Aug. 2, 2011
Former student body president recalls initiative to honor Northwest students, alumni serving in military during World War II
MARYVILLE, Mo. - For six decades the names of Northwest Missouri State University students and alumni who served in the military during World War II have had a presence on a wall of the Administration Building. For Vivian (Wilson) Virden, a 1945 Northwest graduate, the Roll of Honor plaque is part of the legacy she left behind at Northwest.
As student body president during the 1944-1945 academic year, Virden worked with then President Uel Lamkin to plan the recognition.
"We just talked that we needed some kind of a tribute to our students who served," Virden said, while visiting the Northwest campus last week. "(Lamkin) talked to me, as student council president, about the idea, and it just developed from there. We met several times about what we wanted. ... We knew a few that had lost their lives and we just needed some way to honor them."
By the fall of 1944, Northwest's student population had dropped considerably as a large number of men had gone overseas to fight in World War II.
"There weren't very many men here; it was mainly women here," Virden said. "The V-12 program was here, but for Northwest students there was low enrollment."
Virden said the students thought it was important to come up with a plaque that displayed the names of current students and alumni who were serving in the military at the time, which included Virden's brother Harold Wilson and her cousin Richard Wilson.
"We wanted the names so people could come and find the names," Virden said. "We wanted each person to be individualized."
With plans for the plaque in place, the war formally came to an end in May 1945. On Sept. 15, 1945, according to Mattie Dykes' book chronicling Northwest's first 50 years, "Behind the Birches," the plaque was placed just outside the door of the president's office, which was then on the second floor of the Administration Building. Interestingly, the Board of Regents would accept Lamkin's retirement two days later and name Dr. J.W. Jones to succeed him that December.
Virden said she took pride in leading the student body during a time that provided more opportunities for women.
"At that time, I was still pretty full of myself," she quipped. "I was 19 and I was going to be graduating at the end of the summer session and finding my first job and all of that. I was thrilled to be chosen. Of course, there weren't very many men around, so women had a chance of being student council president, and that was really something."
Virden, who grew up in Skidmore, arrived at Northwest in the fall of 1942 and lived in Residence Hall, which is known today as Roberta Hall. Not long after, however, Virden and other women were moved off campus to make room for the 400 Navy men who enrolled at the college for the V-12 naval officer training program.
"I had to go to summer school to get a physics course because everything then was geared around the V-12 program," Virden said. "Anything that they had to take and take in sequence, if you wanted it, you had to take it when they had it scheduled."
Earning her degree in vocational home economics, Virden left Northwest and taught vocational home economics in Herculaneum, the furthest she'd ever been from her home to that point in her life. A year later, she moved back to northwest Missouri and taught in Albany, where she met her husband, Bill. They married around Christmas time in 1947.
After stints in Kirksville and Columbia, the couple eventually settled in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where Virden spent 35 years as a teaching assistant for students in advanced English and social studies programs. She retired in 1986. Bill died in December 2010.
Today Virden resides in Fountain Hills, Ariz., but with family members still living in northwest Missouri, she returns to Northwest regularly.
"I've always loved to come back, and we go to a football game once in a while," she said. Virden also recalled former Director of Alumni Relations Mike Johnson's visit to Arizona to help establish the Northwest Alumni Association's Arizona Alumni and Friends Chapter and a recent visit from Northwest President Dr. John Jasinski. Said Virden, "They do a good job of building rapport with alumni, and that's been really special."
The Roll of Honor plaque can be viewed on the first floor of the Administration Building, outside the president's office, located in the building's east wing.
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