Wally Douma '51

  • Wally Douma
    Wally: I’m Wally Douma, class of 1951.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Current residence?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: And we live in Madison, Wisconsin.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: OK, Wally. First question: Why did you come to Grinnell College, and what is your first memory of the campus?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Well, my first memory of the campus is when I came in my senior year of high school to take the SAT test. That’s when I first saw the place, and then why I came to Grinnell was, actually my brother who was a veteran had enrolled here the year before that and so I was somewhat familiar with the campus but basically it sort of, the only college that I really looked at because I was successful with my admissions application. I only filled out one, so I came to Grinnell. So that’s the first memory of the campus.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: My first memory of the campus when I came here as a freshman was moving into Dibble and that’s not very different from anybody else’s as far as the first memory.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Was there a professor, student or staff member who had a particularly strong influence on your life?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Well, I ended up majoring in psychology and George Lowell, was, I have to say he was an influence. Another man in the Psych department by the name of Max Thompson probably had more influence. I took all kinds of, well I took every course that Max offered which is only three I think, at that particular point. But interestingly enough I would say a person that I remember strongly, I didn’t ever take a course from, and that was Grant Gale. Grant was a Physics professor and I stayed away from Physics as long as I could. In fact, I never did take it.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: But, because of being on a number of Student Government committees and a variety of committees and he was a professor that was on those committees I got to know him. By the time I was a senior even though I’d never had a class with him, he and I were good friends. So, in a sense, he had an influence on me and I think that’s one of the real unique things about Grinnell or any small liberal arts school really for that matter. You don’t know just the professors you have in class, but you know the professors that are making up the rest of the staff and that’s quite important, I think.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: So you mentioned student government. Were you on the Student Government?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Well yes, in a way. I’m not sure just what the situation is now, but they had quite a hierarchy for the social activities on campus. They had a Social Coordinator and we were responsible, the committee, for making sure there was basically social activities every weekend. Do you have something similar to that now?
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Not so much, but we do have a Student Activity Coordinator.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Yeah, well Activity Coordinator. And so I started helping out with social kinds of things. By the time I was a senior, I was what they call the Social Coordinator.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: For your dorm, right?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Pardon me?
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Was it for your particular dorm?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: No, this was for the campus. It was the whole campus. We had, oh, several different committees that did different things. One was the Film Committee to make sure there were films every Friday night in ARH auditorium, which doesn’t exist anymore. And then there would be Socials done by the various halls over the course of the semester. And then booking the bands, in those days, the spring prom. I booked Count Basey one spring, and then Woody Herman came to town one cold winter evening which was sort of an interesting story. On that, Woody Herman was big in 1951 and had played a date over at Iowa State,
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: and was headed over to the University of Iowa for another date and had an open date during the week that they wanted to fill. Since Grinnell was on the way between Iowa State and Iowa, they said how about coming and doing a concert? So, it sounded great to me, in particular since they were gonna do it for only 600 dollars because they wanted to fill the date. So at that time the Dean of Women, which no longer exists of course, was the one that really set down social activities because you controlled the whole campus by controlling the women. And, she said, "Well yeah, we can do that." And women’s hours were 10:15. "Concert’s gotta be over by 10 o’clock."
