“AND SO IT IS war again!” Thus begin the notations on December 7th, 1941, in a little diary that was kept that year and a few following.
It had been a year fraught with increasing anxiety and concern. For two years we had watched the seemingly inexorable on-march of Hitler’s armies over Europe. We had read in our papers and heard over the radio about the rape of Austria, the crushing of Czechoslovakia and Poland, the invasion of Norway and Denmark, the collapse of Yugoslavia, Belgium, Greece, France, the Low Countries, the deceitful attack on Russia, and now more recently, the fevered diplomatic discussions between Japan and the United States. For almost two years, too, we had followed the courageous and valiant English whose fidelity to their pledge to Poland had brought them into conflict with this Nazi juggernaut. While officially as a people we were neutral, we were not so in our hearts. There was Lend-Lease. Our Navy was on the watch for German submarines, and there were numerous other government aids to the anti-Axis powers. On the quiet, preparations were being made for our own defense in the event of our being drawn into the holocaust.
St. Olaf like many colleges and communities had a “Bundles for Britain” project; our Lenten offerings were designated for Soldiers and Sailors Welfare; Red Cross drives were held. But we were not directly involved and the war was far off. There did not seem to be anything significant we could do so we tried to go about our regular business as best we could . It had been exciting to witness the ground-breaking for the new library in January, twenty years after the project had originally been launched, and the cornerstone laying at commencement. Special recognition had been given Dr. F. Melius Christiansen that commencement in honor of his 70th birthday. Many alumni were back, but all through the festivities was felt the undertone of the critical world situation both in the addresses given and in personal conversation.
Then came December 7th and Pearl Harbor! The effect on the campus and elsewhere was electric and sobering. We understood well that there would be a long, hard struggle ahead and that both as individuals and as an institution we would become deeply involved. It was a serious group of students that came to supper that night. Radios had been brought into the dining room so they could hear the reports as they ate. A scene deeply etched in memory from that evening is of the entire roomful of students rising and standing at attention as the “Star Spangled Banner” was played. The next day at chapel President Boe, a veritable tower of strength, united us as a college in an ever-stronger bond as he discussed the recent overwhelming events, counseled calm courage, spoke of the meaning of the flag and the cause for which we were fighting, and led the assembly as we prayed together the 23rd Psalm. Always he left us with a challenge, a lift: “Through this, too, we shall walk with heads up.”
What was there now that we could do? A Faculty Council on National Defense was immediately formed to promote and supervise various areas of war service. Students were urged to stay in college as long as it was possible for them to do so. After the holidays specific implementation of the war service program began. There was nothing spectacular about it, but once again the college was adjusting itself to new and pressing demands. Some students left at the end of the first semester to help with the farm or business at home because older brothers had gone into the service. A course for radio technicians was offered. Because of the emphasis on physical health and stamina on the part of the War Department, four years of physical training were prescribed for all students. A drive for funds for the Red Cross went way “over the top”; first aid, home nursing, and nutrition courses were offered for juniors and seniors. Faculty members designated a portion of each monthly check for defense bonds. The Choir on its winter tour sang at the dedication of the Lutheran Center at Corpus Christi and at the Naval Air Station, as well as at the Great Lakes Naval Station. Papers and radio kept us informed of war news, most of it very grim. Amid it all every effort was made to carry on the basic activities of the college as normally as possible.
March 28th, 1942, was a day of great enthusiasm since it marked the official opening of the Rölvaag Memorial Library. After an impressive chapel service with talks and choir and band music, the students, faculty, and alumni assembled in front of the Library. There were a few words by the contractor, the architect, and Arthur Lee, the college business manager. Then Mr. Lee in a moment of intense silence slowly turned the key in the door and opened it. A few closing words by President Boe and a fervent “Now Thank We All Our God” by the assembled St. Olaf family was followed by the joyous entry into the building itself to exclaim over its beauty, its adequacy as a long-needed academic workshop and to rejoice in its completion. For war years were making the construction of such buildings increasingly difficult, in fact from now on, impossible. We had let our contract just in time. That this had been done seemed nothing less than providential.
