Harding Magazine

Campus customs come & gone

By Jennifer L. Marcussen

On first thought, the word "tradition" may bring the following to mind for younger alumni: muffin chapel, Rhodes Rowdies, dunks in the lily pond, or the Seminole Stomp. Ask an older graduate, and you may get a slew of different answers, including Winter Festival, vespers, or the annual Thanksgiving Day barbecue.

The University's rich history is embedded in tradition, although many of these rituals and events no longer take place. But for those who participated in them, the memories remain vivid. Enjoy our tribute to five traditions that have come and gone and inspired new ones.


Pie eating contest"Tired of standing in line? Of obediently filling in endless forms? Of sitting in a room full of half-unpacked boxes? Do you want to do something different? Do you feel like a pressure cooker about to blow the lid? Well then, let off that steam. And let yourself go in a little hilarity — an uproarious, wacky, hilarious series of games and events to brighten even the most glazed eye, quicken the weariest feet, and turn Harding's front lawn into a three-ring circus of running, jumping, and hopelessly hysterical Hardingites celebrating the end of registration week and the beginning of a new year."

This quote from the Aug. 27, 1971, edition of the Bison introduced the first Student Association-sponsored event that pitted freshmen against upperclassmen in the ultimate icebreaker. Each fall, shortly after classes began, students competed in a variety of events, including three-legged races, water balloon throws, wheelbarrow races and pie-eating contests — the latter, oddly enough, open only to men.

As technology advanced, Hilarity subsided, ending in the early '80s. Today's students still enjoy music on the front lawn and the annual watermelon party sponsored by the SA. But with registration moved entirely online, gone is the stress that ensued from standing in line for hours, laboriously moving from table to table to ensure that all forms were filled out, payments made and schedules correct. And when you can throw a sheep at someone on Facebook, why bother with water balloons?

Petit Jean Queen

PJ QueenThe name of the yearbook hails from a small mountain in a state park by the same name near the University's first home in Morrilton, Ark.

According to legend, the area's moniker is in honor of a young French girl who disguised herself as a cabin boy in order to follow her beloved to America in the 1700s. Sometime after arriving in Arkansas, the small sailor — who had been nicknamed "Petit Jean" by the crew — contracted a fever and died, requesting to be buried on the Ozark mountain. Thus the first class of Harding College adopted the name for its annual, choosing one known for beauty (the mountain) and courage (the young girl).

Beginning in 1933, the first Queen of the Petit Jean, Flossie Harwell ('34) Cope, was crowned. In contrast, a man was chosen Most Athletic. Once social clubs started selecting beaus and queens, the Petit Jean Queen became known as the "queen of queens." Each year, the student body would honor a selected queen from one of the men's social clubs to reign over all the others.

The last, Beth Heffington ('94), was crowned in spring of 1992. The following year, the Petit Jean staff began giving a Spirit Award, which according to the 1993 annual, was "given to the social club with the service project that best exemplified the qualities that fulfilled Harding University's goals of Christian service."

Two-party cafeteria system

the old cafeteriaOne of only two original buildings on the Searcy campus, Pattie Cobb (1919) of yesterday filled two functions: dining hall and dorm. Its cafeteria became the first gathering spot for three hot meals each day after Harding's move from Morrilton in 1934. And when the American Heritage Center's Charles White Cafeteria began serving students in 1965, Pattie Cobb remained open.

This allowed students to choose a meal plan from either, some opting for the one-meal selection and lower prices of Pattie Cobb, others electing more choices and higher prices in the Heritage. Opinions varied widely on the pros and cons of each.

The most commonly heard complaint was that the weekly meal ticket for Heritage did not have enough money on it to feed a typical college man. It was not uncommon for women with small appetites and a balance to leave their ticket on the table for a hungry guy who had run out of money.

In fact, the problem became so serious that after a student editorial by Jerry "Boo" Mitchell ('82) in 1979, a male faculty member decided to try eating for a week on a meal ticket. Librarian and assistant professor Joe McReynolds used Mitchell's ticket to eat from Sept. 18-25.

