Throwback Thursday: Lest we Forget, Keeping the Faith in Times of Hate

With December comes the bitter cold, hot drinks, and the holiday season. At good old Augustana, Christmastime brings with it the scent of pine, snow, peace and goodwill toward all. Where does the generous spirit come from? Why is it we separate into Grinches jaded by commercialism, those with 70 strands of Christmas lights in one living space, and every spectrum in between? 

C-F04745-1, Augustana winter, circa 1949. Augustana College photograph collection.

These separations arise from the way we think about gratitude. Conscious gratitude comes from acknowledging what we have — basic necessities and the ability to express ourselves. It provides a local sense of togetherness in times of rapid information sharing; information shared so  quickly that tragedies abroad quickly become known here in the USA.  This Christmas season, it’s hard to reflect on ongoing crises stemming from recent global unrest and terrorism without feeling anger, frustration, and a sense of helplessness.

Yet let there be hope this holiday season. Why? Because we are not alone. Nor are we the first to experience massive changes involving death and migration. Acknowledging those who came before prepares us for what is happening in the world now, and provides a foundation for how to respond when the unthinkable becomes the thinkable. The 1940s Rockety-I yearbooks and Augustana Observers, located in Augustana College’s Special Collections, provide excellent examples of how the wartime Augie community pressed forward during difficult times.

In 1943, the Rockety-I opened with an image of students crowding the mailboxes to see if they’d been called to service. As students awaited their service and draft notices, studies continued on a campus now full of cadets, and female groups on Campus continued to host festive holiday parties. Over 300 people participated in the annual performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, one of Augustana’s longest standing Christmastime traditions. In his address in the 1943 Rockety-I, Conrad Bergendoff remained optimistic that the war would end soon.


Handel’s Oratorio performing the Messiah, 1945 Rockety-I.

By 1944, the tone of optimism faded, and the yearbook editorial staff selected that year’s theme as ‘Lest We Forget’ in order to honor the students who had fallen, and who could not be on campus. Fraternities and men’s groups on campus were greatly diminished, although over 375 people still participated in the Messiah. It is in this issue of the Rockety-I that President Bergendoff first acknowledged Augustana as being in “War-Time.”

In 1945, the number of Messiah participants dropped to 250 people during its 65th anniversary performance. Although a terrible blizzard partially accounts for this number, by this time many service people had been called to Europe. ‘The Best Things in the Worst Times’ was the title of the 1945 Rockety-I intro, followed with an address describing how Augustana students at war celebrated Christmas, with a tone of determined optimism for those in Rock Island to continue to celebrate the good things in life during tragic times.

Finally, in 1946, the Rockety-I opened under the heading ‘The Victory Bell has Rung,’ stating that ,”The year at Augie which this book presents has been the year to which students have been looking forward. The war is over.” Although a long and sad list of those who had served and died was published in the yearbook, the campus began to return to normal, with many veterans participating in the trademark, campus events.

So, as we exit a bleak November, let it be toward a happier December. May your December on this campus be full of active joy, and an appreciation for life and friendship in the present moment. Merry Christmas.

To view digitized editions of the Augustana Observer and Rockety-I, visit




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