Forever in His Debt
In the summer of 1876, New Hampshire's fledgling state college was dealt a harsh blow with the untimely death of Professor Ezekiel Dimond.
Just seven years earlier, Dimond had been elected by the Board of Trustees to serve as the first professor of the College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts, an institution that existed only on paper. Dimond was the perfect choice. A man of unlimited vision and determination, he not only taught all of the chemistry courses for the college, he also served as the business manager, recruiter, architect, supervisor of construction, farm manager, and lobbyist in the legislature.
On his death, the trustees stated, "Without Dimond's zeal, faith, and personal labor on behalf of an enterprise that absorbed all his time and thought, it is believed by many that the College would today be a vagary of the mind, rather than an accomplished fact."
Shortly after his death, however, the trustees realized the true scope of the school's indebtedness to the professor, when they found that, not only had Dimond neglected to pay himself all of his last year's salary, he even had advanced money to pay some of the college bills. The total amount owed to his estate was $4,075, a sum the college did not have available.
The trustees turned to John Conant, a wealthy philanthropist and friend of the college, for assistance. With his help, they were able to settle the debt to Dimond's estate. According to the 1877 financial report, these transactions left just 38 cents in the treasury for the new administration to work with.
Dry (Ice) Humor
Prof. Charles Scott was hired by the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts (as UNH was then called) as its first librarian in 1876. During the next 54 years he would also serve as a professor of English, history, and political science.
On the anniversary of his 51st year he was presented with a bound volume of letters of tribute to him written by former students, colleagues, and friends. The letters mention his unfailing courtesy, gentlemanly bearing, and dignity. Many also remark on his subtle sense of humor.
One example comes from Frederick Taylor, then Dean of the College of Agriculture. He wrote:
I recall very clearly, the first time I met you in the corridor of Thompson Hall about September 2, 1903. Being a newcomer I made some inquiry about the climate here and you replied with your characteristic drollery that 'most people enjoyed it very much in spite of the fact that the sleddin' got a leetle thin during July and August.
Fleur De Guerre
Dr. Ormond R. Butler served as head of the botany department from 1912 until his death in 1940. In 1919 his expertise was called upon to help settle a debate that was then raging in the New Hampshire legislature. The issue on the table was which flower was most deserving of the title of state flower. Rep. Charles B. Drake first introduced a bill to name the lilac New Hampshire's state flower on Jan. 9, 1919. Other legislators then filed bills and amendments promoting the apple blossom, purple aster, wood lily, Mayflower, goldenrod, wild pasture rose, evening primrose, and buttercup as the state flower.
A long and lively debate followed, regarding the relative merits of each flower. The apple blossom was a popular choice for many, but it was the prohibition era and some people regarded the apple blossom as a symbol of hard cider. Others took issue with the buttercup, since the color yellow was often equated with cowardice.
Finally, legislators agreed to abide by the decisions of two of the state's top botanists, Prof. Arthur Chivers of Dartmouth College and Prof. Butler of the New Hampshire College at Durham. Unfortunately, the two men found they could not agree on the same flower! Chivers favored the lilac while Butler championed the evening primrose. A vote was taken between the lilac and the primrose. The lilac won and was adopted as the state flower on March 28, 1919.
As a child, Evelyn Browne spent six months of the year going to school in Santa Barbara, California, and six months of the year in Canada with her family. Her father, Belmore Browne, was both a landscape artist and an explorer. For about half the year, the family led pack horses loaded down with tepees, cooking gear, an easel, and paints through the Canadian Rockies. When her father found a subject to paint, the family pitched camp.
In 1943, Browne joined the UNH faculty as an instructor in women's physical education. Because of the war and her own background, she believed that the time was right to teach survival skills and outdoor activities. The university, however, was not easily convinced. She established the university's riding program, coached riflery and basketball, and finally, in 1955, began teaching the first outdoor education courses.
Browne retired in 1981 and began her most ambitious project, the creation of an outdoor learning center on some of her property on Dame Road, now known as the Browne Center for Innovative Learning.
Hermon L. Slobin taught mathematics at UNH from 1919 until his retirement in 1948. Born in the Russian village of Smolian in 1883, he was 12 years old when he emigrated to America. Ten years later, he earned his B.A. from Clark University with highest honors. He continued at Clark to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics at the age of 25. His first teaching experience was at a night school, where the students were adults of foreign nationalities.
Devising his own teaching methods, he gave them any subject they demanded. In order to assure everyone's attention, he often had to keep his lectures going in four different languages: English, German, Yiddish, and Russian.
"I wasn't very big", he recalled, "and when one of those husky fellas started to get unruly, I used to back him to the head of the stairs so I could give him a push if necessary." Dr. Slobin was well known for his sense of humor. He told his classes, "Flunk is an intransitive verb. I don't flunk you, I merely record your flunk!"
