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Remembering the start of school back in the good ol' days

Published on -8/13/2014, 9:19 AM

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It's time for school again, since it begins this week. It always brings memories of classes, experiences and of those many friends we remember. The years I want to share with you begin with the year of 1939, when I was a freshman at Fort Hays Kansas State College. Enrollment at that time averaged approximately 840 each year.

My home at Fort Hays for the first two years was in Lewis Field, which consisted of some long barracks that had been purchased from the Golden Belt Fair Association.

They had been purchased and used by the Civilian Conservation Corps and had housed workers on government projects. They then were converted into living quarters for Lewis Field. At that time, there were three of these building, two of them to live in and the third for "Mother" Lewis as a "hospital" for students with medical problems.

The two buildings housing students were named "36" and "40." The one I lived in housed 16 men. It housed four double-decker beds, eight in each end of the building, walled off from one room in the center of the building. The center room was the only one with heat and tables and chairs. Would the bedroom be cold in the winter? Yes. The windows in this old building were hinged on the sides, so when the wind picked up, there was enough movement in its walls that they would swing open. More than once we would awake in the morning with snow drifted across the floor. We learned early that placing several newspapers under the mattresses helped to cut some of the cold.

The year 1939 followed close behind the Wall Street crash of 1929, the Bank Holiday of 1933, the Kansas dirt storms, the drouth and depression of the 1930s, so no one had money to spend. Because of Dr. Clarence Harick and his efforts as president of the college, he devised a plan to contact all school administrators in the western half of the state of Kansas to collect names of especially those who were valedictorians and salutatorians. If these students somehow could find $50, they could come to college and stay in Lewis Field.

Yes. Money was short. The college made many efforts to make it possible for students to survive. For example, board and room per month was $17. That was for 20 meals per week at the college cafeteria, where the meals were a dime each and the milk was free because the college had a dairy. The Sunday evening meal was popular at the Methodist Church, where the cost was 15 cents.

The college simply was great in providing jobs for the students. Jobs consisted of both on-campus and off-campus types of work. Standard pay-per-hour was 25 cents. Forty-eight hours of work per month paid $12.

Students in college today will find it difficult and amazing to believe the cost of supplies in 1939. For instance, my first semester's tuition for 15 hours of credit was $28.

A good friend of mine kept a "penny-by-penny" account of his money for his sophomore year of 1935-36. Money values remained about the same in 1939. His list was for the whole year, and I think you will find it interesting. I can't list them all, but here are some of them. Textbooks for one semester were $6.25; tuition and fees were $24.50; one pair of new shoes with heel plates was $3.15; postage to mail laundry home was 25 cents; college varsity dance was 10 cents; haircut was 25 cents; fraternity expense was $2; and having his trumpet cleaned and repaired was $2.

His total expenditures for the year were $228.48. His total income for the year (labor and playing trumpet in dance band) was $224.21.

Of the 300 men who lived in Lewis Field, only one person had a car, a Chevrolet coupe. He had been in the Navy and could afford the $600 car. The football stadium was started in 1935 and by 1937 could house 75 men. As it continued in construction, more men moved into it with its improved facilities.

With no cars, we obviously had to walk. Walking from Lewis Field to the cafeteria on the campus three times each day -- except for Sunday evening when there was no meal -- kept us in good physical condition. It was a long walk from Lewis Field to 22nd Street in north Hays to where a girl I dated lived, then back downtown to the movie, back to 22nd Street, then back to Lewis Field, too.

In those days, each spring we had what was called "Pike Day." It was a day kept secret until the whistle blew before classes started. It simply was a day for fun, with a number of activities throughout the day and a school dance in the evening.

When our World War I vets returned, they looked forward to this day. One of the vice presidents said it would not happen. If it should happen, directions were all who participated would have grades dropped by one notch. It happened. Those who participated drove to La Crosse, where there was a buffalo roast. When they drove in, the man who was at that time governor of Kansas and a graduate of Fort Hays said, "I'll write you an excuse." Guess who changed his mind.

I could go on and on with stories. One thing to me that is important to remember is the good friends who left Fort Hays to spend time in World War II service. There were few men left on campus when we left to serve in all of the services. There were 55 good friends who gave their all. A plaque is found in the Memorial Union in their honor.

Arris Johnson is a member of the Generations advisory committee.

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