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An unusual commencement – 1957

As I post this blog, we are in the midst of the corona virus lockdown. Many are the stories of loss, whether the loss of a job, loss of business, loss of things we never even thought about, and the greatest loss of all, loss of loved ones – neighbors, family and friends.

So much we’ve lost and yet we have found a great deal as well. The simple pleasures of a slower time. A time when there is nowhere to rush off to, when appointments and activities are on hold. We have found ways to connect and alternatives to in-person activities.  As Wabash prepares to celebrate its first ever virtual commencement, here is a story of another unusual graduation gleaned from past pages of The Bachelor.

At Wabash in the spring of 1957, the 125th of its existence, things were clicking along in fine fashion. Robert Minor Hurt of the class of ’57 had just been elected as President of his fraternity, Phi Delta Gamma. Hurt was also a popular member of the Speaker’s Bureau and a talented debater. When the fraternity gathered for its election of officers for the fall semester, it was odd that the president was absent. Some thought that perhaps he had gone to Indianapolis, where a recent storm had knocked out some phone lines. This, they thought, would explain his lack of contact. When Wednesday evening arrived and no word was received, Dave Orr [W1957] went to President Trippet to report Hurt missing.

The Phi Delts gathered to discuss possibilities and his friends, “…recalled that Pine Hills had been one of Hurt’s favorite spring study places.” A search party took off to check. Here is their report from The Bachelor of May 24, 1957.

“Student Posse Rescues Bob Hurt in Midnight Search of Forest Area

“Campus tragedy was averted early Thursday morning when a 100-man search and rescue party found Bob Hurt, Phi Delt senior missing for 36 hours, lying semi-conscious at the base of an 80-foot precipice at Pine Hills.

“Hurt, missing since mid-afternoon Tuesday, was found about midnight Wednesday by Joe Malott, Mike Cummings, Ron Rossie, and Dan Millar following the earlier discovery of his car abandoned in the rutted road leading into the secluded forest area.”

The riveting story of the search team follows as taken from The Bachelor and lightly edited:

Hurt Rescuers Relate Story

by Bill Morgan News Editor

(Printed below is the story told this writer by the search party that first reached Bob Hurt in Pine Hills, Wednesday night.)

“It was about 11:05 p.m. when eight of us and Phi Delt Faculty Adviser Ed Gullion got to Pine Hills. We pulled into a drive leading back into the woods but couldn’t go far in the car…the rains during the past twenty-four hours had made the ground too soft.

“We started walking up that muddy road – none of us really expecting to find Hurt. We’d only gone about twenty-five yards when Gabbert said, “There’s his car.” It was funny how calmly he said it…

The Search Begins

“We checked the inside of the car, and somewhat melodramatically peered into the trunk. There was no sign of violence, and no trace of Hurt. We decided to split up and start searching the woods – three of us would follow the road while the rest looked more carefully around the car. Gullion left us to phone back to the house that the car had been found.

“Since Cummings had been out there several times with Hurt, he knew where Bob usually went to study, and he led us [Malott and Millar] through the mist and the mud to that spot.

“Seeing no evidence of Hurt having been there, we waited for word from the rest of the group. The other five arrived within a few minutes and reported they’d found nothing around the car.

The Second Clue

“About 11:20 p.m. Hamer and Lodovisi spotted three footprints. On closer inspection we noticed a tree root sticking up out of the ground, a couple of sliding marks…and a cliff! It was a drop of 70-100 feet to the bottom, where we could see a stream of water. We couldn’t make out many other details from the top with our flashlights…Malott was ready to try to crawl down the side of the cliff to look…

“Cummings remembered a path a short way ahead that led down along the creek…So four of us went down to search. The other four stayed at the top of the cliff, where the footprints had been to guide us to the right spot with their flashlights.

“After following a winding trail to the bottom, we found that the path came to an end…We had to walk down the middle of the creek.

Search Ends

“Then as we approached the spot beneath the footprints, we heard a moaning sound. Three or four feet from the edge of the creek we spied Hurt. He was lying in a bed of stones. Marks in the mud indicated that he may have crawled – literally crawled – the three or four feet from the water’s edge to where he was now.

