Getting Back to "Normalcy"
FOR THE MEN who had been in the service, some of them for as many as three years, it was not easy to adjust to the routine of an academic program, nor was it easy for the college to make a proper provision for them. They began coming the second semester of the year the war ended (1945-46), some as returning students, others as new. Altogether the men students still made up only about one-half of the student body.
The following year, however, they almost overwhelmed us. Applications from both men and women were received far beyond the numbers we could accommodate. The number of new women admitted was strictly limited because it was felt that, everything else being equal, preference should be given to service men who already had lost from one to three years of their normal college time. But neither did we have room for all the men that applied. Every available off-campus room in Northfield was pressed into service. The W. E. Schilling farm, Spring Brook, had been purchased by the college. One of the large farm buildings was remodeled and made into a bunk house for some twenty men; the old gymnasium in Ytterboe Hall was converted into a barracks that made room for forty men. Old Navy bunks, tables, and lockers were the furnishings. Forest Hall, one of the buildings belonging to the Odd Fellows Home complex and which had been rented by the college for a dormitory for women, was now given over to the men and twenty-five were housed there. This was all far from normal college life yet, but it was civilian. A strong academic program was offered, and the men were eager to get going.
That year the freshmen numbered 488 men and 261 women for a total of 749, almost half of the student body of 1660. To assimilate such a large group of new students into the community life and spirit of St. Olaf, let alone provide for their physical needs, was a challenge to both faculty and students. A survey of the class today indicates that they must have succeeded rather well, for its roster lists many who since graduation have distinguished themselves in their chosen fields and who are rendering significant service to community and church.
Through government assistance a veteran's housing complex was built on the college grounds below Old Main bordering Lincoln Street. It was composed of four dormitory units each housing eighteen single men and fifteen apartments for couples. This became known as Viking Court and helped to alleviate the housing shortage. Place was even found for half-a-dozen trailer homes in this area.
There were many married men among the returning veterans. Such other apartments, many makeshift, as were available for them were scattered throughout the town. Most of the wives were strangers to Northfield and to each other. In the fall of 1946, 1 talked the situation over with some of them and invited them all to an evening's get-acquainted party in Agnes Mellby Lounge. The result was that they decided to form a wives' club, which they named Lion's Mates. There were over a hundred members. Mrs. Robert Forsythe, (Mary McCornack, ) was the first president of the group. They met monthly in the recreation room of Agnes Mellby and had excellent programs both informative and practical. The following years they included some special events, a potluck supper for their families in December in St. John's Fellowship Hall, and a families' picnic in the spring. They even put on a variety program for the college. This organization flourished for three or four years, but when the number of married students was gradually reduced to a very few, the need for it was gone and it was quietly phased out.
The decoration of off-campus houses and dormitories in line with the theme chosen for the year has been a regular feature of homecoming events. There was keen competition for the prizes when so many of the students lived in private homes. One year the theme was "The College of Our Fathers," the first line of our college hymn. Viking Court came forth with most ingenious and mirth-provoking decorations. A long clothes line hung with baby garments labeled in large letters, "The Fathers of Our College."
Viking Court was planned only to "tide over" the housing shortage for a period of five years, but served the college for all of ten. By that time several large new dormitories for men had been erected on the campus. The temporary structures were removed and an unobstructed vista up the slope to the Old Main was restored.