The First Years at College - Part 1

The First Years at College

This article is from the University of Alaska Archives, LarVern Keys Collection by LarVern Keys

This is a copy of one of the brilliantly decorated short course certificates - the very one that was stolen. Photo: UA Archives, LarVern Keys Collection
This is a copy of one of the brilliantly decorated short course certificates - the very one that was stolen. Photo: UA Archives, LarVern Keys Collection

LarVern Keys served as a the first secretary of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines. Most events described are informal events that would likely be forgotten if she hadn't written about them.

(In 1972, William R. Cashen completed his very thorough research for his book entitled, "Farthest North College President," and it was published. Bill covered the serious and scholastic sides of those first years in a very accurate and readable manner. Congratulations, Bill. You are gone now, but you have left an accurate, readable and a very valuable manuscript to posterity.)

I have many memories of young Bill Cashen buzzing into my office waving a sheet of paper in one hand and always in a hurry to see the president. He had gotten on the track of some exciting news for the Collegian and wanted the president's opinion. He was a very fine young man, full of pep, and the Collegian was his "baby."

I will confine my article to "thises and thats," many of which were nonconsequential, but never the less a part of the daily procedures in and out of the President's office. Since I have already written an article on my trip north to accept the position of secretary to the president, I will continue in this article with my arrival in Fairbanks.

The years that followed each added something in their own way. We lost Ira Brumback, Marian Boswell and Miss Moodey. We finally got a safe (one that belonged to a bankrupt bank) and the cigar box was laid away. During office hours (and usually evenings), the safe was open. The office was always open to faculty, students, and guests. Over the years, nothing was ever disturbed until sometime in the late '20s.

The first six registered students for the Alaska Agricultural College and School fo Mines. Photo: UA Archives
The first six registered students for the Alaska Agricultural College and School fo Mines. Photo: UA Archives

Then, a memorable certificate was removed. There is a good copy on file, but someone (someone who knew exactly where the original was filed) removed the original for his private file. It was not an important document, but one we had thought could be considered museum material. But—so it goes!

In 1934, I assembled the material which was sent to Dean Bolton at the University of Washington for study and presentation to the Executive Board of Directors for Northwest Universities.

Dean Bolton came to the College and spent several days inspecting this and that, preparatory to making his recommendation to the Board of Directors. He and I went over the accounting records, the registration and student records from that first entry of six students in 1922 to 1934. We spent considerable time in the library (still in those two rooms of 1922), but now with an additional third room which contained some book shelves,the catalog file of all the library books, and the accessible current file of all Alaskan newspapers. That was the favorite sitting area for the short course miners.Dean Bolton inspected everything and asked many questions. He was so nice to work with, but was very thorough. So we kept fingers crossed. However, before too long came the news —we were to become the University of Alaska!!!

The first form of transportation between Fairbanks and the College. Photo: UA Archives, LarVern Keys Collection
The first form of transportation between Fairbanks and the College. Photo: UA Archives, LarVern Keys Collection

First Years at College

When we pulled into Fairbanks close to noon that Sunday morning, four men climbed off, leaving me with bag and baggage to descend. President Bunnell and a well dressed middle-aged lady were on the platform. The lady was Mrs. Guy Irwin, wife of the district attorney for the Fourth Division.

Shank's mare was pretty much the order of the day then, so we walked across the bridge over the Chena and entered the Model Cafe.

When I saw the menu, I gasped. I couldn't possibly expect these people to pay $2 for my lunch. The cheapest meal was $1.50, so that is what I ordered. You see, my own funds were very limited since I didn't expect any payment for a month. I was watching every penny. I was too proud to ask for an advance on my salary!

The second form of transportation between Fairbanks and the College. Photo: UA Archives, LarVern Keys Collection
The second form of transportation between Fairbanks and the College. Photo: UA Archives, LarVern Keys Collection

After lunch, they took me to the Northern Hotel and settled me to look for a place to live.

The next day, I went to see "Mack" the real estate man. He shoed me a tiny log cabin on the lower Front. It had three rooms—living room 10x14, bedroom just large enough for a single bed, a tiny dresser and curtained clothes closet. The third room (if you could call it that) was the kitchen. It was barely 6x8 and contained a small cookstove, a corner table with open shelves over it, and a narrow shelf on the fourth side to hold a water bucket, a small wash basin, and a granite cup. There were three doors opening out of the kitchen. An opening between the kitchen and living room allowed heat to pass back and forth between the two rooms, also for the two stoves to use the same flue.

The "flue" was quite simple—just a stovepipe through the roof with a raised lit to keep the rain out. In the living room, there were two windows, and up close to the ceiling was a little hinged lid for ventilation—and that provided plenty! The kitchen door opened into an unfinished area where I kept my wood supply, this and that, and an occasional rabbit, frozen and hanging from a rafter. In one corner was the 'privy.' It was quite different—the usual board seat, but with a five gallon gasoline can below. At intervals, the garbage man lifted a lit on the outside and replaced the can with another one.

