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‘The Class of 1950: A Nostalgic Look Back’ by Thomas E. Morgan
“The Class of 1950: A Nostalgic Look Back” were the remarks of Thomas E. Morgan, Penn State Class of 1950, delivered February 29, 1980:
No one could have mistaken Penn State for a sedate Ivy League college during those strained elbow-room-only days of ’46-’50 when GIs and their little sisters and brothers crammed into Pollock Circle, into other dorms, fraternities, sororities, town residences in search of an education. The main campus of Penn State was a unique combination of students—probably unlike any student body before or since in the Nittany Vale.
It was a mass situation. All those incoming students and nowhere to put them! It was push, push, push. Confusion. At one point, student registration and a wrestling-boxing-fencing meet were scheduled at the same time, same place, Rec Hall. Penn State was suffering some pangs of sudden large enrollment under the GI Bill.
State ’50 grads who went through World War II—or who went through college with combat-conditioned classmates—had a combination of experiences that hasn’t been truly matched since. They chose their careers and studied in an era of success and triumph coupled with anxiety over lost time and drive to knuckle down and get on with the business of making a living.
The stampede of students started in 1946 and those who really pushed got through school beginning in 1948 with a few more in 1949. But the biggest group was the Class of 1950. Ours was the largest Penn State class in history until then, and remained the largest until exceeded by the Class of 1960 and, incidentally, by all classes since ’60 at the College—excuse it, the University. Members of our ’50 Class have seen ours and other colleges grow from relatively small, intimate campuses to bursting, scattered complexes in a short time.
Because the main campus couldn’t take us, many of us were “farmed out” to state teachers colleges for our freshman year. They weren’t ready for us either. For example, at California, Pennsylvania, where our ranks included our freshman football team, we took up residence in the gymnasium. Well, vets were excused from the gym class anyway, and basketball would wait till second semester. The drafty gym, a sea of cots, became our home.
Until the Class of ’50 hit Penn State—primarily in the fall of ’46 and early in ’47, freshman had traditionally come to the Nittany Valley directly from high school. Their classmates, though from different parts of the state or country, were basically of the same age and background. But the high schoolers entering Penn State in 1946 had some surprises in store. Instead of a nice, homogeneous group of fun-loving teen-age peach-fuzzed youngsters, they found themselves shoulder to shoulder on the crowded campus with young men. These men had spent anywhere from two to four or more years of their lives in the military, often in foreign lands with all manner of men in all manner of situations—some life-and-death.
As a younger member of the Class of ’50 puts it, “College was not what I expected, coming right out of high school. Instead of horsing around with a fun-seeking teen-age gang as I did in high school, I found myself living in a married students’ place and going to Penn State with bomber pilots, infantry platoon leaders and veterans of Omaha Beach. It wasn’t what I thought college would be like.”
The returning veterans, for the most part, had had enough of wild experiences and unsettled living. They were anxious to study hard to get through college and on with their lives. Coming off an often mean and miserable wartime life, vets had to clean up their language and learn some Penn State manners. They dominated the student population and a considerable part of campus life. They introduced married life to Penn State. And their general maturity and seriousness had a profound effect on their younger classmates.
In later years there were veterans on campus, after the Korean and Vietnam Wars, too, but nowhere near the percentages in the ’46-’50 era, and their influence was diluted.
The GIs of World War II came back tremendously motivated because they felt they had been a part of a great, great accomplishment in the life of America. They were self-confident. A lot of that rubbed off on the high school students.
For the coeds (That’s what we called the girls, remember?) who managed to make it to Penn State, the place was a paradise. The ratio was five men to one woman! Dean of Women Pearl O. Weston had a rough task looking after her girls.
And there was no Pill then!
The era of the Class of ’50, with its amalgam of seriousness and fraternity, is gone. That social and academic mix was a healthy one, a balance the current generation of Penn State students may not have. For example, many of us of ’50 were much in favor of a fraternity-sorority system, but it isn’t as popular with young people today. Leave out the rah-rah Penn State thing if you wish and think only of the values of relationships with people developed over three or four years that last to be strong even 30 years later. Penn State students today don’t have the relationships like ours. Their milieu reflects the social times. It emphasizes more sexual freedom, less marriage, live-in love partners in the dorm, and other aspects of today’s x-rated world. When television was only in its infancy and before the Pill changed the world, students of the era of ’50 were of a different Penn State mold and stripe.
