(Excerpted from James F. Willis, Southern Arkansas University: The Mulerider School’s Centennial History, 1909-2009, pp. 239-243, 270-273)
Colleges throughout the nation grew when the children of the post–World War II baby boom came of age. In the space of five years, student numbers at SSC doubled and peaked in the 1968 fall semester at 2,442. Ninety percent of students still came from within one hundred miles of Magnolia. But in 1968–69, others came from across Arkansas, twenty-five other states, and nine foreign countries. Besides Texas and Louisiana, the largest out-of-state contingents came from the northeast, the result in part of athletic recruiting. Enrollments from Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania each reached double digits. Men continued to outnumber women by two to one overall, but the ratio was closer among the 1,240 students who lived on campus (707 men, 533 women). Magnolia merchants on the square welcomed new students each fall with a Students Appreciation Day. At the first one in 1962, all stores opened in the evening and gave reduced prices and prizes to students. There was a free movie at the Cameo Theater. Capping the night’s activities was a street dance with a live band on the north side of the square.
More traditional music was heard at other gymnasium events. The most popular was the Town and Gown Choir’s annual Christmas season production of Handel’s Messiah that Kermit Breen began and Dr. Gene Kelsay, who became choir director in 1966, continued. The Cultural Arts Committee and the Magnolia Arts Council cosponsored concerts of classical musicians such as the New York City Opera’s bass-baritone Noel Jan Tyl. The Concert Band grew to seventy-two members and gave an annual concert. Its members also played in the Blue and Gold marching band. Band musicians frequently made the all-AIC state band. Two SSC students in this era, Richard Stratton (1965) and Carole Koenig (1967) were named to the National Intercollegiate Band. To recognize the best band members at SSC, chapters of Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma were established on February 12, 1966. At homecoming in 1969, band members began the tradition of the “Heartbeat of SSC,” which consisted of taking turns beating a drum for the twenty-four (sometimes forty-eight) hours before the big football game.
Stagecrafters and Alpha Psi Omega drama fraternity members acted in more sophisticated, and for Magnolia audiences controversial, productions under the direction of new speech teachers Jerry Cortez and Dr. James Meikle. Crowds so large that people were turned away came to Overstreet Auditorium in 1966 to see Tennessee Williams’s play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. President Imon Bruce required the theater department to distribute disclaimers declaring that the college did not condone the language or situations of the play. The story of Brick and Margaret’s tortured marital and family relationship starred students Charles Burton and Linda Reynolds. But English instructor Tom Chaney stole the show in the role of Big Daddy. A red-bearded free spirit who lived in a ramshackle farmhouse in the woods outside Magnolia, Chaney was the nearest SSC ever had to the much caricatured “hippie” professor of 1960s psychedelic America.SSC’s larger student body created more active and varied organizations. By the early 1970s, there were fifty student clubs. SSC recognized outstanding campus leaders in the annual selections beginning in 1963 for Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. A newly established Blue Key society in 1964 was a successor to the Gold Jackets to represent the college and to assist at public events. An honors banquet, first held in April 1969, recognized campus leaders.
Among the new organizations that lasted through the years was the Kadohadacho chapter of the Arkansas Archeological Society. Dr. Frank Schambach, the lone Harvard Ph.D. at SSC, had come in 1968 as a resident survey archeologist affiliated with the University of Arkansas that supplied archeologists to the seven state-supported colleges. Schambach led club members on excavations of sites that the Caddo Indians and earlier prehistoric peoples had inhabited in Southwest Arkansas.Some older organizations took on new identities. The Tri-C business club rose to a new level of activity when it became the business fraternity Phi Beta Lambda on September 29, 1971. Spurred on by a young new finance instructor, Dr. David F. Rankin, the group became the largest and the most award-winning chapter in the state.
Unlike Phi Beta Lambda, the newly organized SSC Rodeo Club had difficulty finding a departmental home and sponsor. The first clear record of its existence was in 1964–65 when James Luck served as president and sociology instructor Worth B. Conn was advisor. It was something of an orphan organization for several years, although some students—such as Terry Ann Thomas, the first female to receive an agriculture degree at SSC—competed successfully in regional rodeo competitions. Dean of students and math teacher Rick Reed served as advisor in 1971 when the team held its first Magnolia rodeo sanctioned by the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA). Neither women nor rodeo riders were much welcomed by [Agricultural department head] Orval Childs. He thought that rodeo was a frivolous activity, that students should join the Agriculture Club and stock-judging teams and emulate C. W. St. John of Redfield, elected national vice president of the Future Farmers of America in 1970. The club nonetheless did later find its permanent home in the agriculture department with a long-time advisor in agricultural instructor Edman Smith. And the club participated regularly in NIRA competition.
Among the largest and most active organization was the International Students Club. A remarkably dynamic Iranian, Ahmad Akhavan, was its president for four years in the mid-1960s. He made friends across campus. Club membership grew to more than a hundred students; this was especially impressive since there were only twenty international students at SSC. The largest contingent came from Iran; several came from East Asia. Many students were eager to know the internationals at SSC, and a few Americans at the college answered the call of President John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps to go abroad to work in humanitarian projects. The first SSC student to join the Peace Corps was Ed Warren in 1962. He organized a new teachers college library during his two years in Harare, Ethiopia. Other SSC students would later follow Warren’s example.
Most SSC clubs and students focused on matters closer to home such as the annual homecoming festivities. With more clubs and students, the homecoming parades became ever larger. Early on those Saturday mornings, fifteen or more elaborately decorated floats, marching band, homecoming queen and her maids, and other participants would line up on Columbia Street north of the hospital. On command, the parade moved up Washington Street to traverse the town square before turning north on Jackson Street to return to campus. Large numbers of Magnolia’s citizens turned out to wave and cheer for the Muleriders. Following the game was one of the year’s three biggest dances; Christmas and spring formal were the other two.
