The first Campionette, the student newsletter, was published 101 years ago, on November 11, 1917. The first Editor of the Campionette was Tom O'Connor, class of 1920. The last official issue was the one announcing the closing of the school in May 1975. Over the years various classes have published special editions for their class reunions, of which some have been pretty extravagant.
The Campion Forever Newsletter was first published by Aaron Huguenard, class of 1947 in 2000 as a means for alumni and faculty to keep in touch and share in life experiences.
We've been trying to get memoirs from retired and not-so-retired Campion Jebbies
for our newsletter for quite some time.
We don't care if the memoirs are about when they went to Campion, taught at Campion, or just what they've done since leaving Campion. We just want to hear something from our mentors in the first person; perhaps words of wisdom learned while IHS; typically we only get 3rd person post mortem.
Not to lay all the blame on the Jebbies... why can't we get memoirs from more alumni. Where are all those other authors and editors of the old 'ette.
While it has been a task getting
people to submit articles, there are a few dedicated alumni and Jebbies who do regularly provide ideas for articles. This is a good thing, else I would have to conjure the 'Ghost of Joe Campion' for ideas more than I care to.
Fifty years ago, on Saturday, December 14, 1968, Kostka Hall burned to the ground.
From a Scarlet Knight...
The Once And Future Past
There was this time...
Years removed from their mother's breast but not her sustenance, young boys gaining strength to engage in overt skirmishes with their fathers were sent at the late harvest of the year to a foreign Land on an epic Quest that would last four years. The Quest undefined by the Land would instead be defined by each individual young boy. For having these young boys, the Guardians of the Land promised to nurture both their bodies and minds, to train them in the art of conflict and compromise, and to teach them the Laws of both God and Men. The Guardians would say often to the fathers and mothers of these young boys, "For your bags of silver, you sons will inherit gold."
For safe passage to the Land, most of the young boys arrived by guarded caravan before sunset that fateful first day - the young boys visibly worn by travel and pale with dread. The last of the young boys came unguarded by various trade routes that were often alive with highwaymen in search of spoils and deadly at night with vampires out for the kill. They too arrived safely and also travel-worn and pale as well. Upon their arrival the names of the young boys would be entered into the Red Book of the Land for all to see before being quartered together. Two or three young boys to a cell ordered by succession of surname, yet each would begin their studies in the presence of equals. The Promise would begin in earnest this day with its value to be measured in four years.
Training would begin that second day and everyday thereafter near sunrise and would end late into the night for all the young boys. Their studies were disciplined and challenging for body, mind, and soul. Many of the young boys excelled; some young boys failed to understand the Promise made to them or the meaning of the Quest that lay before them; other young boys incurred unwarranted attacks on both flesh and spirit by some of the others. The Promise made by the Guardians to each young boy would be challenged early by the young boys themselves and the Quest for each would be placed in jeopardy.
As the early days lengthened into weeks and then months, the young boys began to form alliances that would aid in their survival and that would strengthen their spirit. During this time, individual identity of the young boys was maintained and encouraged but would give rise to forming many new alliances with other young boys and finally to forming an alliance with the Land itself. These young boys would now call themselves Knights.
Throughout their Quest, training did not ease in the discipline and challenges the Land would require of the Knights. Blood was often spilled during conflict from within, and afar. Wounds were bandaged and scars would surface on both flesh and spirit to honor their struggles. Yet their alliances held strong and were respected by all the Land. New alliances would continue to form between the Knights - adversaries of old would be no more. Allegiance to the Land and to each other flourished and would sustain the Land and the Knights themselves until their Quest was at an end.
The Knights would finally leave the Land with symbols of their Quest in hand and to the fanfare of their fathers and mothers and the Land itself. The Guardians would remain to replenish the Land. The Knights would leave to tillage and seed new and different Lands.
During the years following their Quest, the Knights would gather often to celebrate their lives, to speak of their exploits, to forge new swords and armor their steeds, and to bury their dead with honor. They gathered to affirm the Land and the Promise made to them and affirm their allegiance to each other.
