The Wilson Years
A Dialogue with President Emeritus
Harold E. Wilson
with Additional Commentary
Itasca Junior College, Itasca State Junior College, Itasca Community College
Conducted, compiled, and edited by Don Boese
First mention in the local press had both name and background in error in the Itasca Iron News of July 17, 1941:
The school board of Independent District No. 2 has hired Harold D. Wilson of Macomb, Illinois, for mathematics and physics at Itasca Junior College for the coming year. He is a graduate of Illinois Northern and took his master’s degree at Northwestern. He has been teaching at Macomb Junior College.
How did you obtain the position at Itasca?
I answered a vacancy notice. At the time neither Gladys nor I had ever lived outside the boundaries of Illinois or Iowa. We knew nothing about the state of Minnesota, its climate or its people!
Dean Joseph B. Davis of Itasca Junior College wrote to tell us that he would be traveling through Oregon, Illinois, and made an appointment to interview us in June, 1941. He was a good salesman for the junior college and himself. Because the salary was $1,900 per year, a 33 percent increase over my salary in Macomb, and because the job was a definite professional advancement for me, we decided to take it without going to see either the town or the junior college.
Dean Davis took the responsibility of renting a furnished eight-room house about a mile from school for us at $50 a month with the comment that the exercise would keep me in good shape. We stored our furniture in a Macomb warehouse, planning to have it shipped when we could find a suitable house to rent for ourselves in Coleraine.
The Itasca faculty member Wilson was designated to replace had been seriously injured in a car accident which impaired his teaching abilities. That instructor’s classroom is recalled by a 1940 student:
He taught advanced math classes, but as they would say today, he seemed a bit “spaced-out.” He never got to know the students in the class. They were just names in his book. That book usually rested on the desk at the front of the room.
There was one student in that class who was NOT a good student. While the instructor was engaged at the blackboard, the student took the book and changed his grades; such as 40s easily became 90s. One day the instructor was seeking response to a question. He looked down his book and called on the “changer.” The student displayed total non-comprehension. The instructor was genuinely astonished. “Why, you have excellent grades. I don’t understand!” The class erupted into laughter which, of course, the instructor didn’t understand either, and the mystery went unsolved.
So, in the summer of 1941, you left Macomb and headed for northern Minnesota?
We bought a used one-wheel trailer to fasten on the back of our 1934 Ford V-8. On that trailer, we placed boxes of household goods, Gladys’ sewing machine, a baby crib, and a highchair. The load stood at least two feet higher than the top of the car pulling the trailer. A canvas tarp was tied over the top to protect the load from dirt and weather.
I have no idea what that load weighed, but it was being carried by one little two-ply 4 x 8 tire! Such is the optimism of the young. The fact that not all highways were paved in those days needs also to be noted.
The rain began on our first day out and continued for the rest of the trip. About 17 miles north of Madison, Wisconsin, the trailer tire gave up the fight and blew out. A kind-hearted farmer allowed us to park under some trees along his driveway and near a pile of firewood. With jacks and wood chunks we blocked up the trailer without unloading it and removed the wheel. Because the trailer was now on blocks we were able to unhook it from the car. I drove the 17 miles back to Madison to get a new and heavier tube and tire. After replacing the wheel, a little delicate maneuvering reattached the trailer to the car, and we were ready to resume our trip.
You don’t want to know all the trouble Gladys had in entertaining a 15-month-old infant while I was repairing our mechanical difficulties. Total loss of time was about 18 hours. It was still raining! Please note that a one-wheel trailer makes its own rut on a muddy road. The going got tougher as the mud deepened. As we crossed over into Minnesota, the roads in Wisconsin were being closed to through traffic.
We were tired! It was about an 800-mile trip, and we had had very little sleep. As we drove through Hill City, Gladys had one early impression of northern Minnesota. She noted an abundance of small tarpaper shacks in backyards and exclaimed, “Don’t they have indoor plumbing here?” Neither of us had ever heard of ice fishing shacks, but we had both used outdoor facilities!
A 1941 Itasca student:
Harold Wilson arrived as I started my second year at Itasca. He was a stern and methodical presenter of his subject, a vast improvement over his predecessor who, because of disabilities, was taken advantage of by students. Wilson stuck to the subject, which he obviously knew well. Other subjects I liked more, but my grounding in math and physics at Itasca stood me in good stead when I got in the pre-meteorology program in the Air Corps and, ultimately, received a commission in the Air Force.
