The Story of OAC ’49

In the spring and summer of 1945 the OAC Registrar, Archie Porter, was dealing with a heavy load of correspondence. World War II had come to an end, and discharged or about to be discharged servicemen and new high school graduates were considering their peacetime futures. The result was the flood of applications on Archie Porter’s desk.

In September 1945, 284 students were enrolled for their first freshman term. This record enrollment though did not satisfy the demand. A second group of freshmen, called 49½, were enrolled to start in January of 1946. This new group numbered 68 and brought the total first-year class to 352. This freshman class was a different group from past years. Their average age was 22.6, about four years older than the typical first year group. The oldest class member was 42 years old when he started, and about a third of the class was married; in fact by early in their senior year, 110 class members were married with a total of 39 sons and 40 daughters

At the end of their four years at OAC, the Class of ’49 gave the college a record number of graduates; 261 new alumni, of which 68 percent were veterans.

65 years later, the fifty living classmates have recounted and documented their history in celebration of their 65th anniversary. Below is an account of the Class of ’49, their history and their many gifts to the University, written by Dave Adams, Class President:

The Changing Campus

While we were on campus, fundamental changes were underway at the college. OAC, the Veterinary College and Macdoald Institute were beginning to work closely together, and it wasn’t only the administrations, it was the student bodies. An example is in the issues of Libranni. The first issue to involve our class was produced in 1946. At this time it was exclusively an OAC book, but subsequent issues were joint ones featuring the graduates of the three institutions and the many joint societies. Student government had moved to an overall Union Council by the time we had become seniors; not long after we graduated, the three colleges became formally federated with Dr. McLaughlin as president. This process, which started when we were students, ended in 1964 with the establishment of the University of Guelph. The 50th anniversary of the University was celebrated in 2014 as was our 65th anniversary.

World War II Memorial - The Clock

Early in 1946 there was discussion on a proposed new OAC sports and recreation building that our class would leave in memory of World War II casualties. This proposal and variations of it came to naught. The following year the class decided to begin “a Forty-Nine Memorial Fund” to be set up pending a decision on a suitable memorial. At a class meeting in March of 1949 it was agreed to have the IBM company build and install a clock in the tower of the Administration Building, now Johnston Hall. The clock was to be installed for a dedication ceremony on Convocation Day or Alumni Day, but the subcontractor for the clock face hit a delay and clock wasn’t up and running until August. The final bill paid by the class was $1,756.  In today’s dollars that’s about $18,000.

An important aspect of the clock is that it started out as a Memorial to World War II casualties. Just as the post World War I grads of the class of 1923 are responsible for War Memorial Hall, our class has marked WW II sacrifices with The OAC ’49 Memorial Clock. The 1946 Libranni records the names of 73 OAC grads and two OAC staff who lost their lives in the conflict. The clock is a memorial to those 75 but also to those who we knew who did not make it and to those who never had a chance to complete an application for Archie Porter, as we were so lucky to do.

At our 30th anniversary meeting, much discussion was given to an appropriate gift to our Alma Mater for our 35th Anniversary. A special committee was appointed and it looked at eight options, such as an entrance sign for the university, refurbishing Massey Hall, and upgrading the OAC Dean’s office and boardroom. In the end the recommendation was to add two more faces to the Johnston Hall tower clock.  The class presented the University with the two new faces and new works covered by our cheque for $18,000, almost $36,000 in today’s dollar.

A Growing Family

As mentioned earlier, when we started our fourth year in the fall of 1948, 49ers were the fathers of 79 children. By the time of our 15th anniversary, the number had risen to 389. A decade later, the number had grown to 716. We well exceeded the national average in establishing the next generation, many of who eventually enrolled in at the University of Guelph.

Service to Our Alma Mater

Through the years of our 25th and 30th anniversaries, we were busy with our wives rearing those 716 offspring, paying down mortgages and advancing in our careers. The largest portion of the class, 50 classmates, was employed with either the federal or a provincial government. Another 37 taught high school, 27 went on to received their PhD’s, four entered the ministry, and 15 worked for either OAC or the University of Guelph as faculty or administrators.

