1940s Memories

NEW! LEARNING TO LET GO, by Bob Schlessman, '42

Many of us worked at jobs provided by the college i.e. janitorial, dining room work or work on the farm and dairy. My first year I worked at the dairy but because of the early morning hours I quit the dairy for a while and worked on the farm cleaning the barn and feeding the horses.  This job didn’t require getting up as early as at the dairy and I worked with my dorm-mate Joe Bartol.  The farm had a huge stallion, probably weighed 2,000 pounds and was not a docile animal.  Our routine was to take him from his enclosed stall into the barn area where there were open stalls and tie him to a post while we cleaned his stall and renewed his feed.  One morning Joe was leading the horse out of his stall when he sensed that the mare in the first stall desired his service.  There was quite a commotion and Joe was nearly trampled by the big stallion as he moved toward the mare.  Realizing his peril and seeing there was no stopping the action, Joe quickly let go of the rope and moved to safety.  We learned that there were no plans to breed her at that time, but in the spring the farm had another mouth to feed.


I enrolled in the Fall of 1940, having graduated from Durango High School in the same year.  I was eighteen years old.  I am forever grateful to Fort Lewis College, because it afforded me the only way I could go to college.  I believe most, or many, of my classmates of that time feel the same.

One of the best freshman classes in my opinion, was “Introduction to Inorganic Chemistry” taught by Dr. W. Norton Jones.
Dr. Jones was a tall slender man, dignified, straight as an arrow, and relatively young.  But he was austere in some ways.  I have the utmost regard and admiration for him.  He knew his subject, knew how to teach it, and was determined to do just that.  There were no discipline problems in his classes.

Students, if errant, felt the humiliation of his humorous, but embarrassing reproof.  Example:  “Good afternoon, gentlemen, come in and have a cup of tea,” to tardy arrivals at morning class.

Dr. Jones was immaculate in appearance and precise in his speech and actions.  There was one thing he did often enough to be noticed by all of his students.  After writing information or equations on the blackboard, Dr. Jones would quickly get the chalk off his fingers.  There was a demonstration sink, with water spigot, at the front of the lecture room near the black-board.  He would open the faucet just enough to wet his right hand finger tips.  Then, he would reach around to his left rear pocket, and, with two fingers, deftly remove his handkerchief from the packet, dry his fingertips, and replace the handkerchief.  All was done skillfully as if by a magician.  I cannot remember why he did not employ his left hand.

This writer, out of the immaturity of his youth, attempted to imitate the good professor while he stepped out of the class for a few minutes one day.  Fortunately for him, he was not caught or he would probably have just washed himself down the sink with the chalk.

By my sophomore year, there were three students working toward a major in chemistry.  They were Robert Schlessman, Marion Woods and I.  All of us felt gratitude to Dr. Jones for his instruction and assistance to us, and his true friendship.

We had one long chemistry lab class on certain afternoons.  It could be tiring.  Dr. Jones, recognizing this, suggested we take a short break (10-15 minutes)  in the middle of the afternoon.  We could go to our dorm rooms close by, get a soft drink, or just talk.  This worked well, but one afternoon, no one knows why, we went to one of the rooms and stayed for forty five minutes or more.  Sure enough, Dr. Jones met us inside the door.  Then, he addressed us.  These were his approximate words:  “Gentlemen, I thought you were trustworthy.  Apparently, I was mistaken.”  He went into his office; we returned to our lab benches.  No more was said.  He took away no privileges, and there were no more overstays.

