Pancho Ford Wins Ping Pong Tournament!
Drama faculty member Coe Norton, who played a major role in the faculty Thanksgiving skit in 1950
While Bennington students of today expect to enjoy their Thanksgiving holiday complete with the Macy's Day Parade, turkey with all the fixings, and perhaps, for the small number of us invested in sports, a game of touch football on the lawn, Bennington students of 1950 had much different plans.
In a front page statement by the school's Recreational Council in the September 29, 1950 issue of The Bennington Weekly, it was announced that a faculty variety show and student-faculty table tennis tournament would provide the entertainment for anyone staying on campus.
The results of the table tennis tournaments were announced in the December 1, 1950 issue of The Bennington Weekly. “Pancho Ford Wins Ping Pong Tournament” the front-page headline blared. Upon closer examination, it appears the faculty variety show was the day's main event: the show, which “centered around the theme ‘The Faculty Response to Crisis’,” is carefully (and humorously) recounted in great detail. It appears that the table tennis tournament may have been an elaborate skit in which “ ‘Pancho’ Ford from the great northwest, and ‘Tiger’ Nowak from the unutterably great middlewest,” competed before the crowd of holiday strays.
This scene the article describes is humorous enough (“Pancho” receives a bottle of champagne upon his victory), but the other skits that follow are perhaps even more colorful, given their mention of the Bennington faculty. In perhaps the most investment Bennington has ever given to football on Thanksgiving, eleven faculty members portrayed football players getting a harsh dressing down at halftime by their coach, played by drama faculty member Coe Norton. (See the photograph above.)
Following this skit was an indeterminable presentation by science faculty member Morris Oliver, apparently not very popular, given the vague one sentence description. Next, "Mr. Daniel Shapiro," a printmaking teacher and technical advisor for The Bennington Weekly, presented, with the help of his wife, what seems to have been a spoof on the Pygmalion and Galatea myth. There was also an elaborate skit by a "Mr. Brockway," almost certainly Thomas P. Brockway, who taught history and would become Dean of the College in 1952. This presentation, a one man show in which Mr. Brockway juggled multiple roles, was hailed as “one of the best numbers on the program.” Even this, however, was no match for “the supreme example of faculty talent” displayed in “Queen Victoria’s response to three crises.” This mysterious performance, of which no description remains, was presented by "Mrs. Foster," certainly Catherine Osgood Foster of the literature faculty, who taught at Bennington for over thirty years, from 1934 to 1965 (and again for one year in 1968).
While one may wish that the faculty members of today would still present humorous, informal shows like this for us on holidays, we can at least be thankful that the memory of this peculiarly Bennington Thanksgiving lives on in the digital archive. Until it reemerges as tradition, we’ll just have to keep practicing our table tennis.