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P&W Archives Play Major Role in Reconstructing Millsaps Geoscience History

In late 2019, the Millsaps Geoscience Department was hit hard by budget cuts when one-third of its faculty were eliminated. This sounded an alarm bell to Millsaps Geology alumni Wayne Upchurch (’68), Torrey Curtis (’67), Clayton Breland (’70), and me (‘68). We sprang into action! We appointed Wayne Upchurch of Carthage as our unofficial leader and organized a Millsaps Geoscience Alumni Reunion to be held at the 2020 Homecoming scheduled for October 16-18th. Working with Lee Anne Bryan of Alumni Relations and Geoscience faculty members, Drs. Jamie Harris, Department Chair, and Stanley Galicki, Geoscience alumni were contacted by phone and e-mail with information about the Geoscience Reunion. Save-the-date notifications were sent out to some 300 alumni.

To help generate enthusiasm for the Reunion and to reconnect alumni to the department, we decided to reconstruct the history of the department and to send this out to our alumni in weekly “Geoblurbs” via e-mail.

Our first task was to figure out where and what kinds of information were available. Lee Anne Bryan directed us to Debra McIntosh, Millsaps College Archivist. We contacted Debra, and she made us aware of Millsaps’ online archives which includes old college bulletins, past issues of The Purple and White, Bobashelas, and Major Notes, among other things. Initially, we planned to visit with Debra in person. However, after COVID-19 hit, we’ve had to do everything online. Surprisingly, access to the online archives have been virtually seamless and completely critical to putting together the history- especially the P&W archives.

Without a doubt, past issues of the Purple and White are the major source of historical information. These are readily available online and are searchable. Without them, it would be impossible to reconstruct our history. We follow up information from the P&W with searches of the Bobashela to obtain photographs and additional information. Unexpectedly, we found that sources such as, U.S. Census, and Selective Service records could provide additional interesting facts about our early alumni that make them more than just a name and a photograph.

Putting together all these sources, we have been able to reconstruct the history of Geology at Millsaps, demonstrate the department’s importance to the college, and rally geoscience alumni to its support. The first issue went out in late February of this year. Though we have already issued 25 editions of our weekly Geoblurbs, we are only up to the 1930’s in our historical accounting. We have a long way to go. The Millsaps Department of Geosciences has a very rich history, and it is well documented in the P&W.

Millsaps Geology dates back almost to the college’s founding. 

The college’s first session began on September 29, 1892. In the fall of 1893, J.M. Muckenfuss was named Professor of Natural Science and in 1895 he became head of the “Department of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Physics,” the same year that Millsaps’ Law School was created (yes, Millsaps once had a law school!). Dr. Muckenfuss was only the second Millsaps professor to hold a Ph.D. The first was Dr. J.A. Moore, professor of mathematics.

The Department of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Physics would later become the “School of Chemistry, Experimental Physics, and Inorganic Geology” (1896-1899) and then the “School of Biology and Geology” (1900-1925). Starting with the school year of 1925-26, Geology became a separate department, the “Department of Geology,” and in 2016 it got its current name, the “Department of Geosciences.”

Soon after Millsaps College was established, Dr. Muckenfuss established a geological museum in a room in Webster Hall, the old science building located approximately halfway between the president’s home and Burton Hall. The museum secured a donation of 200 minerals from the U.S. Geological Survey. Later, a college in Baltimore presented 200 rock and mineral specimens. The geological museum greatly expanded over the coming years by the addition of fossil, rock, and mineral finds of Millsaps geology students and faculty.

When Dr. Muckenfuss accepted a position at the University of Arkansas, a young professor from Centenary College and his wife from Como, Mississippi, just happened to be visiting the young man’s family in Woodville, Mississippi. He saw in a local newspaper the announcement that Dr. Muckenfuss was leaving Millsaps. Not waiting for the opening to be formally announced, this young man immediately applied to the President of Millsaps, Dr. Murrah, and to Bishop Galloway to fill Dr. Muckenfuss’s vacant position. He was such an impressive young man that his application was almost immediately accepted in August of 1902. Major Millsaps, himself, provided the young man and his wife the former home of the president of Jackson College as a residence (now Elsinore Hall). That young man was James Magruder Sullivan.

