Blast from the past

Six decades later, SU's Class of 1950 returns to reminisce about the campus that changed them.

More than half a century ago, Ed and Elaine London met on a blind date for his fraternity formal. The two returned to campus for a class reunion Friday — on their 60th wedding anniversary.

“It didn’t go anywhere for quite a while,” Ed said of their relationship after his Zeta Beta Tau formal.

“We were both busy,” Elaine chimed in. But after winter vacation, they went on another date. “And one thing led to another,” she laughed.

Photo: Shayna Meliker
Wesley Peterson, a member of the Class of 1950, came to SU after Army service in Iceland.

Elaine, who graduated in 1950, was studying liberal arts and journalism. Ed, a member of the Class of 1949, majored in management and journalism.

“It was just a very different time,” Elaine remembered.

The Class of 1950 gathered Friday in the lobby of Syracuse Stage for their 60th reunion, and to honor the now-defunct Boar’s Head Dramatic Society. The Society ran from 1904 to 1972, when the drama department was based in Machinery Hall, where they constructed sets in the basement.

At breakfast, the alumni reminisced about campus during the 50s: the hole-in-the-wall bookstore, the old Archbold Stadium and the separate men’s and women’s associations. They remembered the 1957 commencement speaker: a nobody senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy.

Back in that era, they remembered, the university accepted any returning serviceman who committed to the catch-up coursework. Wesley Peterson, 85, was one of those students. After he finished junior college in Springfield, Mass., Syracuse was the only university that would accept his credits. He came to campus after serving in the Army in Iceland, entering as a sophomore mechanical engineering major here.

“We used to bus out to the old General Electric plant for morning classes,” said Peterson, who graduated in 1950. L.C. Smith couldn’t fit all the ex-GIs who’d migrated to Syracuse.

Peterson remembered how the university had to protect its young female students from all the servicemen.

“We just came out of the service, and they were going to separate us?” he joked.

But by his senior year, Peterson was married, living in the married-student housing out in the apple orchard near Drumlins. They lived in military trailers that had kitchens with running water, but no bathrooms.

During his junior year, he saw a television for the first time, while visiting a professor’s home. His professor had just bought the new gadget. Its screen stretched a whopping six inches.

At the end of high school in Massachusetts, one of Ruth Clarke West-Sumnee’s advisers told her she’d “like the social life at Syracuse.” Her freshman year she lived on Walnut Avenue, which was a string of tiny cottages that housed a dozen or two girls. Sometimes the house-mothers were graduate students, she said.

Slamming her fist on the table, West-Sumnee, 81, told of being jilted by the marching band. “When I first came in ’46, they had girls in the band,” said the former cornet player. The instrument resembles a trumpet, but with a more mellow tone.

But in the fall of 1947, she recounted, SU kicked all the girls out of the band and turned it into “100 Men and a Girl.” The girl was the band’s baton-twirling star, its drum majorette, its “main attraction,” West-Sumnee said. This tradition continued for almost two decades, until 1966.

Still, some things simply haven’t changed. Students nowadays still love a free meal. (Since there wasn’t any dining service on Sunday nights, Peterson used to go to one of the churches downtown — not his usual church — for its free refreshments at Sunday evening services.)

“The football team couldn’t win a game,” laughed Lee Levine, who graduated in 1952. She was a voice major studying in Crouse College, and said, “Those steps just about killed me.”

And as if there weren’t enough rules, Levine said, the curfew for women was 9:30 p.m. during the week and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

“If you were caught in a boys’ dorm, you were immediately suspended!”

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