A Walk Through Campus…

Laura Cox

Laura CoxVisual Editor

Former SDSU presidents each have campus buildings named after them.

This is the first article of a Collegian series running the rest of the semester. With Wagner’s recent passing and all the new buildings on campus being named or in need of names, this series is bringing the people behind the names into the spotlight. And, while the articles may be short, there is certainly more to learn about each of the people.

Check out AWalkThroughCampus.posterous.com to read additional interviews and stories. The site is consistently being updated with additional interviews, photos and stories. So join me in A Walk Through Campus and its history.

Pugsley Continuing Education Center

The original student union, named for Charles W. Pugsley, was finished in 1940 at the end of Pugsley’s presidency at SDSU. The building is now called Pugsley Continuing Education Center.

Pugsley served from 1923 to 1940, a total of 202 months. The count is so exact because Hilton Briggs also served 17 years as president, nudging Pugsley out as longest serving president by only 3 months.

As well as being the second longest serving president, Pugsley is known on campus for two major accomplishments according to Charles Sewery’s book “A History of South Dakota State College 1884-1959.”

The first was designating the college into divisions of agriculture, general science, home economics, engineering and pharmacy as areas of study along with organizing eight departments. The second accomplishment was the addition of seven new buildings on campus throughout the tight financial crunches of the 1930s.

As J. Howard Kramer wrote in “A History of South Dakota State University 1884-1975,” most of those buildings were funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). However, Lincoln Library (now known as Lincoln Music Hall) was the first building funded by the state’s Cigarette Tax Fund.

Kramer also notes that Pugsley cut his own and all faculty salaries to meet the 10 percent cut in the first years of the thirties. Pugsley was an idea man and valued education and agriculture, according to Sewery’s book.

The Brookings County History Book credits Pugsley with saying, “This state must have schools to train its young, and particularly must an agricultural state have a place to train for agricultural and related lines. South Dakota will not permit its youth to go far from home for the training they must have if they are to compete with the youth of other communities.”

With enrollment jumping from just under 700 students to more than 1,300 during his presidency, Pugsley made a dramatic impact on campus.

Puglsey died in December 1940.

H.M. Briggs Library

“Hilton had a booming voice and he didn’t need a microphone when he spoke,” said Chuck Cecil, former assistant to the president at SDSU. “His handshake was his word. … he said what he meant. He was a gentleman.”

Hilton Briggs, honored with H. M. Briggs Library, was the longest serving president of SDSU, guiding the school from 1958 to 1975.

During his presidency, South Dakota State College became South Dakota State University. Each of the “divisions” on campus were changed giving us the original six colleges on campus: College of Arts and Sciences, College of Agricultural and Biological Sciences, College of home Economics, College of Engineering, College of Nursing and College of Pharmacy.

An article, published in the Brookings Centennial Commemorative Book, noted that during his presidency Briggs had increased university staff and saw enrollment peak at 6,500 students.

The campus literally doubled in size under Briggs, as 55 percent of the buildings at the end of his presidency were constructed or planned during his presidency. Most notable among those is the Student Union, library and animal science complex.

“If an administrator brought a problem to him,” Cecil said, “the administrator usually had an answer before he left the office. On those rare occasions when Briggs didn’t want to give an answer, he’d segue into talking about his days as the coach of his faculty softball team in college.”

Cecil continued to say that Briggs’ tactic was well-known; nobody wanted to hear softball stories from Wyoming.

Briggs was also very involved in the Farmhouse Fraternity. To this day Briggs’ statement “A Pride in Farmhouse” can be found on Farmhouse’s Foundation website.

In his statement he writes, “FarmHouse has been a great blessing and satisfaction to me. … [It] has helped me to focus on what are real benefits of education and what we can do to be of the greatest help to mankind.”

Briggs served as president until 1975 when the Board of Regents placed a policy that restricted presidencies to 10 years. Typically, presidents are not allowed to continue serving a university after they retire. However, Briggs was named a distinguished professor in 1974 and allowed to teach until he officially retired in 1978.

Briggs died in November 2001.

Wagner Hall

Wagner Hall, formerly known as the NFA, began its life as the Home Economics – Nursing Building, or HEN house. It was dubbed Wagner Hall in May 2010 to honor two alumni and former faculty members, Mary K. and Robert T. Wagner.

Robert Wagner served as a faculty member, famed among former students for his Marriage 250 class, before becoming the 17th president of SDSU.

“When my father became president in 1985, there was a lot of controversy,” said Chris Wagner, son of Mary and Robert Wagner, living in Geneva, Switzerland. “My father never let [the controversy] bother him.”

According to the April 10, 1985 issue of The Collegian, the controversy centered on Ray Hoops, first choice replacement of President Sherwood Berg, sudden resignation and 7-2 Board of Regents vote to approve hiring Robert Wagner, the second choice candidate during the search and screening less than a year earlier.

Chris also remembered having friends ask if the stories his father told in the marriage class were true and answering that for the most part they were. Though he admitted his father believed “if the stories were worth telling, they were worth embellishing.”

“My father was a competitive person,” said Chris. “He enjoyed games, like Monopoly and cribbage, and most often he won.”

Mary Wagner served on the Brookings Board of Education before being elected to the South Dakota Legislature. She also taught sociology at SDSU.

“[My mother] was a pioneer of the legislature among the first group of women to be elected in 1980,” Chris said. “There she focused a lot on gender roles.”

Chris also described her classes as being gender role oriented, especially the evolution of those roles in society, the workplace and leadership.

Both Wagners were SDSU alumni, with Robert earning his Ph.D. in sociology from SDSU in 1972 and Mary earning a master’s degree in social sciences in 1974 and a Ph.D. in sociology in 1978.

“My parents both loved the Jackrabbits,” said Chris. “I think in heaven they beat Nebraska.”

The family moved to Brookings from Watertown with the intent of Robert completing his Ph.D. and eventually teaching theology in a seminary. After completing the program, Robert was offered a job in the sociology department.

“In 1971, my parents decided to move to Brookings,” Chris said. “I was skeptical about leaving the high school I knew, but found the community so engaging and so warm that we never looked back.”

Mary Wagner died in 2004 and Robert died in January 2011.