The College of Idaho Story

Some Things About the College You May Not Know

The following remarks were presented by Louie Attebery, professor emeritus of English, on Saturday, June 19, 2010, during the Finney Hall Reunion in Langroise Recital Hall.

The full title of the following remarks is nearly as long as the address itself, or it may seem so.  Here it is: Some things about the College you may not know, or, knowing them, find that they appear to deal with matters of interest only to historians or other folk with stunted sensibilities. As a title, that trumps the offerings of the great English poet William Wordsworth, who also had more than occasional difficulty shaping a clear and forthright title.  For evidence I refer only to "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour of 1798" and the equally inspiriting "Elegiac Stanzas Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle, in  a Storm, Painted by Sir George Beaumont."

But let's get on with it.

Did you know that there was a gap of seven years between the founding of the College in 1884 by the Presbytery of Wood River and its opening in1891 under the presidency of The Reverend William Judson Boone? I attribute this hiatus to Presbyterian insistence that "the way be clear" before any new venture is launched.  And the clearing of the way necessitated, among other tasks,  selecting a site, a president, a faculty,  and establishing a curriculum.  By 1891 the faculty of Stanford University had been consulted and had approved the curriculum, and a president and faculty had been chosen.  The location together with cash and pledges had been secured.

As was common with such new schools then, more students presented themselves for admission than were eligible for enrollment, for that lofty condition required the candidates to negotiate the higher books of Euclid and construe Virgil and Cicero.  Thus for the first few years of its life, the College constituted itself as an academy for the preparation of those who desired to be enrolled.  This was also the condition at the even younger university at Moscow, which had been on the drawing board before the College but for which a supine legislature had failed to provide funding.  The older Whitman College had also had to serve initially as a prep school.  As a side issue, one might draw a couple of inferences from these facts: 1) legislatures may not have changed significantly over the years, and 2) sturdy Presbyterian resolution may be more solid than political will.

But back to the opening of the College, you should be interested to know that the Stanford curriculum required that the proper pronunciation of Latin be observed: Kickero and Kysar, not Cicero and Caesar ( Sisero and Seezar).  Any one not excited by such information obviously suffers from major personality disorders.

Another factoid you may find interesting: for its first forty-five years, the College had only one president, celebrated by the New York Times as the longest tenured college president in American higher education at the time of his death in 1936.  That, of course, was William Judson Boone.  Over its nearly 120 year life—fully that, if one uses the founding and not the opening date—the College has had only 12 presidents: Boone, Raymond H. Leach, William Webster Hall, Paul Marsh Pitman, Tom E. Shearer, Warren Barr Knox, William C. Cassell, Arthur H. DeRosier, Robert L. Hendren, Kevin Learned, Robert Hoover, and the incumbent, Marvin Henberg (one of our best!) . . . 12 presidents and three interim or acting presidents.  Average tenure length means nothing here with Boone's 45 years and Leach's not quite one.

Boone was a strapping six-footer, a Pennsylvanian who boxed and liked and played baseball, a hunter and fisherman who played the violin.  As a Pittsburgh seminary student, Boone had served a summer appointment in Nebraska where his victorious baseball team had defeated another, and some local betting strategies had gone awry.  An angry and drink-influenced cowboy set out to show Boone what was what, and after Boone had decked the bronc buster, the now sober cowpuncher became a friend of the parson.

So it was natural that Boone's college would have an athletic program, just as it was natural that Boone himself would teach introductory botany.  For him, there were no conflicts between science and religion, between Darwin and Deuteronomy.  The Bible was neither a scientific treatise nor a book of magic.  College was a place for discovering the mind through rigorous intellectual discipline.  Athletics and physical education were also a part of the formula preached by the old Romans: Orandum est ut set mens sana in corpore sano.  Ultimately all we can pray for is a sane mind in a sound body.  So without the benefit of search committees, Boone selected a superb faculty.  Only a few stalwarts can be identified in this compressed history, and one of the first was Julia V. Finney, the eponymous figure for the hall and a teacher of the first magnitude from her arrival in 1898 until her retirement in 1925.  Another early teacher was Idaho's first Rhodes Scholar and a member of the very first class of Rhodes Scholars, Lawrence Henry Gipson.  Gipson had had the good fortune of being in the academic procession at Oxford when a few other notables received honorary degrees . . . Auguste Rodin, Camille St. Saens, Rudyard Kipling, and Mark Twain.  Thomas Alva Edison had been invited but he was too busy, he said, to travel to England to receive his citation.