In 1950 our country was coming off two decades of Depression and war. But it was also the beginning of a period of reawakening in America—with a re-emphasis on the importance of the individual, on his rights and opportunities in a free society. It was the beginning of a period of increasing affluence and leisure time. Many of our Class of ’50 went out from Penn State to become successful in our chosen fields and to enjoy it. In retrospect, we owe a lot to our University for that ’50 sheepskin signed by Judge Milholland, acting president, and to the start it gave us.
A fleeting, biased look at the times of the Class of ’50 at Penn State seems in order. Apologies to the realists who may not appreciate a tendency to nostalgia. What follows, then, is dedicated to those equipped with a special Blue and White sense enabling them to feel something extra when thinking, even 30 years later, about things that happened in or about 1950 in the Nittany Lion’s lair. There is no special order. Do you remember?
- Despite a new dial telephone system on campus, young bucks still had to dial 5051 till kingdom come, beginning at 9 p.m., in quest of a damsel’s voice. That’s as far as you got. Coeds had to be safely in their dorms by 10 p.m.
- What used to be time-honored “C&F” majors at Penn State (for commerce and finance) were about to be of the past, as that department changed curricula and re-named that one.
- The Inkling, a new student literary magazine, was born. Like others before and after, it didn’t last long. Its greatest distinction was to be its first editor, who has since become a top U.S. publisher.
- The first of many “Nittany Lion Roars” throughout the year in the Daily Collegian went to the esteemed Five Hundred: the frosh women who marked the return of the first freshman to campus in four years, in our senior year. Today would they be called “freshpersons”?
- Perhaps surprising in the no-nonsense attitude of vets, the Class of ’50 reinstated freshman customs at Penn State. They had been a war casualty. Maybe we were proud of being college boys and wanted to see more spirit … of dorm, class and school. Although some bugs cropped up in customs for ’50 frosh femmes, it was a valiant attempt and helped pave the path for bringing back customs in ’51 for the first on-campus male frosh in five years. Hat Society Council in ’50 decided not to reinstate the old Penn State tarring and feathering of frosh nor “will they strike much fear in frosh hearts.” But customs were deemed a new start. By the way, today at Penn State there are hardly any “class” distinctions because of the new four-term academic year. It’s hard to tell who are the seniors, and so on. Everyone is of this numbered term or that.
The year ’50 was packed with foundings and firsts.
- One far-reaching action by a creative All-College Cabinet was founding a new school ring which boasted a closer connection with the University in its design. The Lion, Old Main and the graduation year replaced time-honored duplicate seals of The Commonwealth on the ring sides. The Board of Trustees agreed. Our new ’50 design remains today.
- Cabinet, in fact, achieved a pinnacle in attention not only to student matters but also, in a period of college transition, to matters of an overall Penn State nature. It made the campus Cabinet-conscious, the student-government conscious.
- Our year was marked by some new student events, or renewal of some old ones that had fallen to war-time. Two brand new ones were Mad Hatter’s Day and the Spring Week Parade. The parade was replete with flashy bands, queens, floats and the military. Both events expanded Spring Carnival, begun in ’49, to a week.
- The Penn State Farmer was reorganized after a six-year lapse.
- To fill a need recognized by both the College and the students, a new junior hat society, Androcles, was established by the Class of ’50. It stressed lionine tradition and service, and its new members were tapped each year from a broad spectrum of campus life—not sports only. Androcles has lasted 29 years, has apparently just now fallen victim to the new term system with cloudy definition of who are juniors. Maybe someone will apply the fable of “Androcles and the Lion” to Penn State once again.
- A 13-year desire for a Student Union Building at Penn State involved lots of talk, lots of plans, that’s all. No funds. Till 1950. A collegian editor had captured the need for the building back in ’40 when he cried, “Can’t we rest just a minute, catch our breath, fill out this vast hollow shell we call a college with more of the real stuff of life? Why can’t we have a SU building?” Well, it remained for the Class of ’50 to score the bold stroke that caused the much-discussed building to reach fruition. Through All-College Cabinet with Trustee approval, our Class did an unheard-of thing: We students slapped a $15 year assessment on ourselves for the purpose of financing construction of the SU. That did it. As they say, the rest is history. During the post-’50 Korean War, construction was delayed but the fund grew. Today, the HUB—Hetzel Union Building—is a vital and expected part of student life.
- A dating bureau was set up to help boys and girls get together. It was a partial help to remedy a situation in which “many coeds are having to pass up the future greats in the engineering field.”
- A new court of appeals was created as a compromise between All-College Cabinet and WSGA—what was that? Oh yes, the women on campus. Each wanter to hear appeals from Judicial decisions involving coed infractions of rules. The new Court would do it instead.
