UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
Note: Karges Center was razed in May 2018. (See release at bottom of page.) The new Falcon Center hosts the R. A. Karges Auxillary Gymnasium.
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.
Karges Center walls came down in 2018
June 19, 2018 - With assistance from some heavy machinery, the final wall of the long-standing R. A. Karges Center at UW-River Falls came tumbling down June 13. Deconstruction of Karges Center began May 21 and while the above-ground walls have come down, site clean-out will continue through July.
After a few days of site preparation, including the removal of the iconic bronze Falcon sculpture from the north exterior wall of the building, it took crews just over three weeks to tear down Karges Center. Prior to demolition, the sculpture, which had graced the side of Karges Center since 1962, was moved and reinstalled on the Falcon Center for Health, Education and Wellness.
Crews from American Demolition worked their way around the large complex, deconstructing the former swimming pool, racquetball court, classrooms and offices, before finally dismantling the gymnasium. Mementos from the building’s past, ranging from scoreboards to wrestling mats, were revealed to onlookers during the deconstruction.
Workers will continue work to remove and recycle debris from the building and will fill and grade the site. After completion, the area will become green space for student and university use, both emphasizing UWRF’s commitment to sustainability and contributing to the aesthetic beauty of campus.
The Falcon Center for Health, Education and Wellness opened in September 2017 and serves as the new home for the university’s Health and Human Performance and Athletics departments, two areas that had previously been housed in Karges Center. Deconstruction of Karges is considered the final phase of the Falcon Center project.
Built in 1960, the 58-year old Karges Center was named after Professor R. A. Karges, former faculty member and basketball coach at UW-River Falls. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Karges joined the UWRF faculty in 1908. He coached the men’s basketball team from 1910 to 1912 and taught chemistry until his retirement in 1951. 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 Karges Center in 1959.
The now-demolished Karges Center housed several areas dedicated to physical activity and varsity athletics. Karges Gym seated nearly 2,500 spectators and served as home to UWRF’s volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball teams. Karges also housed a 75’x45’ dance studio that was fully equipped to function as both a classroom and performance space.
In addition to recreation areas, Karges was home to several classrooms and offices for the Health and Human Performance Department.
The Karges auxiliary gym in the new Falcon Center now bears Karges’ name, ensuring his legacy will continue at UW-River Falls.