The first UNH Faculty Club was formed in October 1910, "for social and intellectual purposes."
One of the events that fulfilled the social function was the annual Halloween party. Members bobbed for apples, held a balloon-inflating contest, danced, and dressed up for the competition for best men's and women's costumes.
Costumes ranged from the traditional witches and zombies, to farmhands, mad scientists, Dutch girls, and clowns. But occasionally they reflected current events, and in 1936 a group of nine got together to go as the Dionne quintuplets, their parents, a nurse, and the doctor.
It's Greek to Me
During her senior year, Doris Johnson O'Neill '38, recalled fondly that her favorite teacher, Prof. John Walsh, chairman of the Language department, was a huge baseball fan. "If there was an on-campus baseball game, Prof. Walsh would take his brief-case and we would all head for the field to watch the game. We were "in Greek class" as long as he had his briefcase with him on the bleachers."
In 1907, Dean Fred "Pa" Taylor became the proud owner of the first four-cylinder car in Durham. It was only the third car in town, since A. W. Griffiths of Packers Falls owned a one-cylinder Oldsmobile, and college president William Gibbs owned a two-cylinder Ford. Taylor's car, also a Ford, had no headlights but was equipped with two oil lamps on the sides. For ignition, it used dry cells instead of a battery. The tires were 3 inches by 28 inches, cost $20 each, and were good for an average of 2,000 miles.
One day in the summer of 1908, the Taylor family climbed into the car, with Ma and Pa sitting in the car's seat and young Ralph ensconced in a box that Taylor had attached to the back of the car. On the first day of their journey to Crawford Notch, two consecutive blowouts forced a stop in Wolfeboro. While the Taylors and their car recuperated, the dean telephoned Dover for a new supply of tires.
On the second day, they ended up at the Flume House at Franconia Notch, where the car ran out of gas. Taylor walked the three miles to the nearest gas station, gas can in hand. On the third day, they reached their destination safely, with only a minor setback when they had to stop at the base of Mt. Washington to let the steaming engine cool down. The trip home was uneventful and was completed in one day.
In the five years Dean Taylor owned the car, he traveled 12,000 miles.
Pottery teachers Ed Scheier and Mary Scheier worked at UNH from 1940 to 1960. One of the activities Ed Scheier expected his classes to engage in was the digging of a new supply of clay from the clay pits behind the outdoor swimming pool. One student remembers:
Mr. Scheier gleefully provided us with an array of funny-looking accessories. At 103 lbs., 5'3", I was the smallest, so he had me wear a pair of yellow slicker trousers with suspenders that would have fit a man of 300 pounds, plus he had me carry a shovel with an eight-foot handle. The tallest person in the class, a lanky young man, was told to carry the smallest tool.
He outfitted the others with similarly silly-looking gear, pick and shovels, etc. Several were given five-gallon glass jars to carry, which we assumed were to be used to bring the clay we would dig back to the studio.
He marched this very peculiar-looking group single file across campus to the clay pits, attracting quite a few stares as we labored under our loads. When we finally got to the clay pits, he announced that we were not actually going to dig any clay! He had an abundant supply, but he wanted us to see what clay pits look like. The pick, shovels and slickers were just to attract attention, for the profile. And the glass jars? "To catch frogs!"
Since 1928, hundreds of UNH undergrads have attended summer classes at the Shoals Marine Lab on Appledore Island at the Isles of Shoals. The original lab was the dream of zoology professor C. Floyd Jackson and his wife, who also taught science at UNH.
Floyd G. "Stubby" Bryant '31, '33G was the first student to register for the first lab. He also helped get the place ready, arriving with the Jacksons one late night. "It was ghostly; an eerie, barren-looking island with just one dim light shinning. And it was terribly quiet," he recalled.
An existing two-story Federalist house was converted into the lab's main building, and the students put an end to the quiet. Bryant remembers the professor gritting his teeth and hurling the record, "Muddy Water," into the bushes when students had taken to playing it nonstop on the Victrola.
New Hampshire's Bread Loaf
Carroll S. Towle taught English at UNH from 1931 until his death in 1962. Because of the success of undergraduate writing at the university and the growing prominence of several young graduates, Towle initiated the first Writers' Conference of the University of New Hampshire in 1938. Held each August on the Durham campus, it was one of the first popular university writers' conferences, and attracted a large number of distinguished authors each summer.
Eventually, it became one of the important centers of literary development in the East. In 1962, a review of summer writing conferences in Saturday Review rated the New Hampshire Writers' Conference as one of the Big Four of such conferences, and regretted its cancellation that summer. In fact, the conference was never reinstituted due to Dr. Towle's poor health. His collection of materials relating to the UNH Writers' Conference is housed in the University Archives.