During the afternoon there were coffee, sightseeing, visiting, and happy expressions of satisfaction over the monumental gift of the alumni to the college. Open house in the evening saw some twenty-five hundred people go through the brightly illuminated, flower-bedecked building. It was a gala day and marked the last public official act of Dr. Boe as president of St. Olaf College. His health had been failing. He had dreamed and prayed that he could see this building for which he had worked so long and so hard completed. Not long after came another exciting day when through the labors of a hard-working library staff and the assistance of many student volunteers the books were moved from Steensland Library and the many subsidiary book depositories and put into place in the new building. It was a day of bustling activity and animated conversations as trucks and carts moved back and forth from one building to another.
New words were coming into our vocabularies that spring! War Savings Stamps, Victory supper, rationing. The latter was both a new word to us and a new experience. Attendance at our music festival was much reduced because of gas rationing. The Sioux City delegation of singers came in a cattle truck! From that time on until the war was over visitors at the Christmas and the spring music festivals were relatively few. Students no longer drove home for vacation in parents’ cars but went by bus or train.
May 12th President Boe sent a communication to the faculty announcing that the doctors had ordered him to have a six months’ rest and that he was appointing Dean J. Jorgen Thompson as vice-president and acting president. May 19th he spoke by radio from his home at the last chapel service of the year.
By fall of 1942 in a variety of ways we were becoming increasingly aware that the war was coming closer. Certain popular articles at the grocery were no longer available. Bananas were always essential for our fruit salad, but now we served “Yes-we-have-no-banana salad,” soaking marshmallows in cream to give the dish a sort of banana flavor. No hardship, but it was one of the many little modifications that by degrees entered our daily lives. Then came governmental requests to save cans and all waste fats. WCAL put on special programs in behalf of the government’s war effort. But far more significant was the increasing number of young men who left school to enlist. To give recognition to them, we decided to make a service flag to be ready for the opening convocation on the evening of the 16th of September. For two days groups of women students worked in shifts sewing some 400 stars on the service flag in tribute to St. Olaf alumni and undergraduates in the service. Already there were two gold stars to be included. These Mrs. Charles Weisheit embroidered. The flag was finished in time to be placed’ on the rostrum for the formal opening exercises, a gripping reminder to us all of our men who were already in the service.
To coordinate the war service contribution of student organizations a Student War Emergency Council (S.W.E.C.) was set up in the fall of 1942. It sponsored particularly the all-college war efforts such as Red Cross drives, victory fairs, war bonds, stamp sales, Chapel Fund promotion, scrap metal drives, clothing drives, book drives for overseas men, and the making of clever cartoon scrap books for veterans’ hospitals.
The campus was visited by representatives of the Army, the Navy, and the Marines to recruit men. We were given instructions about blackout procedures for the dormitories and other buildings. All men were required to take swimming so that they could be equipped with this “protection training” before entering service. But it was in the first part of December that we became acutely aware of the transformation, taking place on the campus. As in World War I, so now to a far greater degree the government was asking for the use of college facilities for the training of a variety of military units. A faculty-administration committee met to discuss what could be done to meet the Navy’s request that we take a unit totaling 600 men. It was decided that not only Ytterboe Hall but also Mohn Hall with the exception of the ground floor should be turned over to the Navy and that the young women housed there should be assigned one to each room in Agnes Mellby Hall. Thus was initiated our three-in-a-roam emergency arrangement that lasted for many years.
Just before Christmas vacation the traditional freshman Christmas banquet was held in Ytterboe Hall. It had been customary to have open house in Ytterboe after the banquet, but none was planned for this year. Many of the dinner guests came to the Agnes Mellby living room to complete the evening’s festivities. During the informal program came the shrill shriek of the siren sounding a nine-state-wide blackout practice!
