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A Walk on Campus — 50 Years On

After Paul Niemann attended the Class of 1962 reunion in September 2012, he was inspired to share these memories of his Badger experience, both as a student and his return as an alumnus.

January 07, 2013

After Paul G. Niemann '62 attended the Class of 1962 reunion in September 2012, he was inspired to share these memories of his Badger experience, both as a student and his return as an alumnus.

As an attendee of the 50th reunion of my Class of 1962 I took a walk on campus to see the myriad changes made since our undergraduate days and also read an article published by the WAA which featured the class and began with a picture of two women entering a portico with a brick building in the background. Both the walk and this picture evoked many pleasant memories and associations.

The pictured women are approaching the Gamma Phi Sorority House on Langdon street and the brick building behind them is Ann Emery Hall, a women’s living unit. In the summer of 1966 I lived in that sorority house and am one of the few men that can claim such a distinction. As a waiter going to graduate school, I waited on tables at the house and at the end of the school year the house mother inquired if I would have an interest in caring for the house over the summer with the opportunity live in the home with a choice of any bedroom. One could not turn down that offer and so that is where I lived. Diane, my wife to be, who was in graduate school must have been impressed that I had total sway over an entire campus mansion.

The Ann Emery Hall reminded me of a talented woman I dated as an undergraduate who lived there and was the daughter of a well-known Aristotelian philosopher by the name of Henry Veatch and who was a speaker at the University’s Symposium.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot

The walk through campus began with a look across Chamberlain Street from the home of my host to a neat stucco house once occupied by Professor Edward Gilbert and his wife. In 1899 Edward Gilbert and my grandmother taught school in Hayward, Wisconsin. Edward Gilbert went on to obtain his doctorate and became a distinguished professor of Botany and a founder of the Madison Arboretum, while my grandmother became the County Superintendent of Schools for Sawyer County, Wisconsin. As an undergraduate I found that a quiet place to study for final exams was a botany lab in Birge Hall where serendipitously hung a picture of Dr. Gilbert.

My host for the reunion weekend and I are the grandsons of these two Hayward teachers who met 113 years ago and for that same period of time and through six generations our families have been neighbors on a Wisconsin lake. In this ever pulsing society such an ongoing relationship is rare. Today my host lives across the street from the home once occupied by his grandparents in the pleasant University Heights neighborhood.

My walk’s goal on this reunion weekend was to explore the westerly part of the campus which I had not visited for decades. To get there one must cross University Avenue which has been bifurcated near the Congregational Church to create a new Campus Drive which required two streets to be crossed before the west campus was reached. The task was facilitated by a pedestrian bridge built over this new Campus Drive.

Crossing the bridge I wondered if its designer gave any thought to Stegner’s novel “Crossing to Safety” which so exquisitely describes the personal relationship between two couples as well as the relationship between the couples themselves and set ,in part, on our campus. With its description of physical decline and disparity between aspirations and reality it becomes more poignant over the years. At first reading I concluded it could have only been written by someone on the Madison faculty. The conclusion was correct since Stegner taught at UW and later at Stanford. Had I read the book earlier I would have made a point to meet him when I was a student at Palo Alto.

The initial stop on the walk was the Stock Pavilion which was advertising a sale of fall plants. I peered inside the dark and cavernous building and saw a few tables surrounded by students and arising from their midst a few leafy plants. The interior was suffused with the smell of manure and the bleacher like seating rose from the dirt floor in each of the buildings four quadrants to the windows high above. It looked bare without a crowd of people to fill the ascending benches.

My first visit to the building was on May 10, 1962 when I had a date with a woman in a history class. The event we attended was a concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra directed by Eugene Ormandy. While it seemed strange that such august group would be stuck in a venue for cattle, I learned that the building had a reputation for superb acoustics and it lived up to its reputation. The concert was magnificent and as a fillip my date introduced me to her cousin who was a timpani player with the orchestra.

The next visit to the Pavilion was with Diane in an era, which is slipping from the public consciousness, where dogs and water cannons were loosed on Black Americans for seeking service in public restaurants and where state governors proclaimed that God had created the Negros to be inferior and where these governors barred Blacks from enrolling in law schools. The time of the visit was the spring of 1966 and the speaker was Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the reunion dinner Friday night I sat next to a woman whose son had attended my son’s Colorado wedding and at that event met his bride to be. Today the woman’s son and daughter-in-law live in Minneapolis. On my right sat a mechanical engineer from Seattle who claimed that he was one of the first persons to live in Sullivan dormitory. Sullivan would be next stop on the walk.

The dormitory is a straight up Elm Drive from the stock pavilion and I recognized it immediately, being the banal fiftyish square block like building with a little blue trimming. At the time it was built it was difficult to imagine that the campus would or could ever move beyond that westerly point. Wrong. Today the campus extends much further west.

