From Woody's Couch

Our Playbook on OSU History

Varsity ‘O’ member had more to brag about than athletic ability

Editor’s Note: Recently, Peggy Knight graciously donated the Varsity “O” sweater her father, Arthur Gordon Knight, earned as a member of the OSU Track and Field Team in 1938. It turns out that while Knight had the legs of a racehorse, as it were, he also had the heart of a poet: In 1949 the then-married student, who had interrupted his studies to serve in World War II, won a short-story contest for “The Shovel.” His own story seemed intriguing, so we asked Peggy to tell us more about her father. Below is his story, which we have edited for length.

1938 men's track team. Knight is in the second row, fourth from the right

1938 men’s track team. Knight is in the second row, fourth from the right

The son of immigrants, Knight was born in 1917 and grew up in Lakewood, Ohio. One of Peggy’s first stories about her father was when he was about eight years old. His older sister had diabetes, and there were no insulin shots at the time to help regulate her blood sugar. He kept an eye on her, though, so he could prevent an “episode.” As Peggy says, “One time… as they walked together he saw she was shaking and sweating profusely. Knowing she had little time before collapsing, he reached in his pockets hoping to find a bit of candy that he normally carried for her. He did not have any but he also knew the best thing for her was a glass of orange juice.  He had no money and there were no stores about, so he ducked into a neighborhood bar. The bartender tried to run him out thinking he was a mischievous neighborhood scamp, but he quickly explained the situation and the bartender was happy to provide the juice. Even then, my dad showed great compassion and sense of responsibility.”

Knight was extremely curious about the world, so he decided after he graduated from high school to do some exploring. He spent six months traveling around Mexico, including doing some digging in the ruins of Oaxaca. When he returned home, he decided to attend OSU, thinking at the time he would become a Geology major. After arriving on campus in the fall of 1936, however, he switched majors to English Literature, in the hopes it would better prepare him for a career that would allow him to explore and write about the world.

Knight was also interested in sports, and he decided to participate in either OSU’s football or track program. After spending time in a few football practices, he realized he was not going to excel and would probably spend most of his later life nursing old injuries from the game. He focused then on track and field, helping the OSU team establish new team records in the mile-relay event in 1938. He was good enough to earn a Varsity “O” sweater that year, and he started dreaming of going to the 1940 Olympics.

Knight's Varsity "O" sweater and a photo of the 1938 team

Knight’s Varsity “O” sweater and a photo of the 1938 team

However, his dream was never fulfilled because of World War II, which also interrupted his studies. Early in 1941, he and Peggy’s mother, Betty, eloped, and in June, he enlisted in the Army. According to Peggy, her father did not talk much about the war, but he did share several anecdotes with her, one of which was about being an ordinance officer with “a knack for bombs. He became the local go-to-guy for bombs that fell but did not go off.  He was called out to defuse bombs as needed and, as a child, I saw many gold-toned flaming bomb pins in his dresser drawer that he was given after each bomb was unarmed.  He told me he was very happy he was a smoker because his matchbook was his biggest weapon against difficult bombs.  He used the flap to prevent contact between the pin and the explosives.”

When his four years of service were up, the war wasn’t over yet, so he decided to re-enlist, this time in the Air Force. It was during these three years of service – he reached the rank of Second Lieutenant – that he hatched the idea for his future award-winning short story.

A year after returning home and to Ohio State in 1948, Knight enrolled in a short story class, English 507, where he wrote “The Shovel.” It was submitted to the Columbus Chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters, and won first prize. The story, about a British woman in the days just before D-Day, was described by one judge as “a very profound story,” according to a Lantern article. In the article, Knight said he planned to be a creative writer after he graduated that June.

Knight, sharing a book with his daughter, Peggy

Knight, sharing a book with his daughter, Peggy

But Knight had a family to support (Peggy was adopted in 1953) and he began working in his father’s insurance agency. He and his family eventually moved to Galveston, Texas, though, where he became vice president of the American National Insurance Company. Because of a heart condition, Knight decided to retire early, and that’s when he was really able to satisfy his curiosity about the world and his passion for writing.

