The World at War
of the ACPHS
community in the military
The 1940s at ACPHS began much as the 1930s had, with the College struggling to keep
its head above water due to the corrosive effects of the Great Depression. All that
changed on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United
States entered World War II.
The departure of many of its young men to enlist in the armed forces and the influx
of young women into the new Medical Technology program irrevocably changed the face
of ACPHS during the decade.
In May 1941, the "Playboys of '41," an all-male class of 24 students, graduated
as the first class to complete the new four-year Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy.
Little were they to know that theirs would be the last four-ear class for some time
to come as ACPHS adapted to a world at war.
On December 7, 1941, Jimmy Dorsey and his band were advertised at Albany 's Palace
Theatre and Charlie Chaplin's film The Great Dictator was being shown at the Leland.
The Christmas tree in Capitol Park was to be lit the following day in the traditional
kickoff to the city's holiday season.
Kappa Sigma, 1941
That afternoon, Russ Denegar '43 was alone in his apartment near Washington Park
, studying for an exam and listening to the radio. Suddenly the music was interrupted
by a news bulletin about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and he "knew that the world
was really turned upside down." The war was to change everything.
The next evening, the ACPHS junior and a friend went to visit his favorite professor,
Francis O'Brien, Ph.D., to ask for advice. "Stay in college and try to graduate
before enlisting," Dr. O'Brien told them. As blackouts and air raid drills commenced
in Albany, Pathe newsreels screened in the theaters and Civil Defense wardens roamed
the streets in pancake helmets, ACPHS made plans of its own to deal with the effects
of the war. "The Class of 1942 will depart from the comparative tranquility of academic
life and enter a world at war," said the yearbook. "Our lot will not be an easy
one . but in our hearts is the fervent prayer that our specialized training will
enable each of us to contribute in some small degree to the common cause of humanity
not only 'for the duration' for but the years to follow."
Even as the Class of '42 graduated, the student body was readying itself for big
changes. An essay in the yearbook estimated that 15,000 pharmacists or more would
be needed to serve the expanded army and navy, with additional responsibility thrust
upon pharmacists by the withdrawal of approximately 40,000 doctors, 13,000 dentists
and 35,000 nurses from civilian practice.
"Pharmacists will be called on to dispense more than ever as doctors at home become
increasingly busy," it went on to say, and would be further challenged by an "acute
shortage of drugs . and an increased call upon them for medical advice."
Dean William Mansfield made the decision to accelerate classes so that students
could finish their schooling before going off to war. Classes were scheduled during
the summer and commenced in June 1942, after only a two-week break, thus enabling
the junior class to graduate in January rather than June 1943.
"Diminishing classes and the cessation of summer vacations definitely brought the
war closer to all of us," said Denegar.
The decision had repercussions, not only for students' workloads, but also their
With virtually no summer vacation to get a job and many places of employment closed
due to the war, Denegar found himself in a tricky financial situation. He gave up
his apartment in Albany and began the long commute from his home in Germantown via
train and trolley. Fortunately, a new government loan program helped with tuition
and he continued with his job washing test tubes and filling bottles in the ACPHS
The Class of '43 became the first to graduate in January of that year under the
new accelerated program, with the valedictory address delivered by Richard Phalen,
tagged "Dr. Huer" by his classmates because of his resemblance to a character in
the Buck Rogers comics. The Alumni Reunion Banquet also was "accelerated" and took
place at the Ten Eyck Hotel on January 18 at 8:30 p.m., Eastern War Time.
In spite of the new schedule, many students did not have a chance to complete their
coursework, though some joined the Army Reserve Corps in the hopes that they would
be able to finish up before being called into active service. Private Carl Bevilacqua,
who started out with the Class of '44, was one of the first pharmacy students in
the state called to the service of his country. Soon after, 13 other students were
called up as well and class numbers continued to decrease as the months went on.
The war changed the face of ACPHS in many ways.
Francis J. O'Brien, 1942
In 1943, Dr. O'Brien replaced Mansfield as dean of the College and was tasked with
the difficult job of keeping the school afloat during the most difficult crisis
it had ever faced.
The College was in rough shape financially; the long years of the Depression with
few students were further exacerbated by the war. Denegar, who had been hired at
ACPHS in 1946 as an instructor in pharmacy and mathematics, remembered that there
were periods when Dean O'Brien did not take his salary and the payroll was supplemented
by contributions from a board member.
With the bank threatening to take over the mortgage, the new dean predicted that
the post-war years would bring in many returning servicemen and a new beginning
for ACPHS. The school steadfastly hung on.
By 1944, 42 members of the student body were in the service and the yearbook was
chock full of photos of men in the uniforms of the army, navy and marines. With
graduating classes in both January and June, the Class of 1944, was reduced to only
15 graduates, six of them women.
Luckily, due to the Medical Technology program, by 1944 there were 25 "girls" at
ACPHS and for the first time, ACPHS classes contained more women than men. Without
their tuition dollars, the College probably would not have made it through the war
The Class of '45, the first to be totally accelerated, was set to graduate in two
years and eight months. Even so, the class went through three sets of officers;
each time elections were held, the winners were drafted. By the time the Class of
1946 graduated with only six members, it was deemed to be "the smallest in the history
of the College," save the first graduating class in1882.
There were shortages of material goods as well as students. A " Victory Garden ,"
cultivated by the botany classes of Professor John Dwyer provided cabbage, tomatoes
and spinach for a very practical lesson. Students shivered through the state boards,
held in the school auditorium, due to a shortage of heating materials, and the Alumni
Association pitched in to collect $3,500 for a Coal Conversion Fund.
