War and Peace: The Friendship of Louis Chevrillon and Herbert Hoover

Part 3

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Sustained by Hoover’s loan of 100,000 francs, Chevrillon also received infrequent shipments of food aid through Hoover’s Lisbon agents.  By 1942 Chevrillon reported that, “the markets are empty….the harvests for next year are announced as poor.”  He added, “already the ration itself is insufficient for normal feeding and the children suffer seriously.  The death of all the little children is increasing in a terrible way.”  In spite of these hardships, Chevrillon took time to send his condolences on October 26, 1944 to Hoover upon hearing of the death of Lou Henry Hoover.  “My wife and I wish to tender to you our sincere condolence for the great loss that you have sustained by the death of Mrs. Hoover,” wrote Chevrillon.  “we both had towards her a great feeling of affection and gratitude and will never forget her kindness to us in the far distant days of 1917.”

In this same letter Chevrillon describes the condition of his own family:

“My eldest daughter, Monique, is now married to an aviation officer who has been all through the 1940 campaign during which he has had several very narrow escapes.  He succeeded in November 1942 in joining North Africa and has been at some front or other ever since.  He commands now a battalion of parachutists largely employed as a ‘troupe de choc [shock troops].’  Monique is now a full-fledged government nurse and will shortly join her husband at the front.  For the last two years she and her sister, Genevieve, have been actively employed in the ‘Resistance’ mostly helping British and American aviators fallen in or near Paris.  Several of them have come to our house and stayed with us to our great joy.  But they had to change lodgings every second day at least and the children were busily employed finding hospitable friends who took them in.

Her sister, Genevieve, is now engaged to young Guy di Boyston who was quite a young chief of the ‘Resistance’ in Paris.  He was the head of an organization most members of which were taken by the Gestapo; he remained practically alone and had to assume the greatest responsibilities and risk.  Several of his friends were shot or very roughly handled by the Germans.

My eldest son, Rene, in March 1942, just eighteen years of age, left us for North Africa.  He crossed the Pyrenees Mountains at an altitude of 9000 feet with snow up to his waist and only succeeded to reach Spain and fall into the hands of the Spanish Police.  For two months, he was in prison.  Finally in June 1942, he reached Barcelona where he had to stay five months before he could embark for Casablanca.  He immediately entered the Naval School there and we just heard that he has been through all his exams and is now a young Midshipman not 20 years of age embarking on his first boat at Beyrout.

My youngest son—15 years—is still at school, had got his B.A. and has acted as a kind of errand boy for his sisters all through their activities.

Now we have a feeling of immense relief but the sky is not clear yet and we must, alas! submit to another winter of war with no coal, very little electric power and a frightfully high cost of living.”

Always the loyal friend, Hoover penciled out a grocery list of items to be sent to Chevrillon including coffee, soap, cocoa, tea, chocolate, bouillon cubes and dehydrated soups.  Bernice “Bunny” Miller, Hoover’s secretary, made regular orders through R.R. Macy & Company to have these basic items shipped to Chevrillon.  On April 20, 1945 a grateful Chevrillon wrote Hoover: “What is to me of the greatest value is the kind and friendly interest taken by my American friends in my welfare and that of my family as we say in French ‘La facon de donner vaut mieux que ce qu’on donne [How to give is better than what you give or The way of giving is better than what is given].’  The Hoover/Chevrillon correspondence continued until Chevrillon’s death in 1955.  Details of the political controversies in post-war France and Europe were often the topics.  Chevrillon promised to send materials documenting the period of the war and aftermath to the Hoover Institution at Stanford.  Upon Chevrillon’s death, his wife Hedwige, continued to update Hoover on family matters and life in France.  Hedwige was an accomplished writer and frequently sent her published poems to Hoover as ongoing expressions of their friendship.  The last significant act of friendship was Hoover’s February 3, 1958 letter to Wilber Brucker, Secretary of the Army, asking Brucker to reinstate the security clearance for Rene Chevrillon, one of Louis’s sons.  Because Rene’s brother-in-law had a brief involvement with the French Communist Party in the immediate aftermath of the war, US officials felt Rene a security risk.  Hoover’s intervention seemed to make the difference.

