Chancellor Search - Maria Gallo

About Us

Historical Leadership

Current Chancellor

Maria Gallo was named the 20th chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May 2021 and began as chancellor on July 15, 2021. Gallo is a Fulbright Scholar and a fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and the Crop Science Society of America. She comes to UWRF from Delaware Valley University where she served as president since July 1, 2016. 

Earlier, Gallo was dean and director of Research and Cooperative Extension of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and was professor and chair of the Agronomy Department at the University of Florida where she specialized in crop improvement.

Gallo earned her bachelor's degree in agronomy from Cornell University and both her master's degree in crop science and Ph.D. in genetics from North Carolina State University.


Past Presidents and Chancellors

Interim Chancellor Connie Foster

Connie Foster is the 19th Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, returning to campus in an interim role beginning July 1, 2020.

During her previous tenure at UWRF, Foster initially served as a professor of health and human performance, gymnastics coach and women’s athletic director, eventually becoming overall athletic director and chair of the Health and Human Performance Department. She also held the roles of dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies and interim provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs. She served as interim chancellor for 10 months following the departure of Chancellor Don Betz in 2008, prior to Dean Van Galen’s stint as chancellor.

After leaving UW-River Falls in 2009, Foster founded a facilitation and consulting business where her work has primarily focused on strategic and academic planning at institutions of higher education. Her consulting work has provided her an opportunity to remain involved with UW-River Falls. She worked during the 2019-20 academic year to facilitate external stakeholder engagement as part of the campus’s new strategic plan process. Foster’s in-depth knowledge on the challenges facing academic institutions as well as expertise in consensus-based planning have been instrumental in helping to move UWRF towards its planning goals.

Originally from California, Foster earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University-Long Beach and her master’s degree in sport psychology at the University of Southern California. Foster obtained her Ph.D. in sport psychology at the University of Minnesota.

In 2013, Foster received the UWRF Outstanding Service Award for co-chairing the Falcon Center Volunteer Fundraising Committee and was inducted into the UWRF Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016.

Chancellor Dean Van Galen

Dean Van GalenDean Van Galen served as the 18th chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Van Galen created a culture rich with innovation and growth. When taking over the role, Van Galen announced UW-River Falls would open a learning center in Hudson to meet the undergraduate and graduate educational needs of adults. This facility, named the UW-River Falls Hudson Center, opened in fall 2010 and now has an annual enrollment of more than 100 students.

In April 2014 the Center for Innovation and Business Development (CIBD) was opened to support economic growth and development in the greater St. Croix Valley. The CIBD will play an integral role in management of the new St. Croix Valley Business Incubator, set to open in River Falls in 2017.

University officials unveiled the first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign, Rising to Distinction, in April 2012, setting a goal of raising $20 million in five years, with an emphasis on raising funds for student scholarships and the Falcon Center health and human performance facility. As of January 2016, six months ahead of schedule, the $20 million goal had already been surpassed.

A Wisconsin native, Van Galen shares a family story similar to many UW-River Falls students, being a first-generation college student. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 1982. He holds a doctorate in analytical chemistry from Kansas State University and conducted post-doctoral research at the University of California at Berkeley.

Van Galen began his academic career in 1987 as a chemistry professor at Truman State University in Missouri, developing an environmental science study abroad course in Norway. He was named the university's 1988-1989 Educator of the Year and the State of Missouri's CASE Professor of the Year for 1991. He later served as vice president for university advancement at Truman and was an American Council on Education Fellow in 1994-1995. Prior to his selection as chancellor, Van Galen served as vice president for university advancement at the University of West Florida in Pensacola for six years.

Van Galen and his wife, Mary, have one adult daughter, Ashley.

Connie FosterChancellor (Interim) Connie Foster

Connie Foster concluded her 25-year career with the University of Wisconsin-River Falls as the 17th Chancellor in May 2009.

Foster’s distinguished career with UWRF included positions as interim chancellor, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies, chair of the department of Health and Human Performance, athletic director, faculty member and coach.

She served as chair of the department of Health and Human Performance as well as athletic director from 1996 to 2002. She served as women’s athletic director from 1992 to 1996 and was named full professor in the department of Health and Human Performance in 1992. While under her tenure, women’s athletics received the Wisconsin’s Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Conference All-Academic Award for having the highest grade point average in the conference. From 1984 to 1992 she was an assistant and head coach for women’s gymnastics. The WWIAC named her Coach of the Year in 1988 and recognized her contributions to intercollegiate athletics with a certificate of appreciation in 1993.

During her tenure as interim chancellor, Foster provided leadership in the development and implementation of the UWRF strategic planning process, worked with colleagues to prioritize academic programs, revised the seven-year academic program review materials and created a new Integrated Planning Office.

Foster is a member of the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP), and a graduate of the SCUP Planning Institute. She has a B.S. in psychology from California State University-Long Beach, an M.A. in physical education from the University of Southern California, and a Ph.D. in physical education/sports psychology from the University of Minnesota.

Don BetzChancellor Don Betz

Don Betz assumed the duties of UW-River Falls Chancellor in July 2005. Betz arrived from University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, Okla., where he served as provost and vice president for academic affairs.

