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Threads: Alma Mater

Letters written by me, updated January 2005
to include the period 1965-1969

More About Threads



Background:  After I went away to Oberlin College, my mother urged me to write a letter home every Sunday.  I didn't keep copies; after all, these were just letters to my parents, not to anyone important.  But my mother saved the original letters, neatly stacked away in a drawer, about half a shoebox full.

Other threads based on these same letters cover extra-curricular activities:

The start of my sports broadcasting career

Dealing with protest in the Sixties

Religion on campus

Dating

This thread contains annotated excerpts about the general college experience.  It's rather long, so I've broken it into four quarters by year:

We begin even before the first classes, with the Freshman Orientation for new students.  I would be a physics major on that northern Ohio campus, and I studied hard for my grades.

 

Start of 1st Quarter . . .

1.

O Freshman, cease your grinding toil
     And come with me tonight.
Why burn the costly midnight oil
     When stars are far more bright?
For college days too soon must end
     And Time shall sunder friend from friend.

Won't you come along?  Won't you come along?
     Just two good friends together?

 

There were more than 300 men in the freshman class.

Friday, September 17, 1965, 8:30 am

Everything so far is going well and very predictably, except one affair last night that wasn't on the published orientation program.  Following a section meeting at 9:00 — we have 22 freshmen in our Third-Center Burton section, and we met with the Junior Counselors, Bart and Sam — all the freshmen men were directed to go to the main lobby of Wilder Hall.

A megaphone, of course, is a million phones.  Or a trillion microphones.

When we arrived, none of us was quite sure what was happening.  On the landing of the grand staircase was the Senior Resident from our dorm, Russ Hurd.  He looks a little wild anyway, with long black hair, dark-rimmed glasses, and a sweatshirt — but no beard — and he, shouting into a paper megaphone, was surrounded on all sides by freshmen.  "This is mob rule!" he cried.  "Let's hear it from Second-East Barrows!"  And a cheer went up from that section.  "Now let's hear it from First-Center Burton!"

Before long we had been split up into four parts.  On cue, the respective parts would yell out, "Jur!"  "Smay!"  "Voy!"  "Amah!"  Only we usually did it in the opposite order, and then it made a little sense.

Following this, the JC's showed us how "gummage," which purported to be an old and sacred Oberlin traditional game, is played.

Some of the students actually were voice majors in Oberlin's Conservatory of Music.

Russ tried to get us to call each other "men" and "women," the way it's done in college, but that seemed strange to this 18-year-old.  I persisted in referring to my classmates as "boys" and "girls."

The first song quoted, "Down the Street," is titled "A Song of Victory" and was written by John Prindle Scott.  A member of the Class of 1965 later told me that he and his friends used to sing a very short version of this song, ending with the word "tramp."

Scott also wrote "Won't You Come Along," the verses of which appear in a yellow box to begin each year of this thread.  For yet another song by Scott, click here.

Then back to Russ Hurd.  After we joined in a rousing round of amahvoysmayjur, we learned that we had really been brought here to learn a couple of traditional Oberlin songs.  And it was amazing how quickly that group of boys picked up the words and music, added some glee-club type harmony, and produced something that really sounded good.  Partly it was the conservatory students, I suppose; and then Russ's directing made it even more fun and invigorating.

"Down the street comes the tramp of feet
     In the clear and shining weather;
Marching along, a jubilant throng,
     And chanting this song together.
How our cry rings against the sky
     As we lift our voices high!
With a Hi-O, Hi-O, it's win or die-O,
     O-Hi-Hi, O-Hi-Hi, O-Hi-O."

     HI, O, HI-O-HI-O-HI-HI-O-HI-O-BER-LIN!
     FIGHT TEAM, FIGHT TEAM, FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!

We then marched over to the girls' dorms, Dascomb, Talcott, and May, and serenaded them.

"Sing a song of colleges,
     I'll tell you where to go:
Oxford for its knowledges,
     Cornell to learn to row (up and down the stream);
Harvard for its chappy lads,
     Yale for pep and vim,
Northwestern for its pretty girls —
     For good fellows, Oberlin."

There was a second verse, to which the girls had been taught the reply.

2009 UPDATE    I now can report that this was the second verse:

"Just put her in a corner,
     And hold her tight like this;
Just put your arms around her waist
     And on her lips a kiss (if she'll let you);
And if she seems reluctant
     And if she won't give in,
Just tell her it's the sacred seal
     Of dear old Oberlin."