The Legend of the Knights persists to this day and is spoken of often and by many. Of the many words spoken of their Legend only a few need resonate throughout the lands and the ages.
This Land. This Promise. This Quest. These Knights of Campion.
There was this time!
Retro Recruitment Film!!!!
From the Desk of John Duskey '63...
Jesuit Community in Wauwatosa
When the Wisconsin Province Jesuits decided, in 1992, to establish a community at the St. Camillus healthcare campus in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (not far from the Medical College of Wisconsin Medical Center) they were placed in one of the original buildings on the campus, which was built in 1932. Upon entering, a visitor would be told to take the elevator to a hallway, to turn left or right to find the chapel or the dining room or a nurse's station. Navigating the building was no less difficult for some of the Jesuits who lived there. By 2014, that community had grown to 50 men and occupied most of the original hospital building.
Also in 2014 [completed in 2017], the merger of the Wisconsin Province with the Chicago-Detroit province called attention to the fact that the old building was unable to meet the needs of the senior Jesuits of the combined province. Provincials Fr. Tom Lawler, S.J. and Fr. Brian Paulson, S.J. appointed a committee to look into the province's healthcare plans. That committee recommended a new building for the senior Jesuit community, which would, along with the Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan, meet the needs of the combined Midwest province. It is not intended to be just a retirement community, but a religious community for Jesuits at this stage of life.
The reasons for this location are compelling: it is centrally located in the Midwest province, near many Jesuit apostolates in Milwaukee. The order of St. Camillus was founded by Saint Camillus de Lellis (1550-1614), who was named the patron saint of all hospitals and sick people by Pope Leo XIII. His feast day is July 18. The order has a 25 year history with the Jesuits, and made a competitive bid to provide healthcare services to the Jesuits. The Jesuits have about 53,000 square feet, located in a larger healthcare campus that includes 700 other living units for independent, assisted living, and skilled nursing care. The Jesuits will be able to adjust space and healthcare requirements as their needs change. Right now the Jesuit community here includes over fifty residents, but there is no fear about adjusting this number up or down.
On my recent visits to this new residence, I was given a tour by Fr. James O'Leary, S.J. and spent some time with Fr. James Fitzgerald, S.J., discussing the various needs to be addressed in its design. Among those needs were...
A welcoming reception area at the entrance;
A community room;
An easy-to-find chapel on the first floor of the building;
An easy-to-find dining room, also on the first floor;
An underground garage, to make it easier for those who need to travel to get in and out of a car;
And good insulation between rooms, so that residents need not hear sound from an adjacent room. Most of the rooms in this building have large windows, which give those inside the feeling of being in a much larger space.
All those needs are met in the design of this facility. Fr. Fitzgerald did mention to me that there was some consideration given to solar power from the large roof area, but the appropriate products were not available at the time of construction. And while soundproofing between rooms is excellent, rooms on the Wisconsin Avenue side do hear some noise from traffic.
We are all aware that the Jesuit order is shrinking in numbers. We are painfully aware that some apostolates (particularly Campion High School) have had to be closed. However, it does seem that the Jesuits are still strong in the area of fund-raising. The initial investment has been half met. The Jesuits have a long-term lease that could extend to as much as 50 years, with substantial savings over other alternatives.
The Jesuits in this community are now able to host visitors in a more suitable way. There are several Campion alumni and ex-Campion faculty who live there. They might enjoy a visit from friends and former students. This facility is located at 10201 West Wisconsin Avenue, in Wauwatosa, WI 53226. Appointments: Front Desk phone 1-(414)-259-8640.
Special Edition: 50th Anniversary of Kostka Hall Fire
From Peter Fowler '69...
The Day Campion's Kostka Hall Burned Down
by Peter N. Fowler, Class of 1969
On Saturday, December 14, 1968, a large fire destroyed Campion's Kostka Hall, a building which housed the school's administration center as well as a theater, coffee house, dance hall, student radio station and other student recreational spaces. The fire, which began on the fourth floor, spread slowly and allowed for the building to be safely evacuated without any personal injuries. School records and other important documents were also removed before the fire became uncontrollable.
