St. Olaf Magazine | Fall 2019

STOries: Ole Lore and Legend

The original Mohn Hall, site of “The Great Ice Cream Caper”

Without a doubt, the stories told at St. Olaf College’s annual Homecoming and Family Weekend are as colorful as the autumn leaves. Some tales are tinged with the hue of truth, some are half-truths, and others need a little rake of research.

For instance, during the 2018 Homecoming Weekend, several alumni started a conversation about legendary football players. As their conversations swirled around feats of yesteryear, the men wondered aloud who were the greatest Ole running backs of all time? Luminaries like Ole Gunderson ’72, Jim Kallas ’50, and Bill Winter ’62 were obvious. Even the longtime dean of men, and former hall of fame quarterback Carl “Cully” Swanson ’25, was given a nod. They remembered Cully being mentioned in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, a popular national newspaper feature, for his then astounding passing average of 205 ½ yards per game.

However, hall of fame halfback Harry L. Newby ’34 was also featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, not once but twice. Known as the “Gridiron Flash,” Newby possessed Olympic sprinter speed. He zigzagged and sidestepped opponents with ease, scoring touchdowns game after game, often by long gallops. During his sophomore year in 1930, the St. Olaf football team went undefeated and was proclaimed state collegiate champions. Newby was first featured in Ripley’s that fall with a blurb on how he carried the ball for touchdowns on each of his first touches in four games to start the season, playing for a total of only 16 minutes and scoring on plays of 58, 45, 35, and 75 yards.

Newby’s legendary play continued after his 1934 graduation, when he played semi-professional football for several years and was touted in various newspapers as “the fastest human being playing football today.” In 1939, Ripley again featured Newby, this time in football regalia, while playing for the Gogebic Panthers of Ironwood, Michigan. The Believe It or Not! cartoon diagrammed a dizzying run by Newby against the Minneapolis Jerseys. The caption read, “Carried the ball 265 yards in one play and failed to score by 6 inches.”

As conversation continued to center on Ole lore of yesteryear, an elderly alumna reminisced about her college days more than 60 years ago. With a mischievous lilt in her voice, she recounted how “The Great Ice Cream Caper” came to be.

The alumna, a first-year resident in the all-women’s dormitory, Mohn Hall (razed in 1967), compared dorm life at the time to life in a convent. She rattled off a few house rules that caught the attention of far younger alumnae standing nearby: no dancing, no slacks, no entertaining men in their rooms, and lights out at 10:30 p.m.

Dating proved difficult at times considering the stern dormitory housemother, who inspected Mohn Hall lounge with a ruler, making sure that no visiting man stood or sat closer than a foot from any of her co-ed charges. Plus, she reminded the young women: “No public displays of affection.”

After lights out, the Mohn Hall women found various approaches to studying late into the night, whether by candlelight, flashlight, or in the bathroom. And on occasion, for the pure joy of breaking the rules, “pajama parties” were convened. At one memorable nocturnal gathering, a daring idea was put forth: snitch ice cream out of the cafeteria located in Mohn Hall’s basement.

Giggling, the light-footed bandits made their way unnoticed down the flight of stairs. The most agile of them climbed through the door transom and let the others in. Within minutes the freezer was accessed and several cartons of ice cream were stealthily removed to the women’s upstairs lair. Upon rounding up spoons for their midnight snack, the alumna and her accomplices were astonished to find that they had not absconded with 20 pounds of mint ice cream but rather frozen asparagus. So much for the Great Ice Cream Caper, she said with a hearty laugh. “Can you believe it!”