Friday, October 19th, 2018

Alumni Interview

A photo from 1970 of Payson Smith Hall, held up and compared to the building as it stands today.
Nathan Baril
A photo from 1970 of Payson Smith Hall, held up and compared to the building as it stands today.

Posted on February 23, 2016 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

By Dora Thompson

USM was not always the two campus, co-ed, twenty-something metropolis that it is today. Founded in 1878, only the Gorham campus was its own entity. It was first known as the Gorham Normal School until it was rebranded as the Gorham State Teachers College. Portland Junior College operated separately half an hour away. I

n 1958, when Jimmy Scholand started college it was at the Gorham State Teachers College, with fewer buildings and students than we see today.

Skoglund attended Gorham State from 1958 to 1962 with a elementary education major. In a recent interview with The Free Press, he stated that the student environment was very different back then. The population was much smaller, and all the students knew each other. The boys’ dorm was Woodward Hall and the girls lived in Robie Andrews. Classes were held in Corthell Hall, what is now the music building.The white art building on the Gorham campus was still there, known as the Academy Building at the time. It was always the place for practical jokes, and students were always trying to ring the bell on its steeple, which was against the rules.

The cafeteria was in the Robie Andrews basement, which now houses the Art Department. He recalls that sometimes he would be in the kitchen late washing dishes, and the girls would come downstairs from their dorm and help him. That was were Scholand worked, washing dishes every morning at 6 a.m., and then went back for the dinner shift, only taking a break for classes. This was how he paid for his entire college education.

Skoglund said that this attitude of hard work made him appreciate his college education more. And it was the same for everyone around him. “Most everyone worked through college,” he said.

The students essentially ran the campus in the late fifties. They cooked homemade food, with fresh vegetables most nights. They cleaned, Skoglund remembers that the campus only had one hired janitor that wasn’t a student. They dinning experience was a formal affair, and students waitresses brought out plates of food to the cafeteria tables.

“We’d oogle at the waitresses from the back of the kitchen when they came to get the food,” Skoglund laughed.

Skoglund says the main difference between college in the 1950s and college today is the huge price increase. “It’s so expensive now. Back then, they made it so you could work your way through.”

With the demographic of mostly first generation college goers from working class families, who themselves were paying their way for college, the attitude was much more serious about education than it is today. Many of the students came from small towns and weren’t used to that many people. Skogland himself had nine people in his class.

“USM seemed like an institution, like a large and cosmopolitan operation. It made you grateful for you education,” Skogland recalls.

Everyone was working so hard, that once when Skoglund brought his car, a 1932 Chevrolet, to school, he was told to get it off campus, because if he could afford a car he didn’t need his job.

The strict attitude was prevalent in all aspects of the school. The rules back then would have students dropping out left and right in this day and age. Dorm rooms were inspected once a week. The floors had to be polished and the beds had to be made. The girls’ dorm had a curfew but the boys didn’t. The academic requirements were strict. Boys and girls were not allowed to go into each other’s dorms. Skoglund said he once remembered a boy who snuck over the girl’s’ dorm and he got expelled.

Skoglund has a fond memory in which all of the boys in Woodward met in the parking lot to plan a raid on the girls’ dorm. They went storming to Robie, but were stopped by a gruff older women in charge of the dorm. The plan was thwarted. If boys and girls did want to hang out, they went on dates in Portland to see a movie, which was a big affair.

Skoglund would like to stress that the best part of going to USM in the 1950s was the quality of the professors.

“There was a relationship between the students and teachers, and we kept in touch with several teachers there,” he said.

Skoglund said that he felt very prepared to be a teacher after he graduated. He observes that students now might not get a hands-on experience like he did. He explained that he learned less theory about teaching and more about how to actually do the job.

Skogland remembers a teacher fondly recalling teaching in a one-room schoolhouse on an island off the coast of Maine, where she had to tell a large boy to not smoke in her classroom. He listened. Skoglund felt very close to the teachers because the school was so small. He observed that a smaller learning environment might result in better schooling.

“There’s such a large crowd of people there now, dispersed around on a big campus, don’t have interaction with same people over and over,” he said.

Skoglund went to a very different university than the students of 2016, yet some of the same values still apply. Students still have classes in the same old brick buildings, still pull practical jokes and still have long standing and intimate relationships with their professors.



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