At this stage 49ers were also active as volunteers for the college and the university. They served OAC as directors and presidents of the OAC Alumni Association and the Foundation. Classmates also acted as directors and president of the U of G Alumni Association. They served on the Senate and on the Board of Governors.

The class contribution was therefore more than just our anniversary gifts.

Our 25th anniversary also marked the 100th anniversary of OAC, and class members supported the drive to fund the Arboretum.

The Water Garden

Our 45th anniversary project was the OAC ’49 Water Garden. The garden officially opened on Alumni Day in 2000. Our gift was the lead project of the six gardens; the other five gardens were also supported by alumni classes. The centerpiece is the restored Horticulture Conservatory, largely funded by Don Rutherford of OAC ’51.         The overall planning and development of the total garden project took many years. Our Ted McNinch was a very active participant in the process.  A few years later, in 2005, ’49 decided to enhance the Water Garden by donating a doorway connection directly between the interior of the Conservatory and the patio of the Water Garden. This “Portal to the Pond” was completed and presented to the OAC dean in June of 2006. To finance these two endeavors, the class raised an initial $50,000 for the Water Garden and a further $25,000 for the doorway; in current dollars that totals over $92,000.

The Portico

In the time between the two Water Garden ventures, the class was occupied with another major project; the refurbishment of the Johnston Portico. This would be our 50th anniversary project. It involved the dismantling of the Portico piece by piece, hauling the lot away to a factory and either restoring or replacing each stone, then putting it all back together again on Johnston Green. We successfully raised the funds to cover the cost, which was $75,000 (in current dollars over $98,200). The revitalized Portico was officially presented on Alumni Day in June 2000 and continues to be an icon of the university’s environment.

Scholarships

At our 50th reunion class meeting, after much discussion, it was decided to switch from “bricks and mortar gifts” to scholarships. The decision was made to aim for a scholarship fund donation to be presented on our 55th anniversary totallying $100,000. And that’s exactly what the class did.  Over the five year interval there was much study given to

the details. In the end the decision was made to offer entrance scholarships for the new Bachelor of Bio-Resources Management (B.B.R.M) program, soon to be launched.  It wasn’t long before a generous donation from a classmate, doubled the fund to $200,000. This endowment, held and administered by the OAC Alumni Foundation, stood at $235,779 at the end of 2013. All thanks in part to further donations and investment earnings.            

The environmental management major of the B.B.R.M. started at Ridgetown Campus in 2006 and our first scholarships were awarded that year. In the years since 15 OAC Class of ’49 Entrance Scholarships have been presented to students in the environmental management major. The first scholarship to be presented to an equine management major studying at Kemptville Campus was in 2007. So far our 55th reunion project has resulted in 29 significant scholarships awarded. At $2,500 each, that’s $72,500 awarded to date. It should be noted that our endowment now stands at $236,000 and surely is a sign that the scholarships can go on forever!

Our switch to the approach of giving through scholarship endowment has proved a lasting gift as they extend to a growing number of young people. The total of all our class gifts, in currents dollars comes to over half a million dollars. Add to that some very valuable donations to the university archives and regular contribution to the annual fund drives. Since the University started to raise officially funds in the late 1960’s, the lifetime givings of the class have been over $1 million.  And to that can be added our donation before that time to OAC campaigns.

Our Legacy

So now we come to the last chapter. Out of the original 261 ’49ers, there are now about 50 of us living. The class has made the decision to wind down formal class activities, and our records will be turned over to the University of Guelph Archives and Special Collections along with records of our on campus adventures which are recorded in issues of Libranni, OAC Review, and 49 Currents, photos collected mainly by the late Stan Young, and most recently in the extraordinary videos produced by Lisa Crawford for our 60th and 65th reunions.

We will forever be thankful that we were given the opportunity to become students in 1945 and 1946. Our indebtedness to OAC and the University of Guelph will continue as long as we do.