This is courtesy of the aforementioned Russ Hurd, who sent along a copy of the handwritten "sheet music."  I hadn't heard the tune since 1965, so I got out my keyboard and recorded a 37-second instrumental version.  To hear it, you can access the Windows Media Audio (.wma) file by clicking here.

Why was I corresponding with my former Senior Resident?  The rest of the story is here.

Russ recalls 1965 as "a simpler, more naive day.  It was fun. The male resident advisors and I prepared the male freshmen to sing [the first two verses], but the male freshmen didn't know the women frosh were also being prepared with their response in verse 3.  As it turned dark, we men marched to the female dorms for our unannounced serenade of the women (verses 1 and 2) and everyone was surprised and pleased at the womens' returning the favor in verse 3 as they (the women) came to realize for what purpose they had learned a silly song earlier in the day."

Their reply was similar in words to our second verse, but it sounded highly disorganized as they were all in their rooms and had no leader and no warmup.  They sang, nevertheless:

"Just put him in a corner,
     And hold him tight like this;
Just put your arms around his neck
     And on his lips a kiss (if he'll let you);
And if he seems reluctant (boys: Reluctant?!)
     Or if he seems too shy (boys: Too shy?!)
You can bet your bottom dollar that
     He's not an Oberlin guy."

 

During Freshman Orientation, and in my case for a week or two after, we wore Class of 1969 name tags so we could get to know each other. 

Above we see Jan Kidder (Troy, N.Y.) and Bruce Johnson (S. Hadley, Mass.).  The picture, originally in black and white, is from the photo directory of the freshman class known as the Wolfbook.

Monday, September 20, 1965, 7:30 am (after breakfast)

Breakfast at Dascomb is cafeteria-style.

So far, all other meals have been "sit-down," in which five boys and give girls sit at a circular table and are served by waitresses.  We have been assigned to tables for these first four days, and I understand that several more assignments will be made in the next few weeks.

Lunch may be cafeteria-style later; right now, the only difference between it and dinner is that we don't have to dress up.

Eating at our table has been Chip Reardon, a blind organ student from Philadelphia.  He must have a very good memory; he has to play either by ear or from memorizing embossed [Braille] scores.  Also, he has to remember where all the various stops on the organ are.  He seems to have the ability to do this, though, as he's done very well at remembering the names and voices of the people at our table.

In the basement of our dorm is a long room with a television, many chairs and davenports and some tables, and two machines:  one for candy and the other (presently out of order) for orange drink, milk, and chocolate milk.  I've spent some time down there lately since it's noticeably cooler than our room.  That machine could prove quite helpful, too, if they get it fixed.

There seems to be a lot of singing going on around here.  Yesterday, after lunch, we had quite a session around the piano in the Dascomb lounge, singing all sorts of Broadway songs.  Of course, it was the "professionals" in the group who carried us, but the rest of us (50 or more) sang also.

The Freshman Show on Saturday night was quite good — a humorous, satirical stage production with music — but the movie Fantasticheria on Sunday night was better.  It was more consistently humorous and had better unity.  Also, I had no doubt that the Oberlin students could put on a stage show, but I was quite impressed at how good they were in producing a movie.  With all the complications of lighting, sound, camera angles, etc., not to mention acting, the production came off amazingly well.  And it was fun to watch.

The consensus seems to be that the daily routine will be easier once classes start.  Nothing is regular now, and it's hard to get adjusted.

Classes were scheduled, for example, from 8:00 to 8:50 AM, but they met in various locations.  German was in room 202 of the King Building, chemistry in Kettering, and philosophy of science back at the King Building in room 304.  My math course (calculus) met in the basement of the Wright Physics Laboratory.

In my first two years of college, I took eight half-semester Physical Education courses.  They were limited to non-contact sports because I was nearsighted The first was bowling; others included ice skating and folk dancing.  I wasn't very good at any of them.

I should have no trouble getting to and from classes in ten minutes.  The only classes I have that follow each other consecutively are in two buildings only a block apart.  I have no trouble in walking a block in three minutes.

The schedule, once again, is this:

MON

TUE

WED

THU

FRI

SAT

  8:00.

German

German

German

German

German

  9:00.

Chemistry

Chemistry

Chemistry

10:00.

Math

Philosophy

Math

Philosophy

Math

Philosophy

11:00.

12:00.

lunch

lunch

lunch

lunch

lunch

lunch

  1:30.

Math

PE

Chem Lab

PE

  2:20.

PE

Chem Lab

PE

  3:00.

Chem Lab

  4:20.

  6:00.

dinner

dinner

dinner

dinner

dinner

dinner

 
Monday noon, October 18, 1965

My bowling was noticeably better last week:  112, 107, 101, 131.  If I'm lucky this time around I may get my average over a hundred.

