Teaching and Administrative Assignments at St. Olaf College

When school opened in the fall of 1902, I was asked to teach not only some classes in mathematics but also one in Greek. The president had been unable to secure a teacher in this subject and urged me to help out, which I was glad to do. In those days faculty members were called upon to teach a variety of subjects; they also were expected to teach twenty-five or thirty hours a week.

My principal teaching subjects down through the years have been mathematics, astronomy, and geology. It is most interesting to meet men and women now who were in my classes thirty, forty, or fifty years ago and find they still remember such words and terms as sines and cosines, solar paralax and paleozoic era. This latter term recalls to mind the trips by horse and buggy the class in geology used to take each year to study interesting features and to gather fossils in some of the nearby outcrops. I shall never forget with what interest the students looked forward to these trips. P. O. Holland and O. E. Rolvaag were in the same geology section and on trips quite a bit of rivalry developed as each one strove to find a more interesting and more beautiful specimen than the other. It kept me busy trying to find some way of admitting that both of them had won and both had found the finest fossil.

A perusal of old St. Olaf College catalogs reminds me that a number of administrative duties were assigned to me at different times. In addition to my work as head of the department of mathematics, I also managed the band and choir and served as college treasurer from 1906 to 1912 and as vice-president from 1907 to 1913. This latter appointment proved to be quite an assignment; the president, Professor J. N. Kildahl, became ill in the fall of 1909 and was obliged to give up his work for one year. He moved to the west coast to regain health and strength in a different climate, and during his absence — January 1, 1909, to January 1, 1910 — I served as acting president.

Of the many and varied experiences of that year I remember especially two that were rather trying. The first came soon after President Kildahl had left. The college and I had begun to learn that the task of being a college president was not an easy one. When the students returned from the Christmas vacation in January, 1910, quite a number of them, both boys and girls, became very ill, and it was not until I called the state health official in St. Paul and requested him to come down at once to look the situation over, that we learned we had a serious smallpox epidemic on our hands. Re-arrangements had to be made at once. As many as possible of the sick students were moved to the college hospital; one wing of Ytterboe dormitory was quarantined; special nurses were secured; all students, faculty members, and workers were vaccinated; and practically all rooms in the dormitories and other buildings were fumigated. This proved to be a harrowing experience and a very difficult six weeks’ period; but at its close everyone was thankful and happy that there had been no casualties.

The other important and rather difficult experience came later in the year. Information had come to me that thirty-nine acres contiguous to the campus were for sale. These acres comprised the land just north of the Boe Memorial Chapel and the gymnasium, where now is the new parking lot, and also the strip west of Agnes Mellby Hall extending south to Forest Avenue. It is therefore the land on which the radio tower and Hilleboe Hall are located. I at once contacted the man who held the deed and secured a promise from him that he would not try to dispose of the property until I had had time to consult the college Board of Trustees. I tried to explain to the Board as well as I could the importance of making this purchase; but I am afraid I did not succeed in stirring up much enthusiasm for the transaction, for the Board decided that if I could raise the needed funds somehow, I could make the deal. It must be remembered that there were then no college buildings in that part of the campus, and I presume the Board members thought there was more unoccupied campus space than would be needed for many generations to come. One of the local banks loaned me the needed money on my personal signature, the sale was made, and the land deeded to the college. The man who sold the property to the college, after some persuasion, was kind enough to make a donation of $150.00 to be used in the purchase of a new instrument, a bass saxophone, for the St. Olaf Band.

Those early years at St. Olaf provide a wealth of anecdotes and incidents, some of which are worth recording only because they were amusing and others because they were merely comical mishaps. Two such incidents occurred during college convocation periods which always are rather serious and solemn occasions. One morning the speaker for the day announced the opening hymn, one that seemed quite appropriate at least so far as the first two lines were concerned. These were, of course, the only lines he had had time to look over before announcing the hymn. All went well until the last line of the first stanza was reached: “God bless the newly married pair.” The singing came to an abrupt ending and everyone began to crane his neck to see the newlyweds. Blushingly, the speaker hastily announced another hymn:

Fight on, the battle ne’er give o’er,
Renew it boldly day by day,
And help divine implore.

This did not improve the situation very much and the audience was more perplexed than ever.

On another occasion, the speaker was doing his best to denounce the evil of smoking, one of the “habits” at that time forbidden to college students. He became so over-enthusiastic that when he wanted to use the old definition, “a cigar is something that has fire in one end and a fool in the other,” he got the figure just a little mixed up and said instead: “You have all heard the definition of a fool! A fool is a man that has a cigar in one end and fire in the other.”

Just one more amusing anecdote. For many years one of the attractions at commencement time was a baseball game between a team of college alumni and one of former students not alumni. On each team there would always be found three or four staid college professors and rotund clergymen, and a game between such colorful teams always proved a great attraction. There is the incident of the pitcher who was so slow in his movements and threw such a slow ball that one of the batters had time to swing twice at the same pitched ball and missed both times. This created quite an argument and the umpire had a very difficult time of it to decide whether to call one strike or two on the batter.

Then there also comes to mind the story about the batter who was hit by a pitched ball and so got to first base; but, in spite of the fact that the next two batters each pounded out home runs, the best he could do was to reach third base where he rested until the inning ended.

As my main work at St. Olaf has been connected with the music organizations, I shall endeavor in the following chapters to relate the activities of these organizations both at home and as touring representatives from the college. Then I also shall try to tell something about the man who was the inspiring genius in the founding and the development of these groups, to describe his method of work, and to evaluate his accomplishments as well as I can from nearly half a century of personal work and contact with him.

My Years at St. Olaf


Early Family History
My Years at St. Olaf’s School
Interim Days at the University of Minnesota
Teaching and Administrative Assignments at St. Olaf College
New Interest in Music at St. Olaf
The 1906 Band Tour to Norway
Band Trips — 1907 on…
The Founding of the St. Olaf Lutheran Choir Tours of 1912 and 1913
The First Choir Tour to Metropolitan Centers in America
The 1930 European Tour
Some Interesting Experiences
Other College Interests
The Choir Workshop
Dr. F. Melius Christiansen, A Brief Biography
A Notable Achievement