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Class of ’56 reunion brings back memories of DU in the ’50s

A few years ago, a group of alumni from the tight-knit Class of 1956 decided the standard 10-year reunions weren’t cutting it. Now they reconvene every five.

“We were having such a good time that we said, ‘We ought to get together more often. We’re getting older. We’d better step up the parties,’” says Ann (Richardson) Stolfus (BA mass communications ’56).

More than 160 members of the Class of ’56 celebrated their 55-year reunion at DU Aug. 1–2. University officials welcomed the alumni and provided campus updates at the reunion, which included coffee hours, campus tours, luncheons and dinners. Attendees also got a backstage tour and a private piano and organ recital at the Newman Center.

Returning alumni recalled that DU was drastically different in the 1950s. A streetcar line connected the main campus to DU’s downtown campus, where the business and law schools were located, earning the University the nickname “Tramway Tech.” The main campus included University Hall, the Mary Reed Building, Marjorie Reed Hall, student dorms and apartments, a student union and Buchtel Chapel — which burned down in 1983.

For students who lived a sheltered childhood during World War II, college meant a bright new opportunity.

“It was a very freeing time,” says Ralph Wheeler (BA mathematics ’56). “During the war you had rationing; you couldn’t go places.”

Most DU students worked their way through school to pay for tuition, which cost $11 per credit hour in 1955.

“You could work a 36-hour week and still have your weekends off to study,” says Bob Moorehead (BSBA statistics ’56). “You didn’t have to miss any parties.”

While alumni remember the ’50s as a time of innocence, one campus scandal was an exception: a panty raid in the women’s dorms.

“I don’t think sex was very common among students when I was in college, so this was a big, bold thing that the guys would run through the women’s dorms, get into their underwear and run across campus,” Wheeler says.

Men and women had separate dorms then, and female students had a 10:30 p.m. curfew. They couldn’t live in their sorority houses, which were for chapter meetings only, but men could live in the fraternity houses.

Attire was different, too. Unlike today, students wouldn’t dare attend class in T-shirts and sweatpants. Females donned skirts and cardigan sweaters and men’s threads included corduroys and nice shirts, Stolfus says. Women wore fancy dresses for school dances.

DU had a football team in 1956 and a marching band, too. The Parakeets pep squad cheered for every DU sports game.

While reminiscing at their reunion dinner, Jean (Low) Hussong (BA humanities ’56, MA education ’60) says she and former classmates sang the DU cheer for old times’ sake: “D-Rah, E-Rah, N-Rah, VER-Boom.” “Most of us still remembered the words,” she says.

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2 Comments

  1. To see what the 1952 Founders Day looked like at DU click here:
    http://vimeo.com/28074078
    or put in your browser.

  2. Roy F. Wilson says:

    Who remembers the “student riot,” at the Bizad campus one spring between 1954 & ’56?

    Daily, students parked in time-limited parking on the block-long curb across from the Bizad building. A meter-maid chalked tires to catch over-time parkers, & a particularly nasty motorcycle cop wrote the tickets. Students those days had as much creativity as today, & at set times daily, the car in front would move around the block while everyone else moved up one space, hoping to obliterate the tell-tale chalk mark. This displeased the city fathers, & enforcement increased.

    One day, a shower of water balloons fell on the motorcycle patrolman, who pulled his gun (as I recall) to the catcalls of students on the 4th floor library deck. Classes emptied, & soon a crowd jeered from in front of the building while the cop threatened, & glowered.

    Red-faced Deans came out to quell the disturbance, but with limited success. The Denver Post sent a photographer to document the “riot,” but things quickly settled down. The University powers-that-be were scandalized by the affair, but as student riots go, it was small potatoes, about on the par with the “panty-raids,” that occurred in other institutions as well as DU.

    Students today are considerably less-restricted than we were then, but I doubt they have nearly as much fun resisting authority.

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