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Well, this is in January or February and it snowed that day and they were coming from Ames and they didn’t start on time and so I kept getting these calls saying, “We’re coming, we’re coming but we’re not going to be able to make the 7 o’clock date, so we won’t be done by,” a two hour concert, “we won’t be done by 9:30.” So making a long story short, they arrived, I suppose, 8:30 or 9:00 and set up and were gonna do the full 2 and 1/2 hour concert and of course women’s hours were 10:15 so I got together with the Dean of Women and said, “OK, what can we do about this?” and she said, “we’ll extend women’s hours until a half hour ‘till after the concert’s over.” That was great and then we got a work out.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: So then everybody is over in Darby Gym having a great concert except I noticed about 2/3 through the concert a number of couples started leaving early. I don’t know just why they were leaving early but they had some extra time to enjoy each other’s company and anyway it was a great concert and a lot of people who didn’t even finish up the concert thought it was a great concert.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: What was the artist’s name again? Herman?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Woody Herman. Woodrow Wilson Herman. which is not really right, but people think of that. Woody Herman.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: OK. What are your best memories of your time at Grinnell?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Well, the interaction with the students that I lived with. I lived in Cowles and I would have to say that I made good friends in the residence halls. I think that’s probably still true today. That’s really where the, all my buddies, y’know I’m back here for my sixtieth reunion but the one’s I’m seeing, well, frankly, the ones I’m seeing are ones that were involved in Student Government. The, I don’t know what it’s like now, but the head of the women’s program of government and the men’s student government advisor. I don’t know if they have a student council president or not. Those people I ran around with and those are the ones I’m seeing now sixty years later
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: and interestingly enough they’re the ones that are coming back for the reunion. So we were- and both men and women. Not just the men’s side.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: What did your dorm room look like in Cowles?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Well, in Cowles, and I understand Cowles has been redone quite a bit. I should get over there and look at it, but pretty spartan basically. We didn’t do a whole lot of decorating on the men’s side, but the thing you have to remember, back in 1951 we were so spoiled that we had maid service. So maids made the beds every morning, emptied the wastebaskets, dusted the floor, and so the room looked pretty good compared to, I’ve been in some of the student’s rooms today and we won’t talk about that. So, they’re really normal, pretty good but it was not because we kept it up.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: We had this maid service. My wife, who went to another school just, every time she hears that I had maid service when we were going to school. We lived the life of luxury. So, the dorm room was not very unusual.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: What kind of clothes did you wear every day as a Grinnell College student?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Well basically, this was 1951, everybody had corduroy pants, trousers, and you’d wear ‘em every day. Same thing, y’know. Five days, maybe change ‘em once every five days or once a week or something like that. Then, just sweaters and sport shirts but that wasn't the thing that I remember in this particular era rather than into the late, ’49, ’50, something like that, everybody had to have yellow cords. And, you’d think that: "Yellow cords? You’re out of your mind." But everybody had dirty yellow cords. That, and then the other thing that’s a little different: we had to have dinner in Cowles dining room every night and there was a waiter service and you had to wear a coat and tie to get to dinner.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: So everybody had their dinner coat and their dinner tie and you’d wrap the tie around any shirt you would happen to have on and put on the sport coat, and so you wore the same coat and the same tie every night. All year long. If you spilled things on it, well, isn’t that too bad.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: And it wasn't given by the College? It was your own coat and tie?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: It’s your own, yeah. And so, guys would find the rattiest old sport coat they could find and that’s a coat! That’s a coat.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Okay.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Special occasions. On special occasions we had formals and stuff like that, so a tux was accepted and guys, almost everybody had a tux. Today that would mean, ooh never mind.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: What memories or images do you have of the town of Grinnell?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Well, basically about two. I went into town to get a haircut every three or four weeks so I knew where the barbershop was, and the other one was Cunningham’s Drug Store, which no longer exists. But that was where you went for a wide variety of things as well as a cup of coffee or ice cream. And then the movie theater. And really that was about the only contact with downtown that I or my classroom-mates had as a student. We just didn’t go downtown very much.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: The other thing which, well I guess this maybe goes with number 8: How has Grinnell changed since you were a student? One of the things you could do in that era, you could leave your books, your book bags, your jacket or anything under a tree on campus and it would be there until you picked it up again. So if you were going downtown, for instance to get a haircut, I’d just leave my books under a tree, go get a haircut and come back and pick ‘em up. Or, if you had a bike, which not very many of us did, but occasionally if you had a bike you could leave it anywhere and it was perfectly safe. And, nobody had locks on their doors and nobody locked the doors, and you left the door open in the dorm.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: That’s a big change.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Actually that’s... it’s pretty similar to today. Some dorms have open-door policy, just leave it open. I think the only problem from what you said is bikes. People steal bikes. Everything else is fine, wallets.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Well, didn’t have a padlock for the bicycle. This, y’know, you had a bicycle in your senior year? I had a bicycle, I didn’t have a padlock.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: It’s a similar community.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: I’m sure there are a lot of other changes, but that’s one of them.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Right. Describe something that is no longer available on campus, but is meaningful to you. Buildings, programs, activities...