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Washington in the Summer

Herbert Hoover in summer attire, ca. 1917.

by Matthew Schaefer

Later this July, baseball’s annual All-Star Game will take place in Washington DC.  Among the featured stories that week will be the brutal heat and humidity attendant on any summer event in Washington.  Washington’s weather in the summer should surprise no one as the town is laid out on what had been a swamp.

Lou Henry Hoover offered her sharp insight into the realities of Washington in the summer; in an undated essay, she described the season this way:

‘Which is in truth most of Washington all the time.  For like most other towns it does not vary greatly from winter to summer, except as to living conditions altered by temperature.  An oft-repeated expression of communication to a visitor is: ‘Ah, were you in Washington in July? What a pity! Of course there was no one left in town.’

Which is a puzzle to the hearer who had spent a week or two there during which time she had found the streets and shops full of well-dressed people, moving about, to be sure, at a leisurely pace.  She had difficulty finding convenient parking places when she drove into the shopping area.  Vaudeville and moving picture houses were crowded.  Her friends had numerous pleasant lunch and tea and dinner parties with her hostess, meeting many charming people, just the kind she liked best to associate at home, whatever that kind might be and wherever home was.’

Lou Hoover’s sunny optimism is evident, even when facing the sweltering, oppressive closeness of Washington summer society.

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Hoover Ball Rejuvenated

Part 3
By Matthew Schaeffer

After Herbert Hoover left the White House on March 4, 1933, Hoover Ball disappeared from the public awareness.  Clearly Franklin Roosevelt, suffering from the lingering impact of polio, was not going to throw a six pound ball over a net.  Like Calvin Coolidge’s mechanical horse, Hoover ball was consigned to the dust bin of history.

The game was revived in the late 1980s by a high school journalism teacher and the Hoover Presidential Foundation.  The Foundation hosted the first annual National Hoover Ball Championship in 1988 drawing participants from across Iowa. Some players said the game was akin to throwing a frozen turkey over a garage, catching it, and repeating until exhausted.  Pete Hoover, grandson of the President, played one game during the 1988 competition.  He then returned to the sideline saying, ‘This is no game for old men.’

Hoover Ball tournament is played annually at the Hoover Hometown Day celebration. Photo from 2013

The rejuvenation of Hoover ball continued into the twenty first century, thanks in part to the rise of non-traditional sports.  Cross Fit founded Greg Glassman gave Hoover ball a boost when he and several of his fittest trainers were fatigued by a thirty minute game.  Of course, being Cross Fit fanatics, they upped the ante by using a twenty pound ball.  Thanks to YouTube’s dissemination of the rules, Hoover ball is now played in high school classes across America.

In June 2015, a fitness magazine identified Hoover ball as one of the fourteen world championships that anyone could win, ranking it just below the world pillow fighting event in California and above the World Stone Skimming competition in Scotland.  Having played Hoover ball as a fifty-four year old man, I would not agree with the conclusion that anyone could win.  It is physically demanding on many fronts: muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and mobility.  It calls for strategy, teamwork and a willingness to grind out points in the summer heat of Iowa.  If the match involved four fifty-something bureaucrats living out their weekend warrior dreams taking on a four twenty-five year old Cross-Fitters on an off day, I’d bet a body part on the Cross-Fitters.





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The End of the First Hoover Ball Era

Part 2
By Matthew Schaeffer

The silver humidor was presented by the players to Herbert Hoover.  The humidor’s lid shows an image of the White House, the Hoover Ball court, and the names of the most frequent players are etched into the front of the box.

Visitors to the Herbert Hoover Museum will find nearly seven hundred artifacts on display to tell his life story.  There is an entire exhibit case dedicated to documenting the Hoovers’ time in the White House.  It contains scores of artifacts, and it can be overwhelming.  One artifact that escaped my notice for many years was a silver humidor sitting on a small pedestal beside an autographed Hoover Ball.  While I knew the back story of the Hoover Ball, I did not know the story of the humidor.

The autographed ball was memento shared by the men most often played Hoover Ball on the White House lawn in the morning.  These stalwarts autographed a number of balls. Each kept one to remember their shared sweat.  While the ink has faded, the names are still legible: Ballantine, Boone, Chapin, Heath, Hoover, Hope, Hughes, Hurley, Hyde, Jahncke, Legge, Mitchell, Newton, Richey, Stone, Sullivan, Thacher and Wilbur.  The Hoover museum has three of these signed balls in the collections.

