Homecoming revelers reflect on wartime, celebrate for a day

Liz Kohman

One month after terrorists crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a couple weeks after the United States retaliated with air attacks on Afghanistan and one day after U.S. ground troops entered Afghanistan, the University celebrated Homecoming.

“Homecoming is a time for bonding and remembering the basics,” said Ray Christensen, who has been an announcer at Gophers football games for 50 years.

Bonding in a time of crisis is important, he said. And this year’s Homecoming was not the first to take place during a time of war.

The University’s tradition of Homecoming began in 1914 when a group of students decided to have the celebration without the administration’s support. It became an annual event until 1917, when Homecoming celebrations were put on hiatus for World War I and didn’t return to campus until 1921.

The tradition continued during World War II, as materials became scarce. A 1941 Minnesota Daily article chronicled the difficulty of obtaining materials for Homecoming balloons.

“Rubber sticks and helium – necessary for Minnesota’s Homecoming balloon tradition – are also vital to national defense,” the article said.

Although the materials were difficult to acquire because the Navy needed helium – and a supply ship carrying sticks for the balloons was sunk – 150 members of a women’s group on campus collected the materials and sold their balloons outside the stadium before the Homecoming game.

By 1942, wartime rations changed the face of homecoming. Fraternities and sororities didn’t decorate their houses, the bonfire was eliminated and nonessential cardboard was used for Homecoming buttons. Money raised during Homecoming went to the war effort.

One Daily editorial captured the University community’s mixed emotions about celebrating during a critical time: “Homecoming this year will have a new note, a note of seriousness. It is well that this is so, for it may be the last Minnesota Homecoming until the war is over, and America has a real homecoming.”

Despite the war, the University still celebrated homecoming in 1943. Homecoming ribbons replaced the traditional buttons, and students were asked to supply their own pins for the ribbons.

The theme for 1943’s homecoming centered around the military.

“Bonfires, pepfests, sorority and fraternity house decorations and parades are things of the past,” according to a Nov. 6, 1943, edition of the Daily. “But an addition to Minnesota’s 1943 Homecoming has been made also – the military units stationed here.”

A shortage of materials for Homecoming festivities was not the only problem on campus – there was also a shortage of men.

“Those girls are out for a man, and they won’t be choosy,” said Jerry Kloss, who identified himself as “the last man,” in a Daily column warning the few men remaining on campus about the Sadie Hawkins Homecoming dance.

By 1944, homecoming festivities seemed to be swinging back to pre-World War II tradition. The bonfire was back – although it took Homecoming committee members more than two weeks to collect wood for the fire – and Homecoming buttons made an appearance once again.

The next major war to dramatically change campus culture was Vietnam.

“Everything was anti-establishment, and Homecoming reeked of establishment,” said Peggy Kunkel, class of 1974. Kunkel said more people participated in anti-war rallies than Homecoming festivities during that time.

In 1967 Homecoming news coverage competed with coverage of protests and marches.

“Many students today are more concerned about Indochina, the environment and the population than they are about Homecoming football games,” wrote Mike Hannaher in a Daily article published Nov. 13, 1970.

The coronation of the Homecoming queen competed with an anti-ROTC guerrilla theater presentation during the same year, and the Daily reported less participation in Homecoming compared to previous years.

This year’s Homecoming appeared to thrive despite the terror surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks and U.S. attacks on Afghanistan. Parade goers said this was the time to celebrate tradition and community.

“It’s not appropriate to totally ignore what’s going on,” said Matt Ryan, a freshman majoring in political science. But, he said, people should still continue to live their lives.

University alumni who attended Homecoming agreed.

“You can’t crawl in a hole,” said Pat Peterson, class of 1949. “That’s like saying, ‘You got us.'”

 

Liz Kohman welcomes comments at [email protected]