LES REMEMBERS, by Les Roberts, '40

Les Roberts
Les Roberts' 1940
yearbook picture

After attending ‘Senior Day’ at Fort Lewis and after graduation from Farmington High School in 1937, Les Roberts decided to go to college.  He thought he wanted to become a coach and teacher.  He had to wait a year while he worked to save enough to pay the $12.50 per semester tuition and the $25 a month room and board.  He enrolled for the Fall Semester in 1938.  However, he had to work at Fort Lewis to keep current with these and other personal expenses.  He did janitor jobs, snow removal from sidewalks, farm work such as milking 33 cows using two milking machines, irrigation of alfalfa fields, and various other farm work on many of the 6,318 acres of Fort Lewis land.
Les remembers the faculty and others who influenced his life.  There was Dean Bader for whom he had great admiration and respect.  There was the Farm Manager, Harry Longenbaugh.  There were coaches C.W. McLain and Howard Baker.  There was Dr. Pollock, Dr. Jones, Irene O’Brien, Margaret Good, Marian Brown, Martha Trimble, Christine Mitchell, and others.  There are many fond memories of classmates and teammates from football, basketball, baseball, softball, and other activities.  The many dances in the gymnasium were always well-attended and great fun.

SMOKING ON CAMPUS? NO THANKS!, by Lillian (Olson) Roberts, '47

Lillian Olson
Lillian Olson's 1946
yearbook picture

The girls’ dormitory, Lory hall, provided rooms furnished with two single beds, two desks, and two chairs.  There were showers on each floor.  They “signed up” for times to shower.  They were required to observe curfews for being in the dorm by a certain time and the time for ‘lights out.’  Lillian remembers being in a chat session with a group one evening where a number of the girls were smoking.  She was encouraged to take a cigarette, which she accepted with considerable temerity.  She ‘lit up,’ took a deep breath, and what a surprise.  She coughed, gagged, and sneezed – and vowed to never, never do that again.  One of the best decisions she ever made.

THE MORNING SHIFT AT THE FLC DAIRY, by Hayes Crapo, attended '40-'42

Hayes Crapo
Hayes Crapo's 1942
yearbook picture

We arose at 3:30 a.m. so that we would be on the job at 4:00 a.m.  There was a two-man crew and so we divided the jobs such that we didn’t interfere with one another but finished at approximately the same time.

One job was to bring in the cows and lock them in their respective stalls; the other was to prepare the milkers and other milk handling equipment.  We would then feed each cow her assigned amount of grain mix (weighed out as a specific amount for each cow) and begin milking.  Each cow’s milk would be weighed and recorded.  Periodically we would determine the amount of butterfat in each cow’s milk and record it.  When the milking was done one of us would release the cows and clean the milking barn floor.  The other would take the milk into the milk room and run most of it through the cream separator and cool the cream, then wash all the milk handling equipment and clean the room.  By this time it was approaching 7:00 a.m. and we would both be quite hungry so we would head for the college dining room (without changing our clothes at times bringing an odor that wasn’t too well appreciated).

Each of us spent these three hours for a stipend of $0.90 total.  While this seems like a very small amount today, we were paying only $26/month for board and room.  And the food was good.  Tuition was $25/semester, so with a little extra work on the weekends one could pay his way through 2 years of college.

COLLEGE KIDS NOW CERTAINLY WOULD NOT BELIEVE..., by Billie (Kleckner) Richardson, attended '44-'46

Billie Kleckner
Billie Kleckner's 1946
yearbook picture
Billie (far left) and friends practice make up for a dramatic performance.
Billie (far left) and friends practice make up for a dramatic performance.

1944-45 World War II was still going on.  There were only a few male students, and I’m sure most students had one or more family members in the service.  My father was away in the Navy as were all my cousins.  Gas was rationed as were sugar and meat.  I remember my Mother sending some ration stamps to the college when I enrolled.

Gas was rationed and few students had cars so we were there to stay.  The college did run a bus to Durango on Saturdays, so I could get home if I chose to.

There was no rec-room, student center or any place for students to gather.  No place to purchase drinks, candy, snacks etc.  So, if we didn’t bring some from home we were out of luck.

But, we had some great times.  The faculty was good and did a great job under very trying circumstances.

We still had plays, concerts, dances and formal teas.  Our meals were all in the dining hall, always sit-down, no cafeteria.  No jeans and we had to dress up for Wednesday night dinner.  No phones in rooms.  There was a phone in a small room near the front door of the dorm.  When it rang, whoever was close answered then had to track down the person called.