The silver humidor was presented by the players to Herbert Hoover as his presidential term wound down.  The humidor’s lid shows an image of the White House, the Hoover Ball court, and the names of the most frequent players are etched into the front of the box.  The gift of a cigar box to celebrate a fitness activity might strike the modern sensibility as slightly ironic.  At the time, smoking a cigar was seen a healthful way to unwind and to relieve nervous stress.

The back story of the humidor is revealed in the accession files kept by the Hoover museum curators.  Ernest Lee Jahncke, Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Hoover baller, took the lead to insure that the box was wrought and paid for in a timely fashion.  The humidor was created by silversmiths Bailey, Banks and Biddle at a cost of $275.  Jahncke persuaded fourteen Hoover ballers to each contribute $20 to defray this cost, exempting Joel Boone, Walter Newton and Larry Richey from this obligation.  As the men were planning this gift for Mr. Hoover, Mrs. Harlan Stone and Mrs. Mark Sullivan commissioned a silver jewel box to give to Mrs. Hoover at the same time.

The presentation of these gifts took place on the morning of March 3, 1933 when the men gathered for the last Hoover ball game.  One of the players, Ray Lyman Wilbur, wrote in his memoirs that twelve of the wives came down to watch this last game.  At first the ladies were content to watch, but they soon picked up a ball and began a game of their own.  The men quit their game and gave the field to the ladies. The curtain rang down on the first Hoover ball era with Mrs. Hoover holding court.

To be continued next week…

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Hoover Ball Genesis

Part 1
By Matthew Schaeffer

The health of the President of the United States is often newsworthy.  President Trump’s height and weight made recent headlines.  Obama’s smoking drew public interest.  Clinton’s affinity for eating fast food, sometimes while dressed for jogging, was worth a news photo.  I would argue that the American public cares more about the health of the President than anyone not named Timmy trapped at the bottom of a well. We all know that the office of the Presidency places great demands on a man. We all hope that he is physically fit enough to bear these demands.

Herbert Hoover playing Hoover Ball on the White House lawn.

This was also true during the Hoover administration.  Shortly after Hoover took office, he met with White House physician Joel T. Boone for the customary physical.  Boone, who had served Presidents Harding and Coolidge, reported that Hoover’s overall health was excellent with two notable exceptions.  Hoover was overweight and his lung capacity, as measured by chest expansion, was less than optimal.  As Hoover was a 54 year old desk-bound bureaucrat who enjoyed cigars and eating, this finding did not surprise the doctor.  Boone recommended that Hoover lose twenty-five pounds via a reducing diet and improve his lungs by practicing deep breathing exercises out in fresh air.

The nature of this outdoor exercise led to much discussion between Hoover and Boone.  Hoover demanded something to stimulate his entire body and his mind.  He did not have the patience for calisthenics, nor did he have the time for walking or horseback riding.  Boone suggested tossing an eight-pound medicine ball back and forth.  Hoover and Boone had seen sailors throwing the ball around while on their South American tour after the election.  The sailors’ game was called ‘bull in the ring’ and bore close resemblance to keep-away.  Hoover, Boone and a small group of men began gathering on the south lawn of the White House to toss the leather ball for thirty minutes each morning.

This exercise soon became boring.  Boone tweaked things so that it became more of a game and less of a setting up exercise.  The game melded tennis, volleyball and exertion that taxed muscles, lungs and nerves.  The game was played on a lawn tennis court divided by an eight-foot high volleyball net.  Teams of two to four men would toss the six pound ball over the net, scoring the points as in tennis.  The game was fast and an extremely demanding cardiovascular workout.  Men would play a game, then substituting as needed to recover their wind.

As the game was played on the lawn of the White House, it soon came to the attention of the press.  Newspaper and magazine articles gave ample coverage to this ‘Medicine Ball Cabinet.’  One journalist estimated that nearly two hundred men participated during the first six months of Hoover’s term.  Others surmised on the impact on Hoover’s health and whether the men playing took advantage of the game to present policy ideas to the President.  Hoover’s health benefited as he dropped the twenty-five pounds suggested by Boone. There is no clear evidence that policy was shaped by this group.  The game came to be called ‘Hoover Ball.’  It was played six days a week by Hoover associates, who agreed ‘stopping a six pound ball with steam back of it… is not pink tea stuff.’