His first six months saw the commemoration of the university's 15 year relationship with the Kansas City Chiefs professional football organization as they trained on campus for the forthcoming regular season.

With the vision of becoming a major economic and education force in the upper Midwest, Betz set out to transform campus by soliciting feedback from students, faculty and staff, and the community at large through what was deemed the "Vision and Values" survey. Charting the course for the institution Betz proclaimed, "We will write this story together."

During Betz's tenure an international studies major was added in 2005. In Fall 2006, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle announced that UW-River Falls would be one of four UW System schools to become energy self-sufficient by 2012. Related to that effort, UWRF created the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development. The institute will help the region address challenges of growth and change on environmental, economic and social levels. In 2007 the six-year-old College of Business and Economics earned accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business–International, a remarkable feat considering the young age of the college.

Two new facilities opened their doors in 2007. The student-funded University Center, which incorporates numerous “green” and sustainable design features, provides top-notch programming space for student activities and an inviting meeting ground for student-faculty interaction. The long-anticipated Dairy Learning Center offers students valuable tools to learn about and advance the dairy industry.

Through a historic donation, the university accepted its largest gift to date in 2007. The $1 million bequest from the estate of 1938 alumna Lucile Spriggs.

Chancellor Betz announced in April 2008 his intentions to serve as the President of Northeastern State University in Oklahoma.

Virgil NylanderChancellor (Interim) Virgil Nylander

Following the untimely death of Chancellor Lydecker, former vice-chancellor Virgil Nylander stepped out of a brief retirement to become interim chancellor until a replacement could be found. Nylander joined the university as a professor of psychology in 1969 and served as assistant chancellor for administration for 16 years before departing in December of 2003.

During his tenure as interim chancellor, Nylander oversaw the campus during another tight budget cycle. This era also saw the sudden passing of history professor Ed Peterson. The venerable Peterson was in his fifty-first year in front of a UW-River Falls classroom.

During this time, academic and social endeavors flourished. Organizations such as the Asian American Club and the Society for Undergraduate Research, Scholarly and Creative Activity increased their profiles. More community outreach programs and professional certification programs began to emerge.

Nylander Era RSC

Ann LydeckerChancellor Ann Lydecker

As campus ushered in a new century, Ann Lydecker, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Bridgewater (Mass.) State University (formerly Bridgewater State College), was selected as the university's first woman chancellor. Known as the "students' chancellor," for frequently engaging students with a big smile and earnest conversation, Lydecker set out to make the campus an even stronger social and economic force in western Wisconsin.

Lydecker Era September 11

During her tenure the School of Business and Economics was expanded to become the College of Business and Economics, featuring a unique master's of management program. The university continued extensive outreach to business and industry through a series of forums on the economic development issues affecting the St. Croix River Valley. In addition, dean's positions were created to attract nationally recognized experts to the College of Business and Economics and to Outreach and Graduate Studies.

This era also saw the Board of Regents approval of plans for a new student center and residence hall. Lydecker's influence saw the construction of a new child care center that would house the operation being displaced by the construction of the new student center. Despite a spurt of campus construction this era saw heavy cuts to operating budgets in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which affected the national economy. Class sizes increased somewhat and hiring freezes occurred for a period of time.

Also during this time, UWRF received the Wisconsin Educational Diversity Award. "I firmly believe that our higher education institutions can and must play a significant role in preparing people of color, women, and persons with disabilities for career and life success in our 21st century world," said Chancellor Lydecker in accepting the award.

Chancellor Lydecker died in a car accident south of River Falls on March 25, 2004. She was married to William Lydecker and survived by four grown sons.

Gary ThibodeauChancellor Gary Thibodeau

Gary A. Thibodeau, a South Dakota native, received master's degrees in zoology and in pharmacology and his doctorate in animal science-physiology, all from South Dakota State University. After receiving his doctorate he served as a member of the graduate faculty at SDSU.

He also was recognized as a fellow of the National Heart Institute at Baylor University. Prior to his arrival in River Falls, he served as vice president of administration at South Dakota State University from 1980-85. From 1976 to 1980 he was assistant to the vice president for academic affairs at SDSU.

Chancellor Thibodeau was a prolific textbook writer. His “Anatomy and Physiology” is considered the national standard in introductory courses for undergraduate students of human anatomy and physiology. In 1994 it was selected by the Text and Academic Authors' Association for its William Holmes McGuffey Award for Textbook Excellence & Longevity.

Thibodeau Era Knowles

During his time as chancellor, Thibodeau headed the campus into new areas of fulfilling the Wisconsin Idea of undergraduate education, research, and community service. His efforts included faculty development through a renewed emphasis on continuing research and scholarly pursuits, record student enrollments, and physical plant improvements of more than $50 million.

When Chancellor Thibodeau accepted the administrative baton from Chancellor Field in 1985, a new era of physical expansion and academic endeavors began. As advances in science and information technology reigned in the late 1980s, the campus was making big strides as well. A new biotechnology major was established, and the chemistry and physics departments were renowned when the UW System designated them as a center of excellence.

In 1987, a health and human performance laboratory was added to the Karges Center and the spacious Robert P. Knowles Physical Education and Recreation Center offered recreation, weight training, workout equipment and other wellness opportunities for the campus and community.