Sometime during 1992, I encountered a young man wearing an ICC jacket and told him I, too, had attended Itasca. He looked at me with what I think was disbelief and maybe even disdain. But Itasca was then what it probably still is a chance to get an education and a start in life.
Excerpts from the first Itasca Junior College catalog:
To meet a real educational need for the graduates of the high schools of Itasca County, a Junior College will be opened in the new school building in Coleraine. While the courses offered will be limited in number, it is proposed that the standard of scholarship will be of such a character that the students will be well fitted to continue in degree-conferring colleges.
Dramatics and Literary work will receive special attention. It will be the purpose of the administration to try to encourage a fine, clean social spirit in the school to the end that each student may have so good and profitable a social experience in his attendance at Itasca Junior College that he may look back upon the days spent there as among the happiest and most profitable of his life.
Minutes of the School Board of District 2, March 15, 1939:
Moved, seconded and carried that Junior College teachers are required to hold a Master’s Degree in the subject they teach.
As I look back at the Itasca Junior College founded by J. A. Vandyke and others in 1922, I see what appears to be a small but sound college determined to provide a good two years of schooling that would transfer to the University of Minnesota or most anywhere else. I am impressed with statements made by University of Minnesota personnel about the quality of Itasca in the 1920s, and I certainly am impressed with the credentials of the faculty. Among them, they held degrees from the University of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois, as well as from Columbia, Indiana, and Northwestern universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, and even the College of Constantinople in Turkey. They were carefully distinguished from the high school faculty, even though they may have shared facilities. What were your impressions of Itasca Junior College upon your arrival in 1941?
Superintendent Vandyke was retired when I arrived, and I knew him only casually, mainly through church connections. From what Dean Davis and others told me, I do believe his concept of Itasca Junior College was to furnish a strictly academic curriculum which would transfer to any institution of higher learning. He did not envision the broad spectrum of training which developed in later years. In fact, I would suspect he would have considered that an adulteration of his ideals for the school.
When I arrived, I didn’t know what to expect. It was my first experience with the concept of a junior college; until then, I thought of college as a four-year institution. I was somewhat dismayed to find that unlike what Vandyke had visualized, by 1941 the junior college was not the natural “crown” of the educational plant, but was sort of an afterthought, with the main resources being directed to Greenway High School and its activities.
When it came to scheduling of classes, the high school schedule was done first, and the college took what was left in the way of hours and classroom space. The same pattern held true in the extracurricular schedule. And, the college students mingled with the high school and junior high students. Sometimes assembly programs were held for all three levels of students. I suppose you could say that, in general, the community regarded the junior college as a sort of “glorified” high school.
A student Perspective:
In my mind’s eye, I can still see Mr. Wilson as he was in my time at Itasca Junior College, 1941-1943. When I first saw him, his eyeglasses looked awfully thick to me, and I assumed that he was going to be very strict, all business. I came to discover that behind those eyeglasses were eyes that could light up with merriment, and, yes indeed, he could smile, but not quite symmetrically!
As a matter of fact, I once heard him really guffaw. He called on one student to present his solution to a mathematical problem, step by step. When that student finished, he called on a second to present his solution to the same problem. The second student replied, “Well, mine is a reasonable facsimile of his.” Mr. Wilson settled back in his chair and burst out in loud laughter.
I came to Itasca Junior College from a small community. Even the size of Greenway High School, where the college was located, filled me with apprehension. But I do not recall ever being ill-at-ease in classes taught by Mr. Wilson (except maybe for the first day of calculus). He was serious but understanding. He had a good command of the subject matter, he was always prepared, and he was able to communicate in understandable ways. I went on to complete my education at Hamline University in St. Paul. Again, I went with fear and trembling — how was a junior college transfer student going to compete with all those students from the Twin Cities? I need not have worried. My education at Itasca Junior College had prepared me well. I graduated with a double major — mathematics, and religion and philosophy.
The Bovey Press of October 3, 1941:
Activity of the Pep Club was centered this week in the pep assembly held on Friday morning. The program followed the scripts of a radio program and featured cheers, the Itasca Pep Band, a skit by Mathematics Instructor Wilson and Student Ketchum, and a pep talk by John Lerhol.
Itasca Junior College Dean Joseph Davis’ academic fields were physics and math. Tell me about him.