There's another way to get snacks in the evening up here:  a fellow walks through the halls of the dorms selling sandwiches they way they do at ball games, yelling "Sandwiches here!"  Usually, though, I'm already in bed by the time he comes around; besides, I can get enough to eat in other ways.

 


Back in high school, my junior and senior math and science classes had been taught by Bruce Cahill (right).  At Oberlin, I discovered that these "college preparatory" courses had not prepared me all that well for college.

I wrote the following letter to one of my former high school classmates.


Thursday, October 21, 1965

Just in case you haven't realized it yet, that last year of math with Mr. C. didn't really accomplish anything.  I'm discovering now that there are many branches of mathematics that would have been far more useful, at least to us who are now studying college-level science, than a review of some of the more technical points of the high-school algebra and geometry which we had already had in our first three years anyway.

Chemistry, for instance, uses something called the quantum theory, which is impossible to understand if you haven't had calculus.  I haven't, so I don't know all the time what's going on, and I'm rather dismayed by the number of calculus-comprehending freshmen running around who do understand quantum mechanics.  It'll be a year before I can catch up to them.  Terry Rockhold reports the same situation, only worse, at Case Tech.  So here we are, ignorant freshmen from a depraved country high school where we recklessly squandered part of our senior year on Fun and Games with Mr. C.

Math in college just ain't quite
   The fun math was in high school:
We've gotta work, so we can't play,
   Especially not at my school.

Oh, I'll have to admit I enjoyed the Mr. Cahill experience, what with binary numbers and octahedrons and funnels and co-logarithms and did I ever tell you about when Paul Brown was coaching at Ohio State.  And Senior Slop Day.  I enjoy having a good time — maybe not as much as some people do, but still to a certain extent.  Perhaps it's a good thing to get in a year of fun when we can.  There may not be many years when we have the chance.

Happy Halloween.

 

UPDATE


Forty years later, Terry Rockhold commented on the above letter:

The discussion about our math preparation brought back old memories.  I think at least 50% of the freshmen at Case had completed a year of calculus in high school.  I thought that I was as prepared as most of the freshmen in science and English, but math was a different story.

Of course, I'm not sure that it was all Bruce Cahill's fault.  I doubt he was the one who decided what math classes seniors at RHS should be offered.  I don't think they would have even considered offering calculus.


 

In the egalitarian world of Oberlin, we didn't refer to a professor as "Doctor Baum" or a pastor as "Reverend Cope."  Everyone was Mr., Mrs., or Miss.

Monday afternoon, October 25, 1965

I'm feeling a little better about my schoolwork now than last Friday.  We had a test in math that day, and a couple hours after I had taken it, I discovered  that I had gotten badly messed up on the most important problem.  But today we got the test back graded, and I found that I wasn't quite so far off as I thought, and that Mr. Baum had given 70% credit for trying even though I had the wrong answer.  Combined with the rest of the problems, which I got right, this gave me a 90, which is an A-minus.  Either that or a straight A will probably be the 6-weeks' grade.  Still no grades of any kind in chemistry or philosophy.

Knowing that 132-102 = 169-100 = 69, now I could understand this Class of 1969 integral, which had been painted on the patio outside my dining hall at the rear of the Dascomb dormitory.

Dianne Steele and Terry Rockhold had been classmates of mine in high school.

Right now I've got another letter to write, to Dianne Steele.  Windy sent her one a week ago:  "I got a fourteen-page letter from Terry today," she wrote me.  "That kid is either living a very exciting life, or else he writes big.  . . . I hope you'll write and tell me about all that you're doing now.  It seems so good to hear from old classmates."  So I've got fourteen pages to write tonight to the girl at Bowling Green.

 

My parents, who lived only two hours away, visited me once a month or so.  And my mother continued to do my laundry!  Between visits, I'd mail the laundry home in a big black box, and my mother would mail the clean clothes back to me.

Sunday night, November 7, 1965

I'm now planning to send my clothes home on Thursday the 11th or thereabouts; any earlier would run me too close to running out on the 24th, and if I waited until the first of the week to send them I might run out before the clean clothes got back.  Read that sentence through a couple of times and you'll figure it out.

As it stands now, I've got enough clothes to last me until about November 18, so it won't matter if you don't get the wash mailed back to me before the first of that week, even though I send it to you as early as the 11th.  As soon as I send you the wash, I've automatically got about 18 days to go:  x days on what I've got left up here, and 18–x days on what you send back clean.  Read this paragraph through a couple of times and if you can't figure it out, forget about it.