Christmas vacation was a busy one for the staff and particularly for the building and grounds men under Mr. John Berntsen’s direction. The first contingent of the Navy unit was to arrive the second week in January. One bed from each room in Agnes Mellby had to be moved to the attic to make room for a double-decker in its place. Double-deckers had to be secured. The beds in Mohn Hall had to be moved to Ytterboe Hall attic to make room for Navy double-deckers. Quarters had to be provided in Agnes Mellby for Miss Evelyn Jerdee and Miss Elaine Tracy, head residents of Mohn Hall, as well as for Mrs. Elise Ytterboe, who had occupied a room in Mohn Hall all the years she had so happily and beautifully served as cashier in the cafeteria. She had recently retired from these duties and had been succeeded by Mrs. Ruby Hauge, who also had to have a room in Agnes Mellby Hall. Mrs. Ytterboe’s reply when told of the evacuation of Mohn Hall remains a classic: “Why, Hitler can’t do this to me.”
Inventory of everything had to be taken before rugs, furniture, curtains, and paintings could be stored. A classroom in the Administration Building (now Holland Hall) was set aside for office space for the Dean of Women, the Director of Student Activities, and the Assistant Dean of Women. Screens were secured to partition off the three offices from each other and from the waiting room and secretary’s desk until such time later as more permanent partitions could be built. One recalls with amusement the efforts to carry on conferences with students on matters of a confidential nature. With the parties concerned practically huddled in a corner, the conversation was carried on in “whispered accents,” “low” if not always “sweet.”
In Mohn Hall more washroom facilities were needed for the increased number of residents contemplated. So the single rooms adjoining the bathrooms were converted into additional washrooms for which the necessary equipment had first to be secured. The trunk room in the basement was made into an office for the food service staff. At the college hospital the large porch was enclosed and made into a five-bed ward and the living room partitioned to make two single rooms, all to provide additional hospital space.
In the midst of all this hustle and bustle came the news of the passing of President Boe during the night of his 67th birthday. An almost audible hush seemed to descend on the campus. The flag flew at half mast. People spoke with choked voices. It was hard to work but that was what he would have had us do. To every one connected with the college, this meant the passing of a personal friend, strong, encouraging, appreciative, inspiring. Even in his serious illness he had expressed the conviction that St. Olaf should do all it could to make its facilities available to the government. He was a man of great faith and a great patriot.
His body lay in state in the Library, which he had not been able to enter since that day he stood in the receiving line when the building was opened. People from every walk of life came to pay him tribute. He had fought the good fight and his work was done.
Classes after the Christmas holidays according to the catalog, were scheduled to resume January 4th. But there were no classes that day. Instead it became “Evacuation Day.” It was bitterly cold, windy, and blizzardy. All day long one could see the girls trekking between Mohn Hall and Agnes Mellby carrying their possessions, bucking the wind and the snow, struggling with a floor lamp, or an armful of bedding or dresses on hangers. But the boys were most helpful and did all they could to lighten the loads and transport the heavier things. By evening Mohn Hall was completely emptied and its displaced residents settled in their new quarters, where Agnes Mellby students had made the necessary adjustments to make room for them and to give them a warm welcome.
There were still other changes in store for Agnes Mellby Hall. Not only did it have to provide a refuge for the majority of the evacuees (a few were accommodated off-campus), but it also had to provide gymnasium facilities for the women since the Navy took over the women s physical education department facilities in the gymnasium. So Room 3 on the ground floor became the phy ed office; the recreation room the gym. The towel cabinets were placed in the laundry room, lockers in the corridor.
