The boys of '50

The boys of '50

By Steven Boyd Saum

Work and play: Veterans swelled the ranks of classes at SCU after World War II. Photo from SCU Archives
An engineering class like no other.
Electric trio: From left, James Elam '50, Edwin Anderson '50, and Vince DiTomaso '50. The Redwood

It was the biggest class yet for the School of Engineering. When they entered as freshmen in 1946, there were more than 130 of them, their average age 22. More than half were veterans, studying at Santa Clara courtesy of the GI Bill. Some were married, some with kids, living in a newly constructed community of surplus Quonset huts christened Veteran’s Village.

Then there were the young men just out of high school. This was the type who the Jesuits and scholastics (Jesuits in training) were used to dealing with. The combination made for an interesting mix, to say the least. These guys lived in Kenna, O’Connor, and Nobili.

Bill Veale ’50 served on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II and became a civil engineer. To make good concrete, he says, you’ve got to have good, strong aggregate—an apt metaphor. Of his classmates, he says he doesn’t know a fathead in the bunch. That, and they sure worked hard—at least those who stayed did.

After the first semester, many dropped out or transferred to other programs. Only about half ultimately graduated, with about 25 each in electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering. Even if you’d fought at the Battle of the Bulge, as Tom Clark ’50 did, the academic rigors were a different kind of challenge.

The result: “Santa Clara was never the same after our class got through,” says Vince DiTomaso ’50, an electrical engineer who founded DiTomaso and Associates. Straight out of Loyola High School in Los Angeles, DiTomaso was one of the fresh-faced lads, though he was old enough to remember the Great Depression. Like many of his classmates who didn’t serve in World War II, he served in the military right after graduation in June 1950. The war in Korea started in July.

The bonds forged among the 77 grads (and their wives) are so solid that, every autumn starting in 1950, they’ve held their own reunion. This October, they gathered in South San Francisco for an afternoon of seeing friends and family, and of sharing stories old and new.

Odds are, their tales have been told many times among this group. Some recall memories of struggling to make ends meet, some recount high jinks as they dodged curfews and other rules laid down by the Jesuits.
 

Rope tricks and baptismal rites

Every autumn since graduation, the engineering grads have held a reunion. There was even a group that got together in 1951 in Korea. Courtesy Vince DiTomaso

Gene Ravizza ’50 is the founder of Cupertino Electric and was honored with the Engineering Centennial Award this year. As a student he was a “day dog,” commuting to campus each day from the family ranch—which meant he wasn’t subject to the same curfew that students like Art Philbert ’50 were, living as they did in Kenna Hall.

“On Friday night, they would lock you in and you couldn’t get out until Saturday morning,” Ravizza says. But Philbert wanted to visit his home in San Francisco on weekends. So Ravizza brought a length of rope from the ranch. “Art would tie that rope around the radiator in his room, then go down the side of Nobili. His roommate would drop the rope, and he’d drop that in my dad’s truck.”

The scheme worked fine, until one day two Jesuits strolling through the gardens looked up and saw footprints leading up the wall. So much for the rope escapades.

Ken Schwarz ’50 came to Santa Clara after a year in the Army. He says he’s a firm believer in reaffirming baptismal rites, something he practiced while living on the third floor of O’Connor Hall. In the room below him was Dennis Rosaia ’50, who’d served in the Merchant Marine during World War II and had a penchant for leaning out the open window, “arms outside, addressing the multitude below … holding forth like he was Il Duce,” Schwarz says. The temptation was too much for Schwarz. He fetched a pail of water, blessed it, and doused the orator below.

Sadly, Rosaia wasn’t at the reunion this year; he died this spring. But his widow (and hometown sweetheart), Lillian, was there; she’s long been a part of this group. They were wed when he was a student and they lived in Veteran’s Village. She worked in San Francisco at the time, and she recalls having to get up at 4 a.m. to catch the train north.
 

Father Stretch

For the engineers, there was a time for slide rules or capacitors, and there was time to go for an inside straight. Courtesy Vince DiTomaso

The priest in charge of discipline was Edward Stretch, S.J. Just about everyone has a story about Fr. Stretch. A few anecdotes involve him leading a raid on one of the local watering holes on St. Patrick’s Day. “Black robes!” somebody shouted. The underage students scurried out the back. The older vets stayed put. The priests confiscated student ID cards all around. The next day the vets got theirs right back.

DiTomaso thought he had a right to be in the bar, so he didn’t run with the rest; Fr. Stretch thought otherwise. He “campused” the 20-year-old for the rest of the academic year.

Or there was the student who’d flown 25 missions over Germany during the war and missed class one day because he was sick. The scholastic who was teaching that class told the student, who lived off campus, that the rules were that he needed to bring a written excuse from a parent. The surly reply: “Father, it’ll be a cold day in hell when that happens.”

The vets changed other traditions at the University, says Walter Heintz ’50, who served almost a year in the Navy before enrolling as a student. “When the sophomores tried to haze the freshmen that year, it didn’t work.” Heintz followed in the footsteps of his father, Jacob E. Heintz '23, in attending Santa Clara and running University Electric, which the elder Heintz founded in 1919.

The GI Bill that enabled many veterans to attend Santa Clara has long been understood to have changed not just higher education but to have had a tremendous economic impact: a $350 billion return—about a seven-fold yield—if reckoned in today’s dollars.

Jack DeRegt ’50 served as co-host for this year’s reunion. He describes the experience on a simpler, more personal level: “All these veterans got together with some high school kids and we formed a family. It’s really been an incredible deal.”

Emily Elrod-Cardenas ’05 and Carol Blitzer contributed to this article.

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