At that time, the campus on the “Hill” was mostly a vision, or dream, but one that all of us who were residents in Potsdam were aware of. On the Hill, there were the two old run-down homes, Woodstock and Holcroft; the baseball field; and across Clarkson Avenue the new Walker Arena where our intercollegiate games were played on natural ice. The only other facility on the Hill was the football field. All of Clarkson’s academic and administrative facilities and the gym and basketball court were downtown.
In the village, Old Main and “old number 7” housed most of our classes. Snell Hall, across the street, was then Potsdam State Teachers College, with the part right across from Old Main the elementary Practice School, which I had attended from 4th through 8th grade. Snell Hall became part of Clarkson much later when the State University of New York at Potsdam was built out on Pierrepont Avenue.
Clarkson had no women students in 1943 and the Teachers College across the street had mostly girls. Clarkson had no student housing and most students, being from out of town, roomed in Potsdam homes. My family lived in a big old house on Lawrence Avenue and rented space to students. Other “roomers” lived nearby, across the street. I don’t remember there being any student housing for the Teachers College so most of the girls must also have been in residents’ houses. Fraternity and sorority houses were also primary residences for many students. Obviously, the proximity of the two schools made interaction between the males and females a lot easier than it is now that the two schools have moved in opposite directions. Some young people might well consider that as a negative, but on the positive side, Clarkson has progressed to having a coed student body.
In 1943, all of us knew we were headed for military service as soon as we became 18. I joined ROTC at Clarkson. My brother, Nye, had just graduated from Clarkson and having been in ROTC went off to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, as I started at Clarkson. In ROTC, a freshman student could normally expect to stay at a low rank, probably a private, for all of his freshman year. However, in the summer and fall of 1943 the departure of Clarkson’s students to military service progressed so rapidly that by the end of my freshman year I had reached the Master Sergeant level. As I approached 18, I enlisted as an Air Cadet in the U.S. Army and was able to finish my freshman year before leaving for service in April 1944. My vision of becoming a pilot fell to the needs of the military at that time, and by its choice, I became a radar mechanic.
With the war over, I was discharged in April 1946 and enjoyed my only summer vacation in those years of accelerated schedules, before starting my sophomore year in the fall. Clarkson was very different than it had been, with the GI Bill of Rights making it possible for many veterans, older than typical college students, to get a college education. Quite a few of them were married and down from the Hill across Clarkson Avenue, a new married housing development provided for some of those couples.
The Malone Branch of Clarkson began in those years with a student body mixed with veterans and younger people right out of high school. I remember, with great amusement, when l had become an officer on the Board of Governors, going to Malone with another member to talk to that freshman student body about Clarkson traditions. Those traditions included the wearing of green and yellow caps as freshmen and the competition between freshmen and sophomore classes, which had annually included a tug of war with one side on the mainland and the other on the island on the river. Needless to say, our audience, half full of “grizzled” veterans, was almost hostile to us!
It is probably good in these days to remember what a significant effect that GI Bill of Rights had on our country. It enabled many more people to get a college education than would have been able to otherwise. For me, I saved enough during my Clarkson education to enable me to go on to get a graduate degree elsewhere. When I talk these days with fellow veterans from that age, we generally agree that we who survived the war lived in the best of times. We sense that the GI Bill played a major role in that.
While I now live in North Carolina, it has been a pleasure to occasionally get back to Potsdam and to see Clarkson on the Hill, once a dream but now a reality!