By the end of the month the St. Olaf men students were moved into private homes off-campus and the Navy housed, usually four to a room in Mohn Hall and Ytterboe Hall, named respectively for the duration “S. S. Lexington” and “S. S. Enterprise.” When the quota was full, there were three contingents of 200 each quartered on the Hill for a three-months’ period in a Navy Flight Preparatory Training program. Classes and evening study periods were held in Old Main, drill in the Gymnasium. Teachers were recruited from the St. Olaf faculty and other educational institutions in addition to those provided by the Navy. Classes for the St. Olaf students were held in Holland Hall and the Library. Again we were two separate schools located on the same campus. But this was different from the Student Army Training Corps set-up of World War I. The S.A.T.C. was disbanded in about four months after its establishment. The Navy program lasted for over two-and-a-half years. There was a constant change of cadets. When one battalion of 200 completed its three months’ training course, it left for the next phase of its training and was supplanted by a new rookie battalion.
While Lt. E. G. Thorson, the commanding officer, said at the outset that there was to be no more fraternization between his men and our students than if they were a thousand miles apart, it became evident before long that such a policy was untenable. An agreement was reached by which the cadets might be guests of the students at various social events planned for Sunday afternoons in the living room or the recreation room of Agnes Mellby. There were coffee hours, sings, and variety programs. The first coffee hour brought 300 cadets! Sometimes we ran out of refreshments. Then there were other occasions such as open houses, Christmas concerts, and college programs to which the cadets were invited. The following year the Women’s Student Government Association, which arranged for the hospitality extended in Agnes Mellby, planned for a number of Sunday affairs for which invitations were extended to forty cadets, ten St. Olaf men, and fifty women students at a time. With such an arrangement it was not only much easier to plan refreshments that would go around but also the size of a crowd that could comfortably and pleasantly be accommodated. The invitation to the cadets was extended through their company leaders. On occasion it happened that either an entire company or individuals would be restricted for a violation of a disciplinary nature or ground school work and could not come. Usually substitutes could be secured! As a part of the story of the Navy at St. Olaf, it might be of interest to record that penicillin was apparently used for the first time in Northfield in the treatment of a Navy cadet. He had been in the hospital for over a month with an infection that nothing seemed to budge. Finally a request was sent to New York for penicillin, which at that time was available only to the armed forces. At the end of twelve hours after treatment the cadet was much improved, and after another fourteen hours he was dismissed from the hospital. Thus we were introduced to the miracle of penicillin.
Toward spring of 1943 in a number of little ways we were further being made aware that these were not normal days. Ration cards were issued for every one to insure a fair distribution of certain basic articles: sugar, coffee, meat, shoes, gasoline. The Lion’s Den had to be closed in the evenings for some time because of rationing and lack of help. In the candy cases in the bookstore all the familiar bars disappeared. In their places were bags of popcorn, potato chips, soybean confections, seedless raisins, licorice, all-day suckers. Many of the men students had dropped out at the end of the first semester. The faculty decided to give proportional credit to such as were enrolled the second semester, if and when they were called into service. March 1 an additional fifty-four men received their notices to go to Fort Snelling for their physicals.
That first weekend in March, 1943, we were hosts of the Lutheran Students Union, an organization of the student bodies of the schools of the then Evangelical Lutheran Church. One hundred visitors had been expected. Registration came to two hundred. The student housing committee performed a Herculean task in securing lodging for this number in off-campus homes, thanks to the generosity of the home owners. Many students gave up their banquet tickets so that the visitors could be accommodated. There was a deep sense of gratitude that our men were able to attend this inspiring convention before they left for the service. At the closing session held at St. John’s church, one of them, Harold Heiberg, an outstanding pianist and organist, played the organ and made it speak so personally and movingly that it became the high point of the convention.
As the men singly and in groups throughout the semester left the campus for service, increasingly the responsibility for the various organizations and student activities fell upon the women students. Since it was obvious that the struggle in which we were engaged would be long-drawn-out, those directing the program at St. Olaf attempted to continue to provide as strong an academic program as possible and to keep the constructive cultural, social, and religious activities functioning. So we had the music festival again that spring, but only a couple of choirs from Minneapolis came to join with the Northfield High School chorus and our own musical forces. The band and orchestra were largely manned by women now. For the Baccalaureate service a few weeks later the members of the first and second choirs who were still in school combined to furnish the music.
