In June my college alumni office contacted me to proofread an anniversary book being compiled for the 50th reunion of the Class of 1968. Participating class members had shared recollections of their time on campus and their lives since.
For two weeks I was awash in Otterbein nostalgia. The celebrants were upperclassmen my first year there; it was great fun to catch up vicariously after all this time. Many of the alums referred to campus traditions that remain near-and-dear to their hearts – and mine.
When we frosh arrived on campus, our “indoctrination” into the Otterbein way of life commenced. The beanies required of us for the foreseeable future were not the stocking caps of today nor the Dennis-the-Menace kind topped with a twirling propeller. Our new headgear: tan-and-cardinal ballcaps we donned morning, noon, and night.
Eventually we competed against the rival sophomores on Scrap Day, which featured all manner of physical contests, culminating in a tug-of-war across Alum Creek. A sophomore victory meant we wore our beanies until the end of football season. If we had dominated, we could have flung our identifying hats into the air at halftime of the next home football game.
Another rite of Otterbein passage was the bonfire each freshman class built before the first home game. After erecting this pyre of school spirit, we had to dress in pajamas, dance around the burning pile, dance to the president’s house to sing the alma mater in his front yard, and dance our way downtown to watch a flick at the local cinema.
Although Otterbein’s fraternities and sororities were not nationally-affiliated, Greek life provided a whole other set of traditions. In frat houses and sorority social rooms, active members rushed freshmen at meet-and-greets and themed parties. New pledges were then at the beck and call of their prospective brothers and sisters, with true and final loyalty to be proven during Hell Week and a night of initiation – which for me consisted of twenty minutes in a spotlight reciting the Greek alphabet backwards and answering rapid-fire questions about the history and purposes of our chapter. Thus, I earned the right to wear my official burgundy blazer and white skirt every Tuesday.
Not surprisingly, the college expected students to follow certain regulations that were traditional in their own right. All women had to sign out and back in again if they left the dorm during evening hours, observing a curfew of 11 PM on weeknights and 1 AM on weekends.
These time restrictions affected women only; the guys were permitted to come and go as they pleased, probably explaining the higher percentage of males on academic probation! Women who violated the curfew were punished with an appropriate number of nights when they were not allowed to leave the dorm at all. I received my only penalty during my senior year. I arrived back on campus late from an evening meeting at the home of the Dean of Students, where we were trying to modify that antiquated system!
Many of Otterbein’s social traditions surrounded special events such as Homecoming and the Winter Formal – complete with a reigning queen and court. Each sorority serenaded its own senior Homecoming candidate, and the queen’s identity was revealed in the campus newspaper the day before the big game. The Winter Princess was announced during basketball halftime when a roving spotlight came to rest on the sophomore woman to be crowned.
My absolute favorite queen reveal was reserved for May Day, when students enjoyed a day of games, booths, and a choreographed dance around the maypole. Each junior candidate had been fitted for the same gown in a different pastel color. The morning of crowning, the girls dressed blindfolded, learning the identity of the victor only when they finally looked down at their gowns: the queen wore white.
As much as I loved these annual rituals, there was an unofficial campus custom I truly respected. Back in the 60’s when Westerville’s population numbered just 12,000 or so, a good number of Otterbein guys signed on as volunteer firemen for the city. When the fire alarm sounded, we watched these collegiate good Samaritans bolt from lecture halls and the dining room to answer the call.
I know, I know! When I view these traditions through the lens of 2018, they seem quaint at best. I am quite certain that most high school frosh of today – let alone college freshmen – would refuse compulsory clothing or competitions with upperclassmen. What self-respecting 21st century woman over the age of 18 would put up with curfews, especially gender-specific ones? The Greek initiations of my day were pretty tame compared to some of the hazing we hear about these days. And lots of schools have added kings to their roster of campus royalty.
Still, I remember with fondness those days and their quirky traditions, times that somehow seemed less complicated and more carefree – when we heard the victory bell after an athletic win, the chimes playing at dinner time each evening, the voices of a fraternity serenading the girlfriend of a member who had just given her his pin.
By the way, I still know every word of the alma mater – which we called the Otterbein Love Song. Just ask some of my former students. I sang it once a year in all my classes at Graham as I reminisced about “the quiet, peaceful village…”
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.