As for water, a pail stood on the shelf in the kitchen. When I needed water, I put a bucket outside the back door and a sign in the front window. On one side of the sign was a "1," on the other side was a "2," indicating whether I wanted one or two pails of water. of course, when I got home in the evening, the water had been delivered, but it was frozen.

In the winter, the water man used a sled on which was mounted a large rank with a faucet at the rear end. In the center was a wood stove—stovepipe and all—in which he maintained a substantial fire to keep the water from freezing.

It was quite an establishment —certainly very different from anything I had ever known—but I was quite comfortable once I got it "warmed up" each evening. The only place I had for supplies was under my single bed!

For quite a while, I found it difficult to sleep at night. The 24 hours of light, and sometime sunshine, kept me awake. Finally, I resorted to tying a stocking (black) around my head to shut out the light.

In 1922, there were no paved streets in Fairbanks. There was one paved sidewalk—between a house and the street —in all of Fairbanks. All sidewalks (where there were sidewalks) were wooden, and your feet would go clatter, clatter along them.

When I went to the bank, I found nickels and dimes just "weren't." If one, for instance, wanted a package of needles, it was necessary to purchase something else to bring the purchase up to twenty-five cents. Also, gold pieces were still used. However, these practices were beginning to change, and soon the nickels and dimes were everywhere. Also, cement sidewalks and streets were "in."

The president gave me a couple of days to get located and then appeared with a borrowed car to take me out to the college. The car was no limousine, but it had four wheels and ran. The road was rutted and dusty.

Five miles later, we went up the hill and through the arch all painted white and labeled "Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines." The President was watching me closely to see how I responded to the situation. It was so very different from the colleges I had known. The back side of the president's house was much in evidence from the road. There was not a tree or shrub to be see, just the president's house in the distance, on the brow of the hill, a small, very plain two-and-a-half-story frame building. The campus was a hay field.

We drove around to the building and the president announced, "Here we are." Through the door we went up several steps, and we were in the hall of the first floor, and in the doorway of a very narrow room. The President said, "This was planned to be my office. I do not like it. I need more room. Come."

So we went to our left and to two connected large rooms.

These will comprise my quarters, and so they did. At first, I did not really occupy the outer office. My real working quarters were part of the library in a glassed-in narrow space known as the Bookstore. It gave me supervision of the library, a space for accounting, and quarters for the sale of supplies.

We toured the building that day. In rooms for different departments were good looking new desks and student chairs. They had been unpacked and that was all. The president's idea was to allow each faculty member to arrange and straighten up his own department. Which is what happened—much to the pleasure of some and disgust of others.

As for me, I found books everywhere, piled in the halls, in the men's room, along with sawdust in the carpenter shop; well, about everywhere except in the two rooms designated as the library. In those two rooms—no books, no tables, no shelves! Can you imagine how I felt? Many of the books had been gifts from personal libraries and were not really college material, but they were books and would help fill the shelves—when there were shelves!

And so it all began. We completed the tour of the building that day and went back to Fairbanks.

From then it was work, all kinds of it—dusting, listing books, correspondence, starting the registration system, the accounting system, visitors, getting ready for the opening day.

The faculty began arriving in the middle of August. Then it was finding places for them to live and helping to get their departments ready.

Getting out to work had been a problem. A lot of the time, I walked the railroad track three miles—or in the afternoon caught a little jitney running between Chatanika and Fairbanks. It was a card in itself. The driver's sear was a captain's chair securely wired to the frame. The seating capacity consisted of two benches with flapping side curtains. It was drafty and exceedingly bumpy. To start it, the operator, a Mr. Marsh, had to get out and crank it. It had a Ford engine.

If I didn't get a ride that first summer, I had to walk the railroad track—three miles. It was five miles by wagon road—and walking meant getting up very early and getting home very late.

And mosquitoes! They were awful. Even in the hottest weather, I had to wear a coat, a brimmed hat with a long chiffon veil, and a newspaper over my stockings. So went that first July and August.

The dedication program for the official opening of the College was set for September 13, and of course, there was the usual last-minute rush. A temporary platform was built at the entrance, then chairs placed on it for the faculty, the rest of the staff, and the guest speakers. We held out breath as we went out on that platform, but it held!

We didn't have a flag, and since sending Outside for one wouldn't get it there in time, we had to borrow one.

We needed—or wanted —some music. No band of any kind in Fairbanks. Getting "something" was one of my jobs. Finally, a solution: a Mr. Davis, who had a shop on Garden Island, had asked the president to allow his youngest son, Roden, to be the first one to register. So we gave Roden a job! He played the horn, so we asked him to scout around, gather some friends together, and form some kind of a band. They ended up with a five-piece band. I think they practiced together ONCE!!!

