What was life like in the Hays area 70 years ago? The effects of the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the Bank Holiday of 1933 were still very much around. There was a severe depression with very little to no money affecting nearly everyone. Top all this with a severe drought and dust storms, and you get what things were like.
For those of you who have never experienced a severe dust storm, imagination can't describe it. You could see very little distance, and it was difficult to breathe.
I grew up on a farm in Decatur County where the storms were severe. When a dust storm struck, my father would tie twine to a post in the front yard when going to do the chores and follow it to the barn and then follow it back to the house, because it was impossible to see any distance.
Combine the effects of the economy, the drought, and the fact that crops produced little to nothing with the low price of those crops that did survive, and you see the result: little or no money.
For those who wanted to go to college, there was not much choice. No money was the prevalent factor. Clarence Rarick was president of Fort Hays State College at that time. He was interested in finding a way for students to receive an education in spite of the circumstances that were so prevalent.
He formed a committee of faculty who put together a plan that ended with the formation of Lewis Field. They began with contacting the administrators of schools in the western part of Kansas for names of students who were either valedictorians or salutatorians of their classes and whom they would recommend as students.
Lewis Field began with the purchase of nine buildings formerly owned by the Golden Belt Fair Association at a sheriff's sale for a total of $2,000. These buildings had been used as horse barns, etc., and were moved to the area north of where Lewis Field Stadium now stands. They were used for a short time by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and then some of them were used as residence halls for students (all male students).
Each of these buildings used as residences were numbered by the number of students who lived in them. They were simply called by numbers "36," "40" and "60." They were first used in 1934, and the approximately 100 students were labeled as "Lewis Field Pioneers." Art Leas, who lives in Hays, was one of those pioneers.
Lewis Field Stadium was distinct in that it was one of the first in the United States to be used for more than just athletic needs. It was built also to house students. It was planned and construction begun in late 1935 with construction completed so it could be lived in in 1937. It was built by the Works Progress Administration at a cost of $175,000. It housed a number of students, so the barracks each became much less crowded. When I came here as a freshman in 1939, the total number of men in Lewis Field was approximately 300.
What was life like in Lewis Field in 1939? Life in the barracks was basic. The buildings that had served the fairgrounds were pretty much the same except they had been divided into living and bedrooms and had two toilet rooms -- one for each bedroom. There were 16 of us in "40" with eight in each bedroom, sleeping on four double-decked cots. The windows had been hung on hinges on the side of each and when the wind blew hard, they would occasionally swing open. More than once, we awoke in the morning to find some snow drifted across the floor. The bedrooms had no heat so we used several layers of newspapers under each mattress to control the cold. Only the middle room had heat.
We all took our meals at what was then called Cody Commons, now the Memorial Union. It was much smaller than now since much new has been added. We took 20 meals per week with Sunday evening's meal missing. The Methodist Church furnished meals on Sunday evening for 15 cents. The cost of one month in Lewis Field was $17.50, with $5.50 of that for room and $12 for board.
Only one person who lived in Lewis Field at that time had a car. It was a man who had been in the Navy for six years and could afford one. Remember, at that time, a new Chevy, Ford or Plymouth could be purchased for approximately $600. So, since none of us had cars, we walked back and forth to our meals from Lewis Field to the Cody Commons on campus.
Most of us had jobs, many of which were on campus. They included such things as library, janitors, yard men, college farm, greenhouse, college dairy, print shop, etc. The pay was 25 cents per hour or $12 per month for 48 hours of work. Nita Landrum was an adored lady who was able to find jobs when they were almost impossible to find. That service allowed some to continue with their education.
What it cost for tuition in those days is unbelievable for those who are students today. My total tuition for 15 hours of credit for my first semester was $28. Today, 15 hours of credit approaches $2,000. What about the cost of books? Vivian Meckel, who later with his brother, Vernon, owned the Hays Music Co., kept a written record of his expenses for the year of 1935-36. His textbook cost for the first semester was $6.25. Today textbooks many times exceed $100 each. Here are some interesting figures from Vivian's record: tuition for the first semester, $24.50; haircut, 25 cents; supper at the Methodist church, 15 cents; having his cornet cleaned and repaired, $2; postage for mailing laundry home, 25 cents; new pair of shoes, $3.15. Most of us in Lewis Field had two sets of clothes.
We had a suitcase-type container to send our clothes home to mom to wash with the hope that when the package returned it also might contain some cookies or even a dollar bill or two.
We all stayed fit because, since there were no cars, we walked everywhere we went. If you were dating a girl who lived in the north part of Hays, you walked to pick her up, walked to the movie for a charge of 25 cents each, walked her back home, and then walked back to Lewis Field. I know that for sure.
Remember that no one had money. We did have a lot of fun, but it was nearly or all made and not purchased. Softball, touch football, movies at 25 cents, now and then, college dances at l0 cents -- these were our entertainments. And we all enjoyed ourselves. Friendships became very close and each was ready to help another. It was all hard-going but we learned many good values for the experience.
When one goes over the names of those who lived in Lewis Field, you will find many who have excelled in their professions. Most of them are gone now, but they have left a wonderful reputation to be kept and honored.
In 1942, the number of Lewis Field men began to drop as World War II began to take them. Again, the names of many of them surfaced in many important roles in the service to their country. Many of them did not return. A list of those who gave their all is found on a plaque at the university.
Lewis Field left a wonderful heritage for those who planned for it, for those who fulfilled those plans, for all of those who participated in it, and for all of us who profited so much by it.
Arris Johnson, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.