Our women students were not only faced with increased responsibilities on the campus but they were being sought for enlistment in a variety of services designed to qualify them for certain military jobs from which men could be released for more active military service. A program of specialized training in the field of engineering by Curtis-Wright Corporation interested some of our young women, and Miss Marjorie Quie became the first from St. Olaf to enlist in this type of service. Then we were visited by representatives from the WACS and WAVES. This was something new in our country and at first raised many questions and much doubt. But as time went on and the programs were better developed and understood, many of our women students enlisted, a few while in college but most of them after completing their college course.
Every summer a number of students are employed by the college to work on the grounds and buildings, repairing sidewalks, raking, painting rooms. There are many of our alumni who are proud to have worked on John Berntsen’s summer crew. But this year no student help was available. What to do? The young women came to the rescue and so was formed the twenty-five member St. Olaf Women’s Labor Battalion, some working on the grounds, some painting, some in the mess hall kitchen, some assisting in the hospital, wherever needed most.
This summer too marked our first attempt at a real summer school. Courses in typing and shorthand had been given the previous summer. But this summer’s course was planned particularly so that men now in the reserves who might be called out in the fall could accelerate their academic program. As it turned out these men received orders to report by July 1. Because those for whom the course was primarily planned could not enroll, the attendance was reduced to the sixty-eight others who had indicated their interest.
Out-door drill had begun in the spring and the campus resounded during the summer months with “1, 2, 3, Hup” and, “About face.” The broad surfaced area between the Gymnasium and Agnes Mellby Hall and the area west of Agnes Mellby was a favorite drill ground.
In our effort to extend a bit of hospitality during the summer to these men quartered on the Hill, many from “St. Olaf communities” in the Middle West, though every section of the United States was represented, a few of the staff members gave some simple Sunday suppers to a group of up to thirty at a time. These were served at five o’clock on the green behind Agnes Mellby when weather permitted, inside if it rained. There was croquet and visiting, finding out who’s who and from where, followed by a social hour in the living room and group singing until going-home time. This varied depending on “restrictions,” sometimes until seven o’clock, on occasions until 9:30 p.m. Lights were out on “S. S. Enterprise” and “S. S. Lexington” at ten o’clock. Assisting with the entertainment each time were some of our summer school students who led in group singing. That these little suppers were enjoyed was evidenced by one evening’s experience when there were two musters, one immediately after we had eaten and one an hour-and-a-half later. After reporting for each muster the men all came back to Agnes Mellby to stay until time to get back to base.
For a number of years quite a group both from the college and downtown had celebrated June 24th, Midsummer Night, with a picnic supper, folk games, group singing, and a large bonfire on the St. Olaf campus. This summer it was made a special occasion to which cadets and the summer school students were invited. At one point in the program the cadets were presented with New Testaments.
Radio station WCAL had for several years sponsored a special observance of July 4th on the campus. This year the Fourth fell on Sunday. An outdoor service on the St. Olaf campus for St. John’s congregation was arranged for the morning, emphasizing the combined religious and patriotic significance of the day. An impressive feature of the afternoon program was a military parade and review by the cadets of both St. Olaf and Carleton. From now on regimental reviews were held almost monthly and became a regular part of the campus scene.
Prof. J. Arndt Bergh of the college music department, familiarly known as Jack, directed both Navy band and Navy chorus. The band played at all the reviews and the chorus performed on a number of occasions. There were many weddings among St. Olaf graduates this summer. A number of them were married at St. John’s and had the wedding reception in Agrees Mellby Hall. At the first of these (June Anderson and Clifford Swanson ), as the wedding party and guests were chatting at the reception, all the lights went out and left the living room in darkness. We had failed to inform the celebrants that we had made an agreement with the government not to run our power plant after 10:30 p.m. But there were partly burned candles of all sizes available and the evening festivities closed amid candle light glow much more romantic than our soft-shaded lamps. For the next wedding reception two evenings later we were prepared with new, full-length tapers.