William Yale, an authority on the Middle East, taught history at UNH from 1928 to 1957. For a number of years, Yale had a small dog that frequently accompanied him to class. The dog was well behaved, sitting quietly and attentively in the front of the room during the professor's lectures.
One day, however, as Yale lectured to his summer-school class on European and world history, the dog sat back, yawned quite audibly, got up, and left the room. This was too much for Professor Yale. Slamming his books together, he said, "If it's too dry for my little dog, it's too dry for you! Class is dismissed!"
Prof. Nobel K. Peterson taught in the Natural Resources Dept. from 1957 until his death in 1987. His course in Introductory Soils was very popular with students in part because of his extensive use of creative audiovisual effects.
In 1977, one of his classes presented him with a long black cape and the poem printed below.
As we watched you day after day it
Soon became obvious that you were
More than a teacher.
You bore the eccentricities of
Genius and Magic
But you were missing something
As you displayed your wizardry of
Media and soils
A wizard without a cloak?
A sad situation indeed
We could not bear to see it continue
So, from the Soils 501 Class of 1977
We add this cloak to your wardrobe
And the word wizard to your title.
Irma Bowen came to UNH in 1920 to teach classes in the history of fashion and dressmaking techniques. During the course of her tenure, she collected many examples of clothing for use in her classes. By the late 1940s, the collection numbered over 600 items, including fashions from the 18th through the 20th centuries, children's clothing, and accessories.
After Miss Bowen's death in 1947, the Board of Trustees voted to name the collection The Irma Bowen Memorial Collection, as a tribute to her dedication as a teacher in the field of textiles. On September 20, the university hosted the fall symposium of the New England and Eastern Provinces of the Costume Society of America. The highlight of the day was the opportunity to visit the costume storage area of the University Museum.
Much to the surprise and delight of the participants, a blue-and-white striped homespun gown, circa 1800, was discovered. The gown is an example of "everyday" clothing from this period, which is extremely rare since most were discarded or used for rags once they were worn out. For more information on the dress and the costume collection visit the University Museum exhibit.
At a senior tea in 1944, Prof. Donald C. Babcock, head of the department of philosophy, gave a fanciful speech on an imaginary 25th reunion of the class of 1944. Among his visualizations for the future were roads consisting of two smooth lanes; one for pedestrians and one for wheeled traffic. People got around on motorized roller skates and there were landing pads for helicopters on campus.
Nation-wide television hook-ups lined the Field House walls, so alumni who could not attend the reunion in person could still be there. Course registration was done through the Central Scheduling System in Washington DC and lectures, transmitted electronically, were conducted only by the best men in the world.
In an article in the March 26, 1915 issue of The New Hampshire, Professor Otto L. Eckman of the department of animal husbandry urged New Hampshire farmers to continue to raise horses, saying:
The automobile is not only not going to put the horse out of business, but that there are today more horses in the United States than there were 15 years ago when the auto was first coming into use, and that the average value of the horse is greater than at that time. (#109)
Hitting the High Notes
In 1942, the music and art departments were quartered in Ballard Hall with the pottery studio in the basement. The pottery instructor, Ed Scheier, wanted some life object for his students to model, so he obtained a fine New Hampshire cockerel from the poultry department.
Working alone one afternoon, Scheier was surprised by the arrival of a girl, with fire in her eyes, demanding to know who had been imitating her in her vocal efforts. Just then the cock crowed, thereby answering her question.
Last Wish Honored
University librarian Thelma Bracket's 1952 annual report includes this note:
The library has treasured since [the death of former librarian Charlotte Thompson] a box of letters written to her by her "boys" in the first world war; letters from all over the world. Previously undiscovered in the box was a request in Miss Thompson's handwriting that the letters all be burned at her death. The librarian, of course, had no choice but to obey.
Dressed for the Occasion
Prof. Loring V. Tirrell taught animal husbandry at UNH from 1920 to 1966, and was head of the department from 1930 to 1963. Of the more than 4,000 students he taught, few left his classes without catching some of his contagious enthusiasm for the subject.
Tirrell initiated a program at the university dedicated to improving several of the horse breeds. It was not unusual to see his big black Cadillac, racing through Durham in the early hours of a spring morning, on his way to the stables where a mare was about to foal.
One such spring morning, after a foal was born and the excitement was over, one haphazardly clad student noticed that Mr. Tirrell was impeccably dressed in a business suit. Yes, he confirmed, he had been called out of bed by one of the stable helpers.
Everyone attributed his appearance to years of practice getting properly dressed in a hurry. But a few moments later, someone noticed the edge of a pajama pant leg showing below the professor's trouser cuff. Then the great confession came: "For a week before a foal is due, I leave a suit on a chair, a necktie attached to a shirt, and I never get the top button fastened until the first stop sign."