Orma J. Smith headed the biology program from his arrival in 1910 until his retirement in 1948 and taught chemistry until the hiring of Prof. Roblyer in 1923.  It was largely the work of this gifted biologist that established the reputation of the College's pre-medicine program.  As evidence, consider this unsolicited letter from the dean of the Johns Hopkins medical school to President Boone stating that Johns Hopkins would be pleased to enroll other College of Idaho graduates of the caliber of Manley Shaw, who had just taken his medical school entrance examinations.  Shaw finished his M. D. degree and became a prominent Idaho surgeon.  We'll return to the topic of pre-medicine a bit later.

Paul Murphy joined the faculty in 1908 and retired in 1953, the intervening years filled with superb teaching of Latin, Greek, classical civilization, and British history.  It was from Murphy we learned the origin of the college cheer popular with the boys of Harvard and Yale  . . . "Give 'em the axe, the axe, the axe," et cetera.  It came from the chorus of frogs in Aristophanes' "The Frogs":  Brekekekex ko-ax-ko-ax.

It was the musical and pedagogical virtuosity of Frederic Fleming Beale that established the preeminence of the music department at the College, and he was aided in that endeavor by J. J. Smith, the father of alumnus Paul Smith, Academy Award winner and many times award nominee for his work at Disney Studios.  Beale's career with the College—his first name was really Alfred but he did not like it and exchanged it for Frederic—extended from 1911 until 1947.  His monthly concerts at the console of Idaho's once largest pipe organ beginning in 1911 attracted capacity crowds to Caldwell's new Methodist Church, which held slightly over 1,000 attendees.  A skeptic once asked me how in the world an audience of that size could even get to Caldwell . . . and where did they come from?  The answer, of course, is that a streetcar line served the Boise Valley, eventually uniting Boise, Meridian, Nampa, Caldwell, Middleton, Star, Eagle, Huston, and Homedale.  Then, too, Caldwell 's position on the Oregon Short Line's mainline linked Caldwell with towns along that line from Pocatello to Baker and LaGrande.  You may recall that Boise did not connect with the mainline (by then the Union Pacific) until 1925.  Art Smith, another of the Smith Boys and another alumnus, became a well-known studio musician.  You may remember the saxophone solo introducing "My Three Sons, "starring Fred McMurray": that was done by Art Smith , who also played the ocarina coyote theme for "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," probably the highlight of that dreadful movie.  Jerome, another member of the gifted Smith family, gave up a promising musical career to make a modest fortune as an electronics engineer with several patents.  He was a longtime trustee of the College.  The fourth Smith boy, George, was also a musician, but we can set him aside since he never attended the College.

I must mention the College's success in preparing students for law school.  Yale seemed to be the school of choice, and for several years—most of the teens—the top prizes for lawyers- in- training there were won by C of I graduates . . . James L. Boone (the president's son and an all-time C of I football player), Hugh Caldwell, Ralph King, Roscoe Bernard Turner, among them.  And they were competing against graduates of Yale, Dartmouth, Indiana, Wesleyan, Washington, and Colorado, to mention a few.

