The Colgate Scene
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|Oh, what a beautiful morning|
|by John D. Hubbard|
"Let's see," says President Emeritus Everett Needham Case as he sits at a piano
in Thanksgiving Home.|
After a moment, he begins to play -- a jaunty tune full of old fashioned pep. As the last note fades, he recites, "Nobody But You -- `I've seen them all but I didn't fall until I saw you."
It is a bitingly cold morning in Cooperstown still early in the new year. The Clara Welch Thanksgiving Home, a one-time hospital begun by James Fenimore Cooper's daughter Susan in 1830, is not far from the museums and shops along Main Street. President Case has lived there since moving from his beloved homestead in Van Hornesville -- just the other side of the Cherry Valley Turnpike. "It is a delicate business, to find a place. This promised to be easier for people to come over."
President Case had greeted his visitors with warmth and sparkle, then quickly turned to the piano. He is nattily decked out in a cap, blue blazer and gray slacks. He wears a regimental tie with blue and green bands set off by alternating narrow stripes of yellow and red. President Case is 99.
"This Irish tune I wrote in 1931. It was for my dear wife." The music fills the comfortable room and it is possible for all of us to see the late Josephine Case among the notes, lovely and elegant, with a welcoming smile.
One of the highlights of the Buddy Karelis inauguration was the presence of President Case, who was warmly greeted at a brunch in the Hall of Presidents.
"I'm fond of that," says President Case. We are somewhere else, perhaps
Merrill House where the family lived during his presidency, from 1942 to 1962.
It was a home, by all accounts, full of music, activity and love. There were
the Cases' own children, but all the boys, too, the young men who went off to
war, the seasoned veterans who returned, the Colgate students of a much
different era. There were faculty and staff as well, all together in the
rambling old home for recitals and plays and gatherings with a casual
gentility. It was intimate and at the heart of it was this man of great
intellect and proper bearing and a twinkle.|
"A 17th century madrigal," and President Case begins to sing. ". . . Beauty herself she is when all her robes are gone."
The family heirloom Steinway is in the corner of the room, backed up to a bookcase -- Rex Stout, Eugene O' Neill plays, The Wapshot Chronicle -- and under an ancient print in an ornately carved frame. It's grandma's parlor, actually, but with other residents and plenty of assistance nearby. President Case is grateful for the room and the opportunity it affords him. "I do like to have a chance to work a little."
President Case moves from a Beethoven sonata to a piece we don't recognize.
"I actually went to Princeton and fussed a little with Princeton songs. There was such a thing then as Senior Singing and it got to be pretty ragged, but before a Yale game it straightened out. `Hooray for old Nassau, my boys.'"
The song takes President Case back.
"My father, who was a self-made man, insisted that I have all the special things he missed." That meant prep school to acquire "polish," Princeton, then Corpus Christi College in Cambridge and travel abroad. From overseas, Case wired his father: "Passed all examinations. Am receiving gifts." His father replied: "Happy you passed examinations. Am glad you are receiving gifts."
President Case at his Van Hornesville home, 1997
"That was wonderful, coming from him."
From his jacket President Case pulls a sheaf of papers. He has brought along several pieces of mail he wants to share. There is a card from librarian Judy Noyes informing him all is well at Colgate and its library that bears his name. Tom and Liz Brackett of the computer science department have sent a copy of Crossing Borders, the newsletter of the Brackett Foundation. Nephew Steven Robinson '95 is pictured with his family. President Case, in his role as an honorary trustee, had handed Steven his diploma at graduation.
President Case begins again, playing familiar notes and soon he is singing, "Funds were low . . ."
"Hoddy Jones (Class of 1939 and first Colgate vice president) used to drag me around," explains President Case when asked how he came to learn the effervescent Colgate song.
"Thirteen prayers were said with rapt devotion, 13 dollars set the thing in motion."
"You kept the thing in motion, didn't you?" asks a visitor, referring to the Navy's V programs that President Case arranged to bring to campus during World War II when enrollment plummeted.
"I had a lot of help." And the song continues. "'Tis the spirit that is Colgate . . ." and here he interrupts his singing to update the history, "no longer just the mother of men," he amends the final line.
President Case is up, readying for a luncheon date. He uses his father's cane as he walks down the hall, kisses a hand, bids adieu and is off.
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