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Schoenfeld, Clay (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 49, Number 9 (June 1948)

Old professors never die,   pp. 8-9

Page 9

practice of giving yearly sermons at
one of Madison's leading churches. An
alumnus of Williams College and Leip-
zig University, Dr. Birge has served
the University as professor of zoology
and dean of the College of Letters and
Science, as well as holding the presi-
dent's chair.
Associates are. amazed at his
memory; when something starts him
ambling along that road he digs deeply
and accurately into the remote days of
American history To interview him to-
day is quite impossible. He is almost
stone deaf and relishes no interruption
of his work in Room 454 of the Biology
Building. His spectacles don't serve him
too well and he works at his desk with
a reading glass. Hearing no noises, his
concentration is thorough, though oc-
casionally he looks out the window at
Lincoln Terrace.
  As president, campus figures recol-
lect that he was never a tyrant, but
neither was he putty in. the faculty's
hands. His mind and will were always
his own.
   One slippery day last winter Dr.
Birge was looking out the window and
saw a student slip and fall on the ice.
Immediately he was on the telephone,
talking impatiently to Pres. E. B. Fred.
   "See here, Fred," he's reported to
have said imperiously, "you'd better get
busy and get some sand on the ice
around here. I'm not speaking for my-
self because I've got my 'creepers', but
it'll be hard on the University if stu-
dents start tumbling all over the place.
When I was president, I never per-
mitted risks like that."
   Presumably Fred swung at once into
 action and the "old white hawk" of the
 Biology Building went back to his
 charts with c 1 e a r conscience. His
 pre-emptory telephone calls are always
 brief and one-sided, for his deafness
 nullifies the necessity for reply or con-
 versation from the other end of the
 line. The creepers just mentioned are
 ingenious little steel cleats which, when
neering  building. He was officially
"retired" 12 years ago, but is still
sniping at his traditional foe, corrosion,
which costs the American people three
and a half million dollars per year.
Now 82 years old, Professor Watts has
served. the University for 46 years.
  It was back in 1902 that he came to
Madison. He was teaching then in
Maine and took a year's leave of ab-
sence to come to Wisconsin and study
the "new" science of electro-chemistry.
And he never went back. Corrosion,
which to the layman is "rust", suffered
a severe setback at Watt's hands some
32 years ago when he discovered a new
process of nickle plating, which now
bears his name. The entire plating in-
dustry uses the Watts Process, which
is worth hundreds of thousands of
dollars-none of which ever found their
way into Watts' coffers.
  William Herbert Page, known af-
fectionately to his law students as
"Herbie", is rapidly growing into leg-
endary and historical fame. Eighty
years old this August, he's the only
teacher on the UW campus past 70 who
is not retired. And behind that there's
a story.
   When he came to Wisconsin in 1917,
 Professor Page had another position
 pending. It was generally conceded to
 be a better position, so the Board of
 Regents wrote into his contract a spe-
 cial clause waiving   the retirement
 rules. Noted for his penchant for "get-
 ting things down on paper", this was
 one aspect he failed to have certified in
 writing at the time. Later there was
 some difficulty  (during  LaFollette's
 housecleaning) but the provision was
 verified and Dr. Page still teaches on
 the Hill.
   He is an infallible authority in the
fields of contracts and wills. A prolific
writer, his many articles appear fre-
quently in law journals. His texts are
often resorted to by courts as an in-
dependent court, and for that reason
he is considered an institution in him-
self in the field of law.
  Dr. Page's lecture technique is fas-
cinating. He culls quotations from
Shakespeare, the Bible, and Alice in
Wonderland. He can trace almost any
law back to its historical roots, and
give the original in Latin, French, or
German. To fill in the odd moments, he
thumps his chest, quotes current base-
ball statistics, and creates witticisms
that will go down in campus anecdotal
history. On one occasion he challenged
a student to verify the source of his
   Said the student slyly, "Ely Culbert-
son on Contracts."
   Retorted Page, "That makes you vul-
   When   Don   Ameche, '31, . studied
under Page, his addiction to Haresfoot
and the theater was obvious even then.
On one occasion Ameche answered "Un-
prepared" when called on to recite in
   Said Professor Page, "Mr. Ameche,
 I'm afraid you'll have to choose be-
 tween the bar and the theater." And
 to this day Page takes credit for "call-
 ing a crucial decision."
   Students enjoy retelling about the
 time when Lawyer Page was consider-
 ably irritated at a slow-thinking judge
 and proceeded to say as much. The
 judge fined him $25 for contempt of
 court,':forthwith received $*i because
 "twenty-five dollars wouldn't e v e n
 begin to show my contempt for this
   Professor Page received his educa-
 tion at Yale, Harvard, and Ohio State
 University, served for three years as
 mayor of Grandview Heights, Ohio.
 Several years ago the student body
 presented a portrait of him to the Law
 School at the annual banquet of the
 Wisconsin Law School Association.
Birge complete confidence and cause the
halls to ring merrily with clinks.
   As the Centennial of the University
 approaches, Dr. Birge has acquired a
 new designation. He is now known as
 "Mr. Centennial, himself", lacks just
 three years of being as old as the Uni-
   Professor Gordon, known to thou-
 sands of Wisconsin boys and girls as
 their "invisible singing teacher", has
 just completed his yearly circuit ride
 to Wisconsin communities to conduct
 regional music festivals. These come
 as a climax to the year's Journey In
 Music Land which he conducts over
 stations WHA, WHA-FM, and WLBL.
 It is one of the courses in the School
 of the Air. For 30 years Professor Gor-
 don has been on the UW campus; for
 17 of them he's been broadcasting his
 music programs over the airways of
 the state station. Retiring in 1945, he
 entered practically full-time into his
 radio work. This year he arranged 12
 regional festivals in addition to the
 Madison one, which drew more than
 3000 children to the UW stock pavilion
 last May 8.
   Every day of the week (except Sun-
day, of course) Oliver P. Watts works
in his laboratory in the Chemical Engi-
EDWARD ASAHEL BIRGE, president em-
eritus and limnologist extraordinary, still
works nearly every day in his laboratory
atop the Biology Building at the age of
97. He has been on the Wisconsin cam-
pus since 1875. Chances are that America
has no other professor in his 72nd year
of service.
   These four giants-Birge, Gordon,
 Watts, and Page-are heading the long
 parade of "old" professors whose vigor
 and sustained activity belie their age.
 With them, in the forefront of the van-
 guard who are daily making the arbi-
 trary age limit look more ridiculous,
 are such staunch supporters of the
 University as G. C. Sellery, emeritus
 dean of letters and science; M. F.
 Guyer, emeritus professor of zoology;
 B. H. Hibbard, emeritus professor of
 agricultural economics; C. E. Allen, B.
 M. Duggar, and E. M. Gilbert, emeritus
 professors of botany; E. B. Hart,
 emeritus professor of biochemistry; J.
 L. Gillin, emeritus professor of soci-
 ology (see page 14), and F. E. Tur-
 neaure, emeritus dean of the College of
   Professors Sellery, Guyer, and Hib-
bard are writing diligently. Dean Sel-
lery is also active in the work of the
Wisconsin Historical Society. Profes-
sor Guyer has just finished a fourth
revision of his best-selling elementary
text, Animal Biology. Professor Hart is
carrying on research in Dr. Babcock's
old office and lab. Dean Turneaure has
traveled the length and breadth of the
country in the last year, guest-lecturing
in many colleges. He is also active in
YMCA work, especially in the state of
Wisconsin; is chairman of the Board of
Trustees of the University "Y".

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