The more things change, the more they stay the Best Ever.
St. Patrick lived roughly 1,600 years ago and historians will tell you he wasn’t really Irish – he was probably Welsh. Legend has it that he was kidnapped as a teenager by pirates and taken to Ireland, where he was enslaved. He escaped and eventually became the patron saint of Ireland. (After becoming a Bishop, he went back to Ireland and ultimately died there.) He was never an engineer and there haven’t been snakes in Ireland since before the last ice age.
You see, there is a big difference between St. Patrick and St. Pat. In 1908, MSM senior George Menefee was chosen by students to be their first honorary St. Pat, the patron saint of engineers. Last year, UMR student Ray Beezley presided over the 99th ceremony as St. Pat. A lot has changed since the first celebration, of course, but the stuff that hasn’t changed too much is what we call tradition, which is virtually unstoppable. The snake invasion, St. Pat’s arrival in town, the Blarney Stone, the parade – they are all traditions that continue today.
Most of the former St. Pats seem to have fairly consistent memories. “I remember arriving in Rolla on the hand car, then going down Pine Street on the traditional manure spreader and through the streets,” says Ronald Huseman, ChE’59, St. Pat during the 50th celebration in 1958. Keith Bailey, ME’64, was St. Pat in 1964.“During the parade, the guards would roam into the crowd to bring male students to the manure spreader, which served as St. Pat’s official vehicle, to kiss the Blarney Stone,” Bailey says. (Note: It’s not clear what kind of thinking was involved in making a manure spreader the official vehicle. Some traditions get started totally by accident.) The guards would also bring female students to the manure spreader to kiss St. Pat, a practice that Bailey says “tested friendships with the guards.”
Huseman recalls a practice that tested his mother’s trust in him. “My mother, who was very short, came down from Jennings, Mo., to see her son in the parade,” Huseman says. “She overheard a student standing nearby comment that St. Pat seemed to have been given quite a few drinks during the procession. My mother earnestly told him, ‘Young man, that is my son and my son does not drink.”
The former St. Pats interviewed for this story agree that being recognized as St. Pat is an extremely high honor. Most of them have strong recollections of the night they were chosen. “If there is a Super Bowl of the St. Pat’s Board, this night is it,” says Beezley, currently a senior in nuclear engineering. “An indescribable amount of excitement and commotion flow through the room.”
The selection process was done by secret ballot when Bailey was chosen in 1964. “It was exciting because St. Pat was considered perhaps the highest non-academic honor that you could receive on campus,” he says.
For Jeremiah King, St. Pat in 2004, the coronation ceremony was one of the most memorable events of his college career. “The trumpeter and herald went down first, and the herald started talking and asking everyone to welcome St. Pat,” says King, CE’06. “The feeling you get when you walk through that door and down the steps is amazing. Master guards and guards stomping. People on their feet, cheering you as loud as they can. It is truly a wonderful feeling. It’s quite overwhelming. You’re thinking, ‘They’re cheering for me?’ I will never forget it.”
Many of these traditions and ceremonies have persisted even as the name of the university has changed from MSM to UMR, and now to Missouri S&T. (Beezley was the last UMR St. Pat; the 2008 St. Pat will be the first from Missouri S&T.) The uniforms worn by St. Pat and his court still look like they did in the MSM days. Alex’s Pizza in Rolla displays framed photos of various courts that span decades, and the only obvious difference between them is that some are in black and white.
There are activities that students have become less enthusiastic about over the years and some old practices have disappeared from the celebration entirely. The freshman-sophomore fights, for instance, ended long ago. Then there is the colorful and dubious case of Alice (see story on pg. 16), which, depending upon who you ask, only lives on in legend at this point.
“The student-built floats are less elaborate and there are fewer of them now,” says Bailey, who has a tattoo featuring artwork from a St. Pat’s button he got in 1963.
According to Beezley, the St. Pat’s Board has endured a lot of scrutiny in the past 15 years or so. “The fact that we still exist with growing support and participation has surprised a lot of people,” he says. “Members of the board are overlooked for their responsibility and innovation because of some of the stereotypes we are identified with. Being St. Pat might not mean much on a resume, but that doesn’t change how proud I am of being a part of this organization.”
The 100th celebration will be Beezley’s last as a student here. But that doesn’t mean it will be his last St. Pat’s Celebration ever.
In the tradition of St. Patrick himself, who escaped from Ireland only to come back, many former St. Pats make the annual trek back to Rolla to paint Pine Street and enjoy the parade. It’s a good bet that Bailey, Huseman and King will try to be on hand to help Beezley commemorate the 100th celebration along with current board members and throngs of revelers. Those who haven’t been here for a while will probably be curious to see how things have changed and how they haven’t. But they will almost certainly be comforted, as if by some sort of shared consciousness, by the knowledge that the 100th celebration, just like all of the others that have come before it, will undoubtedly go down in history as the “Best Ever.”
“I have not had the pleasure of attending another St. Pat’s Celebration since 1958,” Huseman says. “But, the Lord willing, I plan to be there for the 100th. If it is as much fun as the 50th, it will be great.”