Saturday, May 14, 2022

A brief history of UMD grad rites...

UMD graduation 2006 
Written By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/5-14-22

I got caught in a big traffic backup last weekend en route to Duluth’s Canal Park area. What the heck could be going on, thought I, as I joined the mid-afternoon lineup of cars, most of which were headed to the DECC area.


Well, come to find out later, the caravan was headed to UMD commencement exercises at Amsoil Arena. I also learned later that some 2,500 seniors were receiving their diplomas. Lots of pomp, under the circumstances, with robes galore and regalia resplendent, I saw on the TV news that evening.


It prompted memories of my own less auspicious graduation from UMD many moons ago. Oops, not sure moons describes it. Ages is more like it; decades hits the nail on the head. Let’s say more than half a century.


It was a sunny, warm August afternoon in 1962 when I lined up outside what was then known as UMD’s Physical Education Building in a cap and gown to march into what is now Romano gym. The basketball court was fitted with rows of chairs for grads and guests, placed before a makeshift stage for dignitaries and some faculty.


I don’t know how many capped and gowned graduates there were that day, taking advantage of a smaller August ceremony rather than the traditional May or June commencement. Maybe a couple hundred.


As the lineup marched into the building to the usual musical accompaniment and rows converged, I ended up in the front row seated next to the faculty member who was in charge of arranging the whole ceremony. I noticed he was taking notes under the heading “Next Year’ and the first item was, “Don’t wear hush puppies.” Hush puppies in those ancient times were a brand of casual shoes.


I wonder now if my old biology teacher was there. He’s the faculty member I wrote about a couple of months ago who, when as a student I had questioned my “D” grade in zoology, had told me I was lucky to get that basement passing grade. In the column I called him Professor Frogstad not wanting to use his real name, even though it was so long ago I figured the professor would have lived out his days.


Well, he hasn’t. I will use his real name now —Dr. Blanchard Krogstad —because even though more than 60 years have passed, he saw the column. He e-mailed that he is now 100 years old, living in rural Minnesota. He didn’t mind my punning up his name, and I’m sure he didn’t remember me (I beat it to the English Department as soon as I could), but he indicated he appreciated the column and noted that over his many years of teaching he’d told numerous other students the same thing: Lucky to get a D.


Any educator who bends over backwards not to fail students is fine with me.


Meanwhile, back at my graduation ceremony lo those many years ago: My parents were there, of course, along with a host of other well wishers attached in various ways to my fellow grads. I don’t remember too much about the program. The usual stuff, I suppose, a speech or two and a procession of students walking across the stage to receive diplomas.


One thing about it all stood out. The Minneapolis campus-based president of the University of Minnesota — all campuses — at the time was O. Meredith Wilson — not the Meredith Willson (double L) who wrote the Broadway musical “The Music Man.”


The University’s President Wilson messaged that regrettably he could not attend our ceremony in Duluth but he sent his good wishes to the graduates. The message was related by one of the robed ceremony officials. The University’s President Wilson was mentioned several times, always simply as President Wilson this, President Wilson that.


So when it finally all came to an end, we marched back out and met our well-wishing family members and friends. My father seemed somewhat perplexed, though. He was a veteran of World War I and had served when a different President Wilson, Woodrow, was the wartime U.S. president.


All those references to President Wilson in the program made him wonder if all these brainy academicians knew what they were talking about.


“Don’t these people know who the president is?” he queried as we walked out of the building.


For the record, the U.S. president at the time was John F. Kennedy. We didn’t hear from him that day, but he spoke in that same UMD gym a little over a year later, a couple of months before he was assassinated.  Call it history.

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

From hot pants to bloomers in hoops...

St. Bonaventure athletics photo of former 
star, Marques Green, remembered for
spectacular play & baggy shorts.

 Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth NewsTribune/Saturday, 4-30-22

I’m no sports fan, that’s for sure. I can ignore any sport in a storm (or even in fair weather).


Oh, I admit I had the Super Bowl on TV this year as I sat re-reading “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. Looked up once in a while if somebody scored. I do get a kick out of the booting of field goals and extra points (all puns intended).


But of course when I was in high school many decades ago I supported our teams and dutifully attended all the games. When I was in college, at the University of Minnesota Duluth Branch (as it was known then), basketball was king.


I know this will come as a surprise to many of today’s fans, but when I was a student there, hockey, still in a regional small college league with home games at the old Duluth Curling Club, played second fiddle to basketball. Football was pretty big too, as it always is.


Well anyway, I attended lots of basketball games on campus as UMD faced fierce Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponents like St. John’s, Macalester, Gustavus Adolphus and others. The UMD hoopsters had pretty good teams in those days, with a couple of big stars from my own high school alma mater, Duluth Denfeld.


I was glad when we won, but I didn’t really care much. Going to the games beat the living daylights out of hitting the books.


Why all this now? Because in watching sports reports on the 10 ‘o clock news on TV and flashing by an occasional pro basketball game en route to a movie channel, I notice the drastic change in basketball uniforms worn by the men. (There were no organized woman basketball teams in what I now ruefully call “back in my day.”)


When I was attending high school and college basketball games, the players wore trunks what were tantamount to briefs that came to be known much later as “hot pants” worn by young women. These brief trunks somewhat resembled “boxer shorts” worn by many men even today.


Year in, year out, these small trunks were worn by basketball players at every level — high school, college, pros, church, Y.


Then, a few years ago, long after I grew up and stopped watching basketball on any level, I noticed in newspaper sports page pictures and snippets of games on the news that the men’s trunks were getting longer and longer — down to the knees — and fuller and fuller, waving in the breeze as players ran to and fro (AKA back and forth) on the court.


The trunks resemble what we used to call bloomers, an ancient undergarment worn by older women made famous by the name of a city in Wisconsin. As kids we used to recite the ditty: “School’s out, school’s out, teachers wore their bloomers out, sliding down the bannisters, kissing all the janitors.” (This should not be taken as literal truth, but it worked in a few cases I knew about, sans the bannisters but likely not the bloomers.)


I never thought I’d see the day in America when basketball players wore bloomers. Lots of things seem to be going down hill in this country today.


Segue now to the present. They’re still wearing bloomer trunks, I see on the sportscasts, slimmed down a little bit, but now the players also don white long underwear under them. At least the outfits look like long underwear. They’re probably the same white tights worn by ballet dancers in “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake” and “The Bald Soprano.”


Ballet tights in basketball? Well, what’s the world coming to? What’s next, figure skates on hockey players clad in tutus?


Occasionally, as with today in this column, as a registered geezer I like to remind contemporaries of the way we were and tell the younger generation what it was like, especially in areas that don’t often get mentioned elsewhere.


Coming soon: “Tattoos — They’re not just for drunken sailors any more.”


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at