I have forgotten most of what he told me about his “roots,” so I will be limited to my experiences with him as an administrator, a friend, and a fellow church member. He had polio as a child and was left with some paralysis in the left side, and a resulting hitch in his walk earned him a secret nickname among the students who referred to him as “Jumpin’ Joe.” Despite that, he was an expert Ping-Pong player. Very few, if any, students were able to beat him at the game, and he would stop work any time to answer a student challenge. Davis was a man of moral integrity in all his dealings with faculty and students. His wife, Hazel, was a redhead with a strong social upbringing. She supplemented his social contacts very positively, and I must admit that Gladys and I frequently turned to her for advice in what to us was a new environment. I believe their two children, a boy and a girl, were adopted. Hazel was a Southern gal with just a touch of Southern drawl in her speech.
As I noted before, Davis was my first contact with IJC. He was most enthusiastic about the college and believed implicitly in its future. He worked hard to develop transfer relations with the four-year institutions of Minnesota. The tough miners and their sons were not particularly impressed by his behavioral standards and frequently had fun at his expense behind his back. He taught a sophomore course in psychology and serious students respected the content of his lectures.
From the beginning, he took me under his wing. As I grew better acquainted with “School Politics,” he frequently confided in me with respect to problems with students and their reactions to faculty. He counseled patience on my part when I grew impatient with what I considered to be infringement on college policy by the high school. If I ever knew what brought him to Coleraine in the first place, I have forgotten what he told me. I suspect he was recruited by Vandyke — I know he had a great deal of respect for him. As to his relationship with the strong-willed district superintendent, Homer Dutter, I think he was afraid of him. Certainly he did not think much of Dutter’s moral behavior, but he was not outspoken about it. He was too much of a gentleman for that.
Student memories of Dean Davis:
I took a course he taught and remember the time I talked him out of the scheduled time for a final exam because it conflicted with the opening of duck season.
I worked for Dean Davis as a secretary while I was a student and found him easy to work for and fair.
I remember Dean Davis as making it possible to help earn my way through school by working for the National Youth Administration.
I remember Dean Davis as an earnest, sincere man, probably fully challenged in his role. He seemed uncertain about how to deal with the rambunctious returned vets who were in full flood in ’47 and ’48.
Dean Davis was a very fine man and a good instructor. He was always more formal and businesslike than Mr. Wilson. Also, he was quite lacking in the sense of humor that characterized Harold Wilson.
J. Davis always struck me as LaFemme.
Dean Davis was a memorable, sympathetic, and helpful person who did things to make school possible. I so remember his oft-repeated statement: “It’s a small school, but it’s a good school.”
A long-time district resident:
Do I want to say what I remember about Dean Davis? Sure, but you wouldn’t dare write it, would you? My feelings were that he was a wimp. But of course, I was pretty young back in those days. He was a quiet spoken man, and he never did really impress me. Of course, being not of the Iron Range, he was an outsider who never seemed to integrate. Of course, it’s hard to integrate if you are not of the Range.
The Itasca Iron News of September 11, 1941:
Out of the graduating class of Greenway High School, 17 of the highest ranking 20 students are enrolled at Itasca Junior College.
The Bovey Press of November 18, 1941, mentions a college faculty dinner meeting with faculty wives invited. Were you there?
The dinner faculty meetings were a device used by Davis to build stronger relations between him and the faculty. They also provided an opportunity for the faculty wives to become better acquainted, and they were held three or four times per year. Because Dean Davis did not have a well-developed sense of humor, they tended to be a little serious.
A student memory of 1940-42:
I respected and liked Harold Wilson as a professor but steered clear of him and others in authority; I was afraid they would get to know me too well!
The two years at Itasca undoubtedly matured and prepared me for a number of things. At the end of the first year, I went to the school picnic, played softball, collided with one of the halfbacks on the football team, and broke my collarbone. That wiped out my summer in which I had hoped to get a job in Lerch Brothers Lab north of Bovey. Later on, I did get a job with them and took a room in Coleraine, thus ending my commute from Hill City.
Among the faculty, Gertrude Huntley made history a living subject, and my appreciation of it has increased with the years. There is no picture of Kate Moe as a faculty member in the 1942 annual, but she did bring youth and enthusiasm to the choir. Some of my best memories of Itasca are of the choir and the appearances we made. The superintendent, Mr. Dutter, with his beetling eye-brows and stern look, was far too threatening a person for students to face.
Perhaps my fondest memories of Itasca are of the vacant store just to the west of the school building which the college provided as a kind of dayroom for the use of commuting students. I went as often as possible to play Ping-Pong.
