From college to State: 60 years on

Challenges during name-change phase successfully overcome

By Dave Graves

For the Brookings Register

Posted 6/18/24

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series looking at how South Dakota State transformed from a state college to a regional university with July 1, 1964, marking the 60th …

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From college to State: 60 years on

Challenges during name-change phase successfully overcome


Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series looking at how South Dakota State transformed from a state college to a regional university with July 1, 1964, marking the 60th anniversary of the name change.

The 1964 state Legislature authorized that South Dakota State College be renamed South Dakota State University effective July 1, 1964. While the measure handily passed in the House and Senate, there were challenges getting to that point.

Rivalries in the Legislature between those loyal to State and those loyal to the University of South Dakota created some obstacles. Among the arguments against the change was name confusion since the word “university” had been tagged with the school in Vermillion since 1882.

Other arguments included the cost of printing new stationery and relabeling fleet vehicles, historian and former professor John Miller wrote in his “South Dakota State University: A Pictorial History 1881-2006.”

The compromise that paved the way to overwhelming legislative support was requiring all old stationery to be used up and requiring cars and trucks to continue with the old name until the vehicle was replaced, according to Harold Bailey’s “A Quest for Excellence; On Making a Major University from a Small State College.”

Small, growing

While South Dakota State was at the start of a growth phase in 1963-64, it was definitely a small school.

Fall enrollment was 3,719, which was up 250 from 1962-63 and almost 700 from 1960, but less than the 3,824 students when Briggs’ tenure began in 1958.

“It was a much smaller campus. You knew more students outside of your college,” said Bob Burns, a 1964 graduate who spent his sophomore year in Mathews Hall as a resident assistant with classmate Dave Blegen, who chaired the Hobo Day committee his senior year and became the model for the Weary Wil sculpture on campus now.

With a smaller campus and fewer entertainment options, Hobo Day and the preparation for it took on greater importance than today.

Hobo Day

Blegen recalled that each class — freshmen through senior — as well as many student organizations would spend six weeks building floats for the Hobo Day parade. Burns remembers organizing the freshman float in a bay in the ag engineering building. Chicken wire was bent into shapes on flatbeds and covered with papier mache and crepe paper to create works of art.

Blegen said the Hobo Day chairman rode in the parade in the Bummobile. “It was the best day of my college career. It was a nice sunny day; almost a perfect day. I spent a lot of time preparing for it, so it was very satisfying. I never had a duty at IBM for the first five years that was more challenging than organizing Hobo Day,” he said.

Hobo Day 1963 — Oct. 19 — preceded Kennedy’s assassination by five weeks. That fateful event occurred on the same day that the Military Ball, the first formal dance of the school year, was scheduled.

Burns, who was in advanced ROTC, said the Military Ball was second only to Hobo Day on the fall social calendar. Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, one of the top bands in the nation, was to perform. But the event was canceled as shocked students gathered to listen for updates from TVs in dormitory lounges and Pugsley Union.

Pugsley Union

The building that now is home to the early childhood education program served as the student union from its opening in 1940 until the current building opened in 1973.

The Jungle, the café in the Union, was THE gathering place on campus when Burns was a student. That was also the case when Barry Dunn enrolled in 1971. In addition to the Jungle, where Burns would buy coffee and a doughnut for a dime, Pugsley Union included the Bunny Ballroom, which would host smaller performances.

In Dunn’s day that might have been folk singers or a soft rock trio. The Christy Ballroom housed formal dances, such as the Military Ball.

The fully staffed offices of the Collegian were right there in the heartbeat of campus.

“It was a really, really busy place,” recalled Dunn, who has served as SDSU president since 2016 and is a former faculty member and department head as well as a graduate in 1975, 1977 and 2000.

While Pugsley was a wonderful building abuzz with energy, some other places on campus weren’t postcard status, Dunn recalled. Burns recalled living one year in married student housing, which were converted army barracks, located west of what is now the Stan Marshall Center, with fake brick tar paper in place of siding.

Stark contrast

Similar former World War II barracks north of the current South Dakota Ag Heritage Museum housed offices for the economics department, Dunn recalled.

He remembers touring campus in summer 1966 with his brother. “Classroom and research facilities were very modest. It’s so much more sophisticated now,” Dunn said. Some buildings remain from the State College days, but all have been refurbished.

In a quick now-and-then, Dunn pointed to the Avera Health and Science Center and its predecessor, Shepard Hall; Ag Engineering Hall and Raven Precision Agriculture Center, and Coughlin-Alumni Stadium and Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. Blegen added, “I can’t imagine what Frost Arena is going to be like when they finish it. State has a physical campus worthy of Division I.”