Alumna recalls UWSP during the Great Depression

Listening to Alta Stauffer Foster ’33, of New Braunfels, Texas, (pictured in 1933, left) talk about her college years, you would think it was just a few days ago, rather than more than 80 years ago.

The 100-year-old UWSP alumna remembers her years at what was then called State Central Teachers College fondly and in great detail, down to how she decided to attend Stevens Point.

“Back in those days,” she said, “teaching and nursing were about the only professions open to women.” So she decided to attend a teacher’s college. While the one in Oshkosh was closer to her home in Fond du Lac, she also took a railroad trip with her parents to look into Stevens Point.

“We were more impressed with the friendly response we got when we visited Stevens Point,” she said. “Dr. Baldwin was the president there, then it was Dr. Hyer, a very fine man who was much interested in the growth of the school and helping the students.”

Just one month after she started school, the stock market crashed.

“So when I was there, things got progressively worse,” she remembered. “I had to work my last year in order to finish, so I did laundry in my dormitory, Nelson Hall. I also got a loan from the P.E.O., a national education organization still in Stevens Point. I borrowed $100 and got $50 from the dean of women and paid it back during my first year of teaching.”

Alta recalled an enjoyable learning experience at the university, where the faculty of the time included names now recognized on facilities across the UWSP campus — Edna Carlsten, Joseph Collins, Norman Knutzen, Peter Michelsen, Oscar Neale, May Roach, Fred Schmeeckle, Herbert Steiner and Charles Watson.

“There was a very nice relationship between the faculty and students,” she said. “Some of the faculty I came to know rather well, most of the students did.” One of them had been her first-grade teacher in Fond du Lac, she said.

“I was glad I was at a small school,” she said. “My senior year I had an accident in the chemistry lab that injured my eyes. I recovered, but in the meantime I was given oral exams because of my good academic record. That would not have happened at a big college. There was always a lot of personal help.”

There was always something to do, she said, from ice skating to seeing movies and attending dances almost every weekend for a 25-cent admission. She also attended many basketball and football games.

 “A lot of people were working their way through school, and only one or two people had any money or a car. But everybody was in the same boat and we had a good time together. There was plenty going on outside the classroom for people to be involved in.”

Alta was involved in several organizations, including the Margaret Ashman Society, a literary group named for a local poet, and Sigma Zeta, a science group. She was the editor of the yearbook her junior year and the business manager her senior year. She was also named Queen of the Senior Ball in 1933. (pictured right)

After graduation, she went on to teach in Mosinee for three years, earning $95 dollars a month for nine months. “Sometimes the school district could only pay half, but we always got what was due before the end of the school year,” she said.

After teaching English and history in high schools in Michigan and Illinois, Alta got a job near Chicago at a junior college, where she taught returning GI’s who shared their stories of World War II in their essays. “They had so many experiences to share, flying, facing death and building railroads,” she said. “We had some wonderful discussions in that classroom.”

Wanting to travel, she then volunteered to teach in military schools overseas, serving in Korea then Japan. It was in Asia that she met her husband, William Foster, a master sergeant in the Air Force. The couple had a home on 25 acres in Texas until his death four years ago.

Now residing in a senior living center near a number of friends, she still considers her years in Stevens Point among some of her best.

“I was always glad I went to Stevens Point,” she said. “I made a lot of good friends there. It was an important time in my lifetime.”


In her own words

Listen to Alta talk about her experiences at UWSP here.