I was salutatorian, but I flubbed in delivery when I gave my commencement address. This prompted a nice girl classmate to write in my year-book: “Too bad I couldn’t have held your hand at commencement.” Alas, I don’t know if it was pity or secret admiration which caused this, and when I was a Golden Grad at the ICC commencement in 1992, I found out she had died much too early. I was glad to get two years of education and used my Itasca credits as I went on to graduate as a chemical engineer. After that, I went to the seminary at Drew University, and for 35 years I was a United Methodist preacher.
Minutes of the School Board of District 2, February 6, 1941:
Moved, seconded and carried that beginning February 7, all charges for Junior College fees and books be strictly cash. Moved, seconded and carried that warning letters be sent to all who owe on Junior College accounts for 1935-40 to pay balances due or reply in thirty days, or accounts will be turned over to an agency for collection.
What other initial impressions did you have of Coleraine and Itasca Junior College?
Because of gas rationing, during the first years we didn’t see much of the area; our shopping was done in Coleraine and Bovey, both of which had good stores. Coleraine at that time was a town of approximately 1,100 people. For the most part, employment was in the open pit iron ore mines strung along the Range. Some employment was to be had in the so-called service occupations, but the choice jobs were in the schools.
School boards were dominated by the mining companies. Long before we moved to the area, the mining companies had decided to offer free education through the first two years of college to the children of those people, most of them immigrants, who had come to work in the low pay mining jobs. And so it was that the mining companies paid enough in taxes to provide fine buildings, the best laboratories, and great sports facilities. They also ensured plenty of custodial help.
Because labor had not yet negotiated adequate pension plans, some of the mining superintendents took care of retired employees by hiring them for janitorial positions in the schools. Each building in District No. 2 had janitors for each floor, 24 hours per day, plus general maintenance personnel. (The downside of all this was that most custodial help was 70 years old or more and the turnover rate was somewhat rapid.)
Five of the high school districts in the mining region operated junior colleges, thus providing the additional two years of educational opportunity within easy commuting distance all along the Range. The colleges were administered by the same superintendents as the rest of the educational system in the districts. Large auditoriums (ours would seat a thousand people) made it possible to bring quality programming to the community. The schools paid premium salaries to attract well-qualified faculty. Remember that I had been working in a school district where the library could not afford a separate typewriter. In terms of facilities and support services, I thought we had arrived in “educational paradise.”
Did you take advantage of those opportunities?
My predecessor in the position had been so seriously injured in a car accident that he was unable to see small parts of laboratory equipment. So those 18 and 19 year-old boys considered it great sport to pull wires or otherwise dismantle essential pieces of equipment, thus making it impossible to do lab experiments. In their view, they were getting out of work! And, the teacher could do nothing about it.
I do not think I am exaggerating when I tell you that not a single piece of equipment had escaped their tender ministrations. My first reaction was that of panic for I knew well the difficult task of securing new equipment in the Macomb schools, and here we were looking at big bucks! I took a complete inventory of equipment and damage, and then I conferred with Dean Davis about the problem. He informed me that he could not approve a requisition of that size and suggested I take my request directly to Superintendent Dutter.
Homer W. Dutter was a burly, ex-football player, intimidating in manner and autocratic in school administration matters. His office alone was enough to cow me as I walked across the vast space to his desk and handed him the sheaf of papers detailing the condition of the physics laboratory. He didn’t invite me to sit down, and I watched nervously as he went over the entire list, scowling all the while. Finally he looked up at me and literally growled, “Well, where’s your requisition?” meaning he accepted the whole package! To say that I was flabbergasted is putting the matter mildly. I was in a teacher’s paradise!
My elation was short-lived, though, for with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came a freeze on all physics laboratory equipment, and I would end up improvising the necessary apparatus to perform the experiments. Now my long years of tinkering came into play. I designed a vacuum tube electroscope from discarded radio parts. I rewired some of the equipment and conned my next door neighbor, a machinist for the mining company, into making some things I needed. I designed a “romance meter” from two copper electrodes, and my “Wilson Electroscope” demonstrated that the girls in the class were more romantically inclined than the boys.
The boys were gleeful! Actually the skin of the girls was, because of extra moisture, more conductive of minute electrical currents than that of the boys. During the course of World War II, I rebuilt most of the equipment I needed for my lab sessions. The last time I visited that physics laboratory in the 1980s, the “Wilson Electroscope” was still on one of the cabinet shelves.