Continued next week.

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The President’s Mountain School

by Spencer Howard

When Hoover became President in 1929, he decided to build a weekend retreat – a fishing camp – some place where he could escape from Washington and unwind.  He chose a site on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia about 100 miles from Washington, where two small streams merge to form the Rapidan River.  The Hoovers purchased the land and materials, and a detachment of U.S. Marines were assigned to construct roads, utilities and buildings, and to guard the President when he visited.  Eventually, Camp Rapidan would consist of 13 rustic cabins and a separate camp for the Marines, but for the first summer, guests stayed in brown army tents pitched on temporary wooden platforms.  Almost every weekend through the summer and fall, the President would leave Washington as early as he could get away on Friday afternoon and stay at the camp until after breakfast on Monday morning, hurrying back to Washington to arrive in the Oval Office by mid-morning.

Each weekend the Hoovers invited family members, friends, Cabinet officers, members of Congress, and other guests out to the camp with them, along with a few White House staff members.  The White House doctor, Cdr. Joel Boone, accompanied the President most weekends and enjoyed horseback rides along the rough trails near the camp.  One day he met a boy who lived with his family in a nearby cabin, and struck up a conversation.  The boy’s name was Ray Buraker (pronounced BURR-uh-ker).  Upon learning of his neighbor, the President instructed Dr. Boone to encourage the boy to visit the camp by promising to pay $5.00 for a live possum, if Ray would deliver it in person.

On Hoover’s birthday, the young man visited the camp and brought a small possum along with him.  The President paid Ray the promised $5.00 (an extravagant sum for a boy who had little experience with money), and introduced Ray to some of the weekend guests, including Charles Lindbergh.  Both the President and the famous aviator were astounded to discover that Ray had never heard of Lindbergh’s record-setting flight.  Hoover also learned that the local children had no school nearby, so he and Mrs. Hoover decided to build one for them.

Mountain School at Camp Rapidan, VA

In consultation with local and state officials, the schoolhouse was built to serve as not just a school, but also a community center and residence for the teacher.  It had a large classroom, a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bath for the teacher, and two spare bedrooms in the attic for guests, or if children couldn’t get home because of bad weather.  Mrs. Hoover personally hired the teacher; she chose a recent graduate of Berea College in Kentucky named Christine Vest, who had experience teaching in a similar setting.  The school received donations of books and supplies from all over the country, but the principal financial support came from the Hoovers.  Their contributions the first year totaled approximately $10,000, and by the time they left the White House in 1933, they had spent over $24,000 on the school.

The President’s Mountain School opened on February 24, 1930 with 17 children in attendance, including Ray Buraker and 5 of his siblings.  For many of the children, it was their first chance at a formal education.  In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, Miss Vest introduced them to the modern world beyond their remote mountain homes.  She taught them about cities, and the commerce and industry found there.  They learned about units of measurement, time and money, and how to order goods from the Sears catalog.  Some of the girls learned to make or repair clothing with an electric sewing machine.  Miss Vest took the students on field trips to the county fair, and even to Washington DC where they had lunch at the White House.  For most of the children, it was the first time they had traveled more than a few miles from home, or ridden in an automobile.

Lou Hoover, students and teacher, Christine Vest on the steps of the Mountain School.

Many of the mountaineers – adults and children alike – encountered electric lights, running water and the radio for the first time inside the school house.  In the evenings, the parents also studied reading, writing, arithmetic and geography with Miss Vest, and learned about people and places in the outside world by listening to the news on the radio.  On Sundays, Miss Vest taught Sunday School in the large classroom, and worship services were led by “Pa” Buraker.

By 1935, the State of Virginia had condemned over 3000 parcels of land that were slated to become part of the new Shenandoah National Park, and the Buraker family and all their neighbors were relocated.  Most settled nearby, in or near established towns where the children had access to local public schools.  With no students, the President’s Mountain School was closed.

