Willamette University

(Not So) Far Out: Alumni Share Memories of the '60s

By Sarah Evans

After spending an hour interviewing members of Willamette’s Class of 1969 about their time on campus, Hayley Hill ’13 had one immediate reaction: “Well, it wasn’t Berkeley.”

The alumni were amused that Hill and her classmates might have expected parallels between 1960s Willamette and the activism at the University of California, Berkeley. “Hippie stuff” didn’t pervade Willamette until later, they recalled.

The current students’ goal was to learn about the tumultuous events of the decade and how they played out on college campuses. They were enrolled in history Professor Ellen Eisenberg’s College Colloquium firstyear seminar class, “The 1960s: Understanding the Decade that Shaped Your Parents, Your Professors and Your Political Leaders.”

“It’s amazing how much you continue to hear about the ’60s in the news,” Eisenberg said. “When we talk about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,
people continually make analogies to Vietnam, and when we discuss protests, we often reference the civil rights and anti-war movements. These issues are still an integral part of American culture, and today’s students want to understand them.”

Eisenberg focused the class on the experiences of college-aged youths, which naturally led her pupils to ask about life at Willamette. The students read through course catalogs and yearbooks before interviewing alumni during their reunion in September. Glee, fraternity and sorority dances, freshmen beanies and compulsory chapel were among the things the alumni recalled about Willamette.

“Willamette was not super conservative in a political sense, but we had a lot of social restrictions,” Sallie Gordon ’69 remembered. “We were very sheltered. I remember we had a dorm mother who taught us manners.”

“Women could only wear dresses, and if we were caught downtown wearing pants, we would get in trouble,” added Glenda (Hieber) Blanchard ’69. “I lived in Lausanne Hall, and if you came home just five minutes after curfew, you would find the dorm mother standing outside a closed front door. We had to serve an hour of phone duty for every minute we were late.”

“Phone duty?” Hill asked.

Laughter erupted as the alumni explained that at the time, phones were located only in the dorm hallways. If a call came in for a resident who wasn’t around, someone had to take a message.

Austin Williams ’13 was surprised to hear how much social activities had changed since the ’60s. “Back then men and women stayed in different dorms, but I live in Matthews where the genders are only split up by room. Nowadays colleges give us a lot more freedom.”

Although Willamette wasn’t at the center of anti-war protests, that didn’t mean the campus was without dissent. “We were protesting the idea of ‘in loco parentis,’” Ronald Sticka ’69 said. “We questioned the control the university held over student activities.”

Images of the Vietnam War were vividly present as young men participated in ROTC and waited anxiously to hear whether their draft lottery number was called.

“I remember going down to the local post office and hearing Bobby Kennedy speak,” Kathy Herndon ’69 said. “Shortly after that, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, followed by Kennedy. Our campus may have been fairly quiet, but we were living during a time of turmoil.”

Gordon recalled that students at Willamette “really focused on academics. That’s what we were here for, so we really knuckled down.”

“But we also found time to party,” added Herndon, with a smile. Some things never change.

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Class of 1969 panel member Glenda (Hieber) Blanchard shares her memories of Willamette.