By Franklyn E. Daly Jr. '39
In September of 1935, Niagara University welcomed the largest incoming class in its history. One hundred twenty-five young men arrived on campus that fall. I was privileged to be one of the new arrivals. I still have my College of Arts and Sciences 1935-36 catalog.
Newspapers covered the event. My picture appeared in both the Niagara Falls Gazette and in the Buffalo Courier-Express, under the horizontally outstretched arm of entering freshman basketball phenom Gene Seymour, with classmate “Butts” Bittner under his other arm. Gene was a near 7-footer intended to make the starting five on Taps Gallagher’s varsity basketball team. Gene never did. But I became assistant to the assistant manager of the team. My work supervisor was team trainer Tiny Dippery. I picked up soiled gear and segregated it for the washing machine.
Father Glavin, prefect of discipline, caught several of my classmates coming in the fire escape to the third-floor freshman dorm at St. Vincent’s late one night that September. Our class then no longer numbered 125. Among other “Cee-Ms” of enduring memory, were Father “Okie” O’Connor, my confessor, and Father Francis L. Meade, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. These men occupy warm, prominent positions in my early life. I was greatly saddened when I learned of Father Meade’s premature death in an auto accident. Father Young taught me my first calculus, and university president Father Noonan sent me a personal note in 1939 when I was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy, without further academic examination. My entry there was based on two years’ course credit from Niagara. In May of 1939, Father Noonan wrote, urging me to excel, with the key sentence: “You won’t disappoint our old Prexy, would you?” I responded (in effect) with maturity gained by then and graduated with honors.
Father Illig taught apologetics. One of his texts survives in my library. And I was quite familiar with the newly replenished and rebuilt library on the second floor over the offices of the deans. I spent some time there writing thousand-word essays on St. Vincent de Paul, penances assigned by Father Glavin for my various infractions.
I should not forget Erich Buchterkirchen. He was my German professor. He had one of the larger department head offices on campus, with a wall behind him that featured a huge swastika flag. He thought we should emulate German students and took us to Hannel’s Bar downtown to drink beer. He told us that German students were given a tankard of beer to put on their shoulder, and then had to drain the contents. I took my first drink at Hannel's. Michelob. I also worked at the Mohegan Market, a grocery store in town, on Saturdays. There was another bar across the street from the Mohegan where I often had lunch on my hour off. Bars had to receive a percentage of their revenue from food in the early days after the repeal of the 18th Amendment. So I got a terrific 25-cent dinner and ordered milk to go with it. The waiters frowned. Oh yes, I mastered German’s indicative but stumbled often on the subjunctive.
All my local travel came courtesy of thumbed rides. Had I been a student just a year or two earlier, I could have taken a trolley, right from the Niagara campus, to get downtown. The Lewiston line’s dismembered track on the escarpment below the school was also still visible to the hiker.
Dr. Eglof taught us ChemEng, my academic choice, and I did well with inorganic, but never got the hang of organic. Professor O’Connor was a polio victim who made his way around campus, lower body distorted, trying not to wince from his pain. He never complained. He taught solid analytic descriptive geometry. His teaching tool? The walls in the classroom came to a point on both sides of his desk. The intersections formed the convenient Cartesian coordinates for the x, y, and z-axes. What an outstanding teacher he was! Niagara’s math was the foundation for a master’s degree in physics in 1951 from the University of California. I got that degree with the gambler’s choice, an exam in lieu of a thesis. I did well on the exam, and with the LaPlace transform, disposed of its most critical item in five minutes. One of my professors from Berkeley inquired where I first heard about operational calculus. Guess where?
My cousin Tommy Dailey was enrolled in Niagara’s business school under “Charlie” Edgette. Tom later finished with honors at the Rochester division with a business degree.
Recently, at Mass in St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Roswell, Ga., I spotted a jacket with CANISIUS on the back. The wearer was Ron Wilson, a retired policeman from Lackawanna. Ron and his wife were visiting a daughter. When I introduced myself after Mass as a Niagaran, Ron immediately said, “Taps Gallagher,” I responded with “Joe Dudziak,” and Ron responded, “Big Joe.”
In football, Niagara had Ed Hunsinger coaching, followed soon by Joe Bach. In spite of our stadium, those coaches’ Notre Dame experience did not make us as successful as Niagara was in basketball. Our hoop team played a semi-final national championship game at the Palestra in Philadelphia against Temple and lost by one point. Niagara’s basketball court was on the top floor of St. Vincent’s, directly over our freshman and sophomore dorms on the third floor. Our class did provide “swivel hips” Morgan Davis to football and he could run with the ball. We also had nonscholarship player Franny Blake who made the basketball team. He was the first man I ever saw who could “palm” a basketball. Classmate Al Liberti starred on the basketball team and I spoke with Al by phone just a few years ago, about 2006.
Here I need to mention Tom Grenwis, Class of ’36. A group of us drove to, and stayed overnight in Tom’s home in Cleveland en route to the 1935 Notre Dame vs. Ohio State football game. Eighty thousand were on hand in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State led 13-0 after three quarters. Notre Dame scored twice in the fourth quarter but could not kick extra points. Coach Elmer Layden conversed with quarterback Bill Shakespeare, halfback Andy Pilney, and left end Wayne Milner, in a timeout with just a minute left. There was time for one run, and then one pass. Pilney ran wild on the run, gaining 30 yards, to put Shakespeare within range of the end zone. Shakespeare remembered Layden’s advice, “post pattern,” with the posts then on the goal line. Shakespeare threw, and Milner, using the left post as a blocker, caught it for a touchdown. The score: 18-13, Notre Dame; it went into the records. Milner would later star for the Washington Redskins.
