Barry McNamara  |   Published June 06, 2016

‘Calm before storm’

Golden Scots recall campus life in the mid-1960s
  • Ladies from the Class of 1966 hold a panel discussion called “Caught Between Tradition and Liberation: Becoming our Moms or Daughters” during the Golden Scots Celebration.
Catching up with old friends and seeing all the changes to their alma mater were two of the main assignments for the more than 150 Monmouth College alumni who returned to campus June 2-5 for the sixth-annual Golden Scots Celebration.

But the alumni – especially the 50-year reunion class – were also asked to transport themselves back to their student days on campus and recall the social changes that were beginning to stir in the country. The consensus was that Monmouth College in 1966 was not yet swept up in those changes.

“We had it made – life was much simpler,” said Donna Schliffke Sproston’66. “We didn’t have all this social media, so we weren’t as connected to all the gossip. We had our heads in the sand. It was much simpler that way, too.”

The weekend – which attracted a record number of attendees – also included several talks by Monmouth faculty and alumni, campus tours, reunions of the classes of 1956, ’61,’66 and ’71, and a chapel service.

During their time back on campus, alumni lived in the College’s residence halls and enjoyed meals in the main dining hall, on the campus lawns and at a progressive dinner.

But it was a look back on the way campus life was more than 50 years ago that dominated much of the weekend’s discussions.

“I think we were on the cusp,” said Judy Burmeister Dew ’66. “It was really pastoral, in a lot of ways – friendships, fun, learning. Our time at Monmouth College was the calm before the storm. The next couple of years after that, things really hit the fan.”

Some of those “things” were the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, all in 1968.

Judy and Larry Dew ’66 were in Guam in 1968 and they recall “taking two years” to adjust to the social changes they encountered upon their return to the United States.

Sproston noted another person who had to make an adjustment around that time.

“I’ve heard it described that in 1956, the College was like a nunnery and 1961 was oppressive,” she said. By 1967-68, when she returned to campus with her husband, music professor Mike Sproston ’64, “they’d thrown out a lot of the rules,” she said. “Dean Jean (Liedman) had apoplexy.”

“Right after we left, things kind of mushroomed up for them,” said Frankie White Wolma ’66.

Protests were not yet the order of the day – a mid-1960s demonstration during the Vietnam War actually supported the war – but a few issues were sprouting. One involved civil rights.

Wolma recalled Kappa Kappa Gamma’s efforts to add black student Barbara Lane ’66 to their organization.

“Barb (Baughman) Killey fought tooth and nail with alums to pledge her,” Wolma said. “We were not trying to have a token member. She was a cool girl, and we wanted to pledge her.”

They were ultimately successful, and it was not the only fight that Killey would win. During a panel discussion during the Golden Scots weekend titled “Caught Between Tradition and Liberation,” she shared victories in the battle for women’s rights.

Even though in the 1960s Monmouth women had several campus rules – such as dress codes and evening hours – and the men didn’t, Killey said the word “unfair” wasn’t on her mind until after she graduated.

“The signs that said ‘Question Authority’ became popular, but I didn’t see those signs until later,” she said.
“I didn’t feel discriminated against until I started looking for non-traditional jobs.”

Killey recalled being told she’d have to quit one of her early post-college jobs because it was dangerous for a pregnant woman to drive. Her doctor wrote her a note, changing her due date to three months later, so she was able to work two extra months. But “it still frosted me,” she said.

Killey eventually got into systems engineering work and, at age 52, she took on law school, graduating from the Hastings College of Law.

In 1963, Betty Freidan published The Feminine Mystique, which in part said that many middle-class women were unhappy, suffering from limited expectations. Freidan wrote that many women attended college to earn either an “Mrs. Degree” or a “PHT” – Putting Hubby Through.

“I would’ve hotly denied it,” Killey. “But, that said, my two-year younger sister felt like a total failure when she left college without” an Mrs. Degree.

“Nothing made me madder than being asked if I was in college to get my Mrs. Degree,” said Barb Trubeck Clark ’66.

“My mother was not college-educated,” said Betty Frank Fridley ’66, agreeing with the depictions in Freidan’s book. “She was the role model for me of what NOT to do with my life. I knew that was not the life I wanted. I wanted a life that my mother didn’t have. … I heard a man saying that his gender had it made – that there was no competition for jobs in the 1950s and ’60s. We were the no competition.”

Fridley eventually landed a “great job” at Xerox. “There was no discrimination,” she said. “If you could sell, you could sell.”

In addition to pledging a black student, Wolma recalled another moment when the real world showed up on Monmouth’s pastoral doorstep.

“Margie Schneider Demas’s fiancé got his draft notice,” she said. “We all thought, ‘This could be something real.’ That was the hint. It touched us personally.”

For alumni who came after the 1966 class, that possibility became more real.

“You were scared to go to Vietnam,” said Mike McGrath ’71. “You could get killed, you could get hurt. It didn’t feel like we were trying to win that war. It was nebulous why we were there. It wasn’t like World War II … ‘You gotta go over there and get ’em.’”

As for the social changes, McGrath said, “I pulled an all-nighter at least once a week. I was only worried about school in those days.”

Leon Kraut ’67 agreed.

“I was in class every morning and in lab every afternoon,” he said. “I was a T.A. for two labs, including one from 8-12 on Saturdays.”

Kraut did recall one area of social injustice – “the (Monmouth) barber who didn’t cut black hair,” which caused a stir, especially when The Associated Press picked up the story.

Bill Striss ’66 remembers it well. A Greek Orthodox New Yorker with a heavy Brooklyn accent, Stiss was also denied a haircut. Despite being a white male, he was told, “You’re a (n-word) from the inside out.”

Through a friend, Striss eventually broke the ice with local barbers and found a place to get a haircut. He also overcame early prejudices from the Monmouth police and members of the Monmouth football team to have an enjoyable experience on campus. So enjoyable, in fact, that his wife said he always talks fondly about his time at Monmouth.
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