Monday, October 7, 2013

Class of 1958

In 1954 my father-in-law, John, packed his suitcase and headed to the southwest corner of the state to attend college.  This is the story of his suitcase.

John attended the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, graduating with a degree in Secondary Education and Industrial Arts in 1958.  While in Platteville, he met a local girl named Ruth.  They married and went on to have seven children.  Three of those children returned to UW-Platteville for their own higher educations.  Two of those children met and married fellow students while in school.  And today the third generation is currently carrying the torch as a proud Pioneer.  She is almost finished with her first year on campus.

Just a few weeks ago, we discovered John's college suitcase back in the dark depths of his closet.  Sadly he passed away nearly four years ago, and with him went all the riotous stories of his youth.  But just looking at the suitcase, you can imagine its history.  How many backseats had it been thrown into?  How many knees had it banged against? How many flights of stairs had it traveled up and down?

John etched his name and home address into the suitcase, just below the handle.  Oh, how I eagerly anticipated the college pennants bursting out as I opened the lid.  But sadly, the case was empty.

I used dish soap to wipe the case down and then applied a thick layer of shoe polish.  A good hand buffing with the horsehair brush brought out a bit of shine.  I used alcohol to scrub off the white corner trim and delicately cleaned the decals.  Finally, I rubbed the whole thing down with a good soaking of leather oil to replenish the previous 55 years of use.

Still scuffed and worn on the corners, the suitcase is officially back in service.

The vintage decals on either side are priceless.  The University of Wisconsin-Platteville has roots that go back almost 150 years.  One half of the University was known as the Platteville Normal School.  It was founded in 1866 as the first college in the state to offer a teaching certification program.  A large bell on campus would not only waken the students each morning but also signal the end of the day.  The other half of the University was developed in 1907 as the Wisconsin Mining School.  It was the first in the state to train miners and offer an engineering degree.  The Normal School and the Mining School merged in 1959 after experiencing rapid increase in enrollments and officially became a state university in 1966.  Although the University began as two separate schools, it still continues its strong identity as both a teaching and engineering college.

And I am proud to say that I am also a UW-Platteville alum.  One day during freshman year while I was scoping out the library, I met my soon-to-be-husband, Hank, struggling with his calculus homework, and the rest is history.  My father-in-law's suitcase is cherished and will perhaps passed on to our children should they decided to follow in our footsteps.  Looking back over all my family's college careers, not one of us was on the football team or chosen to give the commencement speech.  We were simply one of the thousands of dedicated students who crossed the UW-Platteville campus each day, dreaming of life after books.  And as we headed off campus for the final time, we carried with us a silent pride in our achievements and in our alma mater.  And something as simple as a dusty, old suitcase can strike a chord and instantly take us back to our youth.  Go Pioneers!


  1. Oooo, now we wait for the next post with more details of how you and Hank met! Great job cleaning it up, looks great and still has it's patina.

  2. I love stories like this. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Both my father and I attended River Falls for our degrees in Education. I think Wisconsin has a fabulous University system!!!


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