Dr. J.M. Sullivan taught Geology at Millsaps for the next 45 years! Not only would he become renowned as a geologist, but he elevated the Geology Department at Millsaps to national attention. His paleontological contributions to the National Museum in Washington were widely known. A new genus and species of fossil coral discovered by Dr. Sullivan is in the museum and named Eogorgia-sullivana in his honor. Alongside it is a new genus and species of fossil snail, also found by Dr. Sullivan, named in honor of Millsaps, Galleodua-millsapsi. These are but a few of the contributions made by Dr. Sullivan and his students to the National Museum over the years. There are many more! Dr. Sullivan put Millsaps geology on the map! Although he was also head of the Chemistry department, he can rightfully be called the “Father of Millsaps Geology.”

Because of his standing as a scientist, scholar, and a strong church layman, the United States Naval Academy invited Dr. Sullivan to speak to the Annapolis Midshipmen in 1934. The October 12, 1934, P&W stated that,“the subject of Dr. Sullivan’s presentation was ‘The Challenge of Life to the Citizens of the Age’ in which he will discuss the relationship of science to religion. In an outline of his address, Dr. Sullivan declared that, ‘Science in all its most modern revelations has nothing to disturb the faith of the most devout Christian; rather, the message of science should challenge and strengthen them.’ He pointed out that the testimonials of such eminent scientists as Marconi, Steinmetz, Millikan, and Edison have given expression to their faith, and their belief in the need of spiritual power in individual and national life.” 

Dr. Sullivan was loved by all who knew him. That is clear from the many tributes to him over the years in the P&W. An article in the March 14, 1940 P&W states, “Dr. Sullivan will not hesitate to tell you that geology is his favorite subject. He says it not only keeps him active (and he thrives on activity, out-walks, and out-climbs any member of the class on field trips) but it gives him a personal contact with nature. His intellect superior, his understanding boundless, his love of his God, his profession, and his fellow man is evident in everything he says and does. He has a sense of humor that helps him over many a rough place. He possesses amazing vitality and strength, not only of the body but of character. Every student who leaves his class may truthfully say that he has found a true friend and inspiration in Dr. Sullivan.”

When the new Science Hall was finished in 1929 (at the then astronomical cost of $175,000 just at the start of the Great Depression), it was hailed as a wondrous achievement and the most advanced science hall in the state. The student body unanimously recommended to the Millsaps Board of Directors that the new building be named Sullivan-Harrell Hall in honor of Dr. Sullivan and his close friend and colleague Dr. G.L. Harrell, professor of Physics and Astronomy. The Thanksgiving 1929 edition of the P&W states, “Upon entering the building one is first attracted by a stone tablet on the wall of the hall. This tablet, which is a private gift of Dr. J.M. Sullivan, bears the following inscription: ‘Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ This inscription tells in a few words what it might have taken pages to tell—the aims and purposes of all the departments of science on the campus.”

Dr. James Magruder Sullivan was fondly known among his students as “Old Grute” or “Old Sully.” He loved to play tricks on them, like putting alcohol on his hat and “accidentally” catching it afire while bending over a Bunsen burner in class– and they would reciprocate! The best prank they ever pulled off was when they placed his cow, Bossy, on top of Founders Hall. For days the Doctor would hear her lowing, but Bossy was nowhere to be seen. After the culprits duly confessed, President Murrah told them, “Boys I don’t know whether I’ll punish you or not if you’ll just tell me how you did it.”

In 1911 while on a geological field trip to Byram, the students and Dr. Sullivan formed a geology club referring to themselves as “The Ramblers” for their rambling about in the field. They are featured in numerous editions of the P&W over the years, sometimes being referred to as the “Royal Ramblers” or the “Right Royal Ramblers”. Each year they would elect officers and make up new offices, such as “Chief Gastropod Toter.” The club was active for more than thirty years; the last mention of the Ramblers was in 1943, about the time that Dr. Sullivan was elected Emeritus and was nearing retirement from teaching. Not all Ramblers were geology majors as there were few jobs for geologists at the time, but they all displayed an enthusiasm for the subject and for field work in particular! Ramblers would go on to make many contributions to society in many different ways. Here are a few of the particularly interesting professions of some early Ramblers that we’ve uncovered:

One of the members of that first 1911 Rambler’s club was James Wesley Broom who would, thirteen years later, be appointed first president of Delta State College (now University). Unfortunately, he died of an ear infection just two years later. Delta State still has a James Broom Cumulative Giving Society in his honor.

Just recently we found that a 1932 member of the Ramblers became a famous professional baseball player. Claude Passeau turned down a baseball scholarship to LSU to come to Millsaps where he also played basketball and was a star quarterback. After graduating from Millsaps, he was a starting right-handed Major League Baseball pitcher from 1935-1947, pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, averaging 15 wins per year during his major league career. He played in every All-Star Game from 1941 to 1946, and even pitched against Ted Williams. Unfortunately for Claude, Williams hit a winning homerun off him in the 1941 All-Star Game.

Henry Holleman, a Rambler in the late 1930’s, went on to University of Mississippi Medical School. He was the commanding officer of the 8055 MASH unit in Korea which is attributed with the initial use of TRIAGE and the development of the beginnings of vascular surgery. For his service in the MASH unit he was awarded the Bronze star by the US Army and the Order of the British Empire Medal by Queen Elizabeth. His service in the MASH unit was memorialized in the book, movie, and TV series “M.A.S.H.” in which he served as the role model for Dr. Henry Blake.

Another Rambler who made a name for himself in the military was Louis Wilson, Rambler Treasurer in 1939. After graduation from Millsaps, he joined the U.S. Marines. President Harry Truman awarded Captain Wilson the Medal of Honor for his heroics at the Battle of Guam where, after being wounded, he returned to lead his men up open, rugged terrain against terrific machine gun fire to capture the objective. Wilson eventually was promoted to Brigadier General, became Commandant of the U.S. Marines Corp from 1975-79, and served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 85 at his home in Birmingham, AL, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Looking at past issues of the Purple and White, Dr. Sullivan and his students, the Ramblers, appear prominently in many, many issues over those 45 years. They were essentially a regular feature. Without those many P&W articles and the stories told in them about the shenanigans of Ramblers and Dr. Sullivan we would have lost this extremely rich history of Geology at Millsaps.

When Dr. Sullivan passed away in February 1957, the February 14, 1957 P&W honored him with a feature stating, “For almost half a century Dr. Sullivan was a living symbol of the Millsaps spirit, beliefs, and traditions. He was, in a very true sense, one of the founders of “the Millsaps way.”
Dr. Sullivan set the bar very high in terms of length of service to the college, his relations with his students, and his scholarly achievements. Those that followed in his footsteps have risen to the challenge, perhaps because he provided such an excellent example. Each of the subsequent department chairs and their faculty members have made significant contributions to the Geology Department.

Dr. Richard R. Priddy, an Ohio State Ph.D. and formerly District Geologist for the Texas Company, arrived at Millsaps in 1946 and co-taught with Dr. Sullivan for nearly ten years. He was Chair of the Geology Department until 1972. He introduced geology into the curriculum of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) in Ocean Springs by teaching the first geology courses there in 1948. He secured a number of National Science Foundation (NSF) grants to sponsor research and training on marine geology for teachers all across the U.S. and Canada. He also was key in securing NSF grants for a six-year study of loess deposits of Mississippi, providing research grants for his students and resulting in the publication of more than 40 scientific papers.