- In 1950, coeds were in trouble who did not live in a dorm on campus, stayed out later than 10 p.m. weekdays, failed a famous peanut-butter breath test upon return to the dorm, did not get permission from the house mother to go home weekends, stayed overnight anywhere but the dorm. These are some rules remembered. There were others.
- Honoring the last PSU president our Class knew, we established the Ralph Dorn Hetzel Award to a top student leader. Also the Hetzel Room in Old Main.
- In other firsts, foundings and reactivations, the CORE barbershop was established, AIM held for the first All-College hike since 1942 to Mt. Nittany, providing lunch for 35 cents; after some minor clamor about it, the Blue Band moved over to join us students on our side of Beaver Field football games.
- Inter-fraternity Council conducted a realistic drive against fraternity theft. About 20 houses were “robbed” late at night by IFC teams whose “thefts” went without a hitch.
- We were unhappy about this first: The year ’49-’50 was the first since the war that we had no girl cheerleaders.
Highlighting ’50 was the arrival of the two E’s: Eisenhower and Engle. Collegian issued the second and third extra editions in its history to report the two appointments. (The first extra appeared two years earlier on the day “Prexy” Hetzel died.)
In what was billed as the Rally of the Half Century at Penn State, half the student body turned out to the Old Main steps to see and hear President-elect Milton S. Eisenhower on February 27. It was his first visit to the campus. The happy occasion had been set partly through a prior exchange of shortwave-radio “Milkshake Letters” featuring an offer and acceptance of “enjoying a milkshake with the students.” He was later pictured in papers nation-wide, sipping a shake with Nittany coeds prior to his July 1 coming to Penn State from Kansas State.
It was an important milestone in the history of the College—that is, the University, the arrival of this famous man who was to preside over many changes of the post-1950 era. For us students as well as the faculty and the Administration, it was also a relief that Penn State was to have a full-time president again. For most of the time of the Class of ’50 on campus—for 2.5 years, it did not.
Like the onset of the new president, the 1950 coming of Charles A. “Rip” Engle as head football coach was preceded by intense and vocal student interest. Prompted by reports that Penn State football was to be “de-emphasized,” Skull & Bones led a student uprising calling for “A Big-Time Coach for the Big-Time College.” News wires covered us. Then “Rip” was appointed, coming from Brown University, and everyone was glad. A spontaneous roar of welcome rocked Schwab (Yes, it’s still there!) when Mr. and Mrs. Engle appeared, unannounced, at a Spring Week event. Big-Time football at Penn State seemed secure. Incidentally, Rip brought along his quarterback named Paterno.
Long-time Penn State watchers declared in ’50 that no greater display of student concern and enthusiasm had ever blossomed on campus than that attending the advent of Dr. Eisenhower and Coach Engle. These were happy times.
We had our share of campus controversies, though today they seem to pale when compared to the frenetic anti-establishment ’60s.
- In ’50, several student groups, including IFC and NAACP, objected to Penn State’s granting a charter to Alpha Kappa Psi, a national commerce fraternity, because of its constitution restricting membership to “white gentiles.” After a tempest on campus, AKPsi remained chartered but the College in our year set rules against chartering any group in the future with restrictive membership clauses. And IFC launched a program to cause all 52 social fraternities in Happy Valley to examine their own national rules. There was growing liberalism on campus.
- Receiving widest press coverage outside the College was controversy between an assistant math prof, Dr. Lee Lorch, and the College. His teaching contract was not made permanent, he claimed, because of his activities to combat discrimination in New York. The College claimed his dismissal had nothing to do with that. Students were divided, with strong sentiments expressed in Daily Collegian letters. All-College Cabinet defeated a motion to ask the Board of Trustees to renew the Lorch Case.
- There was a student uproar in ’50 over seating at home football games. We wanted to be on the west, or home, side, where our team’s bench traditionally was; instead, we students were on the east side with the opposing team. A kind of compromise resulted in the Nittany Lion grinders, not us, making the move. They came to the east to be with us. Thirty years later, so we can see them through our bifocals, we want to be on the west and bring our team back to our side, don’t we?! Fat chance.
- Independent men living in Nittany Dorms and Pollock Circle, born of the war, were said by their councils to be up in arms over College plans to put 1,000 new freshman and 650 upperclassmen in the modern new West Dorms. Where was seniority? So application blanks went out from AIM to all independent men to assay interest. The crusade fizzled when not many applied. Apparently they’d become accustomed to that certain color and ambience of jerry-build Nittany-Pollock.
- Then there was that flap about who were to be named ’50 Campus Personalities in LaVie. Eight more were added.