World War I impacted the campus seriously in two ways.  In the first place, the number of students declined from154 in 1916-1917 to 134 in 1917-1918 with a serious drop to 83 in 1918-1919.  The pandemic of Spanish influenza accounted, more than likely, for a significant portion of the 1918-19 drop.  Of the 101 students who served in the military, only one died in warfare: Andrew Thompson was killed in action at Vimy Ridge on Easter Sunday of 1917.  With enrollment at a low ebb, the faculty agreed to take whatever salary was left over after expenses were met.  This crisis of decline would not be approximated again until the abyss of World War II.  The second serious impact grew out of the first: there was no growth in the endowment until the academic year 1921-22 when it grew by $40,000, pushing the total endowment to the puny sum of $226,600.

The College was nevertheless ready for the 20's, although that decade did not exactly come roaring in.  The Academic Department—the prep school component—was phased out in 1919, and the next academic year, 1919-1920 with an enrollment of 141 witnessed the second largest student body ever.  Let us be reminded what the school and its setting were like in the teens and twenties and thirties.

The old, that is to say, the first, campus had been abandoned in 1910 as the College moved east about a mile or so to the new twenty-five acre campus, a gift from Henry and Carrie Gwinn Blatchley.  Here the new brick multi-purpose Sterry Hall rose majestically from the ubiquitous alkali with her attendant Finney Hall, the women's dormitory to her east and the soon-to-be-finished Voorhees Hall to her west.  The Blatchley mansion would soon be given to the College, along with perhaps a couple or so acres of sagebrush, greasewood, rabbit brush and salt grass known as the Triangle, to which we must return a bit later.  Domestic housing there was practically none, and what vernacular structures existed there on Cleveland Heights in all likelihood had no lawns . . . yet.  Trees either had not yet been planted, or if they had they were not over four or five feet high.  Interurban tracks were placed on gravel or gravel and sand beds on the top of alkali soil.  A half mile or less to the north of the campus Indian Creek flowed toward the town of Caldwell to make its juncture with the Boise River.  It was along this stream that major cattle drives of the 70s and 80s paused to drink and rest.  Most of the area was dry with shoestrings of green paralleling the streams and representing pre-Reclamation Act irrigation projects.  What roads there were wandered through the sagebrush more nearly trails than roads.  This was the country from which students who desired an education came to Caldwell, the cultural center for eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho.

Here at this college were men and women who spoke English correctly, who could read and write German, French, Spanish, Latin, Greek, and in some instances, even Hebrew!  Here were learned people who had read and could explain Shakespeare.  Plants and animals revealed their true identities, and the properties of chemicals and the laws of  nature were no longer hidden.

Although higher education is not about athletics, when these activities are well managed and carefully integrated into campus life, they can be a source of wholesome entertainment for their community, a source of pride for their various constituencies, and a means by which impecunious young men and women can be encouraged to proceed with their education.  In the nature of things, athletics can also be a source of abuses of almost unbelievable proportions.  But, as Mark Twain might observe, you can say the same thing about Congress.

The College competed in the old intercollegiate quadrivium: football, basketball, baseball, and track.  Women's athletics were not ignored, although there was no Title Nine to guarantee equity.  Basketball for women was fairly important.  Some time elapsed before a conference was established, but when it finally came into being, it was solid: Whitman, Willamette, Albany (now known as Lewis and Clark of Portland), College (now a university) of Puget Sound, Linfield, Pacific University, The College of Idaho, and for a while the University of British Columbia.  Under the supervision of a diminutive spark plug named Anson Cornell and through the performance of outstanding athletes, including three sets of gifted brothers, C of I athletics flourished.  Nationally, football was king with sports spokesmen like Grantland Rice, Ring Lardner, and Graham McNamee celebrating the accomplishments of Knute Rockne, Harry Stuldreher, Jim Crowley, Elmer Layden, Jim Miller, Harold Edward Grange (who had red hair), Ernie Nevers, Albie Booth, and George Halas.  Locally, football fans were sure they would never again see the likes of Charlie and Freddie Robinson, who rode the interurban from their farm home near Middleton to Caldwell's college (getting home after practice in time to do the milking), Phil and Joe Albertson (who lived between Greenleaf and Caldwell), and the four Lowell boys—Blake, Doug, Wade, and Edwin ("Josh").  Who was the greatest of them?  By the time Edwin came along in the middle 20's sports journalism had learned a great deal, so the printed record may be warped in his favor.  But he could do everything any triple threat back should do.  A southpaw, he would sometimes lay a righthanded pass into the hands of Joe Albertson, who played end.  As a broken field runner, he had no peer.  He could punt and dropkick.  He was truly an exceptional athlete, and it was no wonder the College took the conference several years in a row.

