BELOIT FROM A TO Z: The History of a Great College in 26 Items

by Tom McBride

Beloit From A to Z:

Tom McBride

Note: This list only tickles the surface of a Beloit College record abundant with colorful achievements. It will be edited from time to time to become as inclusive as possible. Suggestions are welcome at

A: Aaron. Aaron Lucius Chapin was Beloit’s first president, a Congregational minister praised by Lincoln for helping civilize “the west.” Midway through his presidency, just after the Civil War, he said the new college was growing into what he called “lustsy manhood.”  Folks talked differently back then.

B: Beloit. Beloit, Wisconsin is the home of Beloit College and gave it its name. It was founded in the mid-1840s or about the same time as the college was. It was meant to be a New England village with a college, a green (now Horace White Park) and a Congregational church.  Where did the name come from? One theory: “Beloit” is the sound of a Presbyterian farting in the bathtub, or perhaps in the Rock River.

C: Chad. Chad Walsh taught at Beloit from 1945 to 1977. A renowned member of the English Department, he is best known for having introduced C.S. Lewis to American audiences; he and his wife Eva played a matchmaking role in Lewis’ marriage to Joy Gresham, an event portrayed in the movie Shadowlands with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.

D: David.  David Heesen served Beloit for nearly 30 years as the director of a much-understaffed secretarial pool. A strong Christian evangelical who often opposed Beloit’s morae secular values, he became a beloved friend to many faculty members. He put up a small mirror in his office that said, “faculty: check your teeth before teaching.”

E. Effigy Moundbuilders, who constructed religious and burial mounds in the upper Mississippi Valley about 1200 years ago and whose mounds populate the Beloit campus. Most of the mounds in the Lake Michigan area have been plowed under, but several of them remain at Beloit College, most notably the long Turtle Mound behind the Wright Art Museum. Dean Frank Wong once observed that changing a college’s curriculum is like “moving a graveyard” and added that Beloit is the only college he knew that was built on one.

F. F.S.C. Northrop graduated from Beloit in 1915 and became a distinguished professor of philosophy at Harvard, authoring one of the first books on comparative philosophy, The Meeting of East and West in 1946.

G. Geology. Geology was and is one of Beloit’s most successful science departments, graduating hundreds of earth scientists who now work around the world. For many years it was propelled by the legendary Hank Woodard (“The Chief”), who spoke in a high-pitched New England accent and was never without an almost manic energy; and Richard Stenstrom, Beloit ’57, who was much lower-key but always a champion explainer of difficult concepts about the crust of the planet.

H. Hull. Roger Hull was Beloit’s 8th president and arguably its most successful, raising desperately-needed funds in the 1980s and heading fund-raising drives that refurbished both Pearsons Hall and the Field House, two historically-compelling structures that had nonetheless fallen on the hard times of the law of entropy.  

I stands for Irrmann. Robert Henry (Bob) Irrmann was Beloit’s most popular professor after World War II. A jolly man ad life-long polio sufferer, he looked a great deal like the character actor Wilfred Brimley and gave stem-winding lectures daily on medieval and Renaissance history. His classes were jam-packed, but he always said his proudest moment was when students gave him a free membership to the Playboy Club in nearby Lake Geneva.

J. Journalists. Beloit has a long tradition of graduating those who went on to become dedicated journalists, among whom the most inspiring was Dan Bolles 56, who lost his life in Arizona exposing illegal racketeering. Killed by a car bomb, he is also the subject of a recent streaming documentary.

K. Knapton. Bill Knapton was Beloit’s most successful basketball coach and, above all, the decisive vote on the official committee that approved the 3-point shot from behind the line.  Every time you see a star hooper hitting a basket from “downtown,” you can thank Bill.

L. Larry. Larry White taught psychology at Beloit from 1984 to 2020. His special field of inquiry, in which he published widely, was the interrogation of children and teens by law enforcement officials and attorneys, and he was featured on that subject in the famed Netflix documentary, MAKING A MURDERER.

M. Maurer. Irving Maurer was Beloit’s 4th president. A distinguished intellectual minister from Columbus, Ohio, and an affable bear of a man, he steered Beloit through the tough years of the Second World War and once, on a fund-raising trip to Philadelphia, accidently crushed a dowager donor’s toy poodle but was forgiven and left with a contribution.

