‘Once Upon a Time’ Traditions and Other Miscellany

MANY TRADITONS develop in a college community, some good that become permanent, some not so good that should be discarded. Some relate to the activities of the entire student body, others to smaller groups, classes, dormitories, and the like. Some worthy traditions are gradually abandoned because of changing circumstances, increased size of the student body, or other considerations. We have preserved many wonderful traditional events at St. Olaf which become the shared experience of all its students and serve as a unifying force among each college generation and those that have gone before: Homecoming, Founders Day, Christmas festival, the Shakespearean play, fine arts festival, and the like. A few traditions that have now gone by the board, most of which involved groups rather than the entire student body might be of interest.

Tower Party
THIS WAS AN INFORMAL late spring event held shortly before graduation at four o’clock on an afternoon. The senior women guided by the Dean of Women climbed the creaking stairways of the three levels of the tower of Old Main. They inscribed their names on the walls of the “Hall of Fame,” viewed the country-side from the windows on all four sides, munched their popcorn, drank their lemonade, and seated on the ledge that extended around the upper window level, contributed a quotation or anecdote or a bit of philosophy as each might choose. This excursion to the uppermost regions of the campus closed appropriately with the singing of “High on Manitou Heights.” This annual tower party came to an abrupt end when in World War II the building was requisitioned for the Navy and the space in the tower was used for storage.

The Alumni Pledge
UNTIL IT WAS DESTROYED by fire, commencement exercises were regularly held in Hoyme Memorial Chapel. After the services graduates and alumni would gather on the green in front of Old Main, the alumni forming an outer circle surrounding an inner circle of the new graduates. With the president of the Alumni Association presiding, the motion would be made to admit officially the new class into the Association. The graduates would step back into the alumni group to form one large circle and with arms crossed join hands and repeat the alumni pledge, “Enig og tro inntil Manitou falder” (United and loyal til Manitou falls). When commencement exercises were moved to the Gymnasium, this practice was continued with the circles forming near where Agnes Mellby Hall now stands. When the classes became so large and the visitors so many the outdoor ceremony was discontinued, but a modified form was carried on in the Gymnasium at the close of the graduation exercises. With the present size of our classes and our outdoor commencements even this abridged ceremony is no longer feasible.

Memorial Day
FOR MANY YEARS it was customary for Mrs. Ytterboe, me, and the members of the Student Senate to decorate the St. Olaf graves on Memorial Day, which at that time was a holiday. Through the kindness and help of John Berntsen we were able to get lilacs and spirea and, if in bloom, iris and peonies from our own campus. The students were up early collecting the flowers, and by seven o’clock Joe Rodrick, the college trucker, would be on the campus with his truck to take us out to Oaklawn cemetery where the flowers were arranged and reverently placed by head stones or markers. The students read names and dates and became a little more familiar with personalities, some of whom they knew, others of whom were only names. Memorial Day regularly fell in the midst of semester examination week. When it was decided to include that day in the examination schedule, it no longer became possible for the students to participate and the custom was dropped. The Administration of the college has now assumed responsibility for placing flowers on the St. Olaf graves.

Yell masters
ONE TRADITION THAT MANY Of us miss is having real yell-masters direct our cheering at games. Just as none of us who saw the swift-passing Cully Swanson and the sure-receiving Frank Cleve or the slippery Syl Saumers on the football field or the phantom Mark Almli dribbling on the basketball floor will ever forget them, neither will we forget some of the yell-masters who led us in cheering. There were Cully Johnson with his commanding voice and Marty Mundale with his antics, both carrying us along with their contagious enthusiasm. There was Shorty Hjortland who despite his lack of height led us with vigor and power. And there was the most renowned of them all Sam Groth, tall, calm, dignified who needed only to wag his forefinger to get the group to do just what he wanted. He had it under perfect control and would tolerate no booing or discourtesy of any kind. He made of cheer leading a fine art and always seemed to sense the right thing to do. Once during the half of a most tense Carleton-St. Olaf basketball game he went to the center of the floor, had the St. Olafites sing the Carleton song, and then directed the Carletonians in the St. Olaf song! There were yell-masters in those days!

The Sixth
NOVEMBER 6TH, FOUNDERS DAY, was always a festive one. There was never any question as to the date of Homecoming during the earlier years; for that was always on November 6th no matter on what day of the week it fell. That was before St. Olaf played inter-collegiate football, though often a freshman-sophomore game was part of the program for the day. I well remember in 1917 Selmer Berg, one of the most highly respected student leaders at the time, appearing before the faculty to plead the cause of inter-collegiate football and arguing that under conference rules and proper coaching it would be far less “dangerous” than the present inter-class games. Later when a football game became a regular feature of Homecoming, the date was changed to the Saturday nearest the 6th of November. The first time that happened one would often hear the remark, “The Sixth is on the fourth this year.” Still later to avoid the often disagreeable weather of November (one year the game was played in a snowstorm), Homecoming was moved to October when the campus is in its most colorful autumn glory, at a date fixed each year.