I took physics from Harold Wilson — I bought his slide rule and used it for many years. He communicated well with us, and I thought he was a great guy. IJC was well worthwhile, and all my course credit transferred to the University of Minnesota.
I went from IJC to Annapolis and was extremely well equipped for academics there.
Mr. Wilson was always friendly and easy to approach and he was well-liked. He was easy to approach to discuss any class subject matter or problems of any kind. The door to his office was always open, and he was there after hours if help was needed with homework. He had a dry sense of humor and used it to advantage in his instructional style and in dealing with students in general. His teaching was interesting, and he kept your attention. Also, his grading was fair. And, if you impressed him as a student who was serious about education, did your homework and participated in class discussion, but for some reason didn’t do well on a test, he was understanding and gave you a break. Mr. Wilson had a favorite remark, and it has stayed with me all these years, and I’ve used it many times myself: “The difficult we do immediately: The impossible will take a little longer.”
A student memory:
I was a student during the early years of World War II, and it was a very serious time. We had our fun, but it was sad to see classmates depart for service in the armed forces. I didn’t think of Itasca as having a high school atmosphere; in my opinion, it takes a dedicated faculty and a motivated student body to make a college, rather than a widespread campus and impressive buildings. With the faculty and students we had in those years, it WAS a college!
I took every math course offered when I attended IJC. Mr. Wilson was my favorite teacher; he was always available, and nothing was too much trouble if a student really wanted to learn. I remember an instance of Mr. Wilson’s dedication. I had registered for a math of investments course, but no one else had signed up for it. Naturally, I expected the class to be canceled, but Mr. Wilson would have none of that. He ordered the textbook, and I studied independently. I showed up periodically for a quiz; he prepared a mid-term and a final for just one student.
Those were the days of slide rules and logarithm tables — no pocket calculators or computers. Mr. Wilson had a sort of fixation about the definition of a “rational number” and told us it would appear on every quiz until the entire class answered it perfectly. And he meant it — I think the question disappeared from the tests about November! I can still recite it verbatim 50 years later.
Mr. Wilson was more than a teacher — he was an educator in the true sense of the word.
The Bovey Press of January 6, 1942:
A new club has been organized at IJC, known as the Engineers Club. George Wichman and Harold Wilson are faculty advisors, and James Ketchum is president. They will have their first dinner meeting Wednesday in the school cafeteria. For entertainment, a movie will be shown relating to engineering work.
Can you remember the first class you taught at IJC?
I certainly can. It started with a near riot! In those days, we were required to take roll in each class and turn in our attendance reports at the end of the day. The first name was Mr. Anderson, and of course I was able to handle that okay. The next name was Mr. Aimonetti (notice we called roll by last names), and my pronunciation of that was just a little amusing to the students. Then came Miss Dolezel and several chuckles rippled over the class.
The amusement at my pronunciation of names which I had never before in my life encountered reached a climax when I attempted to call for Mr. Radakovich. I literally had that class rolling in the aisles! It took me several minutes to get them quieted down, and then I proceeded to ask each one to pronounce his or her name for me. Of course, names such as Radakovich, Sejnoha, and Radosevich sound perfectly natural to me now after having spent 34 years on the Iron Range.
The fact that I was able to get anything done after that inauspicious beginning seems to me to allow ranking myself as a reasonably good teacher. That class turned out to be one of my better ones. Most of the young men were well acquainted with things of a mechanical nature, and so enjoyed the class experiments. I’m afraid the two young ladies sometimes suffered a bit when my unusual experiments targeted them a little, but I still think I was able to make any class interesting enough to hold student attention. From the beginning I felt equal to the challenge of the change from high school to college teaching.
The Bovey Press of January 1, 1943:
On Monday evening, February 1, a pre-induction course in radio will have its first session at IJC. The course will be taught by Harold Wilson. It will include the fundamentals of electricity and does not propose to make expert technicians out of the students, but is designed as a foundation course. Forty students are being selected from the applications of high school seniors who are in the upper half of their class. Students from Grand Rapids, Greenway, and Nashwauk high schools are eligible, and so far more than 70 have applied.
The Itasca Iron News of July 29, 1943:
It has been persistently rumored all summer that Itasca Junior College might not open this fall due to so many young men being called to armed service; but there is no truth whatever in the statement. The college will open as usual, and in fact, has at the present time as large an enrollment in prospect as it had last year. It was the least affected of any of the junior colleges in northern Minnesota, due principally to the fact that constant effort was made to maintain the standard of the college and that it was one of the first to be allowed special training for men of the armed service.