Recognizing the Caldwell school's quality football program, interested patrons arranged in 1926 a Thanksgiving Day contest at Boise's Public School Field between the Coyotes and Montana State, co-leader of the Rocky Mountain conference.  The Bozeman school had accumulated 52 points to 9 for its opponents, was tied with Utah State and the University of Utah, had beaten Colorado, Colorado Teachers, Brigham Young, and Wyoming.  The Bobcats had lost to the University of Montana and had been tied by Idaho.  In one of the College's finer athletic moments, the Coyotes defeated the larger school 7-0.  Of Lowell, a conference official named Mike Moran wrote the following about his being named captain of the All-Star team for 1926: For left halfback one man looms above all others in the conference.  This is Lowell, the brilliant star of The College of Idaho.  His passing, punting, and ball-carrying were the spark of the team's [offense] throughout the season.  All critics are agreed that he is by far the outstanding player of the conference.  Due to his phenomenal record he is also named captain of the mythical eleven.

Lowell shone at basketball and was without peer as a first baseman.  The Coyote nine defeated Whitman, Idaho, Montana State (twice), lost to Washington State, and won the Northwest Conference title.  After graduation, Lowell played professionally for Pittsburgh and for the Hollywood Triple A Stars, finishing his career as player and manager for a national championship semi-pro team in Oklahoma.  Jim Lyke, a catcher for the Coyotes, also played professional ball.

The next fall, 1927, the Coyotes were undefeated in conference play, their record earning them the honor of playing Pacific University in Portland's touted game of the week in that city's Multnomah Stadium: C of I 13-Pacific 6.  The following autumn the Caldwell team finished the season tied for second place but gained considerable publicity for playing yet again in Multnomah's Game of the Week, defeating Linfield 12-0.

The crash of the stock market had little obvious impact, for the Depression did not set in immediately.  The new decade, the 1930s, began on a note both happy and lengthy in its resonation.  A glimpse into Dr. Boone's journal is instructive: January 1, 1930, Wednesday.  We cook the big turkey in the old Round Oak range in the laundry.  All folks [guests and callers] gone by 6.  I set out for W. E. McCurry's, mile N. of Cole school.  Marry Catherine McCurry to Joseph A. Albertson.  52 present. Very fine and very pretty.  Home at 10 p. m.

But the Depression caught up, the wedding of Catherine and Joe one of the few bright spots in a decade that saw enrollment decline; fund raising grind to a halt; and faculty salaries (never adequate) slashed 15, then 20%.  Interesting for sociological and demographic reasons is the fact that second generation Basque and Japanese students began to make their way into college.  John Monasterio and Louis Bideganeta enrolled and gave a good account of themselves, and Martha Uyematsu, Henry Suyehira, Roy Hashitani, and Bill Nishioka enrolled, the last three making up one third of the College baseball team, playing shortstop, left field, and third base, respectively.  And the 1934 football team was surprisingly good, defeating Albion, College of Puget Sound, Eastern Oregon Normal, U of I Southern Branch ((Pocatello), Whitman, Oregon Normal (Monmouth),  losing only to Idaho 12-0.  The game with Monmouth was another win on Boise's Public School Field before a crowd of 4,500.

