By Dave Radin, Class of 1965
I got into Gettysburg by the skin of my teeth. Five of us from my suburban Philadelphia high school accepted offers of enrollment and I was the last admitted. I was a nearly solid “B” student in high school, played three sports, was active in a smattering of groups and clubs but like most of my contemporaries, my resume as a 17-year old was pale compared to today’s students. If it weren’t for my Uncle Arthur’s friendship with Dr. Harold Dunkelberger (head of the Religion department at the time) I probably wouldn’t have made it. I was accepted late and was assigned to live off-campus on W. Middle St. with five other freshmen at the home of Mrs. Myrtle Conover, an elderly widow who became our “Mom.” We stoked her coal furnace and played pinochle with her. Yes, a coal furnace. Sounds like the Dark Ages, doesn’t it?
I was the first in my family to attend college and the pressure to do so was intense. I arrived in my parents’ car with a camp foot locker of clothes and incidentals, a suit and a blue blazer on hangars, and a bicycle. This was before dorm-sized refrigerators, microwave ovens, sophisticated sound systems and other toys had been invented. Life was simple. My mom included an aluminum case with straps to send my laundry home and she’d send it back. Can you imagine? I think we did that once and then I discovered something called a laundromat. I promised to call home (collect through an operator) at least once a week from a phone booth.
Week one was a blur. For a couple more weeks, all freshmen had to wear little blue caps called “dinks,” an orange necktie and a sign on your back held in place by a string with your name and hometown written on it. If you were discovered without any of that regalia, you were subject to punishment of some kind. Rush Week for fraternities and sororities commenced the first week of school. The guys interested in joining a fraternity gathered near the steps of the chapel and on those steps were several brothers each from all 13 fraternities dressed in jackets and ties. They looked so old to me, it was a little intimidating. At precisely the designated time, a signal sounded (a horn, a bell, I can’t recall exactly) and all these guys came rushing down the chapel steps and swarmed around us to sign us up for time slots on our printed schedule cards. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, weekend afternoon activities, nightly entertainment, etc., trips to burlesque houses in Baltimore (really!). And all while classes were beginning.
Most first-year students had very similar schedules – about 15 hours. Mandatory were English composition, “CC” (Contemporary Civilization in the West – two semesters of how we evolved as a modern society from the Greeks and Romans up to the 20th century), Bible (a semester on the Old Testament, and one on the New Testament), a language, one elective in your major, and for male students a choice of Phys. Ed. or ROTC. Math was no longer required, nor was chapel attendance mandatory for the first time in the college’s history. I had six 8:00 o’clock classes, yes six. There were Saturday classes back then, only a half day thank God.
After a week of classes, the whirlwind of fraternity rush, learning my way around campus, I proclaimed that college wasn’t going to be as tough as I had thought. That would come back to haunt me my sophomore year. I pledged a fraternity (Lambda Chi), and later found out that I was the first non-Christian allowed to join throughout the entire network. That summer at the National Conclave, the representatives from our chapter introduced a measure which passed prohibiting that practice in the future. So, this Jewish kid from Philadelphia was a groundbreaker, and in retrospect, I thank those friends who realized, even five decades ago, that being inclusive was far better than the alternative.
Gettysburg was heavily a Greek campus – 13 fraternities and 7 sororities comprised about 75% of the student body. The college had nearly zero international students and but two African American students. Fraternities had house mothers and cooks. We were good housekeepers, ate well, wore jackets and ties to dinner Tuesdays, and at the Sunday noon meal. No alcohol was allowed in the house subject to a fine, and the officers of the chapter policed that policy well. We entertained faculty usually at Tuesday dinners, and Sunday was when you brought your date or girlfriend for dinner. We actually sang fraternity songs (in harmony) at those mealtimes. Sounds corny today, but I remember all of them. The male-female ratio was about 2 to 1. Bad odds for the guys, but there were several girls’ colleges in the area, and some of us left girlfriends behind who would find their way to campus for big social weekends.
Every Monday morning between classes I’d stop at the Bursar’s office and cash a $5.00 check to last me the whole week. A hot dog was $0.15 in the CUB (formerly the SUB), a movie at the Majestic was a quarter, and the deluxe hamburger and a milkshake was about a buck and a quarter at the “VD” (Varsity Diner), now the Lincoln Diner.
The first semester ended in February and I scored a 2.7 average, for which I was very happy. A’s were hard to come by in that era, either you got it, or you didn’t, no arm twisting or extenuating circumstances. A 3.0 was very respectable in the 1960’s. I was initiated into the Lambda Chi brotherhood in late February after a “hell week” experience – yes, it existed back then, more memorable for the fun we had, not the activities and long nights.
I left for the summer brimming with enthusiasm for another year. There’s a lot to write about and I look forward to producing more columns.
Editor’s Note: This marks the first piece in a column series, called “What I Remember,” written by the alumni of Gettysburg College. Alumni interested in contributing to this column should feel free to reach out to Features Editor, Maddie Neiman, at firstname.lastname@example.org (-M. Neiman)