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Fridays with Fred: A Year in the Life of the College

A look at Beloit College in 1945.

Rumor has it that Beloit alumnus Roy Chapman Andrews (1906) was the inspiration for movie hero, Indiana Jones. Certainly the explorers shared similar feats of derring-do and boasted larger-than-life panache. During 30 years working in the Beloit College Archives, I sometimes find myself thinking about Indiana Jones, especially when combing the campus for archival treasures. Although I’ve never fought my way out of a booby-trapped Peruvian cave or faced down a chamber teeming with poisonous snakes, I have explored mysterious, dimly lit basements, attics, and storage rooms. I remember pushing through a curtain of sticky cobwebs and crashing into a bank of file cabinets rusted to a cement floor. A battered drawer pulled open with a painful creak, and there was 1930s-era administrative correspondence, each folder tab precisely gnawed off by some ancestral mouse, which left the Franklin Delano Roosevelt letter – and all the others – still safely tucked away, pristine. Sneezing through more than a century of dust in the attic of Middle College, I retrieved long-lost photographs of the “Black Demands” of 1969. A forgotten closet revealed a dusty stack of film reels dating from the 1920s to the 1950s. We’ve recovered 19th century ledgers from dormitory floodwater, salvaged a smoke-blackened brick from the fire-ravaged First Congregational Church, and beaten off mold, mildew, and possible wrack and ruin.

One day, 15 or 20 years ago, rummaging in a jumble of trash in the corner of an obscure room in the basement of Middle College, we stumbled upon a heap of oversized photo albums destined for the dumpster. The albums, assembled in the 1930s and 1940s by the Beloit College News Service, were fated for oblivion because seemingly every page was permanently stuck together, fused by 60-year-old goo from melted adhesive tape. I hauled them back to the archives, and over the next few years, recovered as many images as possible. Each album represented a year in the life of Beloit College. Although taken by skilled, professional photographers, most of the photographs were snapshot-size, details best revealed via magnifying glass or with today’s digital scanning. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll feature two dozen images from the one album that escaped the goo. In 1945-46, they apparently ran low on tape and reached for a glue pot instead.

With the college centennial celebrations approaching, the campus photographer snapped a few pics of the original 1847 Middle College cornerstone, which, some 70 years later, is considerably weathered. Note the second cornerstone beneath the first, commemorating the 1939 renovation, which transformed 1880s Victorian gingerbread into a quieter, classical façade.

The fall of 1945 found campus Greek organizations in the midst of rushing events. That meant revival for the fraternities that shut down during World War II. Here we have potential members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, pondering their elaborate coat of arms. The college’s SAE chapter closed in 1996.

A member of Kappa Delta greeted a pledge at the house. After 50 years at the college, Kappa Delta closed in 1970. They reactivated in 2006 and are going strong today.

Photographs of women’s athletics at Beloit College prior to Title IX’s enactment in 1972, are quite rare. In the fall of 1945, women competed in intramural field hockey at Strong Stadium.

The album features several photographs of a Logan Museum exhibit on musical instruments from around the world, among them, a variety from Peru.

For many veterans returning to college after the war, thoughts turned to those who never made it back. The caption under this photograph reads:

[Pete] Kostantacos and [Gene] Vogel…looking at the “Gold Star Frame” of Beloit men who died while in the service of their country during World War II…Both Kostantacos and Vogel were veterans, and both were on the football squad in 1945.

Today, the memorial resides in Eaton Chapel.

Microphone in hand, Beloit College President Carey Croneis addressed a crowd packing the stands at Strong Stadium before the Homecoming football game against Knox College.

The Beloit “Blue Devils” beat Knox 26-13, coached by Dolph Stanley, better known for guiding the college to basketball glory. The team won only two of six games in their first season since 1942. Given a little time, however, Coach Carl “Pill” Nelson transformed the team into a powerhouse, with a 26-5-1 record between 1950 and 1953.

Newly hired professor Franklin Boggs (squatting) leads a painting class at the Wright Art Hall. The legendary Boggs taught generations of students before retiring in 1977.

On Dec. 7, 1945, to make way for Aldrich and Maurer dormitories, the college tore down venerable Stowell Cottage, one of the original women’s residences when the institution became coeducational in 1895 and before the construction of Emerson Hall. Over the years a small number of women students continued to live in Stowell, but with a growing student body, the college needed modern dormitories. The 1880s-era limestone water tower looms on the hill in the distance, where it still stands today, like a crumbling castle turret remembering the clash of knightly swords. The modern water tower is long gone.

Eaton Chapel provided a venue for the popular Christmas Vespers services and for the colorful robes of the college choir.

The college was proud of its new map case, housed in a special room at the Carnegie Library. A room devoted to maps and atlases seemed appropriate for a building known 20 years later as the World Affairs Center.

Fred Burwell ’86
March 31, 2016

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