“When we got closer, we saw he was lying on his stomach – trying to prop himself up on his hands. He looked around. The glare of the flashlight was in his eyes…I don’t think he knew who we were right away.

“The first words we heard Hurt say were, “It seems that I’ve had a little accident.”…then after we told him our names, and got across to him that we were friends, he said: “Where have you guys been? What have you been doing?” He looked at his watch and said, “I haven’t been able to move for a long time.” The watch was still running.

Hurt’s Condition

“He was very pale and obviously in a state of severe shock. His skin was yellow. His eyes never closed…they gave us a glassy stare. When asked how he was, he said, “All right…” We asked where he hurt, and he complained only of his left knee.

“We could also see a deep cut above his left eyebrow, which he had apparently gotten during the fall…

“A couple of us looked around for some dry wood to build a fire…and finally got a small one going…using some handkerchiefs and a T-shirt to kindle it. We covered him with our coats and shirts to help keep him warm…but he still complained of his left leg being cold.

“He finally ‘came out of it’ enough to realize what was wrong with him: shock, a cut on his forehead, exposure, and his left leg. He insisted he hadn’t fallen…but he said he’d sprained his left leg and trying to favor it he hurt his right leg, too…He said he’d been trying to make a walking stick to help him get out. Hurt couldn’t explain the cut on his forehead, or why he’d been lying in the water – fully clothed.

Others Arrive

“Under Gullion’s direction we fashioned a make-shift stretcher of blankets and started carrying him back up the creek, and out the way we’d come.

“We’d moved him about 100 yards when (Athletic Trainer) Stebbins got there with a stretcher and his training kit. A conservation man with him said he knew an easier way out…but that we’d have to go back the other way.

B.K.T. Arrives

“About that time, President Trippet arrived on the scene, fully dressed in a suit, a cigarette in one hand, his overcoat over the other arm, his homburg tipped down over one side of his head – walking through two feet of water as casually as if taking a jaunt between Center Hall and the Chapel.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a calmer person in such an emergency…and a person with such a deep interest. He’d climbed and slid down the treacherous paths, waded down the middle of the creek, and announced that he was staying with Hurt ‘til they got him out.

Retreat

“By this time several more people – mostly students and county officials of some sort – had arrived, and we started carrying the stretcher back down the middle of the creek, up a hill, and out to the road. The whole trip back with the stretcher took us an hour or better.

“There wasn’t any path for us to follow most of the way…and I remember at one place the mosquitos were so thick you could grab a handful right out of the air. One of the fellows said he’d swallowed a couple. The ambulance was waiting at the road and we shifted Hurt from the stretcher to the ambulance cot, and they rushed him off to the hospital.

“I glanced at my watch…It was shortly after 2 a.m. – the three longest hours any of us had spent were ended.”

Here is a summary of Hurt’s condition, again from that same issue:

“Hurt’s injuries include a fractured left kneecap, fractured left hip, slight fracture of the pelvis, partial collapse of the right lung, and miscellaneous cuts, scrapes and bruises. At the time of his rescue, he was in a state of severe shock from which he has now emerged.

“On Thursday, he was given blood transfusions and oxygen, and fed intravenously.”

The paper carried a bulletin from Culver noting that Hurt was conscious, but in critical condition and stating that no visitors were allowed.

The story continues in the June 6, 1957 edition.

“The black academic dress of the commencement procession was mingled with the white clothes of hospital employees this morning when Bob Hurt, still convalescing from his May 22 fall, received his B.A. degree from his bed in Culver Hospital.

“The special ceremonies took place at 9:45 a.m. this morning with President B.K. Trippet, Dean B. A. Rogge, and Dr. J. Crawford Polley, Secretary of the Faculty, officiating. Also attending were Hurt’s parents.

“The presentation was parallel to that just given the class during the regular commencement.

“Hurt was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa and received his certificate and was initiated at the time of the special commencement by Dr. Trippet, a past president of the society.”

One can imagine the relief of all of Wabash to have found this young man, rescued him and watched his recovery. An unconventional commencement with a happy ending. One hopes for the same as we prepare to graduate the class of 2020 via modern technology with hopes that all may return to campus in the future for a proper celebration of their achievements.

All best,

Beth Swift

Archivist

Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana