The Richmond Register

February 18, 2013

Normal School students had host of extracurricular activities

By Fred Engle
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — What activities were available for students at Eastern Kentucky State Normal School, when they were not in class? Literary societies, debate clubs, singing quartets, YWCA, plays, student publications, a science club, a Shakespeare club, a monthly magazine (“the Student”), a choral club and the Rubenstein club were among the many options in a world without 24 hour and virtual media access.

The English Department sponsored the Carpediem, the Cynthian, the Excelsior, the Periclesian and the Utopian clubs. Every student had to belong to one of these groups.

The Union and a dramatic club came later as did the Washingtonian and the Daylight Society. The purpose of all the clubs was to “arouse a spirit of friendly rivalry.”

In 1922, the senior class yearbook, the Milestone, began. That same year publication of the Eastern Progress, the student newspaper began. The Milestone closed down a few years ago because of high printing costs, and the success of recent efforts to revive this long-standing memorial to student days remains uncertain at this time.

An oratorical society performed in partnership with Asbury College, Berea College, Cumberland College and Sue Bennett College. In 1921, the Little Theatre Club was organized. Over many years, its sponsor was Miss Pearl Buchanan. The theater in the Keen Johnson Building is named for her.

The Ladies glee Club took the name Madrigal Club in 1923. By 1929, tryouts were required under the close supervision of the conductor, James E. Van Puersem. Mr. Van Puersem became a well known figure in the statewide and even regional music world as director of the Foster Music Camp and the conductor of the annual performance of Handel’s “The Messiah.”

I recall that he drove a Model A coupe and lived near to me on South Third Street. As an Eastern student (1947-51), I was a member of the Math Club and President of Pi Omega Pi. When I returned to serve on the faculty in 1959, I was a long time sponsor of Sigma Tau Pi (the honorary society for Commerce students). Nearly every department had one or more student organization, and Pi Omega Pi was the first honorary fraternity with Greek letters recognized on Eastern’s campus (1935).

The board of regents and the office of the president both opposed Greek social fraternities and sororities as being inconsistent with a teaching school and these organizations were not authorized until the 1960s.

Interestingly, for years the administration tried to get a student government organization authorized. The student body voted it down year after year until the period of national student activism in the mid 1960s, I believe.

It is interesting to note that back in the 1906-1915 era, candy pulls and corn husking were big social events on campus. It was not until 1924 that the female members of the faculty could wear bobbed hair. Dancing was only allowed on “Games Night” (along with singing and blind man’s bluff) — some fun, huh? When was the last time you played blind man’s bluff.

PUBLICATION NOTE:  Readers are reminded that a compilation of some 60 Richmond Register articles from over the last 40 years by Dr. Grise and myself are now available in the paperback book “Madison’s Heritage Rediscovered.” Combined with relevant photographs selected from the EKU Archives by my granddaughter, Kathryn Engle, who edited the volume, this book is available for $19.99 plus tax.

Autographed copies may be found at the Richmond tourism office (Irvinton) on Lancaster Avenue, ClearSight Optometry on the Martin Bypass and Baldwin CPAs on Main Street. Autographed copies are also available by calling Kathryn Engle at 859-893-0947 or 623-1150. 

These books make excellent birthday presents for family or friends. Keep in touch with out of town family and friends by sharing this gift of home.