My room mate Elaine (Perry) Gedanic and I finished our education at Colorado A&M (CSU), and I have kept in touch with her and also two dear friends from Aztec--Bernice (Gardner) Bowra and Lorraine Brett Whitlow.

THERE'S MORE TO EATING THAN WHAT'S IN THE INGREDIENTS, by Bernice (Gardner) Bowra, attended '44-'46

Bernice Gardner
Bernice Gardner's 1946
yearbook picture
 Bernice always enjoyed special events in the dining hall, like pie day.
Bernice always enjoyed special events in the dining hall, like "pie day."

Some of my memories of Fort Lewis would not be so deeply embedded in my mind had I not gone directly from there to a large university.  I began making comparisons between the two schools and the university did not measure up to Fort Lewis.  I first noticed it in the dining hall.  A long line of students moved to the point where each person picked up a tray, moved along quickly as each food item was slapped on to the compartments in the tray.  This is how I imagined the military was set up.  Get them in, get them fed, and get them out!

Then my thoughts went to the Fort Lewis dining hall.  Upon entering on Monday, we looked at the bulletin board for the seating chart.  This told us where we would be sitting for the evening meals.  The chart was changed each week.  We sat anywhere we liked for the other meals.  What a good idea for getting better acquainted with all the students rather than little groups of best friends.  After we found our places, each student stood behind his or her chair.  Virginia Gass would be seated at the piano and, to her accompaniment, we sang the doxology.  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” Then we sat down.

The meal was served family style.  The food was brought from the kitchen in serving bowls on large trays.  As most of us were “depression kids,” we had been taught at home to take what you wanted, but you ate what you took.  I found the food to be very good.

We were not to wear slacks or jeans to classes and could wear them to the dining hall only on Saturday.  Wednesday evening was “dress night” for dinner.  This meant that we girls not only wore our best dresses, but we also had to wear hose.  Nylon hose were almost impossible to get during those years.  Rayon hose, due to gravity, were not a good substitute.  But Wednesday evenings were special.  The student committee, which prepared the seating charts, also often prepared centerpieces for the tables.  One of their especially attractive creations was candles they molded in muffin tins.  The candles floated in a bowl of water in the center of each table.  The dining room looked so pretty with the candlelight on the white tablecloths.

We were instructed on the Fort Lewis and Emily Post guidelines to gracious living in a class, “Freshman Orientation,” taught by Miss Margaret Good.  I remember her arriving in one of the first class sessions with a large basket containing dishes, silverware, napkins, etc.  That lesson was table etiquette.  (This would have made our mothers so happy.)  These were the lessons many college students learned in sororities and fraternities.  But who would have thought that these lessons would be taught and practiced at a college of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in Hesperus, Colorado?

I realize these fine dining experiences would be impossible for a large school to provide.  But, to me, it was one of the ways the faculty and staff at Fort Lewis wanted to give the students an often-neglected part of a well-rounded education.

TEACHER AVAILABILITY, by Elaine (Perry) Gedanic, attended '44-‘46

Elaine Perry
Elaine Perry's 1946
yearbook picture
women's volleyball team
Elaine Perry (second from right) was a member of the women's volleyball team.

I remember and particularly appreciate the availability of the professors to help with extra tutoring if you were having problems in their class.  They were anxious for you to succeed.  Dr. Jones, Chemistry, Mrs. Hershberger, Spanish and Mrs. Schroeder, Home Economics are some I remember as being very helpful.  My one complaint is the total lack of an athletic program for women.  This was probably true in that era.  You were encouraged to be "ladies.”

NO COMPLAINTS, by Jean (Kelly) Bader, attended '40-'42

I don't remember anybody complaining at Fort Lewis when we were there.  They were there because they had the opportunity to go to college and at that point in time, in this world, that was important for a lot of young people because a lot of them wouldn't have been able to go to college any place else.  It was because of Dean Bader that a lot of them got to college and got to stay there.  He would see that they had a job.  I know some of the girls were secretaries in the office, some of them waited on tables in the dining hall.  They would find jobs for these kids who wouldn't have the means to go to college.  And there were a lot of them at that point in time.