On July 8, 1936, Dr. Boone suffered a fatal heart attack.  He had nurtured his school into an authentic college by concentrating his life upon the development of three sources of energy without which no private institution of higher learning can survive.  He recruited students, personally visiting prospective students and their parents because he wanted to impart his conviction that the education provided by his college was precisely the kind of education that produced the best, the most responsible, and the happiest citizen.  He was always ready to lead efforts in the unending task of annual solicitation of money to meet current expenses.  And his work on the third source of energy so essential to the health of a private school , the endowment, led to an accumulation of slightly more than $500,000.

Nineteen thirty-six dealt harshly with the College.  The trustees shifted the burden of running the school to the capable shoulders of Orma J. Smith, giving themselves a year to find a replacement. Meanwhile, the College showed signs of national recognition, for the 171 freshmen registering in September 1937 included some genuine exotics:  Betty Reed, New York City; Franklin Dog Eagle, McLaughlin, South Dakota, who came to play football; Douglas Anderson, Valparaiso, Indiana, by way of the CCCs and the baseball diamond; and students from Ohio, California, and Washington. Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, known by the Sioux as Ohiyesa had sent his son to the College.  The mother of Ohiyesa II was Elaine Goodale, a teaching missionary at Pine Ridge.  Another distinguished visitor was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who stopped at the school on Washington Heights on a trip to visit Eastern Oregon's Owyhee Dam, a regional showplace.

In November of 1936, J. J. Smith died, leaving a void in one of the departments—music—that had for years been one of the two showpieces of the College, the other being the pre-med program.  Smith left a legacy of well- trained musicians to carry on the traditions of the Pep Band in tours around the region and it its own stage productions on campus or at a local theater.

The man who surfaced as a candidate to replace Dr. Boone was Raymond M. Leach, of New York City.  His reign was brief, and his exit from Caldwell swift.  Administrative maladroitness finally caused the trustees to verify his references, which they discovered, were false; the ex-president was escorted to the train the night before graduation, and leadership was returned to O. J. Smith.  The College history calls the years 1936-1939 "the Smith-Leach-Smith Interregnum."

Dr. William Webster Hall, a sophisticated Ivy League Ph. D., tall, youthful (35), and genial, became the third president.  Arriving in the summer of 1939, with the Depression beginning to think of receding and prosperity just around the corner, he would have two and a half years before Pearl Harbor threw everything out of kilter . . . but they would be glorious years.   Music (Beale had not lost his commanding presence, and the Pep Band increased its stature), dramatics, academics (graduates continued into graduate and professional schools, and the College's honorary scholastic society, Scarab, was formed), and athletics blossomed with stars like Rabbit Bennett, Buck Selders, Art Harshbarger, Doug Anderson, Ace Coulter, Eldon Dietrich, Curt Jarvis, and Bob Bourland.  Perhaps most inspiriting of all, the enrollment for second semester 1940 broke all previous records at 442 students!

I want to summarize Dr. Hall's years and then take a slightly different approach to the materials as these comments signal the approaching end if not conclusion.

Hall was a real president:  (1) raised reasonable quantities of money; (2) improved faculty salaries and instituted a retirement plan: (3)made some outstanding faculty appointments: (4) reaffirmed institutional will to be an authentic residential college, adding three buildings and securing Simplot's backing for a new residence hall and dining facilities; and (5) kept the school alive during WWII.

Forty-two graduates in the class of 42; thirty-two in the class of 43; 16 in the class of 44; five in the class of 45!  Something had to be done, and Hall laid siege to Washington, D. C., managing to get the College approved as a training school for the Army Air Force, one of the first 80 colleges chosen.  The College survived because of the 311th College Training Detachment, which would sustain the College from March 1943 until June 1944.  To survive from June of 1944 until the end of the war . . . whenever that would be. . . was another struggle.  The strategy employed by the College-and probably by other colleges around the country although I have not researched the problem elsewhere-was to permit selected rising high school senior boys to matriculate as college freshmen, and by taking a carefully supervised curriculum, finish both the high school senior year and the first year of college.  One year was probably long enough, and by early summer war in Europe was over, the war with Japan ending in mid August although peace was not declared until late December, as I recall.

