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Losing a friend

 

On January 6, 2017, a great friend of the Southern Methodist University Archives, Joe Redwine Patterson died. “Joe Red,” for those of you who were lucky enough to know him, was a walking, talking one-man promoter for “SMU school spirit.”

Joe graduated from SMU with a B.A. in Philosophy in 1948, with an M.A. in Government in 1951, and a J.D. in 1954. While at SMU, he served both as Head Cheerleader (1947-48) and Student Body President (1948-49).  Both of these positions were elected positions.  His enthusiasm for SMU athletics and passion for school spirit continued long after Joe graduated.  Most remarkably, Joe met with the SMU Student Senate in 2013 and taught this newest generation about school spirit—and what cheerleading was like in the 1940s.

Joe was an invaluable source of information for this archivist trying to learn about the history and the spirit of SMU.  At first, Joe was just another patron. Later, he became a friend. His donations of both memorabilia and memories for the SMU Archives have given us a special insight to the pivotal post World War II era.  Thank you Joe Redwine Patterson for your dedicated spirit and service to our University.

The cheer squad in 1948. Joe Redwine Patterson is at the bottom of the pyramid on the right. (photo is from the Rotunda)
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Christmas at Southern Methodist University—The Early Years

When SMU opened in 1915, students and faculty knew that they were creating precedents and traditions about how to celebrate holidays. In the early days of the twentieth century, much like today, students learned to balance studying for exams and celebrating Christmas. And much like today, authority figures worried about the balance between secular fun and the religious reason behind the season.

In 1915, President Robert S. Hyer announced that a large Christmas tree would be installed and decorated in the Rotunda in Dallas Hall.  Saturday, December 18, was designated as the day to decorate the tree. SMU administrators gave presents to each and every student. On Sunday the entire SMU community observed the season during a special chapel service at 5:30, “emphasizing the real meaning of Christmas.” No doubt the best present for the SMU community was the announcement that construction of cement sidewalks connecting the dorms with Dallas Hall would begin the next day, Monday, December 20.

The next year, another large tree was placed in the Rotunda. All around Dallas Hall holly, mistletoe, and streamers added color. On Saturday night, a party for the whole university featured vocal celebrations as the student body sang carols, and a chorus of Mexican children performed in both Spanish and English. The program that night also included gifts for bachelor faculty men followed by a reception. The next day a special chapel was held. Music included solos of “Glory to Thee, My God” and “The Birthday of a King.” The carol, “The First Noel,” was sung by all.

One of the most impressive early Christmas celebrations was in 1924 when SMU students played Santa Claus for 50 Dallas students. The SMU Sociology Department worked with United Charities (a precursor of the United Way) to pick children who had the most needs. Under the leadership of the SMU Religious Activities Council, fraternities, sororities, clubs, town students, and theology students raised money. Students gave the children toys, clothing, and sweets, and some female students from the YWCA even made homemade dolls and clothing. Santa presided over the program for the children in the men’s gymnasium decorated with a Christmas tree.

Today, SMU doesn’t decorate just one tree, it lights Dallas Hall and the surrounding trees for the entire Holiday season.  The “Celebration of Lights,” harkens back to that first Christmas celebration and chapel service in 1915 with the sharing of hot chocolate and cider, the singing of Christmas carols by the entire SMU community, and the reading by President Turner of the Christmas story from his family bible.

Daily Campus featuring the first (and last) full-page image of Santa, 1930
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SMU’s First Official Holiday

Rather than waiting for Thanksgiving to enjoy their first holiday during that first semester in 1915, overjoyed students were treated to a day off on Tuesday, October 19 that year, courtesy of President Robert. S. Hyer. This first official holiday at Southern Methodist University was on “Dallas Day” at the State Fair of Texas. Classes were cancelled at SMU. Extra street cars took students and faculty to the fairgrounds to enjoy the festivities. Many students attended the TCU vs. Austin College football game, located on the grounds, seeing TCU win 28 to 0.  The Dallas Morning News reported that the SMU students were totally impartial in their cheering, but they did gave some SMU yells. Only eight days later near the end of the State Fair, Austin College beat SMU 21-0 at the Fairgrounds.

“Dallas Day” was heavily promoted. Many businesses in downtown Dallas were closed. Highlights that day included a Confederate Veterans parade and the newest technology—an air show by pilot Art Smith who swooped right near the grandstand. SMU students were just a few of the 93,700 visitors to the Fair that day.

For the next three years, SMU celebrated at the Texas State Fair as a holiday. The football team practiced in the morning, so that players could go to the Fair with classmates. So successful was the holiday that The Dallas Morning News reported in 1918 the campus was practically deserted when the day rolled around.

 

1915statefair

 

Today students enjoy a fall break, among other days off, and Dallas Day is a memory. Each year interested fairgoers can still attend the same fair their predecessors frequented more than a century ago, and this year they have the opportunity to wander no further than across campus for a flavor of the fair.

The DeGolyer Library is celebrating the 130th anniversary of the State Fair of Texas with an exhibition in the Hillcrest Foundation Exhibit Hall. Highlights include State Fair photographs by Dallas photographer Lynn Lennon, as well as several cases of related ephemera, like fair tokens, badges, pamphlets, brochures, postcards, handkerchiefs and more dating from the 19th into the 20th century, all from various DeGolyer collections.

 

DeGolyer Library Exhibit, September 8 to December 16, 2016

Hillcrest Foundation Exhibit Hall, Fondren Library Center, SMU

Hours: 8:30 to 5:00, Monday to Friday