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Memories of the University During the 1950s

Past issues of the University of Virginia Magazine aroused pleasant memories that occurred during the spring of 1945 and the school year 1957-58 in Charlottesville and at the University of Virginia. In 1945 I visited the James and Somers families on Jefferson Park Avenue. During a game of croquet on the James’ lawn I met Dr. Jesse Beams. Apparently, Mr. Somers was involved in the machining of the centrifugal apparatus that Dr. Beams’ group used to separate uranium isotopes in Rouss Hall during WWII. As a 19-year-young US Navy man I had no idea who Dr. Beams was nor did I know anything of his research and the contribution of Mr. Somers to the nuclear effort.

In 1957 I applied for the Academic Year Institute for High School Science Teachers. Dr. James Cole, a professor of chemistry, was the director of this program. Fortunately, I was accepted for this great opportunity to upgrade my science and math foundation. Professors Cole, Brown, Stevenson, Victor, Beams and Hobbs—extremely competent teachers and researchers—provided the subject matter so vital to our growth as science teachers. Some of the top professors in the United States were teaching at UVA. Visiting scientists and scholars were everywhere. William Faulkner was author-in -residence.

Marie Silano
The Russians launched Sputnik on October 4, 1957. Several hours later the engineering students had a Sputnik model hanging on a wire between the engineering building and a lamp-post. This model actually beeped Sputnik’s signals. We hiked up to the athletic practice field above Copeley Hill (where married students lived in WWII trailers) to observe Sputnik passing overhead. What an exciting time to be at UVA! Every season brought a celebration party: gin and juice, mint julip, and beer and pretzel seasons.

Another exciting event at UVA was the May 1958 visit of John and Jaqueline Kennedy with brothers Robert and Edward. Edward Kennedy was a student in the Law School. A visiting friend and I slipped into the field house while Senator John Kennedy addressed the group.

Fun in the snow at Copeley Hill

The school year 1957-58 was the most exciting experience of my academic career. Fifty years later I was honored with membership in the Jefferson Society. But I have never forgotten how impressed I was with the quality of the student body. Young men in tweed jackets, shirts and ties, gentlemen that lived by an Honor Code had a strong influence on my behavior as a teacher and scholar. How fortunate the students of UVA are to have such an inspiring history. The high school science teachers that participated in the AYI impressed me with their dedication to science education. According to the obituaries in Virginia Magazine, several have died during the past three years. I sure would appreciate hearing from those teachers who have survived. It would be a joy to chat with them about the great experience we shared at UVA during that exceptional school year of 1957-58.