Alumnus Daniel C. Brandenstein brought national and international attention to UW-River Falls when he piloted the space shuttle Challenger in 1983 as well as later launches of the shuttles Discovery, Columbia and Endeavour. By the 1980s, the UW-River Falls Foundation was providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual scholarships, funding faculty research grants and awards, and assisting with many of the university’s “bricks and mortar” projects.

In 1991, River Falls welcomed the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs to the University. The 1990s brought a flurry of activity to the university’s curriculum development and physical plant with the establishment of the Reach for the Future strategic plan. Through this effort, the College of Agriculture became the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences and the College of Education and Graduate Studies was formed with the transfer of the graduate school.

Construction crews, orange safety fences, and heavy equipment were a common site on campus during the 1990s. Hagestad Student Center was remodeled in 1990-91 and fast food establishments were introduced on campus along with new food service facilities. The long-awaited completion of a major remodeling of South Hall, the university’s oldest building, was celebrated by the campus, community and alumni. In 1990, the university’s Rural (now Regional) Development Institute opened as a community resource, small business incubator and regional issues center. The Chalmer Davee Library remodel in 1994 added a stunning atrium entrance and study area along with extensive computer labs and classrooms. The robust economy of the 1990s called attention to the need to enhance the university’s business offerings.

Thibodeau Era Family

An interdisciplinary marketing communication major attracted new students, and the School of Business and Economics was formed to meet the needs of the increasing number of students who wanted to pursue careers in the global business economy.

Art and other students in the College of Arts and Sciences celebrated the remodeling of studios, classrooms and labs in the Kleinpell Fine Arts Building, completed in 1999. Future educators are getting their training in the new Walker D. Wyman Education Building, which opened fall 1999 with state-of-the-art technology-enhanced classrooms and a new regional outreach center serving clients with clinical needs in communication, counseling, reading and more.

Possibly the most dramatic change in student life over the last 15 years has been the revolution in information technology. Computer use on campus is now pervasive—almost everyone has one. Where there were about 60 personal computers on campus in 1983, by the year 2000 that number had increased to 2,000. From completing assignments to receiving instruction to communicating with each other, students now find their lives more and more governed by the click of a mouse and the speed of their internet connection.

In 1991 the SOAR system was created, allowing students on-line access to their academic records. That was followed in 1992 by DARS, a popular application that produces degree audits, allowing students and their advisers to more effectively coordinate and schedule courses. In 1998 another milestone was achieved by implementing registration via the Web.

In 1988 the university celebrated a national championship in men’s hockey. Women, too, donned their skates and in 1999 began their first season as a varsity sport. To align itself with the rest of the higher education community, in 1990 River Falls switched from quarters to a semester-based academic calendar. And students attending the university in 1996 witnessed another first—bad weather cancelled classes, the only time it has ever happened in the history of the school.

George FieldPresident/Chancellor George Field

Born in La Crosse, Wis., George R. Field (1929-2012) had early ties to River Falls. Both parents, along with several aunts and uncles, had attended the school here.

His father was a guard on the 1923 state champion basketball team. Field earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from Carleton College prior to serving a stint in the U.S. Army from 1951-53. From there he obtained a master’s in educational administration from the University of Colorado and a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Field taught junior high and served as a school principal before entering higher education administration at the University of Wisconsin. His last position there, immediately prior to accepting the presidency at River Falls, was Vice President for University Development and State Relations for the state university system.

At his inauguration into office on Oct. 8, 1968, President Field noted that “if the battle for greatness at River Falls is to end in victory as did the battle for survival, there must be continued response to challenges, continued revolution if you will. One phase of this revolution must be an ever greater emphasis on the role of the state universities as the ‘People’s Universities.’ As we look forward to the next century, Wisconsin State University-River Falls has a single mission. In its own way, it wants to change the world, too.”

During his tenure, President Field handled the merger of this campus with the University of Wisconsin System. The merger created one Board of Regents to oversee all of Wisconsin’s public universities and established the set of administrative procedures that govern UW-River Falls down to the present. With the merger, the president’s title was officially changed to Chancellor.

Chancellor Field strengthened the shared governance decision-making structure of the university. He brought the Faculty Senate, the Student Senate, and later the Academic Staff Council into the policy-making process. During his tenure the enrollment grew from under 4,000 to nearly 5,500 students, although there were fluctuations over those 17 years that produced budget-tightening and a reduction in staff. He also oversaw the construction of Rodli Commons, Hunt Arena, Kleinpell Fine Arts Building, Centennial Science Hall, and numerous other construction projects.

Field Era Dormitory

During the early span of Chancellor Field’s administration, student unrest gripped the campus. Student activism centered on a number of issues, some of them national in scope, while others involved local campus policies. The changes brought about by this movement marked a dramatic difference between student life up to the 1960s and student life since then.

The initial catalysts were the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Six River Falls students attended the Peace March on Washington, D.C. in 1967. When Dow Chemical recruiters came on campus in 1968, a three-hour protest against their company as a producer of napalm for the war greeted them. But the peak of opposition to the war came in May 1970 when River Falls students voted at a mass meeting to strike for the remainder of the week in sympathy with Kent State students killed by Ohio state militia. At least 2,000 students attended the meeting. Picket lines were set up at entrances to buildings urging students to skip classes until the war was over. The strike began as the academic year came to a close and did not survive the long summer layoff. Students were back in classes in Fall 1970. Still, demonstrations and protest rallies continued through the election of 1972 and the end of the war.

