Bluffton University has always had a special place in my family’s heart. My grandmother, Martha Avery, graduated from Bluffton College in 1960. Being a Bluffton alumna, she still attends various campus events, such as the Artist Series and the May Day musical. My grandmother’s aunt and uncle were also Bluffton alumni.
Thanks to my grandmother, I’ve attended and even been a part of many different Bluffton University events from a very young age. I grew up around Bluffton’s homey campus, welcoming community and kind people. Her love for her time at Bluffton was clearly expressed through the many stories she has told me throughout the years. She made me fall in love with a college that would eventually be the college of my choice. I am incredibly honored to be following her her footsteps and eventually graduate from Bluffton University.
Many of the stories that my grandmother told me of Bluffton’s unique history were quite interesting. Bluffton University has gone through many changes throughout the years to become the university we attend today. I had the wonderful privilege of interviewing my grandma about her four years at Bluffton from 1956 to 1960.
What was your major when you studied at Bluffton and what kind of classes did you take?
When I went to Bluffton, we were required to take Mennonite history as well as Old Testament and New Testament history. Besides those, I took the basic classes for my music education major and English minor. There used to be a house where Bren-Dell is now that was our music building. They had just broken ground for Mosiman Hall my senior year, so I took all my music classes in the music house. I was in Bluffton’s orchestra and a cappella choir as well.
What buildings or other things did you have when you went to Bluffton that we don’t now?
Well, the Old Music Hall is gone and Lincoln is being torn down. We didn’t have Marbeck, Centennial, Yoder, or the new dorms. I lived in Ropp Hall my junior year. The additions and such were not there at the time. All of our concerts and sports events were held in Founders Hall. We did musicals every year as well which were also held there. All of my classes were in the music hall or College Hall. I studied quite often in Musselman Library as well. Our dining hall was in the basement of Ropp Hall. One night a week was mandatory formal dining where you had to dress up and sit at an assigned table. We had required chapel four days a week in College Hall where there was also assigned seating. Music majors usually took turns playing the organ for chapel if you were an organ student.
What was the policy on dorms? Did you have a curfew?
I lived in Ropp one year, my junior year, because it was required that you live on campus at least one year. I lived off campus the other three years. Ropp was an all women’s dorm. Men could come into the lobby to buzz for a girl. They had to sign out and sign back in at a certain time. Men couldn’t go anywhere else but the lobbies. We had a curfew, and if you weren’t there on time you answered to the resident mother. I was a custodian for Ropp as well. I cleaned the basement, the bathrooms, and the lobbies. My whole paycheck went towards my tuition.
What were some fun traditions you had?
We had a freshman initiation week where we had to wear beanies and if we were stopped by an upperclassman we had to sing the alma mater. We also had May Day, homecoming weekend, and we paraded the streets of Bluffton when our football team was the Mid-Ohio League Champions. Even the professors dressed up for the parade. We made a human chain, went up College Avenue to Main Street where the townspeople were just as excited for our team as we were. The football games were played on Harmon field where the high school played. Our choir went on tours every year, alternating from traveling east and west.
What were some rules or regulations you had to follow?
We always had to wear dresses or skirts. We never wore slacks, not even to class. Our music professor made the ladies wear gloves and hats when they got off the bus. Men were not allowed to smoke on campus, but they could smoke off campus. If women were caught anywhere with a cigarette, even off campus, they were kicked out of Bluffton. We also had the honor code when I went to Bluffton. We had to sign it after every exam.
What did you do after you graduated from Bluffton College?
I was married my senior year, so I started teaching at Liberty-Benton where I taught for 21 years. When I started we had no unions. I taught all the music in the school, grades kindergarten through twelfth grade. I was in charge of girls, boys and mixed chorus, marching band, junior high chorus, seventh grade English, lunch room duty, bus duty, and playground duty. I had fifteen minutes a day to eat my lunch. I didn’t get a planning period. After Liberty-Benton I taught in New Baltimore, Michigan for 13 years and retired in 1997. There I taught elementary music and the fifth through twelfth grade handbell choirs. My choirs traveled to Lansing and Ohio on tours. I became a member of the National Handbell Board (AGEHR) or now known as the Handbell Musicians of America. After I retired I organized a five octave handbell choir called The Millstream Ringers which I still direct.
What was your favorite part about Bluffton University? Why did you choose the college?
The beauty of the campus and the friendliness of the people and professors. My aunt and uncle also lived in Bluffton and I lived with them for three years. They were also graduates of Bluffton. We had caring professors. I remember Professor Holtkamp and Professor
Lantz telling of the early days when they taught at the University and sometimes went without paychecks. Every professor cared and wanted to help in any way they could.
What’s something Bluffton has now that you wish you had then?
Mosiman Hall and Yoder Recital Hall.
Martha Avery is now a retired music teacher who serves as the organist and pianist for St. Paul’s United Methodist church, their handbell director, and the director of The Millstream Ringers.