The school had operated for just five years, but the effect it had on the lives of the people it served was immeasurable.  Part of the purpose of the school, from the very beginning, was to prepare the mountain families for life in the outside world.  The children who attended the President’s Mountain School went on to lead fairly ordinary lives, and their stories can be found in public records and news clippings.  Ray Buraker, the “possum boy,” enlisted in the Army during World War II at age 22; on his enlistment form, he stated his pre-war occupation as cook.  During the war he served in the Army Ordnance Department and the Army Air Forces and rose to the rank of Sergeant.  He was married in 1961 at the age of 43; on the marriage license he listed his occupation as electronics technician.  He lived near Lynchburg, Virginia for many years, and passed away there at the age of 85.

By the late 1930s, all of the mountain cabins were demolished, and the schoolhouse was moved to Big Meadows on Skyline Drive, where it was converted into a ranger station.  Three of the thirteen buildings at Camp Rapidan have been preserved, and the site is open to visitors, just a short hike from the scenic Skyline Drive which now whisks thousands of visitors each year through the rugged terrain.

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The Clouds of War: The Friendship of Louis Chevrillon and Herbert Hoover

Part 2 (Part 1: A Mother’s Day Gift: the Friendship of Louis Chevrillon and Herbert Hoover)

By Thomas F. Schwartz

On December 15, 1938, Chevrillon wrote to Hoover presenting a grim future for France and Europe. Commending Hoover on his strong public statements against the German government’s oppression of Jews on what is now referred to as Kristallnacht, an exasperated Chevrillon wrote:

“That such wholesale persecution be possible under our so called civilization is an outrage to the human mind.  Unfortunately, public opinion here has ceased to react to the frightful crimes perpetrated just beyond our frontiers.

When one thinks of the wholesale massacres of priests and nuns in Spain, of the systematic chronic assassination in Russia, of the scandalous oppression in Germany and Italy, one can only say that the human brain has a limit set to the comprehension and realization of such horrors—they have become part of the daily bread served by the press to the public whose interest is dulled by the mere repetitions of crime!

We in France lead our hum drum lives as if the world were not dancing on a tight rope with its eyes closed and a tremendous precipice below.

We nearly fell off in September, when war was just averted by a hair breadth and we do not seem to be at all aware of the very heavy bill that we and the English have paid to avoid it.

Germany has most attained its ends and won a second bloodless victory.  By the Munich conferences, Europe has reached a turning point in its history.  The whole planetary system of European powers has been profoundly altered.  The secondary planets such as Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland, Serbia will now revolve around the new German sun slowly but surely progressing East.  Ukraine will no doubt follow and we will have to sit still until the whole system has grown into a huge particular mass that will then set out to absorb us.  We only have ten or twenty years respite which we will live in constant alarm of an attack.”

Chevrillon’s prediction came much sooner, for less than a year later, the Germans invaded Poland and the French and British declared war against Germany.   With the German invasion of France in May, 1940, Chevrillon penned a stoic letter to Hoover on September 2, 1940:

“We are beaten, we have signed an armistice and we must stick by it and endure.  Of course with modern armament it seems an easy matter for Germany to keep us in bondage, a disarmed people cannot revolt against tanks, machine guns, and air bombing planes but I cannot help thinking that in a new reorganized Europe moral forces will, or at least may, dominate over material strength.  And also the English or rather British situation is far from desperate and I look forward to a more humane peace than what we anticipated a month ago.

We will be now going through years of misery, industry will be ruined, and production of food will be reduced to something very small, given the German privileges.  Next winter will see an appalling shortage of food, coal and an enormous increase of unemployed.”

Hoover immediately responded: “My main concern in this letter, however, is to know if there is anything personal that I can do for you.  Your friends here would be glad to see that you get financial support to enable you to care for your family if you can tell us how we can reach you.  Furthermore, if it were possible that you would wish to send the boys to the United States and a way could be found for them to get here, I would be glad to take charge of them.  I do not know that America has any better outlook than Europe for the long view future, but perhaps life would unfold for them better here than there if they wish to make the change.”  Hoover also sent word to Millard Shaler whose London meeting with Hoover in 1914 resulted in the creation of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB).  Shaler’s office in Lisbon also handled matters for the Belgian American Education Foundation, the organization created from the residual funds of the CRB.  Hoover wanted Shaler to keep in communication with Chevrillon and assist him in whatever way necessary.