Looking at that schedule, I suddenly realize that the first semester is half over.  Somebody at the dining hall one day mentioned that by this time we should have absorbed quite a bit of education:  in my case, $115 worth of German, $92 worth of chemistry, $92 of math, $69 philosophy, and $23 bowling.

The German figure sounds reasonable:  I've learned a lot.  Bowling is in line too, and math isn't too far off.  But I really doubt that I've gained more than $30 worth of knowledge in either chemistry or philosophy, because I'm not learning much that's new.  But I'm getting an education, I guess.

 

At the right is my last handwritten letter.  After this, I typed almost all of them.

This letter also described my first basketball broadcast on the campus radio station, December 1, 1965.  More about that in this thread.

Saturday, December 4, 1965

The schedules for the final exams have been posted.  Mine are awfully crowded together, but at least I'll have a full week between the last one and registration for the second semester.  The last day of classes is Thursday, January 20; my exams are

Philosophy

Wednesday, January 26

9-11 am

German

Thursday, January 27

9-11 am

Chemistry

Thursday, January 27

2-4 pm

Math

Friday, January 28

9-11 am

 

Friday, January 7, 1966, 3:30 pm

The second-semester term bill just came in the mail.  The first semester's was for $1360, but this one is only $1285; as nearly as I can figure out, the difference is due to the fact that I had to pay $50 matriculation deposit and $25 insurance the first time around, but don't have to this time.

Dining hall regulations have been somewhat relaxed, the main change being that jackets and ties are no longer required (though they are perfectly permissible) for the evening meal, except for Wednesday and Sunday.  This change just went into effect last night.  I plan to alternate suits and sweaters as I feel like it.

Coming events:  January 13, the Oberlin Gilbert & Sullivan Players present Patience.  Actually, there are four performances, but I'm going next Thursday.

Oh, and my article about the Wittenberg game was published (though without a by-line).  I was surprised to find that what I considered the weak points in it hadn't been changed, while some very minor changes that seemed to do more harm than good were made.  Maybe I just don't understand editors.

I had been one of the few Oberlinians to travel to Springfield, Ohio, at the start of Christmas break.  I did so because a basketball game being played there was more or less on my way home.  Paul "CR" Lawn, the sports editor of the student newspaper (and my partner on basketball broadcasts), asked me to write a game story.  Here's how it appeared in the Oberlin Review.

Tigers Hand Locals
Pre-Holiday Loss
.
__A flat Crimson basketball team, perhaps looking to Christmas vacation a mite too soon, dropped a 65-48 decision to Wittenberg at Springfield December 18.  The game was a rough one and rather sloppy with neither team particularly sharp.
__The outcome, after the first few minutes, was hardly in doubt.  The Yeomen grabbed a 2-0 lead, but the Tigers then proceeded to score nine straight points.  Wittenberg led 20-7 after only 9:14 had elapsed; they cruised to a 35-25 halftime margin and a 23-point bulge late in the game.
__"We weren't ready," said Coach Julian Smith sadly after it was all over; "we just didn't bring the game with us."
__Defensively the Yeomen didn't do a bad job, holding Wittenberg to the outside for the most part.  Occasionally a Tiger cager was able to get past his man on a one-and-one situation and break for

the basket, but more often than not the hosts, who like to wait for the good opportunity, had to shoot from long range.
__Offensively, though, the Yeomen seemed to have lost the sparkle they had shown in the two victories at home the week before.  The Crimson suffered a cold shooting night, connecting on only 16 of 60 attempts from the field, a dismal 26.7 per cent.
__The number of good shots available was cut down considerably by ball-handling and play-working difficulties.  Wittenberg canned 27 of 74 for 36.5 per cent to outshoot the Yeomen, and outrebounded the visitors, 62-47.
__High point honors went to junior forward Mike Duermit of the Tigers, who hit eight of 12 from the field and added four of five from the line to total 20 points.  Center Bob Forte had 14.
__Mark Jaffee was high for the Yeomen with 14 of his own, while Ted Koch, who led the Crimson rebounders, tallied 11 points.

 

"Dave" was David Wilkinson, a flutist in the Conservatory.  He was my roommate in Room 327 of Burton Hall, a freshman dormitory.

Sunday night, January 16, 1966

The Gilbert and Sullivan production was very good with only a few weak spots; all in all very entertaining.  Dave was in the orchestra and, I'm afraid, just about wore himself out.  The first part of last week they were rehearsing until 2 a.m., and then they put on five performances in four days, topped off with a cast party last night.  Now it's time to start working on The Mikado for the first week in May.

