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Spring 2002


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by Tom Weaver

OK, so you know where The Boulder came from, why Old Mill is called Old Mill, and which Allen brother gets credit for founding the University of Vermont. Child’s play.

But do you know what James Dean was doing with mathematical equations at UVM? Which one of our presidents helped Emerson, Thoreau, and friends get transcendental? Or where the university owns acres of alpine arctic tundra? Time to find out.

Alternative pep talk Jim Cross, hockey head coach from 1965 to 1984, led the Cats to three Division II national titles, the step up to Division I, and filled bleachers at the once-lonely Gut. Just as memorable, Cross’s quirks — his love of classical music, chess, a spirited discussion of U.S. foreign policy, and a seventies-appropriate tolerance for hockey players with long hair and fu manchus. In his book A Guy Named Cross, A Place Called Vermont,
former Catamount William Koch ’75 describes one of the coach’s off-beat pep talks. “During a particularly critical game last season Cross must have sensed a particular mood. The team was provided with a ten-minute dissertation on plants as the Zamboni cleaned the ice between periods. We learned how plants seem to respond to sympathetic people and environments and were told about the
experiments being conducted in this connection. Not a word about hockey — all about plants.”

Better Farming Special All aboard! University of Vermont agriculture faculty took to the rails in April of 1906 to ride the Better Farming Special, a sort of scholarly whistle-stop to get the latest knowledge and farming techniques out to the state’s citizens. The four-car train covered the Connecticut and Passumpsic valleys from Newport to South Vernon. Seven thousand Vermonters met the professors for this visionary venture into distance education.

Nearly 1,600 candles alight in the windows of Old Mill welcomed Professor Joseph Torrey as his boat steamed into Burlington Harbor in 1836. The students who lit them were gutsy, given that the newish Old Mill replaced the former “College Edifice,” destroyed by fire a dozen years earlier. Their relative recklessness was inspired not so much by the joy of seeing Torrey, but rather the books and “philosophical apparatus” he had in tow. Sent by university President John Wheeler on a year-long mission to Europe, Torrey brought back a library’s worth of books. As an instructional collection, UVM’s was said to rival Harvard’s at the time. And those volumes would add another task, faculty librarian, to Torrey’s UVM duties, padding his paycheck by $25 per year.

Dean Kidder
A gimme. How could you catalog this place A to Z and not find a letter for George Kidder? He was an alumnus, Class of 1922; professor, Greek and Latin; and 20-year dean, Arts and Sciences. A lecture hall in the Old Mill complex is named in Dean Kidder’s honor, and a memorial in the hall outside the door says it best: “For all of his life, George Kidder demonstrated the values of a liberal education, a love of learning, a critical mind and a gentle concern for people. No one has better served his college and his university.”

Eric Lipton ’87 was just five years out of UVM when he and fellow Hartford Courant reporter Robert Capers received the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism. They earned the honor with their series about the flawed Hubble Space Telescope, illustrating many of the problems plaguing America’s space program at the time. But Lipton wasn’t the first UVM alum to earn a journalism Pulitzer for breaking a big story. S. Burton Heath, Class of 1926, took the 1940 reporting prize for his New York World-Telegram exposé of the frauds perpetrated by Federal Judge Martin T. Manton, who did prison time for his misdeeds.

Speaking of Pulitzers, you don’t think we’re going to pass up a chance to evoke the name of Annie Proulx, UVM Class of 1969, who earned both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for her 1994 novel, The Shipping News. Yes, the movie’s good, but the book’s better.

While painters of the Hudson River School were creating many of their works on the other side of Lake Champlain, a number were selling them at UVM’s Park Gallery, the university’s first fine arts museum, which was located on the third floor of what is now Torrey Hall. Works on exhibit and for sale in 1877 and 1878 included Alfred Bierstadt’s “View of the Sierras,” $750; Joseph Francis Cropsey’s “Greenwood Lake,” $200; and George Innes’s “Twilight,” a real steal at $125.

The student body was much smaller, but Mt. Mansfield was just as big when UVM students used to head to the hills en masse for the annual Mountain Day, circa 1950s.

Charles Lincoln Goss, an 1878 grad from Brandon, Vermont, left behind a series of letters that document college life of his era in a way that trustees minutes somehow can’t match. Goss speculates that one of his professors is “afflicted with the belly ache which makes him so snuffy.” He laments the loss of his houseplants: “The last cold snap froze the dirt in the pots, and froze the pots to the window sill, and came very near freezing us up besides.” And he tells the tale of campus unrest inspired by students’ desire to have a holiday when city elections were held in March. Things turned nasty when students snatched a cadaver from the medical college and set it up in the gymnasium, leading to a presidential “inquisition.”