On December 28, 1940 Chevrillon indicated to Shaler that “I feel very much like a man walking along a very light rope that might snap any moment.”  Realizing that his situation in Vichy France was difficult but not oppressive, Chevrillon indicated to Shaler that Hoover “has been more than kind and now that he has written and telegraphed in such a brotherly way and generously even suggested to take my whole family under his care, I wonder whether I could through him obtain a loan which I would certainly repay.”  Shaler quickly sent the following telegram to the Belgian fund in New York:

“Chevrillons address Two Rue Jouxt Aigues Toulouse Stop Family well and all must remain France for business reasons Stop Chevrillon would greatly appreciate one hundred thousand franc loan which will see him through Stop After consulting Chief cable decision following which you cable what amount dollars necessary.”

Throughout the war Hoover continued to correspond with Chevrillon and continued to have Shaler and others out of the Lisbon office check on his friend to make certain he was not in want for food and funds.  Chevrillon never forgot Hoover’s generosity nor did he ever regret staying in Vichy France throughout the war.


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Another Lou Henry Hoover Commencement Address

by Matthew Schaefer

Lou Henry Hoover receiving a basket of flowers from the wife of the Dean of Whittier college at the commencement ceremonies. 06/10/1931 ca. Lou attended school here as a young girl – before it became a college.

In the course of her life, Lou Henry Hoover gave many addresses to graduating classes: Radcliffe, Bryn Mawr and Whittier Colleges, Stanford University, and Castilla high school.  The first time that she spoke to a graduating class occurred in 1890, when sixteen year old Lou Henry spoke as valedictorian to her Bailey Street School classmates in Whittier, California.

Her speech fills seven pages of a school notebook with her precise penmanship.  The scattered cross-outs and penciled revisions are evidence that this was a polished draft.  Lou Henry chose as her theme ‘Little Jack Horner’ noting that all in attendance were more or less familiar with this Mother Goose character, his Christmas pie, and his proclivity for thumb-plucking plums.

Lou Henry uses Jack Horner as a point of departure in examining the futures of her classmates.  She notes that: ‘We are all little Jacks, and the pie from which we are so greedily picking is our own great wide world.’  Lou ponders how her classmates will handle the opportunities before them.  Will they gently raise the crust and take only selected plums?  Will they be bold and grab hold with both hands as many plums as they can carry? Will they be patient as they explore the depths of the pie, carefully judging each plum on its merits?

Lou Henry closes with a profound and provocative question: ‘Shall we share equally in the pie, or shall one, by more toil, or cunning, secure a larger portion, and, swelling with pride, look down upon the rest and exclaim, ‘What a great boy am I!’’  This question reveals something of the breadth of young Lou’s mind; just as it reveals something of the depth of her compassion.

This speech has not been cited by Lou Henry Hoover biographers because it was tucked behind the framed diploma marking her graduation.  The speech was discovered when the Hoover museum staff disassembled the frame to removed acidic matting.  The speech now rests in box 73 of the Lou Henry Hoover papers in the Hoover archives where it is available to researchers for the first time in more than one hundred years.

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Rites of Spring: Lou Henry Hoover’s Commencement Address at Stanford, 1941

Lou Henry Hoover at commencement ceremonies at Stanford Univerisity. ca. 1941

While on the subject [howsoever narrow] of Hoovers speaking at Stanford commencements, I would be remiss not to note that Lou Henry Hoover contributed to the oeuvre.   Lou Henry Hoover was one of three speakers tapped to address the graduates at Stanford’s fiftieth anniversary, June 15, 1941.  She was the first woman to address Stanford’s graduating class; the next woman to speak at Stanford’s commencement did so thirty-five years later.

She opened her address to ‘Stanford boys and girls of the last four years; Stanford men and women of the fifty years to come’ by having the other dignitaries on the stage join her in saying: ‘We salute you.’  Ever humble, Lou then went on to say, ‘There is no academic subject that I could present that would hold your attention for five minutes on such a momentous occasion.’  So she harkened back to her own time at Stanford, noting that she was first year student when the ‘Pioneers,’ the first group of students to attend Stanford for four years, graduated in 1895.