More immediate concerns also raised the ire of students—the right to live off campus instead of in a residence hall, the right to free visitation in the halls, evaluation of faculty by students, equality of women students, the right to drop classes without penalties, student representation on disciplinary committees, and beer on campus. All of these issues led to clashes with the “Establishment,” and in most cases victory for the student agitators.

The first beer sale on campus was accomplished on January 25, 1970. In 1966, all students 21 and older were allowed to live off campus, and women students 21 and older living in the dorms no longer had to sign in and out. In November 1967, protesters marched back and forth in front of Hathorn Hall for an hour protesting women’s hours and the visiting arrangements for male and female students. Police were called in to break up the demonstration. But by 1969 and the early 1970s, open visitation was the rule and co-ed dorms were becoming a fact of life on the River Falls campus. Students and faculty were also able to come to some agreement on the weight given student evaluations in the promotion and retention process.

Other noticeable changes in these years affecting students were the discontinuation of the Meletean yearbook in 1969; the new campus radio station, hitting the airwaves in 1968; and the beginning of two yearly commencements (Fall and Spring) in 1969.

Richard DeloritPresident (Interim) Richard J. Delorit

Richard J. Delorit, a 1942 graduate of the River Falls State Teachers College, epitomized the dedication President Kleinpell believed was needed in the transition from state college to state university. Delorit returned to River Falls in 1953 as an instructor, and after promotion to assistant professor in 1956, he became the Dean of the College of Agriculture in 1957. By 1959 he had added an eight-week summer institute for high school teachers of vocational agriculture and science. The dedication of a new lab farm came in 1960.

His advancement within the university continued when he became Vice President for Academic Affairs in 1964. In this position, he came to know students in all aspects of their educational career, an opportunity he enjoyed. His contributions as vice president included the development of a committee to study the strict general education requirements at the school. Students and staff alike desired change, and Delorit delivered. As chair of the committee, he set the precedent for an “experimental school” with more flexibility in general education—more electives to choose from and more depth of departments for non-majors. This model continues to form the basis of the general education program today.

Delorit Era Rodeo

When Kleinpell resigned in 1967, Delorit was appointed interim president with the expectation that he would assume the job on a permanent basis. But Delorit made it known that he was not a candidate for the presidency, opting instead to return to his previous post and the freedom it afforded him to research and write in his chosen profession of agronomy. He made impressive strides in the field of plant identification, writing a celebrated high school textbook.

Eugene KleinpellPresident Eugene H. Kleinpell

Eugene H. Kleinpell was born in Monona, Iowa, in 1903, the son of parents ambitious to see their son educated. He did not disappoint, earning a bachelor’s degree at the University of Iowa, a master’s at the University of Chicago, and a doctorate in history at the University of Ohio. During the depression he taught at Culver Military School in Missouri; the new state college at Havre, Montana; and Morningside College in Iowa. From there he became president of Valley City State Teachers College in North Dakota. When he came to River Falls in 1946, he was the first president selected with the input of a faculty committee and the first president with an earned doctorate.

Historian John Lankford, who taught at River Falls during the Kleinpell era, noted that “the selection of Eugene Kleinpell as Jesse Ames’ successor was a fortunate choice. His temperament and outlook were a happy mixture of the best qualities of both Crabtree and Ames: bold in design, able in political skill, and painstaking in attention to administrative details, he labored to guide the institution through the years of rapid expansion which followed the end of the war.” A local businessman once said that River Falls “got a dreamer for a president.”

President Kleinpell arrived on a campus that consisted of North Hall, South Hall, the Manual Arts Building, and the farm, located at the site of today’s Agriculture Science Building. But campus expansion was in full force throughout the 1950s and 1960s including farm land purchases and the construction of residence halls, Chalmer Davee Library, an agriculture building, Hagestad Student Center, Karges Physical Education Center, Ames Teacher Education Center and a new heating plant.

One of his first moves was to create the college’s divisions of humanities, social sciences and professional studies. In his more than two decades as president, he oversaw many efforts to meet the needs of the burgeoning student body: creation of the Foundation in 1948 to support college activities and expansion, creation of a general education program, transition to a liberal arts college in 1951 and a state university in 1964, and installation of the graduate program offering teachers the opportunity to earn the master of science in education degree. Later organized into three divisions—Arts and Sciences, Education and Psychology, and Agriculture—the college now had many new majors and degrees.

Kleinpell Era Beanies

By 1950, enrollment was 896, an all-time high. After that, enrollment declined slightly, but was followed by a record 1,000 students in 1956 and a steady increase into the 1960s with the arrival of the baby-boomers.

