Interviews from the Macalester College Archives
Veterans home from the war, formal dinners, strict curfews, clandestine cats—so many memories of Macalester, some held in common, others unique to the times. For a glimpse into Macalester’s past, we are excerpting here some of the oral histories collected by the library. Sadly, some of those quoted are no longer with us; happily, they leave their memories.
Arthur Bell ’40, Trustee
I had to get on a streetcar and make two transfers to get here, and it was particularly difficult because I got into the band and they gave me a sousaphone…. it was quite an experience. [I started working] at 25 cents an hour, but then in 1936 the WPA offered 35 cents an hour and that was very helpful. I got a job that fall at a skating rink. There used to be a public skating rink here for students and for the community. The season ticket was three dollars.
Mac McRae used to be the outdoor man in charge of buildings and so on. In the wintertime, he had a snowplow on the front of the truck and he asked me if I would do that and he gave me 75 cents an hour, cash. So, I’d wake up every morning in the wintertime— 5:30—and if it snowed, I was on the streetcar [to campus]. I’d get the truck out and do the plowing. We had a lot of snow one year and I had a [class with a] professor named Milt McLean… and the class I had was at eight o’clock in the morning. Well, I might [still] be out plowing the skating rink, so at the end of the semester he called me in his office and said, “Well, Art,” he says, “I don’t want to give you an incomplete and I don’t want you to fail, but you missed too many classes and you didn’t quite get it, but I have something you can do.” He gave me two books, he said, “I want you to read those and write a book report.” And it took me quite a while, but I did and turned it in. Later he said, “Well, Art, you got a B, and so therefore you finished up the class.”
Richard Dierenfield ’48
PROFESSOR OF EDUCATION, 1951–1988
I remember I was in room 625, on December 7, 1941, and my roommate and I heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and we looked at each other. We thought, “There goes our lives.” We were just devastated. You know, with young guys—I was 18 or 19 and I thought, “Oh, 10 years out of our lives, at least, if we live through it.” And we were not sure at all if we were going to live through it. We knew we’d have to go in, there was no question at all. But we did live through, and I look over at Old Main, and there is a plaque over there telling about the young men of my age who were killed during World War II. I know all those fellows. And a lot of times I wonder, why me? Here I am—a lot of those good fellows, they were dear fellows, did not make it. But there was no doubt about the need to join.
The library, at one time, was in the basement of Old Main. It was not very much of a library. But then the Weyerhaeusers, bless their hearts, gave us enough money to build Weyerhaeuser Library, which is now Weyerhaeuser administrative building. That was a great, great day when that building was built [in 1942]. The big problem was how to get the books from the basement of Old Main to the place where they should be in the new library. Well, the answer to that question was get about 500, 600 kids, line them up, and they would pass the books along, person at the end, the librarian, would tell them where to go. And in a matter of—oh, I’d say a day, a day and a half, we got the whole thing [32,000 books] moved.
[Later, during his teaching years.] I remember one time Dr. Turck told us, in January, “Don’t cash your checks. Because there is no money in the bank! We have to wait until tuition comes in from the January group.” So here we sat with hardly any money anyway, you know, we were so poorly paid, and we sat it out for a month. [Then] the tuition was paid and the checks didn’t bounce.
Jean Probst ’49
INSTRUCTOR OF MATHEMATICS, 1950–1993
In Wallace Hall we ate in the big dining room, which is no longer. We [were] served familystyle dinner, so you sat at a table with a faculty member or a dorm mother and passed all the dishes. We said grace before meals. And on Wednesday evenings and Sunday noons we dressed for dinner. We had high heels and stockings and dresses. Much more formal, but genteel in a way. The first fall we brought our sugar rationing cards.
We had a curfew in the dormitory. As freshmen we could go out one night until [midnight] and one night a month until one o’clock. So there were mad dashes back to the dormitory to make the time because [if you were] late, you had to have an excuse and you wrote that excuse to the Resident Council. And then they would decide the punishment, which was usually taking away one of the late night privileges. Of course everyone stood out on the front stoop with their date and then at five minutes before curfew, Mrs. Tift would flash the light and we’d know that it was time to say goodbye. And then we signed in.
I was in Aquatic League all four years. It was all women; we did synchronized swimming. We had little battery lights on our bodies so that underwater the lights would flow and sparkle. Professor Miss Schellberg was in the phy ed department, and she took women on canoe trips up in the wilderness—the Boundary Waters— which was sort of daring. In order to be eligible you had to take lifesaving and water safety, and [go on] at least three trips on the St. Croix to learn how to paddle and camp…. One summer we had a photographer from the Chicago Tribune fly in to take pictures of us. He was not a camper, and it was pretty funny.
Roger Mosvick ’52
PROFESSOR OF SPEECH AND COMMUNICATION, 1956–2004
Vets were a large part of the campus. For many of us who hadn’t been in the service at that time, we were in awe of these people. They had been all over the world; they had defeated Nazi Germany and Japan. Some of them had engaged in very heroic personal sacrifices, which you never knew at the time. But they brought a sort of seriousness of purpose and a balance to the campus that a regular student like myself would not know about. Some of the very best intellectual bull sessions at Kirk Hall were led by people who were three or four years older than us, and had been in Vienna and Berlin, and served in Japan, slogged their way through the Philippines and had been in the Battle of the Bulge, and so on.