In the earlier days The Sixth was the outstanding college event of the first semester. There was always a program in chapel with guest speaker and special music. Invariably too, above the speaker’s stand hung the beautiful russet-gold St. Olaf banner made by Miss Agnes Mellby. Student committees decorated Ytterboe Hall dining room with streamers of black and gold and the college emblem. There was an especially good dinner and a reception in the evening at which the seniors made their first official appearance in cap and gown.

But what really made The Sixth more memorable than any other day of the year was the illumination of Old Main. No one who has ever seen it will forget it. If you, especially as a freshman, up to this time had felt a bit lost or out of place, that evening your love and loyalty to St. Olaf was made sure. For weeks a committee of boys had been working on the formation of patterns with candles for the windows of Old Main fronting the city. The windows lent themselves well to candle placements on different levels from sash to top. Several students were on duty in each room. At a signal every candle in every window on the entire front of the building was lit, sending forth a blaze of light. Then at the proper signals some lights were extinguished and some again re-lit to produce various formations such as a cross, a church, foundation date 1874, current year, years of classes in college, etc. Finally the entire facade was again enveloped in luminous splendor. Townspeople, too, enjoyed this spectacle, for they had an excellent view of it from below the Hill and even across the river.

Until 1918 there was no official student body organization to take care of such matters. But always some upper class student with initiative would get permission from the president for the student body “to remain after chapel” to nominate the necessary committees for The Sixth. One year some wags nominated for the illumination committee all the boys who had red hair.

The practice of illuminating Old Main with candles was finally abandoned because of the fire hazard involved. For some years electric lights were substituted but this too had to be eliminated because of the exposed wiring. It would take a nice sum of money to wire the building properly for illuminating it and for a once-a-year event such funds have not so far been available.

Tornado Visits the Campus
IT WAS IN THE AFTERNOONN of a Hamline-St. Olaf baseball game held on the old athletic field between Mohn Hall and the present Agnes Mellby Hall, where the grandstand was located at that time. I might say that baseball never seemed so exciting after the new field was built below the Hill as when home run after home run was made on the old field when ball happened to land in the valley. Always there was a contingent of small boys along the rim of the drop-off to retrieve the ball as it rolled down the hill.

A terrific thunderstorm came up. The game was halted; people who were in cars along the edge of the field pulled down the side flaps (those were the days before enclosed cars) and huddled inside until the downpour should cease. The roofed grandstand was packed with students. I was watching from the west door of Mohn Hall, heard a terrific roar and saw a funnel cloud coming slowly over the valley with boards and branches whirling in its vortex, seemingly aiming straight for the grandstand. What should I do? Run over and tell the students to get out of the stand and throw themselves flat on the ground? But there wasn’t time for this. So I just stood and prayed as earnestly as I have ever prayed.

Suddenly the tornado cloud divided. One half of it lifted in the air, went behind the stand, striking down again at nearby Castle Rock and wiping out one-half of that village. The other half of the twister passed over the campus in front of Old Main (a student, Gerhard Mather, coming up St. Olaf Avenue photographed it), dropped down into the yard of the first house adjoining the campus, picked up a chicken house in the back yard, and flitted airily on its way to the Mississippi at Red Wing. The next morning the Minneapolis Journal came out with front page headlines, “St. Old Saved as by a Miracle.”

The Lion’s Den
A POPULAR FEATURE OF THE Mohn Hall cafeteria for many years was the afternoon coffee hour from 3 to 4:00 p.m., frequented by both faculty and students. There was a long-felt need for a place where such services could be provided for a longer period of time. When the Library was built in 1941, provision was made for a snack-room in the basement with fountain and lunch service that could serve as a student center, open from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. This was known as the Lion’s Den and served for many years as a center for the students until the present far more extensive and adequate St. Olaf Center was erected in 1960.

Monument in the Valley 
IN A SEQUESTERED SPOT IN Norway Valley is a granite monument erected to the memory of the Reverend Ole Fugleskjel, a St. Olaf alumnus who lost his life in a blizzard while on his way to the mission church he served near Spooner, Wisconsin. It was presented to St. Olaf by the students at Luther Seminary in 1910 and placed on a knoll in the then wooded area between the present Holland Hall and the Rolvaag Memorial Library. It could be seen from the sidewalk leading from Old Main past Steensland Hall over to Ytterboe. One day a visitor asked a student passing on the walk what that monument was. Having herself never been over to look at it she did not

know, but did not want to admit her ignorance. So she took a chance and glibly replied that this hill was named Manitou Heights and the monument marked the grave of an Indian chieftain. The visitor apparently satisfied went on. As soon as she could, the student went to examine the monument and found on it the most un-Indian name, Ole Fugleskjel, and a moving story of Christian heroism.