N. Nief. Ron NIef came to Beloit as its public information director in the mid-90s and invented the internationally-known Mindset List for which Beloit was known for twenty years. It was cited by Time and the New Yorker as a go-to source for cultural trends and got Tom McBride on the Today Show thrice.

O. O’Brien. Kirk Patrick O’Brien, a 1983 graduate of Beloit, was one of its most colorful. An English major whose first love was cartooning, he was known at Beloit as The Potato Head for his Celtic ancestry and went on to become a flourishing cartoonist and art teacher in Virginia. His mother was mayor of Charlottesville and won re-election despite her brilliant and eccentric son.

P. Peterson Martha Peterson was Beloit’s 7th president and is savior during a precarious time in its financial history. A native Kansan who first established her administrative credentials at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, she went on to become president of Barnard College before coming to Beloit and using her considerable connections to right the ship. She was erudite, shrewd, decisive—always a hardy woman of the Kansas plains, on which she is buried.

Q. Q stands for Quiz Shows. The Beloit faculty have rarely defeated the students in on-campus Jeopardy contests. Warren Harshbarger ’78 found himself floundering on Jeopardy in the mid-80s until the category switched over the film, after which he, an expert, cleaned up; while John Christensen ’93, won big on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in the 1990s. His final answer was the right one.

R. R stands for Round Table, the campus newspaper and the second-oldest in the United States. Over the years it has featured the journalistic debuts of such writing worthies as Tom O’Neil, later a major writer for National Geographic and K.C. Johnson, long-time sports journalist for the Chicago Tribune; and also featured such informative columns as “Madame Exotica” and “Vagina Facts.”

S. Sikanddra Spain. One of Beloit’s most able students in the 1970s, she was a devoted scholar and activist in international relations. She was killed tragically young in the 1980s, but lives on at Beloit in the form of the prestigious Sikandra Spain Award, given annually to the Beloit student who most fosters international understanding.

T. Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin, famous Beloit scientist who first pointed out (in the early 20th century) the dangers of carbon-based energy as a producer of global warming and who wrote one of the greatest scientific essays of the 20th century, “The Methods of Multiple-Working Hypotheses.”

U. Upton. Miller Upton was Beloit’s longest-serving president after Word War II. A courtly Southerner with a handsome granite face to go along with his six-foot tall perfect posture, he was a former All-American footballer at Tulane and the dean of the Washington University School of Business. He was a political conservative but academic libertarian who presided over the innovative Beloit Plan that motored Beloit’s prestige and prosperity during the 1960s and early 1970s.

V, Velma. Velma Hamilton was an African-American student at Beloit in the 1950s who joined an on-campus sorority only to find that the national chapter shamefully banned the local, Beloit one for welcoming her. Her mother was a Beloit graduate, and so was her brother Harry, a long-time member of the Board of Trustees, and her niece Lisa graduated from Beloit in the early 90s. The snack bar in Beloit’s sports center, “Velma’s Place,” bears her name.

W. W stands for WAC , or the World Affairs Center, long the home of the English and Classics and Modern Languages Departments and also the center of Beloit’s overseas study program. It was originally the first Carnegie Library building established on a college campus and remains a handsome structure with its understated gray walls and pristine Doric columns.

X. X stands for the “Xes” once lightly painted on campus tree trunks to guide the college’s Frisbee-Golf players where the various 18 “holes” were. X is also the Roman numeral for 10 and might remind us of the many Top 10 Lists made by the college, such as “The Best Bargains in American Higher Education” (Parade Magazine) and “The Most Creative Faculty in the United States” (US News & World Report),

Y. Year One. Year One in the college’s history is 1846, when George Colley walked from Mineral Point to Beloit, a distance of over 50 miles, to get a liberal arts education from the newly-established college. President Roger Hull and a group of students replicated and celebrated this walk in the 1980s.

Z. Z stands for Zielinski, as in the redoubtable Jim Zielinski, one of Beloit’s great admissions counselors and recruiters, who was a past master at cultivating high schools across the nation to find good Beloit “fits.”  He is of no relation to Ukraine’s heroic president, but Jim was and always shall be a hero in Beloit College history, serving from the early 90s to the 2000 teens.

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