival, were revived, coeds coming to the Hill for these weekends. The art of snow sculpting reached Amazonian proportions in front of the frat houses and dorms. Some veterans' wives manned a newly opened eatery in Commons called the Back Room where late sleepers could find coffee, hamburgers and a feminine voice behind the counter, relieving a monastic weekday environment.

In pre-ways days, Saturday nights meant walking down the Hill and taking a bus to Utica to the Stanley movie theater, and getting the last bus back to Clinton and walking up the Hill. Post-war Hamiltonians, older and wiser, discovered some of Clinton's watering holes, and taxis made beer runs to thirsty veterans.

The Class of 1947 had little interface with Dr. Cowley, but we were fortunate with the leadership of Tom Rudd, who served as acting president until David Worcester arrived. When Worcester died, Rudd returned. Most of us did not know his successor, Bob McEwen. But the smallness of the class enabled Rudd to entertain many of us at his home, strengthening the Hamilton faculty-student relationship. Dinners with professors were not unusual, and my language proficiency exam included a dinner entirely in German at Dr. Liedke's house. As a result, I shall never forget the German word for match — streichholz.

Hamilton, before and after our military service, gave the Class of 1947 an intimate environment in which to learn, wondrous and memorable teachers to challenge us, and a faculty which went out of its way to know each of us better and in a personal way.

Almost 40 percent of the Class of 1947 that the College has kept track of is no longer living. Our deceased classmates included football and basketball players, a longtime class notes reporter, lawyers, doctors, people from all areas of the country. Classmates who helped contribute to this brief history asked that, "as we gather close again," those who have died be remembered:
Frank E. Bardrof, Jr., George G. Barnum, Jr., Clark B. Bassett, Jr., Chester A. Buchanan, Richard C. Crain, William M. Donnelly, Jr., Rodger O. Ferguson, Allan J. Fisher, Charles H. James, William C. Macey, Jr., Robert D. Murphy, John V. Ormsby, William A. Robbins, Warren E. Schulz, Paul R. Sidle and Clarence A. Williams, Jr.

"Thy sons will ne'er forget thee."