We got engaged on Groundhog Day – Feb. 2, 1952. I was a 21-year-old senior at Keuka College. Bill was 23 and in his last year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. We picked out the ring together, a perfect 1/3 of a carat blue-white diamond set in a simple gold band. Bill ceremoniously gave it to me on that Saturday night “date” (I was signed out until midnight and Keuka College took this curfew very seriously). I kept the faith by waking an entire floor of my dorm at two minutes after midnight with the news.
What set things in motion was the job Bill landed with North American Aviation in Inglewood, California. He would graduate from RPI that June and head west.
I, meanwhile, was completing my fourth year at Keuka College. I chose the College sight unseen because it had a good English department (my major), and it was affordable. Once I got there, I realized it had been a good choice. I liked the atmosphere of this little College. There was an emphasis on loyalty to one’s class (there were no sororities) and we were required to live together in dorms with our classmates. There was also a curious collection of traditions that were loosely based on the cultural life of the Native Americans of the Iroquois Nation, the original occupants of these lakes and hills. Each freshman class was inducted into a tribe, this done in a solemn campfire ceremony at the Point. A local Native American woman, wrapped in a blanket, raised her arms dramatically in a benediction and declared the incoming Class of ’52 honorary Tuscarora.
All this Native American ceremony, along with the gorgeous lakeside setting, sometimes gave you the feeling that you were really attending a very well-organized summer camp. (The stringent rules of behavior helped to sustain that notion.) But academics were taken seriously; we did go to class and we did learn. In my four years, I took every English course offered and thrived on the individual attention. Classes were small – rarely more than 20 students, usually many fewer. There was no opportunity to get lost in the shuffle.
So, there we were, Bill and I, in the Spring of 1952, engaged to be married, but with no clear plan other than our need to be in Los Angeles sometime after graduation, in time for Bill to report for work. I don’t know how we broke all this news to the two sets of parents, but it can’t have come as a surprise. Bill and I had been dating for some time. …
Hitch-hiking to the Carnival
My roommate, Mea Cole, and I both worked at the College in the summers, living on campus. We waited tables, serving three meals a day to the various church groups who held conferences at the College. It was hard work for slim wages, but we had a good time nevertheless. We still lived on campus but some of the nunnery-like restrictions were relaxed for the summer. We spent plenty of time boating and swimming, and evenings were our own.
One Saturday afternoon, Mea and I, dressed in our carefully rolled-up jeans and long blue work shirts (bought at Penney’s for $1.29) and hitch-hiked into town to scout out the Fireman’s Carnival. Bill was there with a pair of friends named Fred Dugan and Lee Newell. Bill remembers seeing us – we were hard to miss – and Mea and I were vaguely aware of him and his friends.
The following weekend, a fellow waitress announced she had a blind date with Bill Daniels (arranged by Fred Dugan). We were all living in Allen Hall, a dorm with a lounge right at the front of the building. It was customary for everyone to gather in the lounge after dinner, ostensibly to relax and socialize but, in reality, to vet every male who walked in the door to call for his date. So, I joined this critical group and got a good look at Bill Daniels. The next weekend, again through the organizational skills of Fred Dugan, Bill and I went out on a double date with Fred and the tallest girl he could find.
It was the start of a romance and by the Spring of 1952 the two sets of parents must surely have known we were “serious.”
Going to the Chapel (in Hegeman Hall)
The early decisions about where and when our wedding would be seemed to fall into place without too much discussion. We were pressed for time and a wedding in in my hometown of Englewood would have been difficult. My friends there (and my father) would have expected a Catholic ceremony, but I was no longer a practicing Catholic. Bit by bit, over the four years at Keuka College, I had slid into the “lapsed” category. Bill was an equally casual Methodist, but his parents, Pappy and Ursula, were pillars of the Penn Yan Methodist Church, and if the wedding were to be there, they would need to invite their many friends. But this wedding had to be done on a tight budget, with a limited guest list. Most of all we needed a “neutral” location. I have a feeling it was Pappy who suggested the College chapel, and it was the right choice.
It should be noted that the College chapel of 1952 was simply a small auditorium on the first floor of Hegeman Hall. Norton Chapel was built many years later. The Hegeman chapel was a plain, dusty room of many uses. There was just enough seating for the assembled student body and here we had highly-charged Co-op Government meetings, with the freshmen relegated to the hot, stuffy balcony.
Student plays were performed here as well, and on Sunday mornings the stage was set up with a makeshift altar and the everyday “aud” became the Keuka Park Baptist Church. The congregation consisted of a small but loyal membership of local people.
Among those members was Aunt Olive, and the minister of the flock was Charles L. Wallis, better known as Chuck. Chuck was also head of the English department at Keuka College and a dear man. I took all of his courses in my four years there and was delighted to be able to ask him to preside at our wedding. I think he was equally pleased to accept. And the fact that he was Baptist added further to the desired ecumenical tone.
A Keuka College Wedding Party
I put together the list of people I wanted to be in the wedding party. Mea was the obvious choice for Maid of Honor. We had been roommates for four years, as well as the three summers in between. Randomly assigned as freshmen, we quickly became good friends. When we finally parted company in June of 1952, we had trouble dividing up what had become a common wardrobe. The two bridesmaids were Sally Daniels and Helen Bloom, a Keuka College friend in the class of ’53 and a fellow journalism student.