- A squabble took place over Panhel’s practice of “selecting” its president by rotating the office among the 19 sororities on campus.
- Collegian caused a stir by claiming the only reason girls go to Penn State is to get a man. Isn’t that so?
- More seriously, our student leaders found what they termed inadequacies in the College Health Service in view of the burgeoning student body. With 10,000 students, there was no College ambulance. The nearest hospital was in Bellefonte. And so on. It can be reported today that Penn State now has a Centre County Hospital—not far from the Stadium.
And on to some other aspects and events of ’50:
- When we were at State, there weren’t many blacks among us. Their day came later. Our football team, when it was invited to a year-end southern bowl, had to make separate arrangements for housing and feeding our few black athletes. And do you remember that in our time many southern teams wouldn’t play us if we had blacks in the lineup? Sports and the University changed.
- The skeleton of Coaly, the mule which helped carry stones to erect Old Main, was found in an Ag Hill hayloft.
- We had our quota of campus queens, all female. Searching for new titles, we came up with Miss Penn State for the Mid-Century Year. Where are you today, Mary Anne Hanna?
- Penn State debaters could call 1950 one of their most triumphant in history. The men’s team captured first place in four tourneys, which topped previous Nittany efforts. But the crowning achievement came when ten of our debaters—men and women—came back from the grand national tournament with a tie for the national championship, an outright women’s championship, and five individual national titleists. One of our debaters and classmates destined to become an illustrious Penn Stater, Dick Schweiker ’50, earned a five-column Collegian headline: “Schweiker Blasts Administration.” He was unhappy with lack of college bookstore progress as All-College parliamentarian and student spokesman. He later gained headlines in the U.S. Senate.
- There were no drive-in movies at State, nor fast food places. Some of us went to the Nittany or Penn State diner, or of course, the Corner Room. No liquor was sold or served in State College (It is now). The student “rum run” to Bellefonte was a weekly tradition before weekend parties.
- Thespians and Players gave their usual full dose of campus entertainment in ’50. The former struck gold with “Girl Crazy” and Players celebrated their 30th anniversary by tackling “Life With Father” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
- Sigma Delta Chi, journalism honorary, restored the campus Gridiron Banquet in which college administration, profs and anyone else within earshot were “roasted.” Replete in tails and tales, Dr. Kent Forster defended The Establishment.
- Froth, our lamenting and lamented humor magazine, flourished in 1950. It increased circulation from 2800 to 4200 and averaged 48 pages per issue—more than any other college humor rag in the nation. The “Saturday Evening Most” issue set a record by selling 4000 copies in six hours. Do you still have your copy? Probably not. So here’s one joke from it for your laugh of today: “She passed. I saw, and smiled. She turned and smiled. To answer to my smile. I wonder if she, too, could know. Her underwear hung down a mile.” What, you didn’t laugh! Well, that’s 1950 humor. Froth was then risqué by ’50 standards, tame by today’s. A slogan printed on every page of the parody issue at hand was “You Get the Most on Saturday Night.” It was rejected by Lou Bell, then Froth advisor, so the staff had to re-make the issue. Years later, Froth really got out of hand in its humor, according to University authorities, and was banned. Then it was resurrected and banned again.
- Many of the excessive hijinks of Hell Week in fraternities were fading—probably because of the influence of war veterans. Not much paddling of pledges’ bare behinds remained. Hell Week was becoming Work Week.
So you wondered, “When is he going to get to our sports heroes?” these memoirs of ’50 maybe save some of the best for last, because we were so good in sports. Let us set them down briefly:
- The zone-defense basketball team scored a major upset by finishing second in the pre-season Dixie Classic.
- Jim Maurey ’50, Homer Barr, Rudy Valentino and Chuck Drazenovich ’50 captured Eastern titles in 145-pound wrestling, heavyweight wrestling, and tumbling and heavyweight boxing, respectively.
- Outstanding Jim Gehrdes ’50 and Victor Fritts, the boy who was born with feet pointing in opposite directions, became IC4-A champions in the hurdles and high jump, respectively.
- Gangling Marty Costa ’50 broke two all-time Penn State individual basketball scoring records: 299 points for a season and 32 points in a single game.
- The College gained immeasurable prestige through playing host to the 1950 Eastern Intercollegiate Gymnastics Championships and National Collegiate Boxing Tourney. They were exciting.
- Soccer was a “secret” sport. Few were aware, but we were undefeated, once-tied in ’50. We then tied San Francisco for the championship in the first national Soccer Bowl in St. Louis.