Upon becoming part of the Wisconsin State University System in 1964, the campus was truly a cultural resource for the region’s residents. With 2,500 students, the university offered a host of events such as conferences for language arts, grassroots politics and rural life, a coaches clinic, the fine arts festival, distinguished women lectures and journalism day. The campus and surrounding community enjoyed performances by the new St. Croix Valley Summer Theatre and visits and speeches by luminaries such as Andy Warhol, John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Indira Ghandhi, Margaret Bourke-White, and others. Outstanding teaching and leadership began to be recognized with the new Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award following the opening of the Ames Teacher Education and Lab School housing the College of Education in 1962.

Although student activities languished during World War II, they quickly revived with the returning students. The Student Senate took on additional responsibilities and earned respect from the faculty for its hard work. Debate teams returned to competition. The Meletean and Student Voice staffs labored to tell the River Falls story. And events like Homecoming, Winter Carnival, Sadie Hawkins Day and others enjoyed resounding success. The wearing of “beanies” by freshmen until the Homecoming game was introduced in 1949 and survived until the student unrest of the late 1960s.

Kleinpell Era HistoriansBetween 1946 and 1950, the basketball team won four state championships, was invited to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament three times, and had the nation’s leading scorer, Nate Delong, on the team. The small, 600-seat gym in North Hall overflowed with enthusiastic supporters. The “Feed the Field House Fund” campaign to build a new gym became the first priority of the fledgling River Falls State Teachers College Foundation. Although the fundraising drive failed, the team’s success brought national attention and sparked local pride.

More than 75 years into the school’s existence, the first on-campus residence hall was built. Named for long-time Dean of Women, Irma Hathorn, the dormitory housed 100 women. The basement was often used for dance and TV parties, and male students were allowed to use the recreation room to play ping pong and watch TV. “Good-night” times were strictly enforced—10:30 p.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends.

Through the late 1950s and early 1960s several more residence halls were built, changing the social dynamic on campus and sounding the death knell for the off-campus boarding houses. Hagestad Student Center, which opened in 1959, offered new choices in food and recreational facilities as well. Social fraternities and sororities finally made their appearance on campus in the 1960s. Membership from these “Greek” organizations often provided the principal leadership for student activities. And the groups also offered an escape from the pressures of stud—in 1961 Phi Nu Chi became the first fraternity to push a hospital bed from River Falls to Hudson, accomplishing the feat in 1:58:28.

In the late 1960s, students and staff began to feel the social unrest of the nation with the onset of the Vietnam War and the war on poverty, racism and pollution here at home. When Kleinpell retired in 1967, it was truly the end of an era.

Jesse AmesPresident Jesse H. Ames

Jesse H. Ames was born in Shiocton, Wis., in 1875 of Yankee lumberjack stock. He attended a one-room rural school and later graduated from the Stevens Point Normal School. After stints as a teacher and school principal, he studied history in Madison under Frederic Jackson Turner. In 1909 he joined the faculty of the River Falls Normal School, served briefly as interim president between the Wilson and Crabtree administrations, and was appointed president in 1917 upon the departure of Crabtree.

President Ames had a keen interest in history. With his brother, a high school history teacher, Ames co-authored four elementary history texts which had considerable sales for years. During his long tenure, Ames experienced the lush years of the 1920s, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the devastating effects of the World War II years. As president of what would become a small teachers college, he was responsible for everything that happened on campus. He made all appointments, accepted all changes in curriculum, and instituted most new programs that often came from faculty committees. He ran a “tight ship,” one of his fellow presidents said, yet he enjoyed the respect of faculty and students alike.

Ames Era Homecoming

Throughout the Ames era, when student enrollment numbered in the hundreds, school spirit was high and most students, unlike today, rarely went home on weekends. Students were always on hand to support athletic teams, attend a debate, or watch a play.

The first Homecoming was held in 1922 and included a torchlight parade, pep rally and football game. Later, for many decades, a daytime parade down Main Street drew crowds of locals and alumni. The 1920s also saw the proliferation of clubs and organizations, including everything from the Mozart Club to the Rural Life Club to the Civic Club. Fraternities and sororities were still unheard of, yet there were rooming houses that provided low-cost board and room and created tight-knit social groups.

A school cafeteria was started in 1920, offering a full week’s board for $4. Organized athletics took off during this period as the Inter-Normal Conference came into play. Many River Falls football and basketball teams won conference championships, sparking day-long celebrations where classes were cancelled and replaced by victory speeches, musical interludes, elaborate tableaus, parades through downtown, a banquet, a bonfire, and a school dance. The team name, Falcons, was officially adopted in the 1930s.

Even during the lean years of the depression, the student body stayed active. A poll showed that 83 percent of all students belonged to at least one student organization. And student concerns were addressed more formally when, in 1937, a constitution was adopted creating a Student Senate.

In the spring of 1924, River Falls Normal School celebrated its 50th birthday with a pageant attended by nearly 12,000 people. The cast of 584 presented the dramatic story of success in “dispelling ignorance” through the coming of the Normal School to River Falls. The pageant ended with the singing of a new school song, The Pledge Song, which continues to be sung on ceremonial occasions and played daily on the university’s carillon.

With pride at an all-time high, the school was ready to take the next step—to become a four-year, degree-granting teachers college. In 1927, River Falls Normal School officially became River Falls State Teachers College. The change had been coming for a long time and simply reflected the increased quality of the curriculum and faculty at the school. Collegiate status meant the growth of academic programs and the adoption of the customs and ways of life of the more prestigious collegiate world.