James Dean
More good scholar than bad boy, UVM’s James Dean was the first person to hold the title of professor at the university, appointed in 1809. Somewhat rebellious in his own right, Dean was enmeshed in a salary dispute from the get-go; he refused for a number of years to accept any pay at all. He did get busy with publishing as well as teaching, earning the honor for first UVM faculty publication with his Alphabetical Atlas or Gazetteer of Vermont.

That’s the term for those weather-stunted trees you find near the top of Vermont’s mountains. There’s no shortage of the stuff along the 400-acres of Mount Mansfield summit ridge, which the university purchased in 1859 and now numbers among the UVM Natural Areas. Beyond the krummholz, you’ll encounter the largest expanse of arctic-alpine vegetation in the state. So, keep to the rock when hiking this campus outpost; give the Bigelow’s sedge, alpine bilberry, highland rush, and the other rare stuff a chance. It’s a tough life at 4,000 feet.

Lola and George
Or it could be Living/Learning. Either way, the story of recently-retired U.S. Senator George Aiken and his wife, Lola, setting up housekeeping in a UVM residence hall is a lively chapter in university history. Senator (or “Governor” as he preferred to be called) Aiken accepted a distinguished professorship at UVM after his 1975 retirement from a long career in state and national politics. The Aikens came to campus for multi-day stints of teaching and meeting with small seminar groups. Home was a faculty apartment at L & L, and the retired couple fit smoothly into the routines of college dorm life, standing in the cafeteria food line with sleepy undergrads at breakfast. The Aikens liked a chocolate-chip ice cream cone at Walter’s Snack Bar along with a chat about international relations, world food production, Vermont geography, or higher education. Mrs. Aiken said, “Students were surprised that a U.S. Senator and his wife could be approachable. I got more zip out of being among them. They gave me their point of view and I argued with a lot of them about things.”

Making Noise
Passion, creativity, and a heady sense of freedom have driven UVM students to protest and, in many cases, push change forward. The university archives are full of stories of student activism — the shanty town on the Green in 1985 calling attention to South African apartheid and urging UVM divestment; the post-Kent State mock funeral procession of May 1970; the twenty-day occupation of the President’s Office in spring 1991 calling for more aggressive university efforts to build diversity, to name a few. The stakes were more personal than political, though, when students of the 1800s used to kick footballs through the glass windows of Old Mill in protest of having to parade in military formation on Memorial Day.

Nothing but Net
Warming up for a January game against Northeastern this season, sophomore guard T.J. Sorrentine’s shot was off. A teammate chided him that he’d better get it together — there was an 11-game win streak on the line and a full house in Patrick Gym. Clearly, T.J. got the message and then some, throwing in 45 points, including eleven three-pointers. The threes notched a school record and are the third most by any player in the nation this year. Moral: a little teasing goes a long way.

UVM freshmen and sophomores used to test their mettle in three class vs. class “scraps” — the fountain fight, cane rush, and hose fight. The festivities, detailed in the 1944 UVM Freshman Handbook, traditionally began on the Thursday before classes, when sophomores would wait in ambush for the freshmen at the fountain. Object of the game: toss the most guys from the other class into the water. The handbook advises, “Old clothes and rubber-soled shoes or moccasins must be worn and it is urged that care be used.” Next up, the Cane Rush held at half-time of the first home football game. Freshman and sophomores would line-up at the twenty yard-line at either end of the field, then sprint for a pile of canes at midfield, seize one and try to keep possession for the duration of the seven-minute contest. Partial points were awarded for partial canes and, again, those rubber-soled shoes or moccasins were advised. Finally, the battles closed with the annual hose fight. First team to wash the other away won. “Old clothes should be worn,” says the handbook. Guess the footwear was optional on this one.

Purple Prose
Sure, he didn’t have to endure airline food like today’s development staff, but consider the quest of a 1909 UVM “endowment officer” who put in a five-month, 16,000 mile journey on behalf of the Old U. His commitment, seemingly of near Biblical proportion, is recorded in UVM Notes, an alumni publication of the era: “Our U.V.M. is in all the nooks and corners of our great land — on its mountains, and in its valleys; in the heart of great cities, and in the hamlets; far out on the prairies and far away in great forests; and a voice said, ‘Go, find my sons and daughters, and tell them of my need, and ask for their prayers, and some of their silver and gold.’ Tough man to tell no.