TUMBLING, by Clay Bader, attended '39-'42

Coach McClane taught the tumbling classes and we'd practice with each other, we had partners.  We would do flips, we'd do dives and we'd do rolls and anything that had to do with tumbling at that time that we knew of.  And then sometimes we'd form deals with pyramids or whatever that took several of you to put together.

ORGANIC CHEMISTRY WAS A BEAR, by Lucille (Murphy) Vining, attended '41-'43

Lucille Murfree, and one of her professors, Dr. William Jones
Lucille Murfree, and one of her professors,
Dr. William Jones

Of course, a lot of the students did work for their expenses.  I remember that I used to have to sit up way late and study, and I remember the chemistry professor, he was saying he didn't see how I could sleep through class and still make good grades like I did because I would stay up late studying and I would.  I'd be asleep in class.  Dr. Jones was his name.  He was very tall and very solemn.  He wasn't a real outgoing person.  He did have a very dry sort of humor, but he was a very good teacher, and he taught inorganic chemistry which really wasn't that hard, but he also taught organic chemistry which was a bear and I had to take a semester of that because I was a home economics and science major.  


I worked in the summer.  Well, first I went to summer school, they had summer school.  There were just a few of us.  But between classes and stuff we cleaned all the dorms, we washed everything the walls, the bathroom, the windows…everything.  And then, when we weren't doing that we were fixing chickens, we butchered chickens by the dozen.  I can't remember how they took the feathers off but we butchered chickens by the truckload.  I can remember the big sinks, deep sinks where we worked and the windows were right over the sink.  The cook was in charge, her name was Tegrotenhouse.  When we weren't cleaning, when the chickens were ready, we did chickens and they froze 'em.  Getting ready for the coming year.  They raised chickens and the beef, and they had milk cows and they produced the milk.  Some way I remember picking strawberries.  We ate a lot of strawberries too.

PICKLE PARTIES, by Louise Eaton (Randolph) Pribble, attended '39-'41, '44, '53, '54

Louise Randolph
Louise Randolph's 1941
yearbook picture

My room was the bottom room in the south wing of the dorm, so if anyone had a cake, candy, or even a jar of pickles from home, it called for a midnight party in the park.  It was located about ¼ to ½ mile out of sight from the college.  It was equipped with tables and a big outdoor fireplace.  Once a year there was a picnic and once a year a breakfast down there.  That was where we went after the night watchman had made his round and before he came back.  We knew his times to the minute.  My window had a screen on it that made a perfect ladder when we put it to the ground.  About ½ dozen of us went out.  My room-mate wouldn’t go with us, but she wouldn’t tell on us either.  She was always there to open the window to let us back in.  We built a fire in the fireplace for light, ate our goodies, laughed and told jokes, then silently slugged back into our rooms.

COLLEGE WITH RABBITS, by Robert Knoll, attended '48-'50, '69

I'm glad I took Fort Lewis.  You knew your students and teachers more, the small classes and they're isolated from town more or less.  They were right there all the time.  It was pretty nice really.  We had good food at the cafeteria.  Of course, we all had stoves in our little apartments you might say.  I'd go rabbit hunting, right there on the college land.  We'd skin e'm, cook 'em, fry 'em.  And we had ponds, you could go fishing if you wanted.