September came around again. An aura of sadness hung over the campus as we mourned the loss of one of our most colorful, dynamic, and respected faculty members, Dr. George Weida Spohn, whom death had claimed a few weeks before.
With September came a new freshman class. What a toll of returning and prospective students the war had taken! The previous fall the number of freshman women at the beginning of the college year had exceeded the number of men by only three. Now, one year later they outnumbered them six to one. There were 247 freshman women and 40 men. Many of our men that year were pre-seminarians whose future service as pastors and chaplains was regarded as so important for the national welfare as to exempt them from military service at the time in order that they might complete their college and theological training. We had the traditional Saturday all-college First Nighter. The freshmen marched into the gymnasium led by a standard bearer carrying a huge service flag with the figure 1020 etched against a V background while the band played and the old students sang “Fram, Fram” until all were seated. The evening was made more festive by the fact that twenty-five of our St. Olaf men now stationed in a military unit at Gustavus Adolphus had been given liberty and came to join us at our First Nighter. They in their uniforms, together with cadets from our own unit, gave a special patriotic tone to the evening.
And so the school years 1943-44 was launched. Classes were in full swing and plans for as many as possible of the normal events and activities under way. There wasn’t much activity in athletics, though there was one home game played with River Falls in which the St. Olaf squad was composed of twenty-eight members, only one of whom had played football either in high school or college. St. Olaf was defeated 12 to 2, but we were proud of the sportsmanship our football novices had shown.
This fall marked one innovation in student life and that was the initiation of SWAF Day (St. Olaf Welcomes All Freshmen). An enthusiastic committee from the sophomore class worked hard and imaginatively on this project which emphasized a constructive approach to sophomore-freshman relationships and also involved the college as a whole.
A parade of students on a Saturday afternoon led by the pep band, a program of skits in the Gymnasium, “The St. Olaf Family Album” by the faculty and “A Day at St. Olaf’ by the students, an indoor picnic supper, a variety program-then the high moment, the formal initiation of the freshmen into membership in the student body!
The sophomore women in white sweaters and black skirts, each carrying a lighted candle formed an aisle down the center of the gymnasium through which the freshmen marched. As they stood in mass formation, the president of the student body welcomed them into the St. Olaf fellowship concluding with a loyalty pledge which the freshmen repeated after him. The evening closed in splendor with a huge bonfire and a spectacular display of fireworks in front of Old Main. Thus did the sophomores with fun and frolic, with dignity and decorum introduce the new students to some of the finest in St. Olaf’s tradition and spirit.
We did put on a play that year, “Ladies and Huzzars,” a Polish comedy, even though there was no chance for the cast to have even one rehearsal on the stage. It was erected in the late afternoon while the cadets were still playing basketball, and the play was presented that evening. December 7th, under the auspices of the student body, another memorial service was observed for St. Olaf’s gold star sons who now numbered thirteen.
To give a bit of Christmas cheer this year for the cadets who were not on leave, the Northfield Red Cross chapter put on a party for them in the Gymnasium and furnished Christmas trees for both the “S. S. Lexington” and the “S. S. Enterprise”. Women students provided three hundred seventy-five Christmas-wrapped gifts.
Came the new year 1944. By this time our abnormal college life had become almost the customary, and yet it was not normal. The long drawn-out conflict was wearing and hard on the morale of the students. There were anxieties, tensions, restlessness. It was difficult for many of them to see the importance of college work under the circumstances or the significance of “keeping America strong at home.” This was a drab winter, too, mild but practically snowless. Our salvation was our skating rink which provided outdoor winter fun clear to the end of March. Because of mild January weather the ice on the rink melted and the water practically disappeared. But thanks to a freezing spell in, early February and the indefatigable labors of the groundsman in charge, the rink was reflooded and restored. Some fifty students participated in the skating exhibition in February. For the closing number the girls appeared in red, white, and blue dresses, culminating their routine in a striking V formation and a salute to the flag.
There was an exciting overtime basketball game with Carleton which we won. Our squad was composed of thirteen cadets and four St. Olaf men. We had our usual Lenten services and were pleased when under the new commandant, who seemed much concerned about spiritual matters, the Protestant cadets in a body joined us at services.
Spring ushered in the recital season. Steensland Hall was now used by the Navy as a code room. The ever-expandable Agnes Mellby living room also became our recital hall. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was the play given that year with an all-woman cast. Bottom, played by Gertrude Fjeldstad, practically stole the show. Commencement, now shortened to a two-day period, was an almost somber occasion. There was the noticeable absence of many of those who would normally have received their degrees that day, and there was ill-concealed tension because of the war situation in general. Just two days later the news broke of the Allied invasion of France.
During the late winter and spring the Navy Pre-Flight Training school was gradually being phased out and was being replaced by a Navy and Marine Refresher course. A new program involving the cooperation of St. Olaf with six large hospitals and known as the Cadet Nurses Training Corps was begun after the close of the regular school year. This was an intensive and concentrated program for which St. Olaf provided three months’ instruction in the academic courses required. In the corps were 115 young women. Miss Elaine Tracy served as their St. Olaf director. The program proved so successful that it was repeated the following summer.
With the gradual phasing out of the Pre-Flight Training school and the smaller units involved in the Navy-Marine Refresher course, the question was raised as to how long Mohn Hall would be needed by the military. The applications for women students far exceeded the number that could be accommodated even with three in a room in Agnes Mellby Hall and using all possible available off-campus housing. Not until August 28th did we get the word that “S. S. Lexington” would be returned to the college and that the Navy would house all of its men in Ytterboe Hall. This was less than two weeks before the opening of school.
Such exciting and busy days! Mohn Hall had to be converted from barracks to a women’s dormitory again. Beds stored in Ytterboe Hall attic had to be hauled over to replace the navy bunks; dressers, chairs, desks taken out of storage; window drapes dry-cleaned and hung; living room furniture and rugs restored; rooms painted, and extra washrooms converted into utility rooms.
By September 11th, registration day, while there were many things yet to be done, Mohn Hall was ready to welcome some over a hundred women students again! At the opening convocation that year it was announced that there were enrolled 605 women and 84 men for a total of 689. By the end of the academic year the number totaled 789, still in the proportion of seven to one.
While life at the college in general followed much the same pattern as those of the two preceding war years, there were some events that stand out unforgettably. There was a constant awareness of the fearful struggle in which we were engaged as the tide of battle increased in fierceness and the dreadful slaughter of human lives went on unabated. New gold stars were being added to our service flag. Chapel, church services, spiritual emphasis week, dormitory devotions, all took on a more personal and profound meaning. Mention might be made of a few of the events of this year that were especially remembered, some relatively trivial perhaps, others truly momentous.
Homecoming was made especially memorable by the impressive ceremonies in connection with the inauguration on October 14th of Dr. Clemens M. Granskou as President of St. Olaf College. Many distinguished guests from other educational institutions as well as alumni and other friends of the college came for the occasion. It stands out as one of the happy and most festive days of the year.
Just before the close of the first semester the seniors had a supper party. They numbered one hundred twenty. Of the twelve men in the class seven were completing their work at that time. A moving feature of the program was the reading of the roster of one hundred twenty-five men from their class who were then in the service.
There was much excitement in Apes Mellby one day in January. A representative from the Office of War Information was to spend two days on the campus taking pictures of groups of women students in a variety of situations: in the Library, at meals, in the dormitory, about the campus, at evening devotions, in their rooms studying or visiting. This was for the magazine Victory, whose purpose was to illustrate democratic institutions and the functioning of democracy in various areas of life to counteract Nazi propaganda. It was translated into twelve European languages and distributed by the underground where it could not be sold on the news stands. St. Olaf had been chosen for the educational aspect as an outstanding college of liberal arts in America and one founded by a national group which had contributed much religiously and culturally while it in turn, had become an integral part of American life.
