‘Tis the musical month of May! Orchestra, Band, Choirs all clamor in sound. As of last year a new sort of concert came to Augustana – Sloughfest! Fostering the spirit of a large, outdoor music festival, Sloughfest returns this year on May 7th in the Lower Quad.
Although it’ll be a good time on the Quad, can you imagine celebrating in an outdoor venue? Can you imagine it taking place if part of Slough was, say, missing? Until 1982, these imaginings formed reality in the shape of the Augustana Memorial Amphitheatre (AMA). Prior to that time, people didn’t refer to the Slough Path as the slough path, instead referring to the area as the ‘ravine walkway’ and the slough as a whole as ‘Bergendoff’s Slough.’
Although a central part of Augie’s landscape, the slough wasn’t nearly as well thought of as it is today, and students sought to improve it for entertainment purposes. Prior to the AMA project, students pushed to create a pond area that could be filled in for ice-skating. The ice-skating pond didn’t come to pass, but students still took the initiative in transforming the natural space. In 1952, students John Reinertsen and Knute Erickson proposed transforming the slough part of the ravine into an amphitheater. Reinertsen envisioned the amphitheater serving as a gathering space for students and community members, as well as memorializing the Augustana men who lost their lives during the World Wars (thus its name, the Augustana Memorial Amphitheatre).
The first two issues to be addressed in moving forward with the project were financing and drainage, which also happened to be the two greatest difficulties the project faced. The first Slough Committee formed in 1951, and fundraising began in earnest. The first fundraiser was a record sale in which the Augie Choir recorded two songs, which were then sold, with the proceeds going toward the project.
Construction began in 1952, and students volunteered their Saturdays to dig trenches and tile in order to drain the Slough. Three dams were also built for this purpose, and the college collaborated with the city in relation to the drainage issue, with Mayor Melvin McKay writing that in order for it to be solved the students would need to use a ‘sewer of ample size’ at the location. The tapped the sewer, yet money still remained a primary interest point for the students involved. In 1953, the Slough Committee set $10,000 as their fundraising goal, with the most popular and lucrative fundraiser being the ‘line of pennies,’ first held in Moline then approved and held in Rock Island. It’s a really neat idea in which pennies are laid out end-to-end on a cloth, which is then rolled up.
In 1954, every student found themselves invested in the AMA. The Student Union approved that 10% of the tuition-mandated ‘activity ticket dollar’ go toward the project. Although construction of the stage was set to begin at this time, the manholes from the sewer caused an ‘odor problem’ needed to be addressed before President Bergendoff would condone further construction of the amphitheater.
With this issue finally resolved, planning went forward to create an outdoor stage in 1955. The 1956 Rockety-I contains a featured photo of the AMA, which is where the administration held that year’s commencement ceremony. Finally, during Homecoming of 1957, the AMA was officially dedicated, six years after initial planning began. For further information about the slough and the amphitheater specifically, consult the Augustana Observer database, An Historical Survey of the Augustana College Campus by Glen E. Brolander, and MSS 67 Augustana College buildings and grounds records, box 1.