For Merle Phillips SL’30, Wheaton, Ill., who is 106 years old this month, memories of Hobo Day are still vivid in her mind. “The students dressed up in as bad of clothes as we could find.
We completed the cleanup on campus around 10:30 or 11 and started marching to the stores downtown to pick up food and then marched all the way to the park on the east side of the lake to have lunch and play games,” says Merle.
“We had fun walking to the stores. A friend and I had a stick we used as a cane that we switched back and forth, pretending we could not walk, like we really needed the cane. In those days, we did a lot of walking and didn’t think anything about it.”
Delores (Simons) Jimmerson SL’47 recalls being elected Hobo Day queen in 1946. Now living in McAlester, Okla., she says “My Hobo Day dress was made of a burlap gunnysack and I used fruit jar rubber rings to hold my stockings up so I looked like a hobo lady. I wore crazy beads, unmatched worn out shoes and dirty head gear, and I carried a gunny sack with pots and pans and stuff.”
“The men raked the lawn, cleaned windows, and did other chores on campus. The girls helped clean an office in the old Beaver Hall and helped professors clean their offices and classrooms. Chapel was upstairs in Old Main and that is where they did the voting for the Hobo Day royalty. All of the candidates had to march across the stage and then the students voted. I was thunderstruck when I won queen.”
Other members of the Hobo Day royalty were John Rutan SL’47, king; Paul Bye SL’47, prince; and Wanda (Wohlers) Thayer SL’47, princess.
“At noon, all four of us were honored downtown at the Bradford Hotel with dinner,” says Delores. “Then we left the hotel and we had a big car parade. It was a fun day.”
The 1947 Log yearbook notes that “After the parade the student body separated into small groups and canvassed the town for contributions of food for European relief. A total of 2,000 cans of food and $133 were collected. College authorities presented the hoboes with $40 to buy food for their picnic, but Dr. and Mrs. L.W. Sampson offered to match that amount provided the entire $80 was spent for canned goods for Europe. The students unanimously accepted. The students, therefore, provided their own lunch at the picnic at Lakeside which followed the food canvass. The afternoon was concluded with roller skating, softball and dancing.”
Nancy Larson, daughter of the late George Reynolds, professor of history who started teaching at BV in 1937, recalls students blackening her father’s face with soot one day to make him look like a hobo. “As a pre-schooler that was kind of frightening, something like children who may be frightened the first time they see Santa Claus. My parents participated in activities with the college students; they loved all of that and I’m sure my dad enjoyed taking part in Hobo Day.” Nancy, mother of Dr. Bethany Larson, associate professor of theatre at BVU, is a retired teacher. She and her husband, Lowell, live in Sherman, Texas.
Laird SL’58 and Mary Ann (Wixon) Cruzen SL’58, Canton, Ga., do not recall any Hobo Day activities from their student years at BVU, but Mary Ann remembers that her mother Helen (Quintard) Wixon SL’32 “was always reminding us that she was a Hobo Day queen when she was a student.”
Through the years, Hobo Day took some twists and turns. In 1916, when a circus came to town, the students voted to combine Hobo Day with a Circus Day.
There were also some periodic changes in how the student hoboes could “beg” for food from local merchants and townspeople. The May 2, 1930 issue of The Tack said students were not allowed to enter any of the stores downtown, only class representatives. The May 16, 1937 issue reported that, “After a meeting in the chapel, four committees led by the king and queen will conduct begging in the downtown districts. The members of the committees will be recognized by their official badges which is the only sign that gives them permission to beg downtown.” The April 16, 1951 issue of The Tack noted that the solicitation of food was supervised by the student organization presidents. “Each organization will be assigned a section of town to cover. Only the Circle K club will solicit from the business men.”
During World War II, the event adapted to the circumstances of that time. The May 4, 1942 issue of The Tack noted that, “Because of shortage of sugar and other foods, the usual practice of begging food from housewives and businesses has been temporarily abandoned.” The May 17,1943 issue reported that “Buena Vista’s annual Hobo Day changed character this year and became a patriotic event…. divided into three squads, the army, navy and marines, they cleaned the buildings on campus in short order. The air corps, recruits from the other three squads, took charge of the out of doors and raked the campus.”
A story in the April 27, 1953 issue of The Tack said that a roll of students, by class year, was taken before cleanup activities began. Another roll was taken at 10 a.m. after the work was completed. Students’ names had to be on bothrolls in order for them to be counted present and exempt from double cuts for the day’s classes.