On February 21st and 22nd came the dramatic news that our missionaries who had been interned and imprisoned in the Philippines for so long, many of them St. Olaf graduates, had been released by men of the American Marines and Navy.
Subdued voices and an awesome silence pervaded the campus as we mourned the sudden death of President Roosevelt those tragic days in April. The memorial service at the college was conducted by the Navy unit and was most impressive as was the gripping prayer and memorial sermon delivered by Pastor Arnold Nelson of St. John’s the following Sunday.
V. E. Day! Could one ever forget it? There were services in the Gymnasium, a song by the Navy chorus, another by the Girls chorus, Rachmaninoff’s “Glory to God in the Highest,” a talk by Lieutenant W. A. Harbinson, followed by Dr. Granskou, who spoke on “The Responsibility of the Victor,” and then the “Star Spangled Banner” sung as only an emotion-filled St. Olaf student body could sing it.
By order of the Office of Defense Transportation the music festival was called off. Even commencement could be only a local affair. Though only college and town people could be present, the music festival was a festive one just the same. A special choir reunion had originally been planned for this occasion to honor Professor P. G. Schmidt for his forty years of service as choir manager. Though the donors were almost all “in absentia,” the tributes and purse were duly presented. Who that was there can ever forget Dr. F. Melius Christiansen’s inimitable introduction to this phase of the activities when he said, “We are going to have a party. It is going to be for Professor Schmidt. You are happiest when you give credit to someone else for all that he has done.” Excerpts from letters of tribute and appreciation from all over the world, read by Professor J. J. Thompson, concluded this delightful program.
Hiroshima! And shortly after that, V. J. Day with the consequent order for the gradual disbanding of the Navy unit at the college. The Navy program closed officially December 17th. The last battalion of thirty men sat in a body at one of the Christmas concerts and left the following day.
College year 1944-45 had been momentous. It had witnessed the inauguration of President Granskou, the death of President Roosevelt and the swearing in of President Harry Truman, the San Francisco Conference and the inception of the United Nations, the atomic bomb, V. E. Day, and V. J. Day. On, the campus there had been a quiet but consistent adjustment to meet the varying demands of the day. The student directory for 1945-46 reveals an interesting story of how the women of the college rose to the responsibilities of leadership. For the first time in its history, a woman president, Miss Betty Jean Halvorson, presided over the St. Olaf student body. The vice president and secretary were also women, as were the members of the editorial staff of the Manitou Messenger. Junior and senior class presidents were women. Every co-educational student organization except the Commerce Club, the Psychology Club, and the Choir had women presidents. Besides the departmental clubs, they included such varied groups as the Board of Religious Activities, the Campus Players, the Honor Council, the Honors Society, the International Relations club. Tribute is due the fine leadership of these young women who unspectacularly but valiantly kept “the home fires burning.”
This year, too, marked the beginning of the return to civilian life for millions of young men and women throughout the world. Already the number of young men enrolled at St. Olaf, both freshmen and returning students, had increased. But there began also the return of large numbers of service men, which the following year was to become almost a deluge. So our campus population began approaching more normal numbers. But this was not a mere return to pre-war days. During these six years of war, in four of which we as a people had been directly involved, we had lived much and deeply. Our horizons had been enlarged. We had begun to grasp a little better the meaning of the term “one world.” It was no longer academic but personal. As a people we were faced with new challenges and great responsibilities. At college, too, we had to gear ourselves to the new demands and opportunities of the day. Continuing to build on the basic foundations on which we were established as a Christian liberal arts college, we committed ourselves to do our utmost to qualify our students for making their contribution to the rebuilding of our shattered and chaotic world.
Introduction and Foreword
St. Olaf Builders
“Loyal and Faithful”
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