Intramural basketball and tennis were the only sports as teams could not travel
to games because of gasoline rationing. Even the popular Camera Club was put on
the back burner because of the unavailability of film.
Other clubs and fraternal organizations languished due to lack of personnel and
funding, though a few bravely soldiered on through the war years. Activities in
general tended to be more serious; the Alumni Association recruited prospective
students, sponsored Red Cross First Aid courses and tried to gather information
on the status of alumni in any branch of the armed services. Albany Mayor Erastus
Corning was the featured speaker at the Alumni Banquet in 1943, shortly before he
entered the army as an infantryman private. In spite of the gloomy times and accelerated
schedule, life at ACPHS was not all work and no play.
bowling team, 1942
Students hung out at the Washington Tavern and Ralph's and bought meal tickets to
eat at the Deluxe Restaurant on Madison Avenue. There were botany hikes with Professor
Dwyer in McKown's Grove in Guilderland, informal tennis tournaments and even a boat
trip to Kingston . Activities for women continued to flourish; Lambda Kappa Sigma
sponsored hay rides and dances and the girl's bowling team had 10 members.
In 1945, the Alumni Association did not hold its annual spring meeting due to transportation
Girls bowling team, 1942. restrictions. That year, nearly 300 ACPHS alumni were
in the armed services. Those that remained at home rallied round their alma mater,
"creating a reserve fund to overcome the deficits occasioned by the present limited
And still the war ground on.
Then "one hot August night the girls of the class were taking out the fellows as
part of a sorority initiation when the V.J. announcement came through [over the
radio], resulting in a sudden change of plan." It was August 14, 1945, also known
as "Victory over Japan Day," and the war was over. By the time Japan formally surrendered
on September 2, things already had started to change for ACPHS.
In October 1945 "the doors opened to a new era of well being, crowded classrooms
and noisy halls." Dean O'Brien had been right. The G.I. Bill, officially known as
the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, provided tuition and stipends for living
expenses to returning veterans to attend college or trade school.
Nearly 10 million servicemen in the U.S. took advantage of the benefits before the
program was phased out.
on New Scotland
The first post-war class contained 70-plus '49ers, forcing Dean O'Brien to "unlock
the auditorium to accommodate the large class" and turn the "boy's lounge" into
a classroom rather than a smoking room. So many vets joined the ranks of ACPHS students
that more than half of the freshmen class was made up of ex-servicemen and 42 percent
of the male and female students were married.
Another freshmen class was added during the second semester to accommodate the overflow;
soon there were 120 new students for the Bachelor of Science programs in Pharmacy
and Medical Technology.
The Med Tech program went from a three-year certificate program to a four-year Bachelor
of Science program in 1945, with three years spent at ACPHS and one full year at
Bender Laboratory across the street, under Director John J. Clemmer, M.D., and his
staff. Eventually, the third year was spent at Bender and the fourth at Brady Hospital
, Wasserman Lab or another local facility.
For the first time, the program was not limited to "girls only" and the Class of
1949 contained two male Med Tech majors.
With all of the "co-eds" on campus, more activities for women were added. In 1947,
a Girl's Club was formed with the first scheduled event a "Bacon Bat" at Thacher
Park . Similar to a marshmallow roast, students feasted on sandwiches after toasting
the bacon on sticks over a fire. The club also sponsored a sleigh ride down Western
Avenue for 25 couples (with a chaperone, of course), a picnic at Sand Lake and trips
to historic sites such as the Van Buren House in Kinderhook. A signature event for
the club was the popular weekly "Coke Party."
Lambda Kappa Sigma sorority was reactivated and sponsored a Valentine's Hop with
the newly revitalized frats. Kappa Psi was back to full membership for first time
since 1941, Rho Pi Phi was reactivated in the spring of 1945 and Phi Delta Chi was
restarted by a group of energetic veterans in late 1946.
Other clubs and sports made their reappearance as well.
The Mortar and Pestle and Student Council returned, as did the Camera Club, with
50 active members. Bowling and basketball were back, with the addition of an "efficient
and competent" cheerleading squad sporting red and white outfits and saddle shoes.
The bowling team joined the Intercollegiate League of the Capital District when
it was formed in 1948, while the basketball team became a member of the new Empire
State Conference that same year. In 1949, an Athletic Commission was formed to handle
the nitty-gritty details of the burgeoning sports program. New activities, including
a fledgling student branch of the American Pharma- ceutical Association, a Dramatic
Club and a Chess Club, gave students even more options. And the social whirl was
once again in full swing with a Campus Queen Dance, Corn Hop, St. Patrick's Day
Dance, Junior Prom and square dances in "dungarees."
Of course, there were lots of informal get-togethers to encourage the "ole college
spirit" complete with "be-bop" music and snacks of "Dagwood sandwiches," named for
the 1930s comic strip character.
Activities were not limited to campus. Beginning in 1947, juniors and seniors traveled
to the Eli Lilly headquarters in Indianapolis during spring vacation, where they
lived "the life of kings for two days." In 1949, students visited Parke-Davis in
trip to Detroit, 1949
Things certainly were looking up for ACPHS by 1949, when the yearbook commented
on one of several new faculty members hired to deal with the influx in students.
The recently graduated Walter Singer '48 was assigned to teach chemistry and "all
kinds of expressions greeted Professor Singer as he rose to the challenge of teaching
the first class in chemistry to the Class of '52."
Little did they know at the time that Dr. Singer would go on to become one of the
most influential people in ACPHS history.