I was in the building after lunch that Saturday in the Little Theatre, directing a rehearsal of a restaging of "Alice in Wonderland" and working with several of the production crew who were creating papier-mâché props of oversized heads for the Mad Hatter, March Hare, and other characters in the play.
A little after 1:00pm, we smelled smoke, and after discovering the fire in progress on the fourth floor, where a couple of students had been working, we pulled the fire alarm, alerted several Jesuits in Lawler Hall, cleared everyone out of the theater area, and alerted others in the Cream Cheese Castle coffeehouse, radio station, and the Art Department studios in the basement of the building to evacuate. As a number of Jesuits, including Brother Robert Daley, S.J., who was the Registrar, raced to the Bursars' Office and the Registrar's Office to save records, a number of us assisted them in carrying out records as well as going floor to floor making sure everyone was out. When some of us began to take the large framed graduation photos of previous classes off the walls on the first floor of the building to take them to safe keeping outside across the street near the cafeteria building, we were told to just leave them and evacuate the building since time was running out.
My memory is that the fire seemed to be moving slowly, but you could smell smoke everywhere, although you could not really see it. So there was time to salvage things from the building and lots of students pitched in to help. I remember finding a hanging wire sculpture of an angel I had made in the basement art studio area and taking it with me.
After the local fire department trucks arrived, Michael Betlach and I decided we really needed to document the event as best as possible.
Michael was an avid photographer for the yearbook, and I was both Co-Editor of the yearbook and Editor-in-Chief of the Campionette. So without asking anyone if we could, Michael grabbed his camera gear from Xavier Hall and we got a local bystander to drive us to the Prairie du Chien airport. Michael used a gasoline credit card he had to rent a small plane so we could get aerial photographs. We did that for more than an hour until it got too dark to take good photos.
Several of Michael's photos of the burning Kostka Hall were acquired by wire services and Wisconsin newspapers, as well as appearing on the cover of the next edition of the Campionette and ultimately in the 1969 Yearbook. All in all, an exciting day at Campion, to say the least.
After the Christmas and New Year's break, the building was demolished since it could not be rebuilt. I decided to take a brick as a souvenir. Over the years it has proven a good paper weight and sometime doorstop, but always a reminder of my years at Campion.
From David Nelson '69...
The Day Kostka Hall Burned
By David Nelson, '69
On a ferociously cold Saturday in mid-December, 1968, Gorge Campbell and I were walking from the dining hall to Marquette Hall, where he was among the six senior counselors living in the penthouse. This must have been immediately after lunch. It was viciously cold, but of course no-one had a thermometer so I have no idea how far below zero it was. Christmas break was close.
We had not gotten far when we saw the first wisps of black smoke rising from Kostka Hall. We started running, and suddenly just about the entire campus arrived. The fire grew, but for a while, seniors rushed inside and ran out carrying office equipment and our class photo, the only one saved.
I'm not sure of the exact date, but a perfect storm of fire and ice brewed to make it one of the most memorable days in my four years at Campion, another being the very first day of freshman year.
The Jesuits soon forbade anyone, themselves included, from entering Kostka. As the flames rose, firetrucks arrived from Prairie du Chien and all the nearby small towns in Wisconsin and Iowa, the same towns that sent their football teams to play the Knights. Here's what happened next, and I'm surprised by how often I think about it. The firemen began connecting hoses from their trucks to the fire hydrants, of which there may have been a sufficient number, I can't recall. When they switched on the water, the hoses swelled, sprayed some ice, then froze solid and burst. That's how cold it was. Little or no water reached Kostka,which by this time was roofed with red flames. The scene might have looked demonic were it not for all those Jesuits standing around in black parkas. I suppose we must have been watching from the Quad, but not very far away.