Baseball? I have just one memory, and that will take us to the refectory. A small group met there on an early warm 1936 fall afternoon to hear a talk on baseball. It was advertised to feature a key baseball man. Imagine my surprise to be sitting next to (with about eight gathered at a table) Connie Mack, the famed manager of the Philadelphia Athletics. I do not recall much of the talk, but later I revisited a name Mr. Mack mentioned. Our baseball coach at the Naval Academy in my 1939-1942 years there was Max Bishop, who played for Connie Mack. Yes, Niagara’s refectory was our dining hall. The Sisters who operated it did not have a lot of money to work with, but I was introduced to Brunswick stew there. The Sisters baked delicious rolls on Sundays, but you had to get there early enough. I got there early enough. And the Sisters did have advantages. Niagara had its own dairy, orchards, and fields of Niagara (green) grapes. We ate a lot of applesauce. Cousin Tom and I, always hungry, used the orchards as meal supplements.
Cagwin, Doherty, Bello, Hennessy, Flood, Crescenzi, del Buono and Egan are names of other classmates I remember. Niagara lost Tom Flood to meningitis in my first year. A really great young man. Bill Hennessy could transit the length of the pool twice, underwater. He would be blue when he surfaced. The water in that canvas-bottomed pool could only be changed all at once so it developed a little moss between replenishments.
Classmate Bill Egan had an uncle, Sid Mason, who was the physics professor at Niagara. In January 1938, the Honeymoon Bridge downtown was under ice floe attack. It had been so cold that out along the university’s segment of the river, risk-takers had been walking across the river. Professor Mason was called downtown to consult on the state of the bridge, the automobile floor of which had taken a curl and was closed. How long before it would collapse was the question posed to professor Mason. “Three days,” was his answer after careful examination, calculations, and reflection. Well, it collapsed while Sid was driving back to the campus. So much for giving precise estimates on the work of nature.
I last saw the campus when I was ordered to the Niagara Falls Naval Air Station to command VP-852, a P2V squadron, from 1956-1959. I visited the university on one of my weekend warrior weekends. I have to tell you of my disappointment. The orchards were gone. Eagle magazine often features graduates who were in the ROTC at Niagara and went on to military careers. Before ROTC at Niagara, there was CMTC, Citizens Military Training Corps, and I served in it. We had a captain and a sergeant who drilled us. We were furnished uniforms that must have come from WWI. I never saw a man in all my later years as frustrated as that poor sergeant trying to teach Niagara students “close order drill.” I’ve thought about him several times, always with some guild over what my marching failures must have cost him.
Just five years after I last saw Niagara as a student, I attended Mass in late 1943 on the bow of a U.S. Navy cruiser in Naples Harbor. I recognized the chaplain celebrant as a priest who had taught at Niagara while I was there.
Student laundry? Well, the U.S. Post Office on campus was on the right side, entering, of the vestibule in the chapel. The front of the chapel was right across from the entrance to St. Vincent’s. The P.O. featured a standard-issue suitcase that a student could buy. In that suitcase a student could put laundry for shipment home. So, Mom at home could stay in the game for her son! She then would ship back the fresh clothes in the same suitcase. Some students shipped every week, some shipped every month! Our cots were side by side in the freshman dorm on that third floor. About 80 of us slept there; we were allowed one footlocker between adjacent cots. No space for any more cots or footlockers. No walls to break up that big dorm room. No air conditioning to freshen the air. The janitor, and I recall him well, put the morning coffee grounds from the refectory on the oiled floor and then would sweep them up to clean the floor each day. That helped! A lot. I’ve often thought of the monthly student laundry shippers as forerunners to the famous Bill Cosby skit “Noah.” Bill (Noah) was on the bottom deck of the Ark. His famous line was “Lord, have you any idea what it is like down here?”
One of my duties for my National Youth Administration stipend of $25 per month was to dust the altars. Niagara’s chapel served Our Lady of Angels Seminary, and the center aisle of that chapel, with its beautiful altar and stained glass windows, was lined on both sides with small altar after small altar. These provided for any number of seminary and college priests to celebrate morning Mass, in a least two shifts. I served Mass almost every morning for priests whose names I rarely knew.
One of those seminary priests would come out of the seminary every morning and sit on the bench on the St. Vincent’s side of the road that entered Niagara University, running between the chapel and St. Vincent’s. His name was Father Desmond, and he was the rector of the seminary. He was a jewel among the fine priests at Niagara. Although seminarians would be allowed to come out in the warmer evenings for a smoke, Father Desmond did not smoke. He had the ability to converse with young men, both seriously and informally. This often-homesick kid was refreshed many an evening with such an encounter. Years later, I met a priest in a sacristy in Massachusetts where he was subbing for my vacationing pastor. I discovered that this man had begun his priestly studies at Niagara under Father Desmond. His memories of that priest burst forth in our brief exchange with an enthusiasm that matched my own.
My other NYA duty would be to deliver boxes of R.G. Dun “Panatela” cigars to the priests on campus. These were “better” cigars at 10 cents each! Ordinary cigars were the Bold brand at 5 cents and the upper line of cigars like La Palinas cost 25 cents. So Niagara priests smoked “better” cigars, not “ordinary” cigars and not the “best” cigars. Now readers, please be careful. Do not pass along any information about how a Niagara student could be earning $15 per month from the federal government for dusting altars and delivering cigars to Catholic priests. The “separation of church and state” people would be on their high horse about this!