It also meant the desire for accreditation. So the college applied for accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. Although the American Association of Teachers Colleges had granted the school its highest rating in 1929, the school needed NCACSS accreditation to ensure that student credits would transfer with ease to other colleges and universities. For more than five years, the faculty and administration worked hard toward reaching the North Central seal of approval, which was achieved in 1935.

The Great Depression again raised the specter that economic hard times could close down the college. As the crisis worsened in 1930, the River Falls Chamber of Commerce started a fund to help pay for promoting the school in an effort to ward off declining enrollments. The money was used to send copies of the Meletean, the school yearbook, and the Student Voice, its weekly newspaper, to 200 high schools and to advertise in the Milwaukee newspaper. Some of the faculty also visited high schools to recruit graduating seniors. But the demand for teachers remained strong throughout the decade and enrollments actually grew during the 1930s. The same was not true as the world went to war.

Ames Era War Widows

In 1939, the college enrolled 755 students. At the peak of World War II, in 1943, enrollment had fallen to 183 students. Male students were almost non-existent. Struggling to stay afloat, President Ames sought a contract with the military for training but was unsuccessful. He then enacted several measures to keep the campus open: granting nine-month appointments and leave-of-absences to faculty, and in light of the war effort, offering summer courses in Red Cross procedures, geography, and engineering.

But when the war ended, veterans flocked to college campuses with the help of federal assistance. And in River Falls there was a new president ready to greet them.

James CrabtreePresident James W. Crabtree

James W. Crabtree (1864-1945) was born in Ohio but moved with his family to Nebraska in the 1870s. Following his graduation from the State Normal School at Peru, Nebraska, in 1890, he began a career in education. In 1911, while working as state superintendent of public instruction in Nebraska, he was offered his choice of the presidency of several Wisconsin normal schools. He chose River Falls.

The dominant theme of Crabtree’s educational philosophy was the pragmatic and human approach. His own childhood had engendered a faith in the common people and a devotion to them. From his experience came an abiding appreciation of the importance of work, and an enduring sympathy for the young man or woman who made their own way.

Crabtree Era North Hall

He always insisted that education must be close to life and that no child was too poor to profit by the right kind of teaching. Further, he liked people. With both the students and faculty he was liberal with his time and advice. He had a marvelous capacity for meeting students personally, for making them feel his own interest in their welfare. With Crabtree there was no book of rules, only the guidelines of warm sympathy and a rich zest for life.

After leaving River Falls, Crabtree became the secretary of the National Education Association, a post he held until 1935.

Under Crabtree, many new school organizations began and others continued to flourish, including the Agrifallian Society, the Girl’s Glee Club, the Aurelia Literary Society, the YWCA, and Die Deutsche Gesellschaft. The senior class of 1912 started a yearbook called the Meletean. And in 1916, the student newspaper, the Student Voice began. Under Crabtree’s administration, alumni support and cooperation would become felt in tangible ways. He also established new programs such as a student council, and membership in existing campus organizations also swelled during this time.

Crabtree Era Agexp

Established in 1912, the Agrifallian Society’s purpose was that of the “discussion of lively topics in the field of agriculture, social meeting, and the usual benefits of such associations.” Another such organization, created the same year, was the Girls on Promotion, the GOP. The purpose of the GOP was to encourage a “more loyal student body, establish school spirit, insure hearty support of all school enterprises, and provide for moral uplift of our student body.” Fundraisers were used to help buy tickets to out-of-town sporting events to support the River Falls Red and White. The Girls first attempted to go door-to-door to raise money, but that was thought to be too scandalous. So the Girls turned to fundraisers like window-washers and house cleaning.

The first men’s glee club was also organized in 1912, when four young men approached Crabtree with the idea. After the first try-outs, 24 men were selected to represent the normal school in public. Within a year or two, the club was traveling throughout western Wisconsin and performing regularly. At that time, membership was swelling to nearly forty young men.

World War I sparked a measurable degree of patriotism in the student body. Many of the male students joined the armed forces, and many of the female students quit for well-paying jobs in factories and offices. The school was designated as a training site for the Student Army Training Corps, which brought in new students to both study toward a diploma and train for military service. The government built barracks on the campus which served the school long after the war as both a site for the manual training department and as housing for married students after World War II.

The war also exacted a toll. Nine River Falls Normal students were killed in combat. Enrollment was one of the first challenges that Crabtree addressed. Throughout the years, the school struggled with the threat of closing or relocation because of low enrollment. When Crabtree came to River Falls, the Board of Regents informed him of the importance of increasing the enrollment in order to allow the school to remain open. Crabtree was able to increase the enrollment tremendously in the years that he was president. During those six years, enrollment rose from 319 to 627. More men were enrolled than in any of the other state normals.

In 1911 a junior college course was introduced. This new program served as the equivalent of the first two years of university-level work, paralleling the course offerings at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Among the benefits, according to the Milwaukee Free Press, would be the “reduced cost of travel and living” to students as well as the better ability of “parents to retain a more direct supervision over the lives of their children during the most critical years of college life” at a safe distance from “the social and moral jungle of a big university.”