The program went off well, considering. We sang "The Star Spangled Banner," the president made a short speech, introduced the main speaker, Governor Scott C. Bone, there was a short closing prayer, and the College, the Farthest North College in the World, was declared open for registration.

The audience had stood during the program. A few had sat on the ground. A number made a tour of the building before departing for Fairbanks.

On Monday, I registered the first six students—Roden Davis, Dorothy Roth, Ethel Bailey, Art Loftus, Earl Foster and Donald Morgan. We charged a registration fee of $2. We did not have a safe; I used one of President Bunnell's wooden Van Dyke cigar boxes for the collective registration fee of $12.

And so began the daily routine and history of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines. We all were called upon to "fill in" and engage in various occupations outside our regular duties.

More students gradually appeared—from Fairbanks mostly—but also from the "lower 48" and other parts of Alaska. Remember—no dormitories, nothing by the center portion of the old "Main," the President's house, and the maintenance man's house under construction. Jim Sturgill built that house and lived there during the time he was employed on the campus. When time came for building a dormitory, the house was moved to a new location and became the dean's residence.

Some of the faculty were really private tutors, but before long, there were at least two or three students in each class. The Federal Government required military science and physical education be taught.

The six faculty members consisted of the following people: Elizabeth Kirkpatrick, English and home economics (she doubled as a women's physical education instructor); Earl Pilgrim, mining and metallurgy (he doubled as men's physical education instructor); Clinton Morgan, agriculture; Ernest Patty, geology; Herbert Bruce, chemistry; and Archie Truesdell, civil engineering and mathematics. Military science was handled by Clinton Morgan, agriculture.

As for me, I was secretary to the president, accountant, registrar, bookstore manager, librarian—a little bit of everything!!! There was so much to be done, the president was soon talking about the need for me to live "on campus" in order to work longer hours! Well, there was certainly a lot to be done—and just the two of us!

Jack Sullivan, engineer, and his wife lived in the basement alongside the area holding the heating plant, the light generator, and the well. It was all a busy and "compact" organization. No fancy bell system, no crowding!! No jostling in the halls.

Transportation between the college and Fairbanks was something. The president tried hard to pull strings with the railroad. Finally, Mr. Olson, who was in charge of the railroad, agreed to find some kind of a vehicle to make three roundtrips per day. The "vehicle" proved to be a small enclosed "car" (about 14 feet long). So it was a lot better than the "jitney" I had been accustomed to during July and August. At least it was closed and not so breezy and bumpy.

The president was anxious to get a mining short course started, and soon, we were registering older men who came in from their claims, anxious to take the course. The men enjoyed the library, especially the newspapers, which came in regularly from different parts of the Territory.

But the transportation between the college and Fairbanks! The little car was loaded to the hilt with men handing onto the straps in the aisle. We had to tuck our feet well under us to save being trampled on as we jiggled and jostled along over the bumpy track. With all the inconvenience and discomfort, we were grateful for the car—better than walking those three miles on the track as I had in July and August.

It wasn't too long, though, and Mr. Olson located a larger and more comfortable car for the run. Next came the construction of a small building—just four walls, a floor, and two doors next to the track with a path down to it from the wagon road above. So College Station was born. I don't remember if it ever received a coat of paint—certainly not for a number of years. However, it was a most welcome addition when one had to wait for the trolley.

At first, the building was downright cold—so your teeth chattered and my hands were so cold that it was hard to type. Then one of the short course men, George L. Keys, said that he could fix the heating problems. Seems the pipes were not lined up properly when the heating plant was installed. The president asked him to "fix" it. He did so and we were warm and happy thereafter.

With the mining short course in session, the next addition was the home economics short course, and that proved very popular with the women in Fairbanks. A large loom was purchased, and many lovely items were woven on it. As I sit here in my living room now, some sixty years later, I see and treasure a pillow top I made on that loom.

Some of the women often brought cake or cookies and coffee. They had a social hour.

That first year was anything but formal. Often, the president came down the hall whistling (if classes were not in session), short sleeves (always a white shirt) rolled to his elbows. His step was full of vigor, his mind was full of ideas which he hastened to jot down. Every morning when he came in, he would put his coat on the hall tree, roll up his sleeves, whistle a tune, sit down at his desk—sometimes feet up on the desk —get out his Van Dyke cigar, take a puff, and he was ready to go to work. Hat? Why bother! Except sometimes when it was cold, he would show up in a fur cap with tails merrily dancing about.

The first year, things got going in the classrooms in a pretty orderly manner. True, there might only be two or three in a class, but then there was a class—on time if I didn't forget to ring the bell.

However, in our second year, Professor Chase designed an electric bell, and that was wonderful.

Part 2