Backtracking: The Early Years: Notable new, future local educators made news in June 1934

Courtesy of the James M. Milne Library Archives, SUNY OneontaAn undated view of the auditorium of what was then known as the Oneonta State Normal School. It was in Old Main, the first college building, at the corner of Maple Street and Normal Avenue.

By hearing the names of Hunt or Belden in Oneonta, many will immediately think of education in our city.

These two names were making news during graduation month of June 1934.

There were years past when both colleges in Oneonta ended the semesters and held commencement ceremonies in June, rather than in May.

At the Oneonta State Normal School, known today as the State University College at Oneonta, commencement took place on Sunday, June 10. As reported the next day in the Oneonta Star, “Caps and gowns became part of the … commencement program yesterday as the class of 1934, the first to wear these academic insignia, marched into the school auditorium to the strains of Handel’s Largo from ‘Xerxes,’ played as a processional march.

"The occasion was the commencement Sunday vesper service, and the preacher was Rev. Frank Halliday Ferris, D.D., of Fairmount Presbyterian church, Cleveland Heights, O.

“In a forceful, straight-from-the-shoulder address, the speaker urged the young men and women of the graduating class to strive for excellence, rather than to be content with ‘an easy-going mediocrity.’ Humility, courage, and loyalty were emphasized as three excellent things by which they might test their lives.

“This commencement season is Dr. Charles W. Hunt’s first as principal of the school, and the speaker of the afternoon, Dr. Hunt’s former pastor, commended the faithful service rendered by the latter and his family in community, church, and educational circles in Cleveland before coming to Oneonta.”

Hunt became the first president of the college in 1941, serving that role until 1951.

Also that weekend, the nearly new college on another nearby hilltop also had a full weekend of activities.

“To Charles Belden, class of ’34 of Hartwick college,” The Star wrote, “goes the double honor of being president of the class during its Senior year, and also of being valedictorian of the class, according to an announcement made at the class day exercises held in the college gymnasium Saturday morning at 10 o’clock. Gerie Baulch was named as salutatorian.”

Belden began teaching in Oneonta in the mid-1930s and became principal at Oneonta High School in 1946, a post he held until 1973. The high school auditorium on East Street was later named after him.

At the end of the exercises, “The Alma Mater, of which Linus Houck wrote both the words and music, was sung by the student body, after which the Seniors marched from the room.” Houck, an Oneontan, was a noted musician and music teacher for decades in the city.

Later that day, the students and community gathered again.

“The life awaiting the members of the graduating class of Hartwick college was pictured by the Rev. Dr. Samuel G. Trexler, president of the United Lutheran Synod in the baccalaureate sermon delivered before a capacity crowd last evening at the First Presbyterian church,” at 296 Main St.

“The academic procession formed at the home of the president of the college, Dr. Charles W. Leitzell, at 17 Maple street at 7:30 o’clock. Led by Dr. O.L. Schreiber, it marched to the First Presbyterian church and entered the church as the processional ‘Marche Solemnelle’ (Lemaigre), was played by Stuart Graham Pratt, a member of the college faculty.”

Trexler, after being introduced, told students and others gathered, “This class of young people is tonight standing at the commencement of its real living. Much of that which has gone before has simply been preparation. These young people now face the realities of life. For those who are timid it will be with certain misgivings and fears, but for those who love adventure, as most young people do, it will make a strong appeal.”

Finally, the class gathered for the third time at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Methodist Episcopal Church, known today as the First United Methodist Church, at 66 Chestnut St., for the college commencement.

“A note of cheer and encouragement was sounded by Dr. Harlan H. Horner of the State Education department in the commencement address to the 59 members of the class of 1934, who were awarded degrees of bachelor of arts or bachelor of science by Hartwick college at the third annual commencement exercises.

“‘Boundless opportunity awaits the educated youth of America to combine with serving,’ Dr. Horner declared in closing. ‘The borders of human knowledge await enlargement. Humanity cries out to be served. The inheritance we give college graduates today is at the same time a challenge and beckoning opportunity. It is this: all we know and all we have done are still infinitely less than all that remains unknown and undone.’”

On Tuesday: The area reacts to the hearings of Sen. McCarthy in 1954.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Tuesday columns address local history 1950 and later.  If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at

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Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, 102 Chestnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at

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