The Library Banquet—No Food on the Menu

by Larry Danielson

The editors of the 1966 Lark—the Hesston College yearbook—laboured hard to describe the movers and shakers of that school year. Among the many pictures you will find Mike Lambert, president of STUCO; Glen Smucker, president of YPCA; and Janet Stone and Kenneth Yoder, respective editors of the Journal and the Lark. You even will find a night shot of the Mary Miller Library, a new building that year named in honour of the college historian and author of The Pillar of Cloud.

But you will not find pictured, in that visual chronicle of events, the “Library Banquet” committee. We were a crew of late-night pranksters and the last thing we wanted was to have our identities known or our pictures taken. I simply appear in that yearbook as a studious-looking freshman and as the feature-news editor for the school paper. In the after hours, however, I was helping to make news.

The “Library Banquet” was the culmination of a number of pranks undertaken that year by our cabal of four—myself; my roommate Tim Beachy; Gene Kropf, a freshman who resided next door in our Erb Hall dormitory; and Marcus Bender, the only sophomore in our group. 

Our pranks were hatched during late-night chats, but by light of day the four of us did not appear together. To better cover our tracks, Marcus and I feigned a personal antagonism. Students speculating on who had done the pranks would not likely put the two of us together. The apparent “bad blood” between us was just another part of the joke.

Our greatest challenge was to penetrate the security of locked buildings without damaging locks and to operate after curfew without being detected by the campus watchman. Despite close calls, we succeeded on both counts.

Organizing the “Library Banquet” was our culminating action and it came late during the school year.  Starting first in the dining hall, we loaded the plates, glasses, and cutlery into a large trunk. Then we followed a round-about route—south from Hess Hall, west behind the Erb Hall dormitory, and north again to a basement entrance of Miller Library. 

Once we were safely inside the building and had secured the door, we lugged our trunk upstairs to the main hall. We arranged the study tables in a horseshoe-pattern around the many bookshelves.  Relying on only incidental light, we laid out the plates, glasses and silverware. For each place setting, we positioned the forks on the left and pointed the blades of knives inward—just as we’d been taught to do at home when setting tables for youth-group fundraising banquets.  We even filled the glasses with water, using our index fingers as a guide to avoid spilling on the tables in the darkness.

On the head table we placed a lectern and, in front of it, our piece de resistance–a full bouquet of gladiolas. The flowers were left over from a Sports Banquet and we had diligently borne them from the dining hall along with the heavy trunk.

Well satisfied with our mischief, we returned to our dormitory for a brief sleep and to await the campus reaction in the morning. It was well worth the wait. Unknown to us, a faculty meeting had been slated for that particular morning. A custodian discovered our “Banquet” arrangements and phoned Kenneth Steider, the librarian. Mr. Steider, we were later told, arrived to survey the scene and then contacted President Tilman Smith. Soon other faculty members arrived and took their places around the tables, pleased to anticipate a breakfast meeting.  Eventually, they discovered that no food was included on the agenda.

By the time we culprits arrived for our own breakfast at Hess Hall, the “Library Banquet” story was the talk of the campus and even the town. One Hesston lady heard that the table display included candles and specially folded napkins. In truth, our spartan decor lacked such amenities, but the imagination fuelling that rumour understood the spirit of our endeavour.

By late morning, there was a buzz among students in our Psychology class. Dean Miller “knew who had done it” and was going to confront them immediately after lunch. We next heard that six girls had been notified to appear at his office. 

Immediately we sensed the source of his mistake. Earlier in the year, one of our pranks in the cafeteria had led to the milk being cut off “until the culprits confessed.” Annoyed at that administrative action, two sophomore girls had provided the requisite confession. Now they, and four of their friends, had been summoned to see the Dean.

Tim, Gene, Marcus and I hastily convened a meeting and decided to report in their stead. Seated in the Dean’s office, we explained that the four of us were responsible.  Dean Miller listened carefully, then leaned forward in his chair and smiled. “That’s a good story, boys,” he said. “Now suppose you tell me who really did it.” He thought we might be taking the rap for our girlfriends.

We stuck to our claim, even after he explained there would be a monetary fine for such a misdeed. He was convinced the girls had done it and thought we might be taking the rap for girlfriends. He challenged us to undo what we had done. Operating in broad daylight, our teamwork was a model of efficiency. We re-arranged the tables, stowed goods back in the trunk, and quickly transported them back to the dining hall. When we dismantled the banquet arrangements, it was obvious even to the Dean that we had done it.

It is now more than forty years later, and I remember little about the Peace of Westphalia we studied in Willard Conrad’s Civilization course or the Ego-Integrative Motives taught by Ivan Lind in his Psych class. Yet I recall well the excitement of our late-night escapades and the amused attention they garnered among fellow students. And, during my long career as a high-school educator, those nocturnal adventures helped me to appreciate the high spirits of youth and taught me to wear authority lightly when dealing with the pranks of a later generation.