In 1970, he opened a rare and antique book dealership, and at about the same time, he became a columnist for the Galveston Daily News. “Now, his life was everything he hoped for in a career,” Peggy says, “he bought and sold rare books, 13th-century manuscripts and other types of writing, and spent hours reading them before selling them.  He was filling additional hours with writing his editorial columns.  And on occasion, he locked himself in his home office where I could hear his ‘new and modern’ electric typewriter clacking away with determination.”

His career as a Galveston columnist came to an abrupt end when he submitted a column about the “Johnson Memorial.” It was about a pull-chain toilet affectionately known by that name at the Rowfant Club in Cleveland (a literary society of which Knight was a long-standing member). According to Peggy, “no matter how good the article was or what the history of the water closet was, the publishers of the paper felt that the cultured ladies of Galveston society would not be pleased with talk of toilets, even in the modern age of the ’70s.  My father refused to be censored and pulled out of the ‘editorial comment’ business.”

After a flood destroyed much of their home – including many of Knight’s books and other life treasures – he and Betty moved to Ocala, Florida, where he died in 1987 at the age of 70 from melanoma. Peggy concludes:

“In his effects, I found nine unpublished and unfinished novels on which he’d been working.

He was a great man to many, an enemy to none.  He was a hero to me.”

We would like to thank Peggy for her wonderful donations, and we say donations because she not only provided us with a beautiful Varsity “O” sweater, but also a wonderful recounting of her father’s life. Our records focus mostly on him being an OSU athlete, so we appreciate her taking the time to show that his own story was much more than that.

For Archives, it’s pretty fabulous to be 50

anniversary_emblem_fullsizeEveryone always complains about getting old, but here at the Archives, we found that turning 50, at least, can be one heck of a good time.

We had more than 300 people help us celebrate this important milestone during our Anniversary Open House event on May 14. Our guests were treated to a wide array of artifacts, a viewing of historical campus film footage, and fine food and drink.

If you attended the event, you may have noticed guests who took the opportunity to sit on OSU Football Coach Woody Hayes’ Couch (as seen in the upper-right-hand corner of this blog) and share their favorite memories of attending or working at OSU. Check it out!


To see how really spectacular the event was, please see the Archives’ Flickr Gallery.

You can also revisit the 50 artifacts that were on display during the event in a new interactive story map, designed by Josh Sadvari of the Research Commons.

University Archives' 50th Anniversary Story Map

University Archives’ 50th Anniversary Story Map

We truly appreciate all of our supporters who attended our Anniversary event.  If you were not able to make it, we hope this post has given you an opportunity to see what was missed.  And, if you are interested in donating to the Archives, you can do so through our Paul E. and Sandy Watkins Endowment for University Archives.

See why your support is so important to our mission in a message written by University Archivist Tamar Chute.

And finally, if you just want to take a look at cool old photos of OSU, check out our Flickr page!

OSU’s first presidential inauguration filled with pomp and circumstance

Inauguration dinner program, 1940

Inauguration dinner program, 1940

Though OSU’s line of presidents started long ago, when the University first opened in 1873, there wasn’t a formal introduction of a new leader to the campus community until 1940 when Howard Landis Bevis became OSU’s seventh president. That year, on October 25, the University held its first presidential inauguration, and it was quite an event.

The affair began the night before the inauguration, where a formal dinner was held at the Neil House, then Columbus’ pre-eminent hotel and gathering spot. Engraved invitations had been distributed to the OSU community, leaders of other universities, and of course, prominent and distinguished citizens of the city, who received complimentary tickets to dinner and lunch. Among the 897 present at the dinner, 270 were prominent alumni. There were a total of seven speakers at the dinner and the event ended around midnight.

Inaugural procession, 1940

Inaugural procession, 1940

 

Early the next morning, Bevis, inaugural speakers, members of the Board of Trustees, and delegates assembled on the second floor of the Administration Building (now called Bricker Hall), while faculty members met in Derby Hall. At about 9:30a.m., the procession began from the Administration Building to the Men’s Gymnasium as the University Symphonic Band played a processional march. The general theme of Bevis’ inaugural speech was “Social Responsibilities of the University.” The inauguration was followed by a buffet luncheon at the Faculty Club at 1p.m. for roughly 500 delegates and invited guests.

« Older posts