I want to drop some names of former students whom you might not have connected with your alma mater:  Richard McKenna, the author of "The Sand Pebbles"; Ovide Desmarais, ("The Green Felt Jungle"); Clare Conley, writer and managing editor of Field and Stream; Elgin Baylor: R. C. Owens; Louis Werner , scientist on the Manhattan Project; Harmon Killebrew.  Killebrew and Baylor did not graduate from the College.

If any one asks, we have had six Rhodes Scholars, seven if we can count Lawrence Henry Gipson, whom we share with Idaho.  Their names: Erling Skorpen, Brooklyn, NY; Ted Wills, California; Tom McFadden, Boise; Jim Roelofs, Caldwell; Mike Woodhouse, Oakley; Adam Rindfleisch, Arco.

We have had two Truman Scholars, five Fulbright Scholars, seven Rotary International Scholars, four Danforth Fellows, three National Science Foundation Scholars, two Marshall Scholars, one Melon Fellow, a National Hispanic Scholar, and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow.  That's a total of thirty-one prestigious awards.

Our son reminds me that nobody is ever faulted or criticized for giving too short a talk, so with that reminder may I wind this up with three or four observations; first I am aware that I have shorted about 3/4 of our presidents . . . Pitman, Shearer, Knox,  Cassell, DesRossier, Hendren, Learned, Hoover, and Henberg, and for this I beg forgiveness.

So what was the Triangle, referred to earlier but deferred until now?  It was the undeveloped space now occupied by the Simplot Hall Complex  and Anderson Hall.  By the mid-forties it had a sprinkling of trees (aspen and birch made tempting targets for jack knife incision) and was crisscrossed by a road or two and various paths, convenient shortcuts to the PX on the corner of Indiana and Cleveland.  Campus folklore denominated the Triangle a desirable and somewhat sequestered place for courtship for students with cars, especially if the cars had radios so that popular love songs could help establish and maintain the mood appropriate for courtship.  Such broadcasts as "Lucky Lager Dance Time" and a program out of San Diego sponsored by the Kaye Jewelry—"It's OK to Owe Kaye"-- were favorites.  Those of us without wheels redeemed the time and enhanced our GPA's by judicious utilization of the library (humanities students) and laboratories (science students).

Another observation:  Earlier I said that two programs that became showpieces for the entire college were music and science, especially the pre-med program.  We need to be reminded of just how good we were . . . and are, lest some of these facts get lost

Second, when we undergraduates in 1946 through 1950 looked about us, it all seemed about right.  The expression "critical mass" had not yet entered our active vocabularies. Our idea of a college was that just about everything about it should be small. . .except the basketball team, the library, the endowment, and the minds of the student body, the administration, and the faculty.  With them, bigger is better.  And by small, I don't mean microscopic.  For years Cornell College of Mt. Vernon, Iowa, distinguished itself with a student body of about 800. From that number to about thirteen or fourteen hundred is small.  Those who disagree with me about size often show their disrespect by claiming that "You small liberal arts colleges are all the same."  But it is not true.  Or as Dr.Chalker might say, "The statement's truth claims can be shown to be invalid."  But I cannot take time to establish the untruth here.

We won our share of conference championships in football, basketball, and baseball. Our debaters were conference contenders.  We gained our share of graduate and professional school entrances and  fellowships.  (Those who wish to see some comparative statistics about undergraduate preparation for medicine and the Ph, D. degree in science may check the Centennial History, pp213, 214. Some of the figures are startling.)  And our dances, parties, homecomings, and Founders Day celebrations  were successfully and enthusiastically conducted with appropriate decorum and civility. After all, we were not high school kids, we had survived the Depression and World War II—we were college men and women.  That was a coveted distinction.  And it was that envied status that enabled me to pay court to a Founders Day Queen with whom I expect to observe our 63rd wedding anniversary this next December.