Following Dr. Priddy’s retirement, “Uncle” Wendell Johnson who had co-taught geology classes with Dr. Priddy since 1954, served as Chair of the department until 1989. Mr. Johnson successfully lobbied to get a sample of moon rock collected by Apollo 11 astronauts, Armstrong and Aldrin, brought to Millsaps in 1972. “We are the first geology department in the United States to receive a moon rock sample of this size,” he is quoted as saying.

Dr. Del Gann followed Mr. Johnson as Department Chair from 1989 until 1993 and then again from 1996-98. From 1993 until 1996, Dr. Edward Schrader was Chair. Dr. Gann was followed in 1999 by current Department Chair, Dr. Jamie Harris who held the position from 1999 through 2013 and is the current chair. Dr. Stan Galicki headed the department from 2013 until 2017 after which Dr. Zachary Musselman was Chair until 2019. Under the leadership of these men, the curriculum was significantly broadened to include geophysics, environmental studies, and hydrogeology. During this time, three tracks were established for Geoscience majors, a “Classical Geology” track, an “Environmental Geology” track, and a “Geophysics” track. The name of the department ultimately was changed to the “Department of Geosciences” to reflect the broadening of the curriculm. 

Along with the outstanding chairs, Millsaps’ Geosciences has had the good fortune of having superb faculty members (e.g. Dr. J.O. Snowden, Mr. David Mercer, Mr. Charles Barton) and a number of excellent part-time instructors, research associates, and adjunct faculty members (e.g. Dr. Jeannie Barlow, Dr. David Dockery, Dr. Lori Eversull, Dr. Steve Sloan, Mr. Steve Walkinshaw, and Ms. Evelyn Westover). That so many geology majors are “converts,” students who took geology as an elective, attests to the inspirational faculty and to the fascinating subject matter that geology encompasses. Nearly all of our Geoscience alumni began their geoscience careers as “converts”, including every one of the Geoscience Reunion organizing committee!

The P&W tells of geology students in the early days of the department catching the train to Flora and then being taken to the Petrified Forest by a horse-drawn wagon, provided by 1901 Millsaps alumnus Will Bradley, who owned land nearby. The student Ramblers could barely keep up with “Chief Rambler,” Dr. Sullivan, as they traipsed over hill and gully. A tradition, reported many times in those old P&Ws, was to stop and rest under a particular persimmon tree in the area and partake of the juicy fruit. Often times this is where new Rambler’s club officers were elected.

Today, Millsaps geoscience students jet off to places like the Pacific Northwest to study volcanoes and the effects of earthquakes, to Yellowstone to study its geoecosystems, and to Alaska, Scotland or Hawaii. Nearly three-hundred students have taken advantage of these field trips since they were first instituted in 1997. Concepts like plate tectonics, environment, and climate change inform their observations. The objective for taking students into the field remains the same as it was for those early Ramblers at Flora and Byram- to observe and interpret, to apply what they have read about and been taught about in class, and most of all to think!

While it may seem strange that Geology has played such an important role in the history of a liberal arts college like Millsaps, one must consider that natural science along with humanities, arts, and social science are at the heart of a liberal arts education. Therefore, Geoscience is a perfect fit. Teaching students to think is a key element both of a liberal arts education and of geological field work, something that Dr. Sullivan strongly emphasized and that is still being emphasized by today’s Geoscience Department. What could be more appropriate than for a liberal arts college like Millsaps to have a strong Geoscience Department that provides its students with a knowledge and appreciation of the very planet on which we live and its environmental and climate issues? In one of his last interviews with the P&W (April 17, 1953), the P&W interviewer writes that Dr. Sullivan’s eyes twinkled mischievously as he said of geology, “You just can’t get away from it. In fact, we’re standing on it all the time!”