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: I really don’t know what’s no longer available on campus. I don’t think that there’s anything that’s no longer available ‘cause there’s so many more things that are available. There’s so many more things. The Union is so different. The Bookstore is so different. So...
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot more things. Describe your favorite academic experience or class at Grinnell.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: I had a number of classes that I really enjoyed. These Psych courses that I had, which was my major, with Max Thompson and Joe Charleton, who was an Economics professor. They were fun classes, just because the professors were stimulating in their lectures and so nothing was particularly unusual from today. You get stimulating professors today, who keep things lively and interesting. So, I... favorite, I didn’t have any, ‘cause I was a Psych major.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: We didn’t do any unusual experiments like you might do in biology or physics or something. So, I suppose, this usually isn’t an academic experience but in a way it is. I did a lot of studying in the Library- the old Library.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Burling Library?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: No, the one that’s now Carnegie... the office building, I guess. It’s next to the Chapel. Herrick, the Chapel. And they had tables and- individual tables where you could study up there. I would pick out a table, put my books on it and nobody else would use it, over near the side next to the Herrick Chapel because the students who were music students would be practicing on the organ over there and you could hear them practicing, and that was just a pleasant situation, to be studying and here, I happen to like music very much. So, hearing someone practice, he might not be very good, just the music thing. So that was... It’s an academic experience in the sense that I was studying. So...
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Did you get to hear the organ when they played on Friday?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: No, I haven’t yet.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Hopefully you get to check that out before you leave. Describe your favorite- Oh. I already asked that. If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently during your time at Grinnell College?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: I don’t think I would’ve done anything differently. I would say, the best experience I had was the opportunity that I had to talk about the social life, student government in a sense. But because of that I got to deal with the College administration from the President to the Dean of Women, to the Business Manager, to the Maintenance crew, all that kind of thing as well as the academic experience which you have to have. But it was that extracurricular activity, the opportunity to deal with, I can go once a week and see the President as a student.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Problem-solving, y’know, we had some social function and things weren’t going, how did we plan for this, you go talk to the Head of the Maintenance crew. They’re the ones that decorate some hall some particular way. And so, that was as valuable to me as the extracurricular things, as the classroom although when I graduated, and my major was Psychology and I wanted to go into personnel- or human resources they call it today- and that’s what I ended up doing, so it worked both ways. But that extracurricular experience, I would encourage every student to get as much involved in extracurriculars or frankly in a job.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: I had a job working at the Bookstore, and so if you wanna talk about a favorite place on campus, I worked there, maybe twenty hours a week or something like that. At that time the mailboxes were in the Bookstore and I put the mail out every morning, six days a week. We had Saturday classes. Yeah, Saturday classes.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: That’s so mean.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Well, we took four courses but there were always Saturday classes, y’know you’d have a class on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday or Monday, Wednesday and Friday. So that’s what Saturday classes were. But working at the Bookstore was an excellent experience and an opportunity not many people had ‘cause most of the jobs are Dining Service, that kind of thing. So, that was an excellent experience. But I really don’t know what I would do differently.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: So was the Bookstore set up on this side, over here by Carnegie?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: No, the Bookstore then was on the, underneath the old Library, Carnegie. You had to go downstairs from the front.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Yes, OK. Did you meet your spouse or partner here?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: No, I met her after I graduated.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: OK. How would you compare the students of today with your classmates?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Well, I talked about this a little differently ‘cause our son graduated from Grinnell in 1992. So, and then the other thing is I’ve been on staff at the University of Wisconsin at Madison for fifty years. So, I know students and, compare the students of today with your classmates, well there’s two differences I think. I don’t know the student body at Grinnell today except through my son. Our son. And, they just seem to do everything more intensely. They play harder; they drink harder; they study harder; they just do, I think the intensity is more.