Monkton Quartzite, that is. Think Billings or Redstone Campus to picture this reddish brown stone used to construct a good deal of Burlington and UVM’s buildings in the nineteenth century. Extra credit: Visit Redstone Quarry, a UVM Natural Area located just off Shelburne Road in Burlington. The three-acre site boasts exposed rock faces aplenty for your inner-geology student and a small wetland. Bonus: There is a Dunkin Donuts just around the corner.

Dr. H. Nelson Jackson, a UVM alumnus, is credited with making the first cross-country trip in a motor car. Inspired by a bet, Jackson and a co-driver set out in May of 1903 from San Francisco bound for New York City. In a Winton car, christened “The Vermont,” the pair completed their journey in two months and nine days. Apparently Jackson had a taste for speed as well as endurance. An October 3, 1903 news dispatch reported: “Dr. H. N. Jackson, first man to cross the continent in an automobile, was arrested in Burlington, Vermont and fined for driving the machine more than six miles an hour.”

A negative student course review may not be as distasteful as the dead seabird that haunted Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, still it isn’t something you’d want hanging around your neck. No doubt, some wit and a recent course in the English Romantic period were behind the naming of a UVM Student Association course evaluation that popped up in the fall of 1970 under the title of “The Albatross.” Students weighed in on a range of issues, including whether the professor under consideration had “distracting mannerisms.” We won’t name names.

The American Transcendental movement of the 1830s and 1840s was centered around Concord, Massachusetts and flowered in the thought and writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, and their pals. But a key inspiration for the movement came from further north in New England in the person of James Marsh, a UVM professor who served as president of the university from 1826 to 1833. Marsh wrote the introduction to the American edition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection, an essay and a volume that would have a profound impact on the Concord crowd.

Statue on the green, name on the chapel, Ira Allen gets all the perks that come with founding a university. Poor Samuel Williams (1743-1817) deserves just as much credit, though. A former Harvard professor, Williams’ voice was as powerful as Allen’s when it came to convincing Vermont citizens and the legislature of the need for a college in the new state, yet he is largely forgotten. And, no, Williams Hall isn’t named after Samuel Williams. Where is the love?

You’ve got to love a group of students equally comfortable picking through a dumpster on a “trash audit” or lobbying the president of the university. Welcome to the way of VSTEP (the Vermont Student Environmental Program), an initiative of the late 1980s. The VSTEPers pushed hard for stronger recycling programs and practically institutionalized the CUPPS (Can’t Use Paper Plastic or Styrofoam) cup hooked to student backpacks with a caribiner clip. VSTEPers have always been committed, facile with an acronym, and armed with a sense of humor that kept stridency at bay. Latest campaign: signs on campus bulletin boards to encourage smokers to be careful when ditching that cigarette: “Where’s Your Butt?”

War of 1812
When the United States declared war on Britain June 18, 1812, Burlington became a center for military operations, and the fledgling university’s building (on the present site of Old Mill) became an arsenal and a barracks. By 1814, the powers overseeing the university decided to suspend instruction. X
X-students At least a couple of near-miss alumni we’d like to call our own were among the students forced to transfer because of UVM’s shutting down operations in 1814. During his years at the state university, young Thaddeus Stevens of Danville, Vermont, wrote a play that included Wilbur Fisk among the student actors. Fisk continued his education at Brown and later went on to serve as Wesleyan University’s first president. Stevens went down the road to Dartmouth to finish his degree. Elected to the U.S. Congress in 1848, he was a powerful voice against slavery.

If not Vermont, where? The first union of yogurt and maple syrup, now a staple in your grocer’s dairy case, happened here in the 1980s with university food scientists leading the way.

If you’ve negotiated the e-mail networks at UVM, you’re familiar with the virtual ark-load of animal names (moose, gnu, elk, bison, buffalo, yak, okapi) which have described the various system hosts over the years. Back about 1990 when the campus computing folks were pondering what to call the new Unix system, they began with the working name “critter.” When it was time to get serious, they went down the same path with “moose” in honor of that critter’s recent return to Vermont. Other animals followed (don’t forget warthog and hamster), and eventually the whole cluster became “zoo,” chosen to reflect a “pleasant, friendly, and easy-to-visit place.” We’ll go along with that. VQ

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