PARTY TIME, by Ken Bandy, attended '47-49

Ken Bandy
Ken Bandy's 1949
yearbook picture

There was very little around the school but we'd go to Durango.  I didn't have a vehicle at that time.  Monty Crane had a car, he was the only one of us four.  He had a little '36 or '38 Chevrolet Coupe.  And so what we'd do is take one of the mattresses off of one of our bunks and put it in the trunk and two of us would ride in the trunk and the other two in the front and we'd go to Durango.  And then, of course, most of us smoked about that time and we couldn't afford cigarettes.  If we went in to Durango when they had a matinee everybody'd go out and take a couple puffs off a cigarette and they'd go back in.  Well, when everybody'd go back in to the movie well then we'd go around with our little popcorn sack and pick up all the butts out of the ashtrays and then we'd take 'em back out to the Fort and cut off the burnt end and that's the end we'd put in our mouth.  That's what we'd smoke.  We didn't have much money.

WINNING THE EMPIRE JR. COLLEGE CONFERENCE, by Bill Noxon, attended '48-'50

I have many fond memories of going to school at Fort Lewis.  We attended the school at Hesperus, many of us from the Denver area, to play football as well as get an education.  Fort Lewis at that time was a two year college.  I believe our enrollment was about 130 students, 12 of whom were girls and at least half of the boys played football.  We played our games in Durango at the Fiesta Fairgrounds.  Most of us lived in the dorm and not many had cars.  It was a treat to get into Durango.  We had great camaraderie and the campus was beautiful.  Wildlife was abundant (besides the students).  Our football team was very successful, winning the Empire Jr. College conference and getting an invite to play in the Texas Jr. College Rose Bowl.  I played wingback on a single wing offense and cornerback on defense.  One thing I remember in a game is that I intercepted a pass in our end zone against Trinidad on the last play of the game of our last regular season game.  I still have that ball which is autographed by my teammates.  Many of us get together in a restaurant in Denver every summer.  Did we get homesick?  YES.  Do we look back with great memories?  YES!

 football squad

The 1949 football squad. Bill Noxon is in the front row, #51.

HESPERUS WAS NOT ITHACA, by Dusty Saunders, attended '49-'50

Late in that fall of  ‘49, Bob McCabe, a former Denver East High student, got a letter from a high school friend attending Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

McCabe’s buddy wanted to come down to Hesperus during a holiday break “and hang out for a few days.’’

We all chuckled.

Hesperus was not Ithaca.

And Fort Lewis was not Cornell, academically or in any other way.

Our Fort Lewis didn’t have glee club members, attired in blue jackets, harmonizing on lyrics like “far above Cayuga Waters.’’

But there was special sweatshirt camaraderie among the 149 students, including a few married World War II veterans and their families living north of the bucolic campus.

We also had Durango – our college town full of friendly residents, including attractive young women, who were occasionally entranced by “big city’’ college boys.

(Fort Lewis A&M was listed as a coed college – another misnomer. Actually, seven unmarried women students lived on campus in 1949).

Friendly does not adequately describe Durango’s hospitality. Numerous families regularly invited us over for Sunday dinner when we could get into town. I also recall numerous families, which often provided overnight sleeping accommodations, mainly on Friday and Saturday, when Fort Lewis was playing football and basketball in Durango.

Few of us had cars, so traveling back and forth between Durango and ‘the Fort’’ was an exercise in precise planning. Any student with a car always stopped at the Western Steakhouse and Strater Hotel on the way out of town, checking to see if anyone needed a ride. The Western had great burgers, active pinball machines and friendly young waitresses. The Strater management allowed us to wait in the lobby or even  “curl up’’ in old beds in a storeroom near the lobby.

Another bonus: Major discounts at Durango Bowl, which one Saturday night took on a Hollywood look when some of “the Fort’’ gang was there.

“A Ticket to Tomahawk,’’ a big-screen color Western was being filmed in the Silverton area. And cast and crew members occasionally traveled south to Durango for weekend getaways. On one Saturday night Dan Dailey, Walter Brennan, Anne Baxter, Rory Calhoun and a provocative young blonde actress were having bowling fun. My roommate, the late Shorty McGinn, bowled a couple of lines with the blonde. “Her name is Marilyn Monroe,’’ Shorty told me later that evening.

This band of city kids, including some who had come down to “the Fort” in the fall of ’48, quickly adapted to the lifestyle on our campus which seem to have as many deer as students.