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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sit-in's, streaking, and Homecoming pranks Former students look back on Westmar's glorious past

Friday, November 16, 2007

Longtime Westmar Chorale director Frank Summerside directs a Chorale reunion choir which gathered for the 2007 Westmar reunion this summer. The chorale took several trips to perform in Europe during the late 1960s, 70s and early 80s.
(Editor's note: This is the third of a series examining, on the tenth anniversary of Westmar's close, what has happened to the buildings, how its close has continued to impact Le Mars and how people remember the institution.)

Kathy Faber always said she wanted to see the world.

Little did she know that her experience at Westmar College would bring the entire world right to her own hometown.

"I'm a Le Mars native," Faber (Class of '77) explains. "plus I was a commuter student. There was always the fear in the back of my mind that I'd miss out on the entire college experience."

Instead, she discovered her college years opened her eyes to a host of possibilities.

"By being on campus everyday," the English major recalls, "I was able to explore different cultures through not only Westmar's international students but also from my professors."

Faber fondly remembers her old Spanish professor Dr. Jose Garrido ("Who could imagine the former mayor of Havana, Cuba would somehow wind up in my own town?" she asks incredulously) but the memories that'll stick with her forever are the trips abroad she made as a member of Westmar Music Department's Chorale.

"Dr. Frank Summerside must've had a thing for Scandinavian countries," she laughs, "because we toured of lot of 'em."

"Norway ... Sweden ... Denmark," Faber says, recounting her journey. "But we also went to Germany."

"Now, this was before the (Berlin) Wall came crashing down," she reminds. "We toured West Germany and then, East Germany. To see the contrast between the two countries was truly astonishing."

Faber reflects for a moment.

"Wow!" she exclaims. "If it hadn't been for Westmar, I would have never seen the world!"

Leo Flaherty had already seen a plenty of the world and he was anxious to go back home.

"I was in the service in 1945 during the occupation of Japan," the Westmar Class of 1949 graduate mentions. "I was getting ready to be discharged when I heard about the G.I. Bill."

"Didn't know much about it," Flaherty recalls, "but I knew once I got back stateside, I'd look into it."

Returning to Le Mars in December, 1945, Flaherty became a freshman student at Westmar the very next month.

"I barely had the time to take my boots off," he jokes, "before I was back, sitting in a classroom."

Too small for football, Flaherty became the manager for Coach Dick Crayne's Fighting Eagles.

"Plus I was getting married," he informs. "Then I got me a part-time job at Mount's Drug Store."

"Phew!" Flaherty smiles. "That was a busy time!"

But the young WWII veteran was ambitious.

"I took extra courses, I went to summer school, I wanted to get on with the rest of my life," Flaherty remembers nearly 60 years later. "That's why I graduated in only three years."

"Y'see, I always thought of college the same way I did about working," he explains. "Going to school was like going to a job. Sure, you wanted to do a good job but you also wanted to get the hell out of there!"

Jeff Neary had more lofty aspirations.

"I wanted to go into the foreign services," the Class of 1981 grad remembers. "I was a German major with an affinity for other languages so I thought the foreign services would be something right up my alley."

Born in what he describes as "the big town of Scranton, Iowa," Neary came to Westmar on both a football and music scholarship.

Neary met with both Eagles football coach Milt Martin and music department head Dr. Wayne Mitchell.

"Even then, I knew I was better suited for singing than I was for football," he smiles. "I think they realized that too."

"Thank goodness," Neary says as an aside.

While at Westmar, the young man was reunited with a girl that his brother-in-law had coached previously on the Le Mars Community High School softball team.

"I didn't meet Kathy at Westmar," he smiles sheepishly, "but I don't think I would've married her had I not gotten to know her at Westmar."

As an undergrad, Neary became a part of Westmar's then burgeoning protest movement.

"We heard there were several instances of streaking," he recalls.

"Um .. which I didn't participate in, of course," Neary says nervously.

But he does remember participating in another form of student protest: a sit-in.

"When I was going to school, 18-year-olds could still legally drink alcohol," Neary mentions. "So I participated in an effort to have alcohol reinstated on the Westmar campus."

Neary recalls making signs and sitting on the college president's lawn.

"We brought signs, we staged a sit-in, and then, we went home," he laughs. "That was it."

Neary adds wryly: "Westmar may not have been the best school if you wanted civil disobedience at the time, I guess."

One thing that Westmar WAS known for was it's homecoming.

"It always seemed like we were playing Northwestern College around Homecoming," Neary laughs. "And every time we played 'em, the statue of 'Westy' (Westmar's eagle mascot) would get plastered with red paint."

"Don't know how they managed to do it," he says, shaking his head. "But they did it every time."

Another thing that Westmar was well-known for was family.

"My father spent nearly his entire career at Westmar," states Wendall Thompson.

Thompson's father, Golden Thompson, started with the college teaching Philosophy and Logic in the late '30s before becoming the school's academic dean and retiring in 1970.

"What drew my father there was its affiliation with the United Evangelical Church," he notes. "What kept him there was a sense of family. He loved being a part of the Westmar Family."

The college's familial ties continued when Thompson and his two sisters went to school.

"Dad was proud of the education he received at Westmar," Thompson explains. "He wanted his children to have the same sort of experience."

Thompson earned a degree in English from Westmar in 1958, before going for his Masters and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa.

"I eventually began working in statistics for the U.S. Department of Energy," he says from his Maryland home.

"But it all started at Westmar," Thompson says simply. "Everything started at Westmar."

"When my parents told me goodbye during freshman orientation," Dixie Kooiker remembers, "my dad gave me a $20 bill. He told me that $20 had to last until I got home but I had no idea when that would be."

The industrious Minnesotan promptly got an on-campus work study job as head cashier on the cafeteria line and became a resident hall advisor.