"I first decided to do it because I thought it would be a fun thing to do," he told the Bison after the experiment. "But it turned out to be serious. … To be perfectly honest, I didn't believe students before when they said they didn't have enough money to eat on. I sort of discounted it. But now I know what they say is true."

As possible solutions, he suggested adding money to meal tickets or allowing students a number of differently priced meal tickets from which to choose.

Pattie Cobb Cafeteria closed Jan. 31, 1988. Concurrently, Charles White Cafeteria added 14,000 square feet of space to  accommodate 1,100 students and became the sole dining hall on campus, as it remains today.

Thanksgiving Lectureship

Thanksgiving mealAlmost anyone who has attended the University is familiar with the photo: A crowd is gathered around a large bonfire. In the middle of the group stand J.N. Armstrong and Dr. George Benson, Harding's first and second presidents, respectively. Armstrong is bent toward the flames, his hand poised as if he has just released something. Barely visible, a piece of paper is being quickly consumed by the fire. Benson is smiling broadly, a sense of satisfaction on his young face.

The scene commemorates the burning of the mortgage on Thanksgiving Day 1939. The large crowd in the background comprises visitors and students attending Lectureship, which since 1924 had been held during Thanksgiving week. It was also the College's custom to serve barbecue that day for everyone, as students did not receive a holiday break.

This format continued until fall of 1973. By then, students were receiving a long weekend for Thanksgiving, and many were not present for Lectureship. That year Lectureship was moved earlier in the semester, and students were given a day off from classes so that they could attend and fully participate.

Today, with a weeklong break for students and faculty in November, no one is around for lunch Thanksgiving Day. Instead, the cafeteria serves the traditional fare, complete with turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie, the Wednesday preceding break.

May Fete

May FeteThe origin of the May Pole dates back to the third century B.C., when it began as a pagan fertility ritual celebrated in the spring. Many historians believe it was introduced by Germanic countries and spread by German tribe invasions following the fall of the Roman Empire. But how did it end up a popular event in Searcy, Ark., for more than seven decades?

No one knows for sure, but communities and colleges across the United States and Western Europe have celebrated May Fete for years, including the complex ribbon-winding ceremony around the May Pole. According to the 1986 Petit Jean, the festival was a celebration of springtime, "a time when the students express gratitude and praise to God for the splendor of his creations and the rebirth of nature."

May Fete — or May Day — celebrations began at Harding in the early 1930s. However, the first official Queen of the May, Corinne Bell ('40) Smith, was not crowned until 1939, when Ju Go Ju took over organization of the event.

Founded in 1925, the women's social club sponsored the annual festival until 1990. Each women's club would select a representative to participate in the May Pole dance; the student body would then select a queen from among the representatives. Jenna Shipman ('90) Bunner was the final queen selected in 1990. The event was then cancelled because of concerns over pagan symbolism associated with the festival.

But spring on campus is still celebrated; just visit any afternoon to watch a variety of front lawn activities, including soccer, Frisbee, and even a lack of action — naps.

For the truly nostalgic …

Remember mandatory physical assessment/wellness tests? While today's students are still required to take kinesiology classes, students of yesteryear first took a fitness test to determine their overall wellness. If you passed the test, you were exempt from conditioning activities. If not, you were automatically enrolled.

Cell phones have improved the ease with which students and parents can communicate, essentially eliminating the need for long distance. But until they became must-have items, students used the dreaded PAC number to access long distance. And for many years, they had to share telephones in residence hall lobbies, where long lines were common, and everyone knew who was asking whom on a date.

Searcy is known for its parades — including the Holiday of Lights Parade and White County Fair Parade. But the University used to join in the fun, too, with the annual Homecoming Parade. Each year, social clubs would design and make floats for the procession, allowing everyone to see the queen candidates and increasing the energy for the weekend's events.

Harding's first athletic national championship was for bowling in 1970. The team also earned the honor in 1971 and 1972.


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