When Holland Hall was to be built, trees were cut down, the slope graded, and the monument had to be moved. With additional buildings projected it seemed that the most suitable and permanent location for it would be among the trees by one of the foot trails in the valley.

Luther-St. Olaf Endowment Fund Drive
IN 1926 ST. OLAF FACED some crucial days. Its accreditation with the North Central Association was in jeopardy because of the limited endowment funds of the college. The North Central would not recognize the annual contribution of the church body to St. Olaf as the equivalent of the interest on a quite sizable sum. On the basis of its experience with some other church colleges it questioned the assurance of such continued appropriations. As a result a campaign among the church constituency for an endowment fund of a minimum of $550,000 was undertaken.

Dr. O. H. Pankoke was engaged to plan the drive. At intervals throughout the year informational material was sent out from the busy endowment office to the pastors and lay people of the church; committees were organized in circuits and regions to arrange for mass meetings, and in March two teams went out to address these gatherings. St. Olaf and Luther College joined forces in this project. It was a challenging and exciting experience for the participants. One team was composed of President Boe of St. Olaf, Dr. Pankoke, Mrs. I. D. Ylvisaker, president of the Women’s Missionary Federation, and the Reverend O. S. Reigstad. The members of the other team were President Oscar Olson of Luther College, Dr. P. M. Glasoe, the Reverend I. Hoff, and Miss Gertrude Hilleboe. It was a strenuous month with at least one and sometimes two meetings a day. We drove in open cars. At that time forty-five miles an hour was fast driving and fifty was a speed to talk about. A flat tire, plus an hours delay in crossing the Mississippi into Wisconsin by ferry, plus roads under construction (which in one place brought the car to the hub in the mire) made a hectic ride for the members of one group. They just made their destination for an eight o’clock meeting at Beloit on the minute of eight o’clock. With no time for freshening up, but flushed and wind-burned, the speakers presented their cause to a large ,and receptive audience. It was on the last stretch of the road beyond the construction area that they had sped fifty miles an hour! The church constituency responded wonderfully to the endowment drive and St. Olaf’s and Luther’s accreditation remained secure.

Tille’s Bus
DURING THE 1930’s WE HAD one convenience that was greatly appreciated by both faculty and students. That was Tille’s Bus. This was an ordinary, used school bus which Mr. Tille had secured and which he ran on a regular schedule from Bridge Square to Mohn Hall. During the day it ran between class periods coming up from town for the beginning of a class period and leaving the Hill after the close of the period. In the evenings its trips were spaced an hour apart from 6 o’clock until 10 (11 o’clock on Saturdays). Tille’s Bus was regularly outside the Grand Theatre when the group came out from the first show. It was also available for special between-hours group trips such as for a society or club banquet held downtown before we had our own facilities. At a time when the majority of the students lived off-campus, this bus service at ten cents a trip was a real boon. After awhile, however, Tille’s bus was unable to compete with the more flexible hours of taxis and the service was discontinued.

The St. Olaf Rock
THE ST. OLAF COLLEGE SEAL is to be found inscribed above the entrance to the Gymnasium, etched in the glass above the west door of the Library, carved on the marble bench that stood in front of Mohn Hall, depicted in a stained glass window in the Chapel, and in several other places on the campus.

The most interesting and historic of these is the carving on the St. Olaf Rock, a large granite tree-shaded boulder on the brow of the Hill to the south-west of old Mohn Hall. N. Edward Mohn, the oldest of the Mohn children became an architect. One summer vacation, while still a student at St. Olaf, he carved the St. Olaf seal on this boulder, then out in the woods.

In “The Mohn Family Tapestry” his brother Sigvard (Ted) recounts that “He made a cartoon from an impression of the seal. It was from this cartoon that he cut the seal. His task was especially difficult and tedious as he had but one cold chisel with which to work. This soon became blunted and needed to be sharpened. After sharpening, it should have been tempered, but Edward had no means of tempering steel. Before he finished, the cutting edge of the chisel became as soft as malleable iron. For this reason the seal was not cut as deeply as Ed would have liked.”

For many years every student who had a camera or a friend who owned one had his or her or their picture taken seated on the St. Olaf Rock. During the years the ground around the rock has been filling up and the boulder has seemed to diminish in size. When the excavation was made for the new Science Center, this large granite boulder was scooped out from its resting place of centuries and for the first time its impressive size was revealed. When the Science Center and the landscaping around it are completed, this historic seal-inscribed boulder will be given an honorable place on the campus.

Manitou Analecta


Introduction and Foreword
Early Contacts
St. Olaf Builders
Loyal and Faithful
Student Life
Ytterboe Hall Boarding Club
War Comes to St. Olaf
When the Chapel Burned
Dearest of “Homes on the Circling Heights”
A Dream Come True
Second World War Years
Getting Back to “Normalcy”
Some Distinguished Campus Visitors
“The Play’s the Thing”
‘Once Upon a Time’ Traditions and Other Miscellany
Our College Songs