You're right about dining hall dress.  I wore a sweater the first night not to look out of place, but since then I've worn a suit and tie every evening (except Saturday, which has been casual all year anyway) and have never felt strange.  In fact, I enjoy being dressed up and will probably continue that way.  I've discovered that people don't really pay much attention to what other people are wearing; at least the change hasn't made nearly as much difference in atmosphere to me as I expected.  By now we know the people we're eating with.

About PE next semester:  I don't have the slightest idea yet as to what's being offered.  [My academic advisor] Mr. [Ed] Tobias has said a couple of times that golf is a good sport to know, so I may try to get a schedule set up that will let me take that the second half of the semester.


 
Wednesday, April 13, 1966, 11:00 am

Golf sounds like it ought to be fun.  Yesterday afternoon we merely met (didn't practice) .  The coach is Bill Grice, the football coach, Southern, comical.  About a third of us in the class are like me, having never swung a club before.

 

Monday, April 25, 1966, 11:00 am

Fine spring weather here; it's finally stopped raining.

The grass is green, the smaller trees are coming out in leaf and those that bloom are blooming (white and pink dogwood, azalea I think, forsythia, and some delicate pink ones I don't recognize).

I hadn't thought Oberlin would be this pretty in the spring, especially in the rain.


Photo taken May 2003

Until 1967, rural parts of Ohio (like the town where my parents lived) did not go on "Daylight Savings Time" in the summer as Oberlin did.  For a few weeks we had to worry about fast time and slow time, my time and your time.

 

Another thing we might plan for Mother's Day weekend:  the Gilbert and Sullivan players are putting on The Mikado Wednesday through Saturday.  On Friday, May 6, it's at 8:30 in the evening (that's 7:30 your time; we're back to that again, but this is the last year we'll have that confusion).  If you wanted to plan to get here about 5:30 your time, rather than 10:30 a.m., we could eat dinner and then go to see the show.  I think you'd enjoy the production; this G&S group really does things well.  Let me know what you think of the idea so I can get the tickets.

 

Saturday night, May 21, 1966

I hope you realize that the messy-looking part of the room was Dave's half.  Well, there were a few unread newspapers on the floor.  And my bed might not have looked very tidy after we put the laundry box and the other box up on it to unpack them.  But in general . . .

For the remaining three years of my college career, I would have a single room (no roommate) in nearby Noah Hall.  My two dorms appear in this 2014 aerial scene:  Burton on the right, Noah on the left.

Speaking of physical education, I won't have to worry about a C+ in that holding down my grade average next year.  There's a new option called "credit-no credit" whereby a student can choose one course, not in his major department, for which he won't receive a grade but just a satisfactory or unsatisfactory.  This doesn't apply to freshmen.  Since I'm fairly certain my phys-ed grade isn't going to rise very much, I've decided to use this plan on it; this will still satisfy the requirement, but the grade won't appear on my record.

I'm going to have Miss Bauschinger for German again next year, taking an intensive one-semester course so I can get it over with the first semester and take something else the second.  In case you're interested, here's the setup:

 

 

Blue Book (noun):
A scheduled test during a semester, or the 20-page pamphlet in which the answers are to be written.  The cover contains the honor pledge, "I have neither received nor given aid in this examination."

FIRST SEMESTER

MON

TUE

WED

THU

FRI

SAT

  8:00.

Math

 

Math

 

Math

 

  9:00.

English

English

English

10:00.

German

German

German

German

German

German

11:00.

Physics

Physics

Physics

12:00.

lunch

lunch

lunch

lunch

lunch

lunch

  1:30.

PE 

Phys Lab

PE

  2:20.

PE

Phys Lab

PE

Math

  3:00.

Phys Lab

SECOND SEMESTER

MON

TUE

WED

THU

FRI

SAT

  8:00.

Math

 

Math

 

Math

 

  9:00.

Religion

Religion

Religion

10:00.

Sociology

 

Sociology

 

Sociology

 

11:00.

Physics

Physics

Physics

12:00.

lunch

lunch

lunch

lunch

lunch

lunch

  1:30.

Phys Lab

PE 

Math

PE

  2:20.

Phys Lab

PE

PE

  3:00.

Phys Lab

Looks like some days the second semester will be busier than others.

Let's see, what have I accomplished today?  I bought a nice, fat, 1250-page German-English dictionary for $8.50, got some new batteries for my radio, watched the Clay-Cooper fight from London, answered a letter Margaret Weller wrote to me a month ago, and took a nap.  Monday I've got a math bluebook, so maybe I'd better stop for a while and do some studying before it's time to go to bed.

 

. . . End of
1st Quarter