North Central College - Naperville, IL

World War II Veterans Transformed the World, Then the Campus

As North Central College prepares to celebrate its Sesquicentennial on November 11, 2011—Veteran’s Day—it honors the many military veterans who served their country and returned to earn degrees. Their presence on campus during the post-World War II era changed the physical campus, the social environment, athletics and the makeup of the faculty. Enrollment grew from 410 in 1944 to 920 in 1946 with the return of veterans like Charles Sehe ’50 of Mankato, MN, who had witnessed four years of intensive combat.

“It was quite an adjustment we had to make,” says the veteran of the U.S. Navy, who majored in biology, earned a doctorate in zoology and became a professor of anatomy. “Sitting in classes for 50 minutes was tough but we did it.”

Sehe and his peers came to campus on the GI Bill, which he says provided him with a monthly allowance of $75 plus free tuition and textbooks. Sehe was stationed on the USS Nevada during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He stayed on the ship as it returned to Puget Sound for repairs and later witnessed the D-Day invasion at Utah Beach and the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, among other events. He was injured on March 17, 1945, when a Kamikaze plane killed 11 and wounded 65.

Sehe’s memoirs are available in the College’s Archives, including his account of life on campus after the war. He first lived for eight months in a locker room with cots on the second floor of Merner Field House. He writes: “Each morning this motley crew of former soldiers, sailors and airmen would march in military fashion up to Kaufman Hall where breakfast, family style, would be served.” The group would consume several pots of coffee.

In the summer of 1947, he moved to one of the three barracks buildings temporarily erected behind Goldspohn Hall. “I was one of the ‘barracks boys’,” he said. “While we were respectful of the rules about no liquor on campus, we violated the no-smoking policy during our late study hours.”

Professor of English Harold E. White had a profound influence on him as they casually met to exchange thoughts and ideas. “All I could offer were my encounters with the horrors of the war, but he soothed my troubled mind with words from Wordsworth and other poets. Today I can still recite poems from Wordsworth, Byron, Keats and Shelley.”

Among the new faculty arriving on campus were Donald “Doc” Shanower (who served in the U.S. Army infantry from 1942 to 1946), Mary Alice Seybold and Dick Eastman, who was a major in the U.S. Army during WWII. He inspired Howard Cosyns ’49, a former pilot of a P47 Thunderbolt stationed in New Guinea. “My first class as a freshman was with Doc Eastman and he was a neophyte professor then,” recalls Cosyns, who was married and living off campus. “Here I was, 25 years old, in class with a bunch of kids who were 18.”

The dramatic change in campus life was apparent to people like Lowell “Bud” Berger ’48, who witnessed the influx of veterans throughout campus. “It was an adjustment for them but we welcomed them back—the whole campus became more lively and balanced,” he recalls. “And the basketball team became a lot more competitive but I held my spot.”

Needs for facilities spurred dramatic campus growth over the following 10 years, including new residence halls that housed 500 students by 1957 and the completion of the College & Seminary Library in 1954, allowing Carnegie Library to become the Alumni Hall of Science.

North Central Now Fall 2011