A high school student:
I was in a special course I took from Mr. Wilson while I was in high school, and I found a teacher who was student friendly with an obvious enjoyment of teaching and with a near-masterly knowledge of the subject matter. He had an engaging sense of humor in and out of the classroom.
As a boy I lived in Third Addition in Coleraine and had a paper route there. Mr. Wilson was one of my customers. He made a special clip, near an inside door, for holding the paper. He always paid on time, and at Christmas he left a gift of candy on the clip. He was just about my favorite customer.
The Itasca Iron News of September 16, 1943:
Itasca Junior College has now a paid enrollment of 50 which is an excellent beginning. In addition, prospective adult students, men and women who are employed daytimes, are asking for a course in Civil Air Patrol, including meteorology and navigation, and others want a course in federal tax law.
I have many memories of Mr. Wilson as an advisor and as a friendly, very capable instructor who always remembered who you were – either by first name or last. He used last names quite often. He was always my favorite, and I have seen him over the years; he has always remembered my name, and it is my good fortune to have had him as an instructor and a friend.
Mr. Wilson strove for perfection through excellence. He told me once, “If hard work is the secret to success — you will be one.” All through World War II, while I was a naval aircraft pilot, he was my role model. After the war, I saw him at church, and he had forgotten my name.
Things were going well for you at Itasca, yet the Itasca Iron News of July 17, 1942, notes, “Harold Wilson, who was offered a teaching position in Michigan and sent in his resignation last week, came Saturday to talk the matter over and decided to remain in Coleraine.” What is the story here?
I had an offer from Michigan Tech. And it wasn’t a matter of “talking it over” –I was refused a release from my contract. I was unhappy for a long time over being denied the chance to improve my career. So, we stayed, and we bought the house that Dean Davis had rented for us. The terms of purchase were “contract for deed” which required no down payment (we lived in that house until the late 1960s when we bought a newly built home in second addition where we lived until retirement).
While there were many pluses to working in the Greenway district, there was very little movement of the salary schedule during World War II even though living costs were moving up. At the same time, mining company wages were advancing because of the war effort. I joined in with nine other married men, and we made a direct appeal to the school board to raise salaries for married men. With the purchase of that house, I was certainly feeling need of more salary, but about the only result of our request was that at the next board meeting, two married women appeared with a similar demand on their behalf.
The Itasca Iron News of November 25, 1943:
When Dean Davis attended the state meeting of the deans of junior colleges at the University of Minnesota, the discussion of what becomes of junior college students was most enlightening. Out of 284 students who transferred to the University after completing two years of junior college, 66 percent received degrees. That percentage is higher than among those who transferred from the teachers
Colleges or those who began at the University or those who transferred from other states.
The general opinion of all school men at the meeting was that after the war, “junior college attendance will soar.”
Mr. Wilson was always interested in what you were doing or had done, and I had conversations with him about many subjects. His classes were useful to me throughout my career. His teaching style was casual, with humor, but he made certain you understood the subject material. Subsequent courses were not difficult due to a good background in the basics. He was a fair grader; you always knew exactly where you stood. And, he influenced my career. I went to the University of Minnesota and later taught mathematics at the high school and post-secondary levels.
How would you assess the impact of World War II on Itasca and on you?
The war diminished enrollment at the college with a student body comprised mostly of 4Fs and women. By the time it was over, only 37 students were in attendance! The college faculty was protected in their jobs by reassignment to vacancies occurring elsewhere in the school district. But the University of Minnesota underrated the quality of work being done in our classrooms because faculty was also in the high school. The University could not conceive that college teachers could do quality work under those circumstances.
Luckily, I had a full-time college schedule during the first years when the war began, and (this was after I had been denied my request to move to Michigan Tech) I was “frozen” in my position of college math for the duration. That freeze was not lifted until 1947 when I became dean. I also taught the Radio Technician course which was a natural offshoot from my college physics background and played a part in the war effort. Since I did not know Morse code, we used prepared tapes for drill. An amateur radio operator helped with the testing.
That course provided me an opportunity to broaden my background in radio applications and added interest to my physics class. In the meantime I was given an extra assignment as Audio-Visual Coordinator for the entire school district and held that position from 1944 to 1947. But in the fall of 1947, the GIs started returning to school, and enrollment began to grow at a steady pace.
Do you recall the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the founding of Itasca with Dean Shumway of the University of Minnesota in attendance?
