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Published:

June 2, 2016
 
Tagged: Adelphi Magazine

From the Battlefield to the Classroom: 70 Years Ago

News, Publication


by Suzanne Bopp

Eugene Balazs ’53, M.A. ’58, was not a typical, straight-from-high-school freshman when he came to Adelphi—he had been a platoon sergeant in World War II, serving in Italy. He had never even dreamed he would go to college. “If you were a child of the depression, you knew where you were going,” he said.

G.I. John Bradfrod

GI John Bradford, just before going on inactive duty and attending Adelphi.

Then, when the Veterans Administration informed him that his service had earned him three years of college tuition, Adelphi was one of the schools that were recommended. “I visited Adelphi, and they treated me so well,” he said. “I went year-round and got a degree in three years.”

He was among the first male students there in decades— since Adelphi’s board of trustees had made it a college exclusively for women in 1912. But following World War II, Adelphi decided to accept returning veterans and, in 1946— 70 years ago—the school officially became coed again.

For the veterans, that was a most welcome decision, recalls John Bradford—who spent three semesters at Adelphi between 1946 and 1948—because returning GIs were flooding the country’s colleges and universities. “Starting in ’45, a lot of people were getting out of the service, and a hell of a lot of them were going to utilize the GI Bill,” Bradford said. He was released from active duty in 1946 to pursue a college education, which his Navy pilot training required. “It was hard to find a college to get into. A friend of mine was up from New York, and he told me, ‘Hey, this girls’ college up there is taking GIs.’ I went up there, took the Long Island Rail Road out to Adelphi and made up my application and it was accepted.”

Adelphi turned out to be the college of his dreams. “Growing up during the Depression, money was pretty tight,” Bradford said. “I dreamed about going to college. I would see colleges portrayed in the movies, and they were always really cute little campuses. Well, Adelphi fit that role. Everything was pleasant; the professors were all quite friendly.”

John Bradford and June Becht 1946

World War II veteran John Bradford
danced with fellow Adelphi student June Becht at a “getting to know the new students” dance, September 1946.

The arrival of hundreds of veterans meant basketball, football and baseball teams were soon organized on campus. With the influx of veterans, Adelphi’s speech and drama department outgrew its home in Woodruff Hall gymnasium. A reconfigured World War II Quonset hut became Adelphi’s Little Theatre. A temporary building donated by Camp Upton in Montauk, New York, was also added to campus as a student lounge where students mingled, the veterans often still wearing pieces of their uniforms as the fall progressed. “Since none of us was willing to squander mustering-out pay on heavy winter clothing, the cool weather soon allowed one to identify the original service of any ex-GI,” Bradford said. “Through the winter, the ex-GIs wore a strange combination of uniform and civilian attire.” Soon a television—still a rare sight—appeared in the lounge, students craning to get a view of the tiny screen.

“I’ve been to a number of universities and colleges since, and Adelphi is the one I remember,” said Bradford, who went on to become a respiratory therapist after retiring from the Navy.

Another Navy veteran, Arthur Herman ’50, remembers getting word of one last available space at Adelphi from his cousin, a professor there. “I went out right away, and I was the last one to get in the day session. They had about five veterans in each class and about 25 girls, so that was difficult to take—I’m kidding!” he said. “ But they only had so many professors and they couldn’t enlarge the facilities fast enough, so most of the vets went from five to ten o’clock.” During his subsequent career as a contractor, Herman built the student center at Adelphi as well as the addition to the library.

“They took care of vets; it was outstanding,” Balazs said. Adelphi rented two prefab buildings off Front Street, called the Santini apartments. Balazs lived in Building F, which housed mostly veterans; the other, Building G, housed mostly athletes. While at Adelphi, Balazs met Jean Wysonski ‘56, who was finishing her nursing degree, and asked her to marry him 10 minutes later; they would be married for 54 years. The day he was ready to leave Adelphi, he got a job as a high school English teacher. “My life just seems to have started at Adelphi,” he said. “The GI Bill is the best thing that ever could have happened to a man.”

The GI Bill also had a lasting effect at Adelphi. The World War II veterans invigorated Adelphi’s athletics programs, and today the Panther student-athletes on its 23 intercollegiate teams practice and compete in premier facilities. The theater program also expanded, first with the Quonset hut that was dubbed the Little Theatre and subsequently with the construction of Olmsted Theatre, now part of the Performing Arts Center (AUPAC).

Adelphi’s commitment to serving veterans is unwavering. The University has been named a Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program school by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the Best Colleges for Veterans. Currently, Adelphi counts among its students 83 veterans, 25 of whom are graduate students.

This piece was published in AU VU, Spring 2016 issue.
 
Tagged: Adelphi Magazine