I went home to Englewood for Easter vacation with a list of things to do, and found Mother armed with an even longer list. Mea lived in Montclair, N.J. and she met us in New York, where, in a single afternoon, we picked out my dress, the dresses for the bridesmaids, shoes, and some pretty little linen clutch purses as my gift to the bridesmaids.
With Ursula’s help and advice, Mother began making arrangements for the reception. “The White House,” across the lake from Daniels Point, as Pappy liked to call his piece of lakefront, was the obvious choice. Originally a private home, it had served a variety of purposes over the years, but in the ’50s was a popular restaurant.
Driving Toward the Wedding Day
I returned to school for the final academic push. In addition to my six courses, my job in the College kitchen, and my mounting anxiety over the looming “real world,” I signed up for a driver’s ed course. It seemed like a good idea. I had never learned to drive, but now here we were with a car and the prospect of that long trip across the country. It would be nice if Bill and I could spell each other.
Bill, meanwhile, was winding things up at RPI. His graduation was on June 6, in the RPI Field House. More than 800 young engineers graduated with him that day, though just Bill and eight others were awarded a Bachelor of Science in Building Construction.
Once home from Troy, Bill had ten days to get his life in order and do whatever grooms do to get ready for a wedding. Mother, Dad, and brother Frank drove up from New Jersey two or three days before the 16th and stayed at the Wagner, a nice old hotel on Main Street in Penn Yan. Ursula had a dinner party for both families and I remember how very strange it was to see all these people together in one place.
Earlier in the week, I completed the Driver’s Ed course, and took and passed the written test. The only time slot available for the road test was on the morning of Monday, June 16 – the wedding day. The test went well. I did a K turn, I parallel parked, I correctly demonstrated all the hand signals. As we were nearing the final lap of the test course, the inspector directed me to pull up next to a parked car on the corner and stop. Giddy with what I thought was success, I misjudged and scraped the fender of the car parked at the corner. The inspector, clipboard in hand, leaped out of the car and cried, “We’ve had an accident!”
From Diploma to Wedding License
So, I failed the road test, and it was an unfortunate way to start the day, but there was no time to agonize. I needed to get back to campus for the graduation ceremony, scheduled to begin at 10:45 a.m. There must have been a rehearsal and I’m sure I went, but I did pass up some of the other things Keuka College Seniors were expected to do. For instance, one afternoon Mother and I were in my dorm room sorting through my things, deciding what I would take to California. Mother looked out the window onto the front campus just in time to see the rest of the Senior class running pell-mell down the slope toward the lake, rolling hoops, black gowns flying out behind. Mother was alarmed that I wasn’t out there with the rest of the class; it looked like fun. I explained that the winner of this race would be declared the senior most likely to marry first. She agreed this was a tradition I could pass up.
Back from the road test, I headed to my room to get dressed for graduation. We lined up alphabetically, all 76 of us, in the lounge of Ball Hall and walked two-by-two down the tree-shaded arch of the Elm Path toward a big white tent, pitched on the exact site of the present-day Norton Chapel.
Graduation was followed by a buffet lunch that I’m sure I didn’t attend. I think Mea and I probably both went back to our room in Richardson, which was by then was bare except for the things we would need for the wedding ceremony. We were very nearly the only people in the building – the entire dorm was eerily quiet and abandoned. Most seniors went directly from graduation to the family sedan and straight home. So, getting ready for the wedding wasn't the Norman Rockwell version of the frilly bedroom full of childhood mementos.
We were, at last, as ready as we were ever going to be, and went down to meet Pappy, who sat waiting in his yellow-and-green Allison and Daniels company car. This was his idea. I assumed we would walk from Richardson to Hegeman; it was just a short distance and could all be done indoors, thanks to the enclosed “chicken runs” that connected the three main buildings. But Pappy insisted, perhaps wanting to make sure we would be on time.
As we walked into Hegeman, we were surrounded. Among those in attendance was our photographer, Floyd Tillman. Floyd worked at the College in some mysterious capacity, and was known informally to the student body as “Fearless Floyd.”
This was well before people wrote their own vows, so the wording of the service was taken from a Baptist Order of Worship booklet that Minister Chuck read from, here and there doing some judicious editing. Before we knew it, the ceremony was over and we all piled into cars for the drive around the lake to the White House. We made the usual horn-blowing parade, and a certain amount of stuff had been tied to the bumper of our car.
We did the expected receiving line in the entrance hall of the White House. The place was large enough for people to move around, indoors and out, and there was a welcome breeze off the lake. We had no music, no DJ, no master of ceremonies, no one announcing the arrival of the bride and groom. It was all pretty low key, but people seemed to enjoy themselves.
By then I was showing the strain of the day’s long schedule. Bill and I had agreed ahead of time when we would leave – based on the fact that we had reservations at the Inn in Fredonia for that night. When it was time to leave, I went partway up the pretty staircase, tossed the bouquet and then kept going to an upstairs bedroom to change into the obligatory Going Away Suit. Bill was waiting at the bottom of the stairs and together we did the standard rush out the door amid a shower of rice, hopped in our Plymouth and zoomed off.
Once outside of town, we stopped and Bill untied the cans from the bumper, removed the “Just Married” sign, and off we rode, quite literally, into the sunset.