- Will Lancaster ’50 equalled Barney Ewell’s Penn State mark of 9.6 seconds in the 100-yard dash. And the mile relay team of Gehrdes, Guy Kay, Bill Lockhart and Lancaster established a new Nittany mark of 3 minutes, 21.2 seconds.
- The remarkable Drazenovich brothers achieved double prominence in the Penn State sports scene. On top of his football prowess as an outstanding single-wing quarterback and his national boxing championship in 1950, Chuck ’50 set a new all-time shotput mark of 48 feet, 7.25 inches for Penn State. And brother Joe ’50, in addition to being a foremost Nittany guard for three years on the gridiron, was a top player on the ’50 lacrosse squad.
- Gehrdes graduated with a host of all-time Penn State track records tucked under his sheepskin. Principal ones were the 120-yard high hurdles mark of 14.2 seconds and the 220-yard lows record of 22.9. What’s more, he became the holder of every Penn State hurdles mark at every indoor distance from 40 through 75 yards.
- Another all-time Penn State football great is Francis “Punchy” Rogel ’50. He may be the top fullback in the history of the University. Old-timers of ’50 compared him only with Pete Mauthe, captain of the ’12 team. “Rogel up the middle” was a familiar cry at football games, and he usually garnered the necessary yards.
- We’ll remember that magnificent first half of the Army football game at West Point, when Coach Joe Bedenk’s dauntless first team withstood the onslaught of favored Army, and led 7 to 0 at half-time. And remember, in our day football was not a game of platoons. Players went both ways, playing offense and defense. There were 60-minute iron men. It was different.
- “Beat Bucknell!” faded from the scene while we were in school. The last game was in ’48.
- Our football team was 5–and-4 for the ’49 season. Our biggest wins were over Nebraska and two traditional foes, Syracuse and West Virginia. Our ’50 gridiron classmates—some already mentioned—had fine careers for several years at State, including the vaunted Cotton Bowl team of ’47. That team, when we were sophomores, still holds the all-time Penn State and intercollegiate records of 9-game rushing defense, 153 yards, and total defense, 691 yards.
- After football, the most popular sports at Penn State were wrestling, boxing and gymnastics. An enthralling event was any Rec Hall doubleheader comprising two of these sports. Rec Hall was jammed. Collegian complained that a larger facility was needed. Today it still is, with triple the students! To watch a good figure-four hold on the mat or a brilliant 90 score on the bars, are they hanging from the rafters?
- A sad note of ‘50 was the death of Leo “Fred” Houck, boxing coach.
- Our exasperated varsity ski team had all its dual meets cancelled for lack of snow.
We had our building boom on campus. By comparison, the decade of the ‘70s had none. Simmons and McElwain, girls’ dorms, were opened in ‘49-‘50. The magnificent Water Tunnel was built and dedicated. New Mineral Sciences and Plant Industries buildings were erected. A foods building was completed. And several Old Main offices moved over to the new Willard Hall. Then there was the newly-constructed curve in the seating plan of old Beaver Field, providing 15,000 more seats for home football games in our ‘49 season. Further, in our senior year, the University announced plans for 15 other new buildings.
Critics cried that all this construction meant the campus would assume more and more that citified look of stone, steel and concrete. Many already lamented, “Where is the campus?” But buildings had to be built to cope with overwhelming demands on Penn State as the place, theoretically at least, where any boy or girl of this State could apply for and get an education.
Physical changes wrought on campus after our departure would take another article. Over-all, we thought we were big but today the campus is infinitely larger. More buildings. New walkways—paved after students trod them to a frazzle in the grass. Problems of parking, intense in our day, are more acute today. The campus is so big today, it must be tough sprinting between classes from one end to the other.
The imposing barn close-in at Curtis Road, with its beautiful cows and massive bulls, is gone—put farther out to pasture. Our Old Beaver Field, as you know, was dismantled to become New Beaver Stadium farther out. The classic Armory on the Mall is gone, replaced by offices and computers. Some things haven’t changed:
Hort Woods, albeit smaller as it bowed to encroachment of progress, remains. You can still buy the best ice cream cone at the Campus Store as in ‘50, made with milk from Penn State cows. Remaining too is the grande tree-lined Mall—almost as much a symbol of Penn State as the Lion Shrine and Mount Nittany.
So there you are, a nostalgic look at ‘50. It has been claimed that our creative ‘50 Class was unique at Penn State. Be that as it may, one thing is certain: Our Class possessed the Penn State Spirit. Perhaps dimmed a little after 30 years, it’s still recognizable in many of us.
Now on to the ‘80s!