Oberlin has a special place in the hearts of thousands upon thousands of alumni, so it is hard to argue that its place in my heart is that much more special.
Putting aside the fact — just for a moment, please — that it was at Oberlin that I met my lifelong sweetheart, consider that the clouds of war were beginning to gather when we entered in 1939. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, joining the war effort was such an obvious course that our senior year began just weeks after our junior year, in July 1942.
We graduated on February 4, 1943, after completing the accelerated curriculum on the decision of then President Ernest Hatch Wilkins. For us, getting married was just as obvious, and the wedding took place on that same blessed day, a simple affair officiated by Professor Craig of the School of Theology at his home on campus. As our six adult children have been told thousands of times, the graduation ceremony at Finney Hall took place at 11 in the morning, we were married at five, and we went to the senior prom that same evening.
World War II had become a fact of life even at a Shangri-La like Oberlin. President Wilkins gave us a number of inspired talks at chapel, impressing us and helping us to focus our thoughts on the significance of the war and how it would affect our future. We heard news almost daily of boys we knew who were enlisting or being drafted into various branches of the armed services; we cared about them so much. I joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps, which allowed me to finish college and then become immediately available for service.
It was hard to visualize a war while living at such a beautiful place as Oberlin, but we all began to feel it more and more, and I think it enhanced the preciousness of our time there. I loved everything about Oberlin and was totally immersed in campus life. I think most of my classmates were the same. We had no cars. There was no liquor available on campus, not even beer, and we certainly weren’t into drugs. Most of us worked hard at our studies and enjoyed sports and simple forms of recreation. Sounds like we were a bunch of nerds, but we were not. That said, the girls were closely chaperoned and had to be in early. A well-established arrangement at the time would be for the men to take their meals at the women’s dormitories. I was assigned to Tank Hall, and it was there that I met my future wife, Trudy, the very first evening, being lucky enough to sit at the same table. For me, at least, it was love at first sight.
One of the great day-to-day pleasures, familiar to all Obies down the years, was crossing Tappan Square between classes along with streams of other students going in both directions. In a society like this it gets so you know almost everybody. I recall especially the first day after we all got back from summer vacation at the start of sophomore year, greeting people as we all streamed back and forth across Tappan Square. My status was enhanced by the fact that I was a tennis ace. I won the freshman tournament shortly after enrolling, going on to win the All-College tournament, open to all four years of enrolled Oberlin students. The next year I became known as the “sophomore sensation,” after winning my first 45 consecutive games in intercollegiate competition.
The first memorable event of our junior year was Homecoming Day, including a football game against the Depauw Tigers. Traditionally each house on campus would put up some kind of decoration for the occasion. At my house dubbed “The Alamo” — where I lived for my last three years at Oberlin — we had the crazy idea of rounding up 11 cats and tying them to stakes in football formation on the lawn, with a sign reading “Oberlin Yeomen Tame Fierce Depauw Tigers.” This prank developed into a turning point in my romance with Trudy. She was part of a bridge party the evening before the game, after which I walked her home. During the walk she strongly urged me to release the cats, accusing us of animal cruelty. We argued for a long time outside the house where she worked for room and board before realizing that we were less interested in the cats than we were in each other. After that we never looked back.
Nearly seven decades later we can boast 14 grandchildren — two of whom attended Oberlin — and a great-grandchild, while cherishing fond memories of our alma mater.