In 1913, President Crabtree began to attend sessions of the state legislature, at the request of the Board of Regents, to advance the interests of the normal schools and to secure needed legislation. During his work as a lobbyist in Madison, Crabtree won an appropriation for the construction of a second building at River Falls, to become North Hall. For $6,200 the school purchased seven lots on the north side of Cascade Street.

By 1914 the $140,000 structure was up and operating. It housed a men’s gymnasium, an auditorium, a science department on its third floor, and a training school on the first and second floors. To many, the construction of North Hall guaranteed the future of the normal school.

“No one who did not live here at the time,” wrote professor R. A. Karges, “can appreciate the feeling of permanence and security that came with the erection of this building.”

Crabtree also approved the creation of faculty committees to plan and execute a variety of activities, including committees for organization and administration; buildings and grounds; curriculum and credits; social affairs and students; athletics; concerts and lectures; and the library. During the 1911-12 school year, increased enrollment justified the addition of two more faculty members, the purchase of $2,000 worth of laboratory equipment, and the installation of a new heating plant. Later that year, a 14-acre tract of land west of South Hall was purchased for an athletic field and agriculture classes. It was also announced that an agricultural education specialty would be added to the curriculum.

In 1911, the state legislature provided for the teaching of agriculture in high schools, thus creating a need for teachers of that subject. President Crabtree saw an immediate opportunity. In 1912, the Board of Regents authorized River Falls to develop a specialty in agricultural education. Normal students could choose from two different courses of study—a two-year course for high school graduates or a five-year course for those entering the normal school from elementary school. Years later the five-year course was eliminated and only high school graduates were admitted into the program. River Falls Normal became the first in the nation to offer this specialty.

By 1917 a laboratory farm of 100 acres had been added to campus with a house, barn, and a couple of sheds to go with the team of horses and several cows. The farm supported itself through the sale of milk delivered by push-cart to nearby homes. From the beginning the program was a huge success. Starting with just one instructor in 1912, the department had increased to a staff of six by the mid-1920s. Course titles included Field Crops, Farm Management, Farm Accounts, Elementary Horticulture, Horticulture and Landscape Gardening, Farm Machinery and Farm Motors, Breeds and Judging of Livestock, General Dairying, Elementary Poultry Raising, Agriculture Chemistry and many others.

Howard WilsonPresident Howard L. Wilson

Howard L. Wilson, a professor of history at River Falls Normal since 1902, succeeded Brier as president in 1909. He had an extensive education, holding master’s degrees in both pedagogy and history. At times “affable and charming,” Wilson could also be very stubborn and rigid. Unlike Brier, Wilson was a strong proponent of athletics, including football which was revived. He believed that the initiative and self-control required in athletics could be applied with success to academics. He also promoted literary and cultural activities. An oratory contest in 1910, involving student Paul Spencer, captured the imagination of the entire school. Spencer’s speech, “The Rebirth of the American Spirit,” won first place at the state level and second prize in the North Central Region. Other school activities included the Lincolnian Society, a debate club; the Normal Orchestra; the Young Ladies Glee Club; and numerous sports clubs.

In 1911, a feud erupted between President Wilson and the local Regent, Freeman Lord, over the appointment of a new member to the faculty. At a Board of Regents meeting, Lord moved that President Wilson be dismissed because he lacked “the knack of fostering friendly relations.” The motion carried. As Wilson left River Falls, he severed all ties to the school and returned to the East for further graduate work.

Rumors that the normal school at River Falls would be relocated began to circulate once again.

Warren BrierPresident Warren J. Brier

Warren J. Brier, 1850-1928, was born in Baraboo, Wis. He later taught and served as both a principal and superintendent of public schools there. In 1889 he joined the faculty of River Falls Normal as a professor of reading and literature. Elevated to the position of president on the same day that the rebuilt normal school building was dedicated, Brier was respected by most students and older faculty members. Younger faculty members were less enthusiastic about his “old school” leadership style. Brier’s personal philosophy stressed the close correlation between learning and morality, and he expected both students and faculty members to be models of exemplary deportment.

The Brier administration saw few changes in the curriculum of the normal, although departments of manual training and domestic science were added. Hard work was still the philosophy underlying the educational program. Student life, however, was undergoing some adjustments.

Brier Era South Hall

As more and more public schools began to adopt the nine-month year, it became more and more difficult for River Falls students to “stop out” for a quarter and teach long enough to pay for more normal school training. As a result, an increasing number of students began taking jobs in River Falls—chopping wood, doing housework—to pay their expenses. Still, many students found time to take part in social activities outside the classroom.

There was a healthy rivalry among the classes. Class picnics, parties, and excursions gave rise to class yells, poems, and songs. A lecture program brought in some distinguished speakers and the proximity to the Twin Cities meant access to museums, concerts, and on one occasion the opportunity to shake hands with President William McKinley.

Brier Era Football TeamAthletic teams continued to grow in popularity and success. Football, however, saw its demise during the Brier administration. The immediate cause was a fracas between students of the normal school and River Falls High School. After a game at the high school, a mob assembled at the Maple Street bridge and a fight broke out. One of the normal students was thrown from the bridge into the river. Brier blamed the entire affair on football and informed students, “You can blame it on yourselves if you want to, but that’s all of that game.”