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Even on the issue of fraternities, Dr. [Imon E.] Bruce and many faculty stood in opposition as long as they could. Dr. Bruce said he rejected a student body vote in March 1968 in favor of fraternities because of insufficient participation. An unusually effective SGA president, Ed Trice, in 1969–70 carefully built support step-by-step. First, a senate committee conducted an investigation showing that SSC was almost the only school in the state without fraternities. Next, a petition drive was conducted door-to-door in each dorm. When not enough women signed up, sororities were dropped from the proposal. Then with faculty allies, approval of fraternities was obtained from the Student Affairs and the Faculty Affairs committees. Finally, at a general faculty meeting, there was a close but positive vote, 42–39. A month later, the board of trustees gave approval.
All social organizations were officially non-discriminatory but in practice, membership was usually all white or all black. Tony Calahan and Wilburn King organized SSC’s first black fraternity, Omega Kappa Alpha, in February 1973; it affiliated nationally in 1974 with Omega Psi Phi. At the same time, black sorority Delta Iota Delta went national with Delta Sigma Theta. The fraternities Alpha Phi Alpha and Phi Beta Sigma and the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha followed in 1975–76. The first continuing white fraternity formed in 1975 and went national as Sigma Pi in 1977 followed quickly by Phi Lambda Chi. Fraternities had “orchards, pearls, sweethearts, angels, and little sisters” as affiliated groups for women. A group of Sigma Pi’s “Little Sisters” broke away in 1978 to form the first local white sorority, Tau Delta Theta, which went national as Alpha Sigma Alpha, four years later.
The new social organizations would, over time, undermine other student clubs’ vitality as leadership energy shifted. But for years the older groups continued to flourish. The annual Best of Broadway, Holiday Faculty Follies, and Harvest Carnival sponsored by the Da Capo Club’s music majors featured lots of song, dance, and comedy.
The annual Aardvark Show, sponsored by speech and theater students, showcased talents of a broad cross section of SSC students. Repeatedly appearing at Aardvark were the Apple Corps, a coed singing group; the multitalented Ken Stonecipher; and many others. Faculty performers included speech instructors Jake Whitehead and Bill Barnett appearing as Laurel and Hardy and faculty cutups like business instructors Scott Boaz, scissors in hand, chasing Ann Trexler in grass skirt. Aardvark always presented the beauty, poise, and talent of ten contestants for the title of Miss Southern Belle. The 1972 winner, Debbye Hazelwood of Magnolia, would go on to capture the Miss Arkansas crown that year, becoming the school’s second coed to advance to the Miss America contest.
Officer Jimmy Evans chased the streakers across the campus but failed to catch them. Evans chose to wear a uniform modeled on that of a state trooper. The other campus security officer Charles Polk, known affectionately to a generation of students as Charlie the Cop, wore khaki pants and jacket. The laid-back Polk wondered why a man Evans’s age would try to outrun eighteen-year-olds. Polk preferred to observe and report names to college authorities as he did in the early 1970s when he saw some agriculture majors one night take a hog from its pen to the bathroom in Childs Hall. The dean of students dealt promptly with the young men. A third security officer, Leslie Parham, an African American, cast more in the mold of Polk than Evans, joined the force in 1976.
A smaller student body found it difficult to hold the blockbuster concerts of the 1960s. The newly created Campus Activities Board (CAB), replacing the senate in staging events, did manage smaller concerts with notable performers including Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, the New Christy Minstrels, Kris and Dale, Dawn, the St. James Group, Pure Prairie League, and Bill Withers.
Joint efforts of music and drama students and faculty produced annual spring musical comedies. South Pacific in March 1971 was the first production. Janelle Deckelman Viertel of the music department and a series of band directors co-directed with Dr. Jerry Cortez and Jake Whitehead. An early high point in musicals was 1776, SSC’s contribution to celebrating the bicentennial year. This marvelous blending of history, music, and humor told the Declaration of Independence’s story. It had thirty-five male roles filled by faculty, students, and townspeople and one prominent female role. English instructor Linda Rushton (Selman) portrayed Abigail Adams. The production received rave reviews as did many performers, especially Whitehead as Ben Franklin and David Adcock as John Adams.
Music students and their faculty continued to perform the classics at recitals. Under Dr. Robert Campbell’s leadership, the music department reached a milestone in excellence in 1973, securing accreditation from the National Music Association, a signal accomplishment for a small college music department. Pianist Shirley Smart assisted in establishing a chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota and organist David Crouse a chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfornia for music students.
Drama students continued to star in serious dramas. Larone James and Chris Blair won awards for their roles in The Glass Menagerie, the Tennessee Williams play that the theater program performed in Arkansas’s annual American College Festival’s competition. A Hollywood opportunity for SSC’s actors occurred in 1971 when several appeared as extras in Martin Scorsese’s first film, Boxcar Bertha, starring David Carradine and Barbara Hershey, filmed on location near Camden, Arkansas.
The early 1970s featured lectures by several famous Americans. Among them were Vance Packard, a controversial social critic and author; the astronaut John H. Glenn Jr.; Pat Paulsen, a TV comedian who had run for president; and famed anthropologist Dr. Margaret Mead who spoke in a series on “What Price Survival.” It was one of several environmental programs in the years following SSC’s participation in the first Earth Day in 1970. In addition, two of America’s most famous black politicians and civil rights leaders spoke at SSC: Carl Stokes, mayor of Cleveland; and Julian Bond, a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who had become a Georgia legislator.