Madison in the Sixties – In Memoriam, University of Wisconsin
The namesakes of two of the three South East dorms passed away this decade. Economics professor emeritus Edwin E. Witte, former department chair and namesake of the second southeast dorm, died May 20, 1960 at age seventy- three. Witte began his UW career as a teaching assistant in the history department, became an economics lecturer, and worked eleven years as head of the state’s Legislative Reference Bureau. He became a full professor of economics in 1933. Two years later, he was the principal author of the Social Security Act.
George C. Sellery, dean of the College of Letters and Science from 1919 to 1942, namesake of the first dorm, died on his ninetieth birthday, January 21, 1962. A scholar of Renaissance history, Sellery, came to Wisconsin for his doctorate at the invitation of the legendary historian Frederick Jackson Turner. An educational conservative, Sellery was acting president after the regents fired President Glenn Frank in 1937.
Chef Carson Gulley, the first person of color and the first civil service employee to have a campus building named in their honor, died November 2 1962 at age 65 from complications of diabetes. . The Arkansas native was supervising chef for the UW residence halls from 1927 to 1954, creator of its famed fudge bottom pie, and master of seasons and spices, From 1953 to 1962, he and his wife, Beatrice, hosted the weekly What’s Cookin’ on Madison’s WMTV, apparently the first African American couple in America with their own television show. Unable to find decent housing due to racially restrictive covenants and practices, the Gulleys lived in a basement apartment in Tripp Hall until his retirement. Gulley then sought to build a home in the coop Crestwood subdivision on the west side, but a group of neighbors tried to block him. The Gulleys were only able to move in after a public meeting at which one- third of the neighborhood residents publicly stood up to vote against letting them join the coop. At least one cross was later burned on their lawn. After serving and supervising sixteen million meals but never being promoted to director of dormitory food services, Gulley left the UW. The Arkansas native and opened a restaurant/catering service with Beatrice in September 1962; two weeks later, Gulley fell ill and was hospitalized until his death.
Two deaths of note in 1967. Beloved scholar Professor Helen C. White, seventy- one, died on June 7, a month before her retirement after forty- eight years on the UW faculty. Known around campus for her purple attire, White was a two- time chair of the English department, the recipient of twenty- three honorary degrees, and an author of thirteen books. A devout Roman Catholic, White was a staunch foe of Senator Joseph McCarthy and in 1957 gave the main address at the rededication of the famed “sifting and winnowing” plaque on Bascom Hall. In 1970, the regents named the massive lakefront building housing the English department, undergraduate library, and parking ramps in her honor.
And Professor Harry Steenbock, eighty- one, who saved millions of youngsters from the dreaded bone disease rickets by discovering vitamin D in 1924, and then made millions of dollars for UW, died on Christmas Day of complications after a heart attack. The Quaker Oats Company offered Steenbock a million dollars for his patent for radiating food with ultraviolet light, but he wanted to endow UW’s research activities, so he worked with Dean Charles S. Slichter to create the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and gave it his patent. By the time the patent expired in 1945, rickets had been eliminated from the United States, and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation was established as the critical funder of UW research in the natural sciences.
Two more notable deaths in 1968
Emeritus professor Rudolph E. Langer, former chair of the mathematics department and of the humanities division, died at his home in Nakoma on March 11, three days after his seventy- fourth birthday. Langer joined the Wisconsin faculty in 1927 and retired in 1964; he led the Army Mathematics Research Center from its start in 1956 until 1963 and was the first mathematician to receive the Army’s “Outstanding Civilian Service” award. He was also the founding president of the Madison Art Foundation and president of the Madison Art Association, and gave his vast collection of prints to the Madison Art Center, which would grow into the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, where the highest donor group is called the Langer Society.
And Oscar Rennebohm, a Columbia County farm boy who got his pharmacist’s degree from UW in 1911 and amassed a fortune as a Madison druggist before serving as an influential governor and UW regent, died at his Maple Bluff home of a heart ailment at age seventy- nine on October 15. It was Rennebohm, a regent from 1952 to 1961, who devised the university’s wildly successful foray into urban planning, with the Hill Farms neighborhood and Hilldale Shopping Center. From a single store on the southeast corner of Randall and University Avenues in 1912, he built a chain of twenty Rexall outlets, including “The Pharm” at State and Lake Streets. Rennebohm was a charter member, director, and president of the UW Foundation; he also personally funded scholarships and created a foundation that has so far provided $2 million for civic and community projects. Rennebohm survived an eleven- man Republican primary to win election as lieutenant governor in 1944; reelected in 1946, he became governor on the death of Governor Walter Goodland the next year. Elected to a full term in 1948, he began the state’s housing program for veterans and pushed through advances in public education, welfare, and state care for the mentally ill. He did not seek reelection on the advice of his physician. Governor Warren Knowles offered the state capitol for Rennebohm’s funeral, which the family declined.
Economics professor emeritus Harold M. Groves, seventy- two— a founder of the modern cooperative movement, the intellectual and political father of Wisconsin’s first-in-the- nation unemployment compensation act and the homestead tax credit for the elderly, and an important supporter of Frank Lloyd Wright— passed away in his sleep on December 2,1969 at the family home in the Vilas neighborhood. One of six children of a Lodi farm couple, Groves earned three degrees at Wisconsin; he received his doctorate in 1927 under the legendary professor John R. Commons, and later held the endowed chair named in his honor. Groves served in the Assembly and Senate in the early 1930s as a Progressive Republican, and also as state tax commissioner. Groves was the chief faculty sponsor and patron of the interracial, interreligious women’s cooperative Groves House, which opened at 150 Langdon St. in 1943, with the Green Lantern Eating Co- op in the basement. A friend of Wright’s since the 1930s, Groves and his wife, Helen, helped the architect build the Unitarian Meeting House and were leaders of Citizens for Monona Terrace; Groves served six years on the city’s Auditorium Committee until he was replaced by the anti–Monona Terrace mayor Henry Reynolds in 1961. He ran for the Common Council in 1963, losing to veteran incumbent Harrison Garner.
And two notable Wisconsin students died this decade, far before their time. All-American boxer Charlie Mohr, the reigning NCAA champ at 165 pounds, died Easter Sunday 1960 of a brain hemorrhage suffered in a tournament bout eight days prior at the UW Field House. He was 22 years old, and his death caused the UW – and then the NCAA itself – to end intercollegiate boxing.
And Andrew Goodman, who attended the UW for a semester in the fall of 1961, was one of three civil rights workers murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Neshoba County Mississippi on June 21, 1964. He was 20 years old.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, legacy-memorializing, mask-wearing, hand-washing, socially distant WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan