Ezra Hale

Interviewee: Hale, Ezra
Interviewer: End, Jack
Duration: 15 minutes
Date: ca. 1971


Biographical note: Ezra Andrews Hale graduated from the University of Rochester in 1916. During his four years at the University, he lettered in track and basketball, and captained the basketball team (1915-1916). His achievements earned him induction into the University of Rochester Athletics Hall of Fame. After obtaining a law degree, Mr. Hale worked primarily in the financial sector, and became the Chairman of the Board for the Central Trust Company, a Midwestern bank. A long time contributor to alumni affairs, Mr. Hale led several fund raising initiatives and served as a Trustee of the University of Rochester (1953-1972). He also served on the Board of Directors for several prominent Rochester institutions, including the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester General Hospital, and the Chamber of Commerce.

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Mr. Hale, you were a graduate of the University of Rochester in the Class of 1916. How does the University differ today from the way it was in those days?

Mr. End, an attempt to compare the University of Rochester of my time, and that is the period from 1912 to 1916, with the University of Rochester of today would be like comparing Ping-Pong and football. Then, the University was a university in name only. Actually, it was a small, sectarian college of arts and science, catering to the young men and women of modest circumstances from the local community. There was no graduate program, no Ph.D.s had ever been granted, there were no cyclotrons, no professional schools. Probably ninety percent of its students came from an area, the radius of which was not more than fifty miles from the center of Rochester. Wealthy families, among the socially conscious, preferred to send their sons to the prestigious colleges of the East such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Williams and Amherst, and their daughters to prominent finishing schools.

This was the era of the thé dansants when tea parties with dancing to the strings of famous orchestras were the rage. These were given in the afternoons during the holiday season by local matrons for the entertainment and social enhancement of their daughters, just home for school. It was the time of the Cotillion, [2] thoroughly enjoyed by the popular, young ladies, resented by bashful swains. It was in this department that the local U of R gentry were at a distinct disadvantage. To this day I remember vividly one such party at a home on Arnold Park [3] . I was dancing with a lovely thing when a tall, dark, and handsome gentlemen from one of these eastern colleges cut in. My annoyance was exceeded only by my humiliation as I saw the sparkle of pleasure and anticipation in the eyes of my lady fair as she glided away in the arms of the glamour boy. The memory lingers.

But those of us who spent four college year at Rochester received a good education in the arts and sciences, now referred to as the humanities. Under the leadership of Dr. President Rush Rhees [4] such outstanding professors as Morey [5], Forbes [6], Burton [7], Fairchild [8], Slater [9], and Perkins [10] set the standard of excellence in undergraduate teaching that later was to come to the attention of the Rockefeller people who, together with Mr. George Eastman, started the University toward greatness.

It was the decade of the twenties that saw this small sectarian and basically local college blossom into a real university. The momentum then generated continues today and by any standard the University of Rochester is one of the great universities of this country. Momentous decisions were made. Two schools: the Medical School [11] and the Eastman School of Music [12] were established during this period, each to take its place in the top echelon of its field. The Medical School, under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Dr. George Hoyt Whipple [13], and the Music School, directed by the distinguished Dr. Howard Hanson [14]. Others along the way have left their imprints for which the University will always be in their debt.

Once the trustees had decided that the future of the University would best be served by moving it, at least the men’s college, to a new and larger campus, the question of where was paramount. The Board was not unanimous in its feelings. Two trustees, William B. Hale, an alumnus of the Class of 1885, and James E. Gleason [15] , felt strongly that a location east of the city, in the approximate area of the present Oak Hill Country Club where plenty of acreage was available, would be far preferable to the eight-seven acres on the river. The record does not show whether or not the argument that “The Genesee” was the alma mater of the U of R and that the site on the river would be most appropriate was controlling. In any event, the choice was made, and in my opinion it was one of the great mistakes of that Board or any subsequent Board. One needs only to drive around the campus today and see how the buildings are crowded into this small area, and then try to park to be convinced. It is perhaps significant that Mr. Gleason, [16] also a member of the Board of the Rochester Athenaeum Mechanics Institute [17] – later changed to Rochester Institute of Technology – and for many years chairman of that Board, insisted, when the RIT decided to move its campus, that adequate acreage be purchased. The result was a future campus of thirteen hundred acres.

But to get back to the U of R, probably the next most controversial issue came during the administration of Dr. de Kiewiet, when he proposed moving the Women’s College, which was still on the old campus on University Avenue, to join the men’s college on the River Campus. [18] Opposition was strong and vocal, starting with the Board itself where one trustee resigned in opposition. Of the alumni and alumnae, a limited number favored the move, but it seems that more were opposed. But President Cornelis de Kiewiet, a brilliant scholar and a magnificent speaker, almost singlehandedly succeeded. It was one of his greatest contributions.

And later, Joe Wilson [19] . What can I say about him that has not already been said? It was my privilege to serve on the Board during the years that Joe was chairman. It was he who had the vision, it was he who had the money, and it was he who implemented his vision with personal and family funds, realizing that time was important and immediate action was necessary if the College of Arts and Science, the heart of the University, was not to be completely submerged by the two great new schools. His later benefactions made his contribution, together with Mr. Eastman’s, by far the greatest the University has ever received. To say that Joe was the Number One citizen of this community would merely be repeating what everybody already knows.

But now the country was becoming education-conscious and large state and federal appropriation of grants and aid, and also grants for construction, were being made to worthy institutions. Rochester was found worthy. We were on the move. First under the chairmanship of Joe Wilson and later carried on by his successor. The University is verging forth in its greatest expansion program in the last century and a quarter. During this period a new President had to be found to fill that position left vacant by the resignation of Dr. de Kiewiet, where personal health and that of his family was an ever-increasing worry and problem to him. As of the time of this interview, the last of his three children has just died – all of cancer. And both he and Mrs. de Kiewiet have been subject to the ravages of this disease. Fortunate indeed is the University that Allen Wallis [20]  was selected to succeed Dr. de Kiewiet. [21] But more fortunate still is the fact that Allen accepted the call. In the short time, measured in terms of years, he has surrounded himself with able assistants of the highest executive caliber-caliber. I refer of course to such men as Bob Sproull, now President [22] – Allen is the Chancellor – Laroy Thompson, [23] George Angle, [24] and most recently Don Hess. [25] It’s a great team. Mr. End, you asked me a single question and I have gone off into an elaborate exegesis of the highlights of the University for the past fifty years as I watched them.

And very well done, too, sir. Now, you were an outstanding athlete when you attended the U of R and one of the all-time greats in the history of basketball at the school. How do you think the college teams of those days would compare with the teams of today?

Mr. End, your question is very flattering. But I think it would be more accurate if you were to say that perhaps I was one of the better local players at that time. You further asked how do I think our teams of yesteryear would compare with those of today? I think today’s team would beat us at every department except two: spirit and drive. We developed a loyalty. Sometimes, I’m afraid, almost a belligerent loyalty to the University of Rochester. This loyalty I still have. It’s my college. My college, right or wrong.

What game or games stand out in your memory as being particularly interesting to you?

What games, or game stands out? I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that they were the games we won. But what particular game stands out would seem to be a difficult question to answer, as I happened to play in every varsity basketball game during my four years here. [26] There was no freshmen rule at that time. But really it isn’t too difficult to answer that question, but I will mention just a couple of games. The first game of our 1912-13 season [27] – that was my freshmen year – we played Cornell in the Alumni Gym. [28] The final score: Rochester 13, Cornell 10. As you may surmise, there was body contact in that game. The U of R guards were coached to get the first man coming down the court. Johnny Carey [29] was captain and played left guard, I right guard. Getting the first man coming down the court simply meant the offensive forward was forced by the defensive guard into the bleachers, hopefully into the lap of some charming lady fair, [laughs] as the bleachers came right down to the playing court. It wasn’t too bad an assignment. [laughs] In fairness to the visiting team, it should be admitted that the Alumni Gym was probably the most unfair court that any of them had ever played on. It was very narrow with bleachers I described, steel girders so low that they would block a high arch shot, poor lighting, wooden black-- backboards with heavy wire above, and an oblong court rather than a rectangular one. This unusual laboration [sic] made necessary to conform with the running track overhead. The home team knew all of these characteristics and played them. The visiting team didn’t know them and we didn’t tell them.

Probably the game that I really enjoyed the most of my four years was the game against Colgate at Hamilton, January the 20th, 1914. The Rochester team was the best team on which I played during my four years. We lost only two games all season. Colgate was always good and we were playing on their home court. It was just a little band box and about as unfair to visiting teams as our own Alumni Gym. When the Colgate cheerleader led a cheer, the whole gym shuddered and reverberated. It was a din. Final score: Rochester 44, Colgate 9. [30] The game ball – we only had one ball a game – is now resting in the trophy case in the Palestra, and I still get a warm glow of no- of nostalgia every time I go by it. When it comes to the U of R, I’m afraid I could go on indefinitely; probably I already have. But thank you, Mr. End for giving me this opportunity to reminisce about one of my favorite subjects.

Thank you, Mr. Hale.

[recording ends]

Transcribed by Megan Wilson (January 2014)

[1] Ezra Andrews Hale had a decorated collegiate career.  For his senior yearbook profile, see (Interpres LVIII (1917): 66. [RBSC] Online).  Among his many achievements, Hale served as orator for the class of 1916 (Interpres LVIII (1917): 62. [RBSC] Online. Hale remained an engaged member of the University of Rochester community as an alumnus.  He was President of the Alumni Association, 1942-1943, and a member of the Board of Trustees 1953-1972. (UR Athletic Hall of Fame “Ezra Andrews Hale.” http://www.rochester.edu/

[2] The term refers to a specific country dance popular in France in the eighteenth century.  However, in popular usage it can refer to any type of formal ball, especially those given for a debutante (Oxford English Dictionary Online).

[3] A residential street that runs between East and Park Avenues and features a grass tree-lined mall and decorative stone pillars marking its entranceways. Part of the East Avenue Historic District today.

[4] President from 1900 to 1935.

[5] Professor William Carey Morey was a member of the Class of 1868. He taught Latin, history, literature, and political science at the University from 1872 to 1920. Morey Hall, located on the Eastman Quad, is named for him.

[6] Professor George Mather Forbes was a member of the Class of 1875. He was a humanities professor from 1881 to 1926. The papers of his wife Edith Willis Lin Forbes are held in Special Collections at A.F68 and D.401.

[7] Professor Henry F. Burton taught Latin from 1877 to 1918.

[8] Professor Herman L. Fairchild came to the University in 1888, the last professor appointed by President Martin B. Anderson. He taught geology until his retirement in 1920.

[9] Professor John R. Slater was a much-loved English professor who taught at the University from 1905 to 1942. He also played the chimes in the Rush Rhees tower and composed the inscriptions carved on the library’s walls.

[10] Dexter Perkins was Professor and Chairman of the Department of History from 1916 to 1953.

[11] The medical school opened in 1925.  Strong Memorial Hospital treated its first patient January 4, 1926. (Arthur J. May, History of the University of Rochester (1968) Online.)

[12] September 12, 1921 (May, History Online.)

[13] Dr. Whipple was appointed Dean of the Medical Center in 1921. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1934 for his discovery that led to successful treatment of a previously fatal form of anemia.

[14] Dr. Hanson was appointed in 1924 as Director of the Eastman School of Music, a position he held until his retirement in 1964.

[15] James E. Gleason did not become a trustee of the University of Rochester until 1932.

[16] Gleason was a board member of what is now the Rochester Institute of Technology from 1899 to 1964.  James E. Gleason Hall, on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology, is named in his honor. (Rochester Institute of Technology Library “What’s in a Name?” Online)

[17] The Athenaeum was founded in 1829, by Nathaniel Rochester and his associates.  The Mechanics Literary Association, founded in 1836, merged with the Athenaeum in 1847. In 1885, the Mechanics Institute was founded by a group of Rochester businessmen, among them Henry Lomb.  The Athenaeum and the Mechanics Institute joined to become Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute in 1891.  In 1944, the school became known as the Rochester Institute of Technology. (Rochester Institute of Technology “History of R.I.T. online, http://www.rit.edu/ overview/history-rit).

[18] The merger brought women students from the Prince Street campus to the River Campus in 1955. (May History Online.)

[19] Joseph C. Wilson was the head of the Xerox Corporation. He was a member of the Class of 1931 and served on the Board of Trustees from 1949 to 1967, eventually becoming Chairman in 1959.

[20] Wallis served as the sixth president of the University of Rochester, 1962-1970.  Subsequently, he served as Chancellor, 1970-1978. (University of Rochester Libraries, Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation [RBSC] Online)

[21] Cornelis de Kiewiet, fifth president of the University of Rochester, 1951-1961 (RBSC Online)

[22] Sproull came to University of Rochester having been academic vice president at Cornell University.  He first served as provost, beginning in 1968.  Later, he became the seventh president of the University of Rochester (1970-1984).  From 1975-1984, he also held the position of chief executive officer. (Rochester Review 46.3 (1984): 4. Online; RBSC).

[23] LaRoy B. Thompson held several administrative positions at the University of Rochester.  After working on the Manhattan Project, Thompson occupied the office of coordinator of research—a post designed to facilitate contract research between the University of Rochester and private and public sector parties.  Thompson went on to serve as University treasurer and vice president beginning in 1959. (May, History Online)

[24] Vice President for Public Affairs. (Rochester Review 43 (1980): 40. Online. [RBSC])

[25] Vice President of Investments 1970-1977 (Rochester Review (Fall 1977): 34. [RBSC]: 34. Online.)

[26] Hale earned four letters in basketball.  He captained the varsity squad his senior year. (Interpres LVIII (1917): 66. [RBSC] Online).  He is a member of both the University of Rochester Athletic Hall of Fame and, by recognition of the veterans’ committee, the National Basketball Hall of Fame (UR Athletic Hall of Fame “Ezra Andrews Hale.” http://www.rochester.edu/ athletics/halloffame/bios/ hale_ezra.html).

[27] Rochester won the game 13-8. (UR Athletics Rochester Men’s Basketball “All-Time Game Results.” http://www.uofrathletics.com/ custompages/ UR%20MEN'S%20BASKETBALL/ CAREER%20STATS/ histresu.htm)

[28] Constructed in 1900 on the Prince Street Campus, the alumni gym housed exercise equiptment, athletic offices, and an elevated track, along with the basketball court.  The gymnasium was razed in 1930 to make way for the construction of Cutler Union in 1932.

[29] John Francis Carey, Class of 1913.

[30] Hale’s memory of the score is correct; the date could not be confirmed.  (UR Athletics Rochester Men’s Basketball “All-Time Game Results.” http://www.uofrathletics.com/ custompages/UR%20MEN'S%20 BASKETBALL/CAREER% 20STATS/histresu.htm).