Lou neatly segued to 1941, reminding the current graduates that pioneering opportunities still exist: ‘Geography is not the only field to offer alluring frontiers to explore and conquer.  Science, social sciences, historical research, economics and medicine all afford pioneering opportunities.’  It was incumbent on the graduates to recognize this, to draw practical lessons from the old captains, and to base future explorations on the accomplishments of the past.  Lou closed her brief remarks by challenging the graduates to imagine themselves fifty years in the future [‘1991!’] and face this question: ‘How much will your activities have been influenced by your four years at Stanford?’  By closing with such a provocative question, Lou made her point.

Strangely, her husband Herbert Hoover, was not among the more than eighty Stanford alumni joining the festivities that Sunday afternoon.  Herbert spent the day travelling from the Battle Creek Sanitarium, where he’d met with cereal magnate Will Keith Kellogg, to the Chicago-area home of businessman and publisher Arch Shaw.  Eventually Herbert Hoover wended his way to Palo Alto, reaching the Hoover home there on June 16, 1941.  On June 19th, he delivered the keynote address at the symposium celebrating Stanford’s fiftieth anniversary.  The next day, he spoke at the dedication of the Hoover Library for War, Revolution and Peace.  I do not know whether Lou Henry Hoover attended these events.

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Boy Hero Visits Hoover White House and Leaves a Family Friend

by Lynn Smith

Pleasant Hill school bus after crash, March 28, 1931.

March 26, 1931 started as a lovely 60 degree spring day on the eastern plains of Colorado between the small farming communities of Towner and Holly. Twenty local children, dressed for spring, set out for Pleasant Hill School near the Kansas border in a makeshift bus fashioned from a 1929 truck with a wooden cover, wood benches for seats, and cardboard over two broken windows. When the bus arrived at the school, snow was falling. It was decided that the bus should take the children back to their homes. Soon, a blizzard engulfed the area. The bus driver was quickly disoriented in the blowing snow and by 9:30 a.m. the bus got stuck in a ditch, the engine stalled, and wouldn’t restart. The children were trapped on the bus for over 30 hours in subzero temperatures before being found. In the end, five children, and the bus driver, who left the bus to search for help, perished. The tragedy made national news, and the Denver Post newspaper made one survivor, twelve year old Bryan Untiedt, a hero and netted him an invitation to visit to the White House from President Hoover.

Bryan Untiedt with President Hoover on the White House lawn.

The Hoover Library contains eight files of correspondence and newspaper clippings related to Pleasant Hill School student Bryan Untiedt. While none of the files contains an itinerary for his White House visit, contemporary news reports identify his adventures during his three day stay (April 30-May 2, 1931). Bryan’s visit included stops at the Smithsonian, the Washington Monument, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the National Zoo. A trip to Mount Vernon concluded with a cruise up the Potomac River on the presidential yacht, U.S.S. Sequoia.  He watched morning Hooverball games from the Blue Bedroom and had at least one visit alone with Mr. Hoover. He frequently dined with Mr. and Mrs. Hoover, their son Herbert, Jr., his wife and their two children, Peggy Ann and Herbert, III (aka “Pete”) who were visiting from North Carolina. Bryan entertained the Hoover grandchildren with his harmonica playing. At the same time as Bryan’s visit, the President and Mrs. Hoover welcomed the King and Queen of Siam to the White House.  It is unlikely that Bryan formally met the royal couple, but he watched as they arrived at the White House and saw the Queen touring Mount Vernon with Mrs. Hoover.

White House staff kept Bryan’s visit fairly well shielded from the press. It was thought best to keep the lad from extensive media coverage, requests for interviews etc. while in Washington. When word of Bryan’s passion for harmonicas got out, the White House received several from the Philadelphia Harmonica Band to give to Bryan.  He also received one from Florida Representative Ruth Bryan Owen who was eager to give one to her “namesake.” Our photograph collection contains one image of Mr. Hoover with Bryan in front of the White House. It was published in dozens of newspapers across the country.

Following his visit, Mr. and Mrs. Hoover kept in touch with Bryan and his parents for the next eleven years. During that that time, the Hoovers corresponded with the family and offered financial help for Bryan to attend college when the time came. Bryan opted to go to work to help with the family’s needs rather than attending college. Mrs. Hoover used a family friend in Denver, Colorado to keep an eye out for the Untiedt family and assist as possible when drought and other misfortunes struck. The last correspondence Mrs. Hoover received from Bryan was a card announcing the birth of his son, Jon Michael Untiedt, in May 1942.


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