In My Time

by Nettie Bagley

Four Alumni Recount Simpler Times, When Campus Was Contained In Presidents Circle, Basketball was played in the Deseret Gym, and Cummings Was the U'S Field of Dreams

Want University history "straight from the horse's mouth"? The real story? How things really were? Then ask senior alumni-the ones who were there-who respond, with obvious enthusiasm and clear recollection, "In my time . . ." And then the stories begin. Such was the case when four U of U graduates from the classes of 1924, 1929, 1943, and 1955 were asked about "their time" on campus.

Talking with Preston Woolley Parkinson BS'24 is a U history lesson. He remembers when the original medical school had just been built and when the engineering hall, the building directly east of where Kingsbury Hall now stands, was the last building to the north in the circle. A lucerne patch stretched from there to University Street. There was no Union Building nor Kingsbury Hall. "All of our meetings were held in the new Park Building, where it was forbidden to step on the seal in the foyer," he says.

Parkinson sang with the men's glee club for two years, and remembers that before football games "we used to go up and whitewash the U and then build bonfires there and sing. We played in Cummings Field," he recalls, "and our basketball games were played downtown at Deseret Gym, behind Hotel Utah.

"They made quite a bit of fun of freshmen then," he adds. "We had to wear little green skull caps so everybody knew us. Four years later our graduation exercises were held in the women's gym, with a graduation class of about 150 to 200."

Memories stir fond emotions as Parkinson speaks of a time when students would have asked, "What is a parking lot?" and "What is a shuttle bus?"

By the time Sylvia Durrant BS'29 graduated, there had been some changes made at the U. Kingsbury Hall still did not exist, but there was a shell of the Union Building, which was used for graduation exercises. "It was not completed," she emphasizes. And there was a museum on the third floor of the Park Building.

Durrant majored in physical education after her first choice, embryology, was foiled by her inability to punch the ear of a guinea pig and pith a frog. But her interest was satisfied by a part-time job as a technician in the anatomy lab making histology and embryology slides for Dr. B. I. Burns. Right next to her lab, the students prepared bodies for anatomy class. The prank of the day was to get the women into that lab and make them look at the dead bodies. But Dr. Burns boiled when they took Durrant in. "He gave those students hell," she says, "and they never bothered me again."

Durrant's University world revolved around the gymnasium. She vividly remembers that the swimming pool had only a drain-no filtering system. In the spring one could not see the bottom of the pool because it was filled with spring runoff. Waiting was the only way to clear the water, as the silt settled to the bottom by week's end. Then the water was completely drained out and refilled again-back to its murky condition. Before Durrant graduated, a filtering system had been installed and there was clear water all the time.

At the age of 92, Durrant makes frequent visits to the U and marvels at the changes that have taken place over the years.

During the World War II years, University students had unusual priorities in their young lives. The campus was dotted with men in uniform, ready for their turn to serve their country. The horses and stables were prominent, the ROTC using the horses to move artillery during practice. Edward W. Muir BS'43 recalls those years with clarity, remembering that when he ran for student body president, his opponent wore a uniform. "The students voted for the man in uniform," he says, even though Muir had previously served as sophomore and junior class president.

More buildings were in place during Muir's U years, but they were still "only in the Presidents Circle," he says, with the medical school right behind. The Park Building still served multiple purposes, but it had seen some relief with the completion of the Union Building and construction of Kingsbury Hall in 1931. The library was also added to the circle in 1935, and Muir's group enjoyed the benefits of a "new" stadium built in 1927 to replace Cummings Field.

Muir was the kind of student known back then as a "man about campus," holding class and fraternity executive positions. He recalls his Pi Kappa Alpha days with humor as he tells how his fraternity brothers furnished their empty house late one night by helping themselves to what they needed from the Hotel Utah. "Don't tell my brother I told you this," he laughs, recalling how his brother's fraternity "borrowed" enough sod from a nearby freshly sodded lot to put a lawn in the front yard of the house. It looked lovely—until the police made them take the sod back.

Muir studied astronomy and navigation to supplement his interest in flying. Because of his background, he was invited by Uncle Sam to leave school a few months before graduation and join the Navy. At that time the University gave such students full credit for their unfinished courses and graduated them early. So several months before school was out, he was off to the South Pacific, degree in hand, serving in World War II.

One would think a 1955 U graduate would be in her 60s, but not so with Dorothy Thomson Jonas BS'55. A nontraditional student, Jonas entered the U to finish her education degree at the age of 41, with young children at home and a husband on the faculty. "I really enjoyed going to school with the young people," says the 86-year-old alumna.

By the time Jonas attended the U, the long-awaited Union Building and Kingsbury Hall were 20-year-old landmarks, ready for reassigning (Union Building) and refurbishing (Kingsbury). Orson Spencer Hall was almost completed (1955), as was the A. Ray Olpin Union (1956). The library in the circle was still being used, but was seriously inadequate. The gymnasium was an antique; its third floor was occupied by the College of Pharmacy. And the bookstore was still in an old barracks building.

Those were the Jack Gardner (basketball), "Cactus" Jack Curtice (football), and Ronald Gregory (marching band) years, and the days of Thanksgiving Day football games against Utah Agricultural College, bucket brigades to whitewash the "U," Freshman Week with green beanies and a frosh handbook, and women in skirts. Jonas remembers the expression of exasperation in 1955 was "Oh Hannah!" It was before the days of shuttle buses, and she had every other class on lower campus. No need for a treadmill to keep in shape.

Jonas continued attending classes beyond her graduation and saw the many changes that took place through the next decade and beyond. Even now the University is "her place."

So it is with our senior graduates. Ask them anything about the U, and they'll tell you how it was "in their time."

—Nettie Bagley BA'59 is Continuum's editorial assistant.

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Copyright 2000 by The University of Utah Alumni Association