As the more northerly Kronshage dorms were approached on the walk bicycle racks jammed with bikes could be seen. As an undergraduate I have little recollections of bikes or racks. How could they be useful with Bascom Hill being the center of the campus? It must be that with the expansion of the campus to the south, bikes have not only became useful but a necessity.

The Kronshage dorms are only a short distance to my freshman dorm, Botkin House in Tripp Hall and that is where I went. Outside of Tripp was a young woman sitting on a bench waiting for the mail delivery who I engaged in conversation explaining that I had lived in Botkin house over fifty years ago and inquired whether it would be possible to visit the unit. She said “no” only residents with key cards could get in, but graciously offered to open her unit for me if I desired. I respectfully thanked her and declined. If it was not Botkin House, any other would simply be a poor substitute.

However, a few words about my first campus home are appropriate since one of the speakers at the reunion’s “Day of Learning” was Dr. Dennis Maki, distinguished Professor-emeritus who lived on the third floor of the house while I lived on the second floor. The house fellow lived in the room next to mine and was a Fulbright Scholar from Cambridge University by the name of Michael. There could not have been a more learned, sophisticated and inspirational role model for us freshman. But University Housing thought he lacked the ability to discipline the residents and the assertion was perhaps true. Dennis Maki and his third floor colleagues played many tricks in and on the dorm, often with water, which resulted in the removal of our in house scholar. In his place we were saddled with a lantern jawed marine by the name of Joe who was not inspirational. However, Botkin House did become quieter with his arrival.

Adjacent to Tripp Hall there is a tree lined path along the shore of Lake Mendota extending from the western dorms to the student union and which is also bordered by Bascom woods. A perfect sylvan setting. It was used frequently by those living in Tripp Hall. In our day this path was simply known as the "lakeshore path,” because that was what it was. Today it has been renamed as "The Howard Temin Path” after a UW professor who won the Nobel Prize. While obviously this scholar should be honored I suspect the path will always be called “the lakeshore path” and that the professor would be better remembered in a way which would not be diluted by virtue of a simple and appropriate designation.

At the end of the Lake Shore path is the new Helen White building which commemorates this renowned Shakespeare scholar who was my professor for a course on Shakespeare. I decided to pay it a visit and I met a librarian who seemed thrilled that she was speaking to someone was who actually a student of the building’s namesake. I assured her that Professor White, who was known as the “lady in purple” actually often dressed in purple. She informed me in turn that the English Department had adopted a purple motif. She proudly announced that the building housed number of computer labs which I visited.

When the class of 1962 was on campus, a laboratory denoted a place where something was either being constructed, deconstructed or dissected. But all I could see on my visit was that the labs were nothing more than rooms filled with computers waiting to be used by undergraduates. Apparently “lab” now has a new meaning.

Across the street from the White Building was Science Hall where I attended a variety of courses ranging from Geology to International Relations. The building was closed on Saturday, but signage disclosed that it housed a number of collections including the Arthur Robinson Library of Cartography. Robinson was one of the luminous names in Cartography and made major improvements in the Mercator map which had been created in the 1500’s. I elected an independent study course which afforded me the opportunity to work with him on a one to one basis and to write a paper on glaciation. I met regularly with him in Science Hall to review my progress and to otherwise discuss the ever fascinating world of maps with one of the world’s leading cartographers.

My meandering continued up Bascom Hill, past the Commerce Building and along Observatory Drive and the brim of the hill above the Liz Waters dormitory. I crossed the street to get a better look at the behemoth of a boulder ensconced on the hill and just west of Washburn Observatory. Somehow this mass had escaped my observation when I was an undergrad. Affixed to the rock was a plaque dedicated to an early president of the university, Chamberlain, who was a geologist and which stated that this giant rock had been carried by a glacier from Canada and dropped thousands of years ago on this spot as the glacier melted and receded.

My walk began on Chamberlain Street and ended before a rock dedicated to the memory of the same Chamberlain. Behind me the grass covered hill slopped downward through Bascom Woods to Lake Mendota’s shore where it’s pure dark blue water shimmered all the way to Picnic Point.

One hundred and fifty year ago John Muir would have immediately recognized this scene. He ended his studies at the university to pursue the goal of being a naturalist and wrote the following description of the lake and the campus which any Wisconsin student would recognize and resonate to today.

From the top of a hill on the north side of Lake Mendota I gained a last wistful, lingering view of the beautiful University grounds where I had spent so many hungry and hopeful days. There with streaming eyes I bade my blessed Alma Mater farewell. But I was only leaving one university for another, the Wisconsin University for the University of the Wilderness.”

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