You have found a weak spot in my memory there. I don’t remember that event, but if Royal Shumway was there, you can be certain I took it very seriously.
Minutes of the District 2 School Board, January 7, 1943:
Moved, seconded and carried that for the duration of the war no resignations or release from contract be granted except to individuals enlisting in the armed service or whose transfer was requested by some official agency of the government.
The Bovey Press of August 8, 1944:
In the annual report of the Cooperative Test Service of the American Council on Education giving percentile figures on the 1944 National College Sophomore Testing Program, Itasca Junior College ranked far above the average among the colleges where the tests were given. The tests cover English, General Culture, and Contemporary Affairs and last for a day and a half. This year the average Itasca sophomore ranked in the upper half of all college sophomores in English, in the highest fourth in Contemporary Affairs, and in the highest fifth in General Culture. Itasca students made exceptionally high scores in fields of History, Science and Mathematics.
The Itasca Iron News of May 17, 1945:
The twenty-second annual Commencement of Itasca Junior College will take place in the Greenway auditorium on May 29. Ten sophomores will receive their diplomas on the occasion. Because of the small size of the class, no outside speaker has been obtained. Instead, an informal tea will be held for the graduates and their families.
Ordinarily, school board minutes did not distinguish between district and college faculty when approving salaries. In the March, 1945 minutes an exception was made. College personnel rehired for the 1945-46 school year were the following:
Joseph Davis, Dean, $3,900;
Charles E. Jeff Davies, $2,610;
Mary L. Forsyth, $2,136;
Gertrude Huntley, $2,560;
Emma J. Phillips, $2,160;
Andrew L. Sjoquist, $2,373;
Harriet K. Webster, $2,560;
August Willman, $2,800; and
Harold E. Wilson, $2,480.
The Itasca Iron News of September 13, 1945:
Itasca Junior College began its 24th year with an enrollment of 53 full-time and seven part-time students. Dean Davis welcomed them to IJC, and explained the traditions of the college. He told of the excellent scholarship tradition created by former Itascans, of Itasca’s standing among other junior colleges, of the reputation the college had gained in speech, dramatics, and athletics, and of the many trophies won by former students.
The Itasca Iron News of October 10, 1946:
In spite of inclement weather, more than 200 people were present at the banquet that inaugurated the three-day Silver Jubilee of Itasca Junior College. Dean Shumway of the University of Minnesota, known as the patriarch of the junior college movement, delivered the principal address. In discussing the 25th anniversary of Itasca, Dean Shumway traced the growth of the local school from the time of its foundation until the present day. He stated that its original purpose had been to provide the first two years of a rigid liberal arts education confined to the teaching of English, history, foreign languages, science, and mathematics. He said that over the years, changes have been made to meet present day requirements in education, and a larger variety of subjects, especially along vocational lines, are being offered to students who do not expect to go on for further college work.
Minutes of the Board of Education, School District No. 2, May 1, 1947:
Resolved: That Harold E. Wilson be hired as dean of Itasca Junior College for the year 1947-48 at a salary of 3,900.
Roll call vote: Holt, Kelly, Eslinger, Christenson, Peter, Selmser, yea; nay, none.
The Itasca Iron News of November 2, 1944:
Itasca Junior College is now accredited not only under the GI Bill of Rights but is also in possession of a contract under Public Law No. 16, which gives the college the right to train returning veterans, as well as allowing discharged service men the privilege of study at Itasca. Thus far, only three colleges in Minnesota have a contract under Law 16. It gives Itasca the right to teach veterans any of the subjects listed by the college and also makes provision for other studies which shall at any time be demanded by the veterans, these to be added to the curriculum.
In the spring of 1947 you were appointed the Dean of Itasca Junior College. What preparation did you have for that position?
My first contact with educational administration was in secondary education at Macomb in Illinois. There my immediate superior was Loren Taylor, the high school principal, a mild-mannered man who achieved his objectives by courteous consultation. I admired him as a gentleman.
The top man there was the superintendent of the school district, Claude S. Chappelear, a handsome, silver-haired gentleman who was politically astute. He had to be, for the Macomb school district was operated by a mayor-appointed school board of 13 members. Each year the mayor could, if he wished, change seven of the 13 members, thus making the board for all practical purposes responsible to the mayor! During the three years I taught at Macomb, the chairman of the board was a real estate broker who wanted to avoid tax increases. Thus, supply and equipment budgets for the schools were very slim, and teacher salaries were also kept low. I think that Chappelear did the best he could for the teachers, and I respected him. Both he and Taylor had an effect on me when I became an administrator.
