The Rituals of Campus Life
Wes Sullivan in his own words
World War II began in Europe a few days before
we arrived on the U of 0 campus in 1939. The war
was to alter and interrupt our college careers, even end our lives. But in that euphoric fall, the war was only a tiny cloud on a distant horizon.
Away from our families for the first time, we flexed our new-found freedoms and busily learned the rituals of campus life. Here was our opportunity to prepare for getting a job, the ultimate goal of all Depression-raised kids.
Almost immediately, the Oregon Emerald copy desk became my home away from home. The interior decor of the J-School resembled a World War I barracks. Dean Eric W. Allen spent all his building allocation a few years earlier on a line brick exterior and had nothing left with which to finish the inside. BUI the drab, grey, wood walls didn’t detract in the slightest from my awesome respect for the place.
I learned as much of my trade from standing at the edge of the conversation in Managing Editor Lyle Nelson's office and from Hal Olney, who sat in the copy editor's slot, than I did in the classroom.
All reporters lived in hope of being favorably mentioned in Professor George Turnbull's weekly Honor Roll analysis of the Emerald, posted on the Bulletin Board in the downstairs hall. To this day, I still check my copy to cull out excess “that’s,” thanks to a criticism of my writing in the Honor Roll.
Our social life centered around the Emerald as well. I met my future wife of 48 years (thus far), Elsie Brownell, in the Emerald newsroom. After the news deadlines, we'd all trek across the wooden walk to the press building to set the headlines and help lock up the paper. When we'd put it to bed on a Friday night, we'd head for a downtown meeting of the "3 O'Clock Club." The paper's late deadline was our excuse to keep the girls out after closing hours.
The "meeting" continued long after taking the girls home and usually included the singing of the bawdy "O'Reilly's Daughter:”
Our boisterousness was lame enough. We didn't have money for lavish or wild entertainment. A date usually meant a nickel Coke at the College Side or at Taylor's, at 13th and Kincaid. Ours was the era of the Big Bands, and we had some of the best, including the King of Swing himself, Benny Goodman, in 1941 and Tommy Dorsey in 1942.
Campus politics was wild and sometimes bitter in those years, but far more student energy went into building Homecoming signs and into Canoe Fete floats than into campus politics. The sophomores tried to grow beards for the Whiskerino. Freshmen were thrown into the Millrace for failure to wear Frosh pants. What a privilege it was to wear cords as an upperclassman.
All that Joe College and Betty Coed atmosphere changed abruptly on a Sunday morning in December of 1941 when we heard on the way home from church that Japan had bombed some place called "Pearl Harbor:” Many of us had to ask where it was. We soon learned.
By that afternoon. house managers were scurrying around 10 find material for blackout curtains. Some men left immediately to join the armed services. Others sought out Army, Navy, and Air Corps deferred programs hoping to get their college degree before being called up.
Suddenly, math and physics courses, anything that would prepare young men for positions in the military, became popular. We collected metal, held a scrap-noise parade.
The detached, isolationist atmosphere that surrounded the first years of our college life vanished. But campus life went on. One of my daily poems on the front page of the Emerald illustrates how we adapted.
DAD’S DAY MESSAGE
Hi ya, pop; and best regards.
Come down and bring
Your ration cards. -- J.W.S.
Helen Angell was the first woman editor of the Emerald, in 1941-1942. When my best buddy from high school, Ray Schrick, headed towards the Emerald editorship, I switched and became editor of the Oregana.
The two of us were called into the Air Corps in the spring term of our senior year and found ourselves in basic training among the mesquite bushes of Wichita Falls, Texas, as our classmates prepared to march to our commencement.
I was startled when the captain of my company, a Texan, singled me out on my first day to talk with him in his office. He just wanted to remind me of the 71-7 drubbing Texas gave Oregon in a football game that year.
I remember sitting with Ray under a Texas sky at night, looking up at the stars that were shining on a campus in Oregon so far away. Especially under those circumstances, our years at the U of O and the J-School seemed like golden years, a kind of Camelot.
Fifty years later, they still seem the same.