Teaching and Administrative
Assignments at St. Olaf College
When school opened in the fall of 1902, I was asked to teach not
only some classes in mathematics but also one in Greek. The president
had been unable to secure a teacher in this subject and urged me
to help out, which I was glad to do. In those days faculty members
were called upon to teach a variety of subjects; they also were
expected to teach twenty-five or thirty hours a week.
My principal teaching subjects down through the years have been
mathematics, astronomy, and geology. It is most interesting to meet
men and women now who were in my classes thirty, forty, or fifty
years ago and find they still remember such words and terms as sines
and cosines, solar paralax and paleozoic era. This latter term recalls
to mind the trips by horse and buggy the class in geology used to
take each year to study interesting features and to gather fossils
in some of the nearby outcrops. I shall never forget with what interest
the students looked forward to these trips. P. O. Holland and O.
E. Rolvaag were in the same geology section and on trips quite a
bit of rivalry developed as each one strove to find a more interesting
and more beautiful specimen than the other. It kept me busy trying
to find some way of admitting that both of them had won and both
had found the finest fossil.
A perusal of old St. Olaf College catalogs reminds me that a number
of administrative duties were assigned to me at different times.
In addition to my work as head of the department of mathematics,
I also managed the band and choir and served as college treasurer
from 1906 to 1912 and as vice-president from 1907 to 1913. This
latter appointment proved to be quite an assignment; the president,
Professor J. N. Kildahl, became ill in the fall of 1909 and was
obliged to give up his work for one year. He moved to the west coast
to regain health and strength in a different climate, and during
his absence --- January 1, 1909, to January 1, 1910 --- I served
as acting president.
Of the many and varied experiences of that year I remember especially
two that were rather trying. The first came soon after President
Kildahl had left. The college and I had begun to learn that the
task of being a college president was not an easy one. When the
students returned from the Christmas vacation in January, 1910,
quite a number of them, both boys and girls, became very ill, and
it was not until I called the state health official in St. Paul
and requested him to come down at once to look the situation over,
that we learned we had a serious smallpox epidemic on our hands.
Re-arrangements had to be made at once. As many as possible of the
sick students were moved to the college hospital; one wing of Ytterboe
dormitory was quarantined; special nurses were secured; all students,
faculty members, and workers were vaccinated; and practically all
rooms in the dormitories and other buildings were fumigated. This
proved to be a harrowing experience and a very difficult six weeks'
period; but at its close everyone was thankful and happy that there
had been no casualties.
The other important and rather difficult experience came later
in the year. Information had come to me that thirty-nine acres contiguous
to the campus were for sale. These acres comprised the land just
north of the Boe Memorial Chapel and the gymnasium, where now is
the new parking lot, and also the strip west of Agnes Mellby Hall
extending south to Forest Avenue. It is therefore the land on which
the radio tower and Hilleboe Hall are located. I at once contacted
the man who held the deed and secured a promise from him that he
would not try to dispose of the property until I had had time to
consult the college Board of Trustees. I tried to explain to the
Board as well as I could the importance of making this purchase;
but I am afraid I did not succeed in stirring up much enthusiasm
for the transaction, for the Board decided that if I could raise
the needed funds somehow, I could make the deal. It must be remembered
that there were then no college buildings in that part of the campus,
and I presume the Board members thought there was more unoccupied
campus space than would be needed for many generations to come.
One of the local banks loaned me the needed money on my personal
signature, the sale was made, and the land deeded to the college.
The man who sold the property to the college, after some persuasion,
was kind enough to make a donation of $150.00 to be used in the
purchase of a new instrument, a bass saxophone, for the St. Olaf
Those early years at St. Olaf provide a wealth of anecdotes and
incidents, some of which are worth recording only because they were
amusing and others because they were merely comical mishaps. Two
such incidents occurred during college convocation periods which
always are rather serious and solemn occasions. One morning the
speaker for the day announced the opening hymn, one that seemed
quite appropriate at least so far as the first two lines were concerned.
These were, of course, the only lines he had had time to look over
before announcing the hymn. All went well until the last line of
the first stanza was reached: "God bless the newly married
pair." The singing came to an abrupt ending and everyone began
to crane his neck to see the newlyweds. Blushingly, the speaker
hastily announced another hymn:
Fight on, the battle ne'er give o'er,
Renew it boldly day by day,
And help divine implore.
This did not improve the situation very much and the audience was
more perplexed than ever.
On another occasion, the speaker was doing his best to denounce
the evil of smoking, one of the "habits" at that time
forbidden to college students. He became so over-enthusiastic that
when he wanted to use the old definition, "a cigar is something
that has fire in one end and a fool in the other," he got the
figure just a little mixed up and said instead: "You have all
heard the definition of a fool! A fool is a man that has a cigar
in one end and fire in the other."
Just one more amusing anecdote. For many years one of the attractions
at commencement time was a baseball game between a team of college
alumni and one of former students not alumni. On each team there
would always be found three or four staid college professors and
rotund clergymen, and a game between such colorful teams always
proved a great attraction. There is the incident of the pitcher
who was so slow in his movements and threw such a slow ball that
one of the batters had time to swing twice at the same pitched ball
and missed both times. This created quite an argument and the umpire
had a very difficult time of it to decide whether to call one strike
or two on the batter.
Then there also comes to mind the story about the batter who was
hit by a pitched ball and so got to first base; but, in spite of
the fact that the next two batters each pounded out home runs, the
best he could do was to reach third base where he rested until the
As my main work at St. Olaf has been connected with the music organizations,
I shall endeavor in the following chapters to relate the activities
of these organizations both at home and as touring representatives
from the college. Then I also shall try to tell something about
the man who was the inspiring genius in the founding and the development
of these groups, to describe his method of work, and to evaluate
his accomplishments as well as I can from nearly half a century
of personal work and contact with him.