About the only actual administrative experience I had were the years when I was in charge of the district audio-visual program. In retrospect, I believe that appointment was Dean Davis’ idea. Probably two factors entered into his thinking. One was my mechanical knowledge and ability, because in those days, A-V equipment needed lots of maintenance. The other, I think, was that he was probing my administrative talent, if any, with an eye to the future when he would be able to advance himself professionally. In 1947, he left Itasca to take a deanship at Amarillo College, a two-year school in Texas. It was a much larger school than IJC with a richer program and so was a real advancement professionally. To be honest, I don’t know whether he retired from Amarillo or whether he died with “his boots on;” I lost contact with him. But, I believe that it was his recommendation that got me the invitation to become Dean of Itasca, even though I had little previous administrative experience.
I was privileged to have Mr. Wilson as my physics teacher in the 1946-47 school years. Unfortunately for me (and I am speaking selfishly), he became dean the following year. I say this because he was an outstanding teacher, and he was scheduled to be my calculus instructor the year he became dean. His replacement not only could not teach, but also didn’t know calculus. Everyone in my class received a “B” or an “A” and ended the course with very little knowledge of calculus. A number of us discussed our frustrations with Dean Wilson, and he was sympathetic, but not much could be done at that particular time. I went to the University of Minnesota and got a “D” in the next level calculus course. I dropped out and went back to the Navy for 18 years. But, Mr. Wilson’s influence remained with me. Upon retiring from the Navy, I returned to the University and obtained a degree in education with majors in physics and mathematics. I then taught these subjects for 18 years. Yes, Mr. Wilson had an influence on my life.
Suddenly you are an administrator. What did you do?
I formed through trial and error most of my administrative philosophy. My close association with the deans of other Northern Minnesota junior colleges aided in developing my concepts. I cannot say, though, that their influence was always what they tried to make it, for sometimes they served as examples of what I did not want. I also absorbed ideas from other educators with whom I served. James Michie, who was superintendent after Dutter, and R. J. Scofield, who held the post after Michie left for Hibbing, were men I admired. Lavonna Jasper and Joe Burich were others.
I must say, my past returned to haunt me. I have to admit that as a faculty member of the junior college, I was sometimes critical of some of Dean Davis’ “red tape regulations” as I called them. I had not recognized some of the circumstances under which he was working, including the problems he had in working with Superintendent Dutter, the difficulties of joint operation of three schools in the same building, and discipline problems from the resulting mix of students ranging from early teens to early 20s.
Because I have never concealed my opinions, I must have presented Dean Davis with some ticklish problems, but he was always the gentleman. As I think back, I was probably a “gentle rabble-rouser,” for direct confrontation has never been my style. But now, being in Davis’ position, I learned that there were good reasons for most of what I had so criticized. I was now supervising the very policies, which I had opposed when it came to carrying out the college program.
A faculty member:
I first met Harold Wilson when I went to his home during the summer to interview for a position. I was dressed in a suit and white shirt and tie, and he had on a sport shirt and sandals! I got the job, and I always found him to be a good administrator. It helped, though, that I was a science teacher as he had been. He always appreciated my lab work, whereas some of his successors didn’t.
He was always fixing things – I think that is what he should have done for a living. At Greenway, there were clocks set up with a master control, and they were supposed to correct themselves after a power outage or other disruptions. But they never worked well, and he was the only one who could get them going again. If you couldn’t find him, look in the shop, and he would be working on something there. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. His house was full of electrical gadgets, and he had all kinds of them.
He was kind of what I would call prudish. I never saw him take a drink, I never heard him use foul language, and I never heard him tell an off-color joke. He was prudish, but he had a good sense of humor!
A Greenway High School teacher:
I had just started teaching at Greenway in the business department, and I was having trouble with one of my typewriters. I saw this fellow coming down the hall, and he had a screwdriver in his pocket and a ruler, so I assumed he was one of the maintenance men. I called him in and he politely asked, “What’s the trouble?” and then looked over the typewriter and took care of it. I thanked him, and he left. About a week later, I saw him in the hall again and asked one of the teachers who he was. The reply, “That is the dean of the junior college,” drew an “oh, my goodness!” out of me. The next time I saw him I said, “Gee, Mr. Wilson, Dean Wilson, I’m sorry that I