Anyone who was on campus in the days when the Falcon basketball team played in the “cracker box” gymnasium of North Hall has one indelible memory of Dr. R. A. Karges. “Kargie” would dash out to the middle of the playing floor at any lull in the game to check the scoreboard.
He had coached the basketball team from 1910 to 1912. In those days the school could afford travel for only two conference games and filled out the season by playing area high schools. Dr. Karges was a favorite speaker at alumni meetings and once told a group that his teams “had never lost a high school game.” Then, with a smile, he added, “and never won a college game.”
The conference games usually played were with La Crosse and Superior. He said the trip to either college was quite an experience for the boys at that time. “We went by sleigh to Prescott and then took the train to La Crosse.”
Dr. Karges taught chemistry at River Falls and was vice president of River Falls State Teachers College from 1926 to 1951. He served as faculty representative to the Wisconsin State Athletic Conference from 1912 until his retirement.
Born Sept. 23, 1881, in Burlington, Wis., he attended Whitewater Normal and then the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he got his undergraduate degree and was named to Phi Beta Kappa. After graduation, he was principal of Ripon High School. He left there to join the faculty at River Falls in 1908. He was awarded the master’s degree at Madison in 1912 and the Ph.D. degree from the University of Iowa in 1931. In the summer of 1918 Dr. Karges and four students went for military training at Ft. Sheridan and returned to the school in the fall as non-commissioned officers. As a result, shortly after the opening of the fall term, 98 men were enrolled in Student Army Training Corps units and four commissioned officers were assigned by the U.S. government.
Dr. Karges was a member of the American Chemical Society, Sigma Chi, the American Association of University Professors and the National Education Association.
Recalling his early years on campus, he said, “Smoking was on the sly as well as drinking. The few faculty members who smoked did it privately. A woman who smoked would have been written off.”
In the year he retired, 1951, “Kargie” was given a standing ovation at a football pep rally. This was repeated when the class of 1914 celebrated its Golden Anniversary Reunion in his honor. He retired because, at that time, a faculty member could not be reappointed after reaching the age of 70. Since Dr. Karges would not be 70 until Sept. 23, he could teach for the school year that began early in September. He wasn’t ready to quit and accepted a teaching position at Centenary College in Shreveport, La., and taught two more years.
After returning to live in River Falls, he was a familiar figure on campus and attended most of the home football and basketball games. He took part in laying the cornerstone for the Karges Physical Education Center in 1959.
In tribute to him, President E. H. Kleinpell wrote that he “combined in a single personality the most admirable of all attributes of a teacher — an interest in young people and a concern in their welfare, dedication to a field of learning, a wide range of interests outside his specialty and an intense loyalty to ‘his’ college.” He was, in fact, a brilliant teacher and mentor.
Dr. Karges was a true intellectual. His wide-ranging interests, other than his chosen field of chemistry, resulted in a lifetime habit of voracious and omniverous reading. Several times each week one could see him coming or going with an armload of books borrowed from the college or public libraries. He was a stimulating conversationalist and enjoyed nothing so much as a lively exchange of viewpoints on almost any subject of real substance.
Professor Karges loved spectator sports, but he was also an energetic participant. He played handball and tennis with faculty colleagues; and when a colleague was not available for a set of tennis, he’d call up some kid from the community for a rousing game on the college courts. Dr. Karges was an ardent cross-country skier, and he liked nothing better than to take off down creek in the midst of sub-zero tempertures or a raging blizzard. He was an enthusiastic naturalist and a competent amateur authority on the birds of the region, as well as on its flora. He tried to get interested in trout fishing and in golf, but these activities provided insufficient outlet for his abundant nervous energy.
It seemed somehow fitting that he should be at the entrance to the building named in his honor, on his way to a basketball game, when he died of a heart attack, Dec. 2, 1964.