[Later, when I coached debate, Jack Mason told me] “We’ve got a guy here that’s an outstanding speaker and, you know, you’ve got to listen to him.” …. And so, Kofi [Annan] was very reserved, very respectful of anyone. But then he opened his mouth, it was very clear that he was a gem. And I said, “Well, you can enter the local contest.”
I’d been working with about eight other people and I didn’t think he had a snowball’s chance. But I said, “I’m going to have to listen to your speech.” And he …showed up in that Little Theater there at four o’clock one afternoon and delivered this wonderful speech. I mean, there was very little I could do to help him—talking about the debt the colonial nations owed to the African nations, and the need to continue helping and repaying that debt, not just a few years, but for 50 years in the future and it was a very prescient speech.
David Lanegran ’63
JOHN S. HOLL PROFESSOR OF GEOGRAPHY, 1969–
Students decided to go on strike to protest [the 1970 invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War]. So they decided they were going to change everybody’s mind. They stopped the traffic on Grand Avenue, which caused a huge uproar. Police arrived, and you know they didn’t change anybody’s mind. And then they went out into the neighborhood, knocking on doors to change people’s minds, and that didn’t change anybody’s mind. So then they went and talked to the alumni and that was even worse. The result was huge cutting back of contributions. So, the classes stopped and the faculty took a vote in the faculty meeting: the faculty would go on strike as well, but we’d still get paid. After that I didn’t go to faculty meetings for about 15 years.
[About Hildegard Binder Johnson, geography faculty member from 1947 to 1975, who brought Lanegran back to teach in the Geography Department] One of the guys who had taught here before said, “You’ll never last. No one can live with Hildegard for more than three years. She’s just too hard to live with.” I grew up with four older sisters—Hildegard wasn’t difficult to live with. She was a genius and she was kind of set in her ways, but she was easy to get along with. I used to think she was about eight feet tall. And then I realized lately when I looked at pictures of her she was really small. But she was a towering genius. She wrote and spoke several European languages. She traveled a lot. She had this huge list of publications. And her peers were people at other institutions in Germany and in France, and around the United States. She knew everybody.
She was very, very creative. She was writing things back in the ’50s that were picked up later as brand new. But … she always talked about how difficult it was to be a woman in this profession. There weren’t very many. There were … maybe eight or ten women faculty. Hildegard was constantly aware of how difficult it was to be a woman. She was nominated for the presidency of the Association of American Geographers, a very prestigious thing…. And that so upset some of the old boys that they put a candidate up from the floor of the convention— which had never ever been done—and that candidate won. So she got slapped in the face for being a woman and being an immigrant.
Juanita Garciagodoy ’74
PROFESSOR OF HISPANIC STUDIES, 1983–2007
[In Kirk Hall] we didn’t like that the men’s bathroom was the one next to our rooms, and the women’s was downstairs, so we just took the signs down and declared anybody can use whatever bathroom is closer to them. We were really very much a product of the ’60s, so I remember shocking some of the older students. The dean was a bit alarmed, and ordered us to put the signs back on the bathroom doors and to observe them. We put the signs back on, but didn’t change our habits.
My first year was in Kirk, and my other three years I was the native speaker and resident advisor of the Spanish House. I was not raised by my father to honor rules except his, and in the Spanish House I had a cat, which was against the rules, and the dean of housing would … send me a memo and say, “Garciagodoy? Have you gotten rid of that cat yet?” “No, sir, but I’m going to.” “Get rid of it!” “Yes, sir, I will.” And that was that until he called me again. “Have you gotten rid of that cat?” I said, “No, sir, I haven’t gotten rid of the cat.” He said, “Get rid of that cat!” “Yes sir, I will!” And I graduated with a cat.
John B. Davis
[On his first meeting with benefactor DeWitt Wallace]
It was perfectly clear to me when I came here that I had to meet Mr. Wallace…. He scheduled us to meet at the Sky Club, on the 20th floor of one of the great buildings. I got there early. I assure you, I was going to be there on time.
All of a sudden the doorway is filled with the frame of a very big man. He introduced himself and …he said to me, “Would you like a drink?”
I said, “Well, Mr. Wallace, it’s a work day. But if you will have a drink, I would be happy to join you.” And he said, “Martini?” and I said, “Yes.” And they served two martinis.
I think it’s proper to state that Mr. Wallace was politically and socially a conservative person. So he asked me about whether things were under control [on the campus]. He [knew] what was going on in the campus because he had an education advisor who visited several institutions [he supported].
The key question that came from that first meeting with Mr. Wallace was, “DO YOU KNOW WHAT A BOTTOM LINE IS?” I was able to say, “Yes, I understand what a bottom line is. And I understand that it has to be in the black. And we will work toward that goal.”
At a subsequent meeting, he said to me, “I’ll send you $20,000 every time you balance the budget.” (I think it was $20,000, it may have been a little more, sent for the college, of course.) Well, we balanced the budget every year of my presidency here. Now that was not balanced without some privation, without some sacrifice, but we balanced it. And that was convincing to Mr. Wallace.
January 23 2015Back to top