"I had no idea, until years later," Kooiker admits, "that my dad was selling loads of cattle, regardless of prices, whenever my tuition would come due."

Kooiker, a Class of '67 graduate, remembers her time at Westmar was as turbulent as the rest of the country.

"Early in my freshman year," she says, "I was in the chemistry lab when Neil 'Doc' Ersland came in running to announce President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas."

The following days, Kooiker recalls, were glued to "the one and only TV set in the (student) lounge of Wernli Hall."

Classmates were traveling to march in racial protests, she says, and young male students were having their draft numbers drawn by lottery to immediately leave their studies to go serve their country in Vietnam.

But Kooiker prefers to remember the good times.

"Few students had cars," she recalls. "I'd walk downtown to Pill's Dry Goods to pick up supplies for my Home Ec. class."

Trips home, Kooiker continues, were done by car pooling with the few students fortunate enough to own autos.

"But, ironically, these cars only seemed to run around the holidays," she wryly replies.

Living in Wernli Hall as a freshman, she says, gave the girls a bird's eye view of the construction of the "New Dorm" -- "The name 'new dorm' stuck for many years," Kooiker contends. "That is, until it was officially named Bonebrake Hall."

"All of us girls would carry on conversations with the construction crew guys from the third floor windows," she remembers, "and the guys watched us walk across the campus."

"I was lucky to live at Bonebrake Hall for three years as a resident hall advisor," she notes.

What did that mean?

"That meant kicking the boys out at closing time," Kooiker recalls nonchalantly, "and then, locking up."

She says: "Dorm life also consisted of holiday door decorating contests, candlelight services when someone got engaged, being dragged into a cold shower following an engagement announcement, endless amounts of popcorn, and friendships that still exist to this day."

Kooiker reflects for a moment.

"During those four years," she says, "the most valuable asset I earned was a quality liberal arts education."

To prove that point, Kooiker mentions, within two weeks of her graduation, which included her wedding and a cross-country move, she earned a full teaching position in California.

"The second most valuable asset I received at Westmar," she slyly mentions, "was meeting my husband Calvin on a double blind date on the steps of the Home Economics Building."

To set the record straight, Kooiker insists, Calvin never attended Westmar.

"Calvin received his B.S. degree from California State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, California," she replies.

In time, Kooiker returned to Le Mars, and in the mid '80s, began working at the Westmar Library.

"I loved being among the people and an atmosphere that I thoroughly enjoyed," she says.

Teikyo Westmar University came into being during Kooiker's tenure.

"One Thanksgiving," she remembers, "our eight unofficially adopted 'Japanese sons' stopped by and had an All-American meal of steak, pork chops, ham and turkey."

"They loved it!" Kooiker maintains.

The entire Kooiker family made the most of those cultural opportunities with Westmar students and continued to work hard for the college.

"It's easy," she allows, "to be an involved student, citizen, and employee of an institution that has given me so much."

Jeff Neary knows how Kooiker feels.

Upon graduation, he was an admission counselor for the school.

And after graduating from the University of South Dakota Law School, Neary served on Westmar's Board of Directors.

"The reason I had to step down from the board," he remembers, "was because I was the city attorney when the City of Le Mars took control of the school."

The 1997 close of the school was especially traumatic for Faber.

Now, the director of the Ice Cream Capital of the World Visitor Center, Faber was then a reporter for the Daily Sentinel.

"It felt strange," she remembers, "even surreal. I wanted to take myself out of the picture but this was my school, something I thought would always be in my hometown."

Kooiker agrees.

"Westmar's closing has had an incredible impact on the community of Le Mars," she opines. "Just the fact that the higher education atmosphere is gone is reflected in the lack of cultural and music events, sporting events, and conferences. The absence of these 'quality of life' issues has left their voids in the hearts and minds of many people."

Kooiker also contributes the loss of Westmar with the "brain drain" in the area.

"Le Mars has established itself as a population with a high education level," she reasons, "and over time, that will dwindle due to lack of faculty and staff leaving the area. It will also be affected by the lack of of students deciding NOT to make their life here."

Now the district court judge for Iowa's District Three, Neary is one of the former Westmar students who has stuck it out in the community.

"I went to law school at the University of South Dakota," he explains, "and I get calls from them all the time. But that's not MY school. Westmar is."

"There's a reason I sit on the board of Westmar's Alumni Association," Neary continues. "That was where I got to know my professors on a first name basis. That was were I was able to establish lifelong friendship. If it wasn't for Westmar, I would have never married my wife."

"Westmar was the start of everything for me," he adds simply. "Everything."

Says Thompson: "The closing of Westmar College, never could get used to calling it a University, was especially hurtful to me, not only because I was a graduate, but because both my father and my mother (Helen Thompson) invested their lives in that institution."

"I cannot believe that our society has lost such a valuable asset."

He reflects for a moment.

"I have returned to Le Mars many times for Westmar reunions," Thompson says softly. "I've been inspired by the lives of my fellow students and their lives have been shaped by the experiences and values embodied in that college."

He especially recalls a visit he made, last summer, to a former Westmar professor then celebrating her 100th birthday.

"Alice Kruse reminded me that the real investment in the institution was with the students," Thompson recalls.

"That investment," he states, "will continue long after the college is gone."

"O Westmar College, how we love thy name/O Westmar College forever and always the same."

"I learned that Westmar song when I was a freshman," Kooiker remembers with a smile. "I thought it was a pretty hokey tune."

"Here I am, 45 years later into adult life," she reasons. "And I have come to appreciate those words and that song more than I ever thought possible."

"Once you're a part of Westmar," Kooiker says, "you seem to always be a part of Westmar."

"The heritage of Westmar has," she states, "and will continue to have rich, fulfilling impact on my life."

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