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: I’m not sure they have less fun but it sort of seems to me they’re involved, and there’s nothing matter with it at all. But, I’m talking about Grinnell. Now you talk about University of Wisconsin, Madison, there’s a whole lot of people say that Madison’s the biggest party school in the country and it’s probably true. But, they’re there for a different kind of thing. Not to say that they don’t party at Grinnell, but, it doesn’t seem to me that that’s the only reason they’re here. They’re working hard 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, sometimes too hard probably.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: So you have one son?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: I had a daughter, my daughter went to Cornell College down the road.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Cornell, Grinnell, the two schools always get mixed up.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Yeah, it’s easy to do.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Cornell is a really well-known university, and Grinnell is... where I go.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: No no no, Cornell College, down the road in Mt. Vernon. Another small liberal arts school. Not Cornell University, no.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: Describe students and campus life as you experienced it.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Well, I’ve sort of been doing that all the way through. It was a very positive experience. I can say this because I’m back for my sixtieth reunion so obviously I’ve got some love for the school and the classmates that, a lot of ‘em, we’ve kept up. The other thing is I’ve been a Class Agent for 20 years, I’ve been a Class Fund Director for 17 years so for 37 years, although I’ve been, graduated 60 years ago almost 2/3 of that time I’ve been a volunteer for the school.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: So, that is- I think says something about the positive experience I had at the school.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: If you were writing a history of Grinnell College what would you include from your years here?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Pretty much what I talked about. I would say the student body, the friends that I made and the halls where I lived, the opportunity I had to be involved not just in the classroom but in all the other social, student, I call it Student Government. Sometimes they say, "Well that’s not student government: planning a party," but you were involved in all those kinds of things. Working with the faculty and the staff in so many different ways, so many opportunities, you had this opportunity at any small liberal arts school. Grinnell is not unique in that respect, because our daughter went to Cornell College and she had a blast, had the same kind of experience, probably.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Because of their One Course At A Time, she got a closer relationship with professors than somebody going to any other kind, regular four year school like Grinnell. But, the professors you got to know, as I mentioned earlier, whether you had ‘em in class or whether outside of class you got to know them. The student body, for the most part, again, there’s a selection process to get into Grinnell so there’s a lot of similarities between the people.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: You don’t have the mix like you see at a public university, University of Iowa or Northern Iowa, where you get people from all kinds of backgrounds because they’re taking in 4-5,000 in a freshman class rather than 400. Something like that. So, there’s this... you’re getting people that are similar to each other although there are a lot of differences. But, they’re compatible differences. I accept you, you accept me, I think you’re a drunk but that’s all right. It’s.. Or I think you’re a book worm and you’re gonna spend 24 hours in the library or behind the computer or whatever, that’s all right. So, those were the things I remember and put in the history, I mean, that’d be my history and then looking at it...
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: But my wife, who was a University of Wisconsin graduate, always gets sort of a kick about the loyalty people have at Grinnell and “What’s so great about Grinnell?” you know. I would say, I think there’s a few people, and I don’t know if they’ll ever come in for an interview like this, but would say, well, I can tell you this, I managed the class fundraiser for the class of ’51, and so twice a year I’d write a letter to all my classmates. I do get letters back over the, almost 20 years I’ve been doing this.
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: Once in a while I get a letter back saying, “I had the lousiest year of my life my freshman year at Grinnell. I hated it. I transferred to University of Iowa and had a ball.” Well, they didn’t really fit Grinnell, a small liberal arts school. Then they went to a big school, got lost in the population and loved it. That’s the way they liked it. So, Grinnell’s not for everybody and I think anybody that’s done the- that expects everybody to be a success that comes here, it just ain’t gonna happen.
  • Chelsie Salvatera
    Chelsie: It was nice talking to you, Wally. Is there anything else you’d like to share, at all?
  • Wally Douma
    Wally: No, I think I probably rambled on long enough
Alumni oral history interview with Wally Douma '51. Recorded June 4, 2011.
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