Parker Era PartyPresident Warren D. Parker

The return of Warren D. Parker to the presidency was welcome news for faculty, students and community residents alike. Over the next several years the school exuded an atmosphere of well-being. The quality of student enrollees increased dramatically with the increasing number of high schools in the area. Kindergarten was added to the Model School program, and new opportunities enriched the lives of students—especially the founding of the Normal Badger and the beginning of organized athletics.

Parker Old South Hall

This first campus newspaper, the Normal Badger, began as a monthly in 1895. Student-run and written, the paper covered athletic events, general campus news, essays, poetry and humor. From reviews of lectures to a three-column critique of the Iliad, the Badger attempted to offer something of interest to everyone. The financial condition of the paper was usually precarious. Single issues of the 8-page paper sold for 5 cents, or a yearly subscription for 50 cents. In 1896 the paper changed its format into a 16-page magazine. Yet editors constantly battled to put together enough contributions to fill out each issue.

Toward the end of the Parker years, sports became a feature of extracurricular life at River Falls. The formation of a baseball team was the start. Baseball, like other sports at the time, was given no financial support by the school, and few schools in the country had anything resembling a coaching staff. Thus, the fortunes of normal teams rose and fell according to the degree of interest of the students. Early games were intramural in nature, but competition soon expanded to include games against area high school teams.

The sport lowest in faculty esteem was football. Not only was it a brutal sport, it was felt, but it was also too degrading for young men who someday sought to inspire and instruct the youth of the commonwealth. Nevertheless, in 1894 the men of the normal formed a football team. The “Normal Nockers” made their own red and white uniforms, but disdained the use of helmets. In the fall of 1895, the normal and River Falls city teams happily mauled each other on a fairly regular schedule. In one of the milder confrontations, which the Nockers won 10 to 6, the River Falls Journal was able to report “only two bloody noses and one arm in a sling.”

Parker Fire

On the evening of Nov. 29, 1897, a fire of unknown origin started in the third floor chemistry lab of the Normal School Building. Students, faculty, and citizens raced to battle the blaze and salvage what could be carried out of the burning building (including the school’s grand piano and bust of Daniel Webster). Within hours, however, the school had become “but a shell of staring ruins.”

When the walls caved in, President Parker climbed on a wagon and shouted that school would assemble in Thelander’s Opera House the next morning at 9 a.m. Only a half day of classes was missed—the town offered churches, lodge rooms, and other buildings as meeting places for classes. But once again the normal was in a struggle for survival. Other communities, especially Eau Claire, lobbied hard to be the site of western Wisconsin’s rebuilt normal. Even the Governor and the state’s leading newspaper in Milwaukee supported the relocation. Within a month after the fire, however, the Board of Regents authorized a new building for River Falls. What is now South Hall rose on the foundations of the original building, taking only nine months from start to finish and costing a mere $33,000.

Citing ill health (in part caused by the stresses of the fire and the rebuilding effort), President Parker resigned in the summer of 1898. It would be up to a new president to give River Falls Normal a fresh start.

John HullPresident John Hull


John Hull stepped into the role as the third president in 1893 and was described in local newspaper reports as “a ripe scholar, experienced educator, and a fine gentleman.”

It soon became apparent, however, that Hull lacked the vigor and enthusiasm of his predecessors. Health problems plagued him from the very start of his tenure. Students noted that he was absent from the building much of the day, often not coming in until the afternoon. One student, Constance Haugen, even speculated that he would not stay very long “as the teachers have to work too hard.” At its meeting in April, 1894, the Board of Regents accepted Hull’s resignation, commenting that “though the impaired health of President Hull has doubtless rendered it impossible for him to carry out many of his plans, we believe that the cooperation and assistance of teachers has made his administration wise and just.”

Hull Era Faculty

Emery Group PortraitPresident John Q. Emery


John Q. Emery, 1843-1928, was a child of the frontier, moving with his family in 1846 to Dane County, Wisconsin Territory. He was educated in a country school and at Albion Academy, later becoming a teacher, superintendent and principal. Immediately prior to his appointment as president of the River Falls Normal School, he served for 16 years as principal of Fort Atkinson High School.

Emery inherited a stable, well-functioning school, but one that failed to measure up to the Regents' expectations. A visiting committee of Regents raised two primary concerns, citing the poor preparation of the students admitted to the school and the small and inconsistent enrollments. During his four years as president, Emery did succeed in increasing enrollments and in pleasing the Regents. Near the end of Emery’s tenure, another visiting committee noted that the “number of pupils enrolled and the attendance was good throughout the year. We found the school large in numbers, in a happy state of discipline and worthy of much general commendation. Teachers and pupils seemed alike earnest and hard working and on such terms of agreement as left little to be desired and furnished no justification for criticism.”

Main Street Emery Era

For students, little changed with the turnover of the presidency. Emery attempted very little innovation in the method or direction of the school. As faculty member Alice Shultes noted, Emery “recognized and appreciated the traditions of the school and held it to its high standard of excellence.” Most students continued to come from the local farming communities in and around River Falls. College life consisted of earnest study during the week with trips home on the weekends and during breaks to help with the family farm. Because of these divided responsibilities, student retention was a difficult problem.