At some point the building partially collapsed and everybody went back to their dorms. I lived in Xavier, of course, and my roommate, Brian Wengenroth, and I shared the last 3rd Floor room on the Kostka side of the dorm. The lucky thing for us was that Xavier extended past Kostka, so we were not across from the tall, tottering brick wall that threatened to fall on part of the dorm. Amazingly, the Jesuits found a contractor to demolish that wall on Sunday, if I remember correctly.
What happened next was remarkable, the final act in this perfect storm of a day. Some time in mid-afternoon, an ice storm blew in. Ice storms are rare, but I have seen a number, and this one thickly coated the ground, the trees, the ruins of Kostka Hall, and especially the area between Xavier and the dining hall. It turned dark by 4 P.M. At the latest, everyone was starving and eager to eat, and the wet ice turned out to be as slippery as oiled glass. Guys fell right and left. Most of us wore leather-soled loafers, useless for walking on ice. I remember Fr. Boorman striding along in rubber boots, carrying a snow shovel, and suddenly slipping so acrobatically that he landed on the back of his head. He survived. One of us - it may have been Tim Galvin - actually navigated the ice on his knees, which got him to his destination. I do not recall the menu served that evening but wish there had been hot cocoa after.
We ate and returned to Xavier. The Jesuits transferred some students from rooms that faced the threatening wall to rooms that did not, and I think we had one or two guys sleeping on our floor. Since the demolition was the next day, we didn't have extra roommates for long.
Everyone presumably remembers that Campion had a steam plant and that pipes carrying steam and hot water ran in tunnels to all parts of the campus. Unfortunately for seniors, the tunnel that served Xavier Hall ran under Kostka and was damaged or destroyed. The Jebbies somehow managed to re-route steam around the campus, so we weren't cold, but hot water was non-existent. When we graduated, hot water had not been restored. I learned to shave and shower in cold, as did most of us. You could try to shower at the gym, but usually the hot water trickled in scalding dribbles.
Back to the day Kostka burned: I'm sure most of us slept like logs, to return pretty much to routine on Sunday morning. That was Campion.
From Bill George '69...
For what it's worth, the band Liquid Sunshine was in La Crosse playing at I think Aquinas high school, we left Campion before the fire started & returned late to see the aftermath.
Jerry Wagner '69 has much more information as he was one of many who helped evacuate what they could from the building.
The Dubuque Telegraph Herald newspaper covered the story and has aerial photos, I believe Mike Betlach '69 hired a pilot to take him over the site to shoot the pictures. Both of these guys could tell you much more;
Bill George '69
From Jerry Wagner '69...
It was a crisp, clear Saturday in December. We were looking forward to a relaxing weekend before heading home for Christmas vacation. Steve Mason, I, and another classmate I can't remember were in the quadrangle goofing around in the snow; we looked back toward Kostka and noticed smoke coming from the top floor.
One of the guys commented he didn't recall a smoke stack there.
We ran to the building and went up the front stairs by the study hall to head up to the top floor where the radio station was located.
The smoke started to appear as we got to the 4th floor. The station was located just off the alleys, an old dorm area there. You could see the smoke had filled the hallway leading back there.
One of the on air guys said another guy had gone done the hallway to find the source but hadn't come back.
I put a handkerchief around my face and went down the smoke thickened hall to see if I could find him. Mattresses were in the hallway stacked up along the walls. Feeling along found the guy on the floor and dragged him back to the station area.
By then the smoke had further thickened and we began to go down the 4 flights of stairs to fresh air.
Pulling fire alarms along the way down, none went off until we hit the main floor. At that time a Jesuit told me I was in big trouble for pulling the alarms. I told him the top floor was on fire and we needed the fire department.
Fire trucks started showing up and we began a student brigade of moving records from the first floor offices, the bursars office, etc.
More fire trucks showed up to help contain the blaze. The wind was blowing flaming ash toward Campion Hall; and Xavier Hall was just next door.
Strangely enough the movie playing in the Kostka theater that weekend was "Is Paris Burning?"
After more trucks arrived we could only sit back and watch. It was a cold December day that turned into an even colder night. The gallons of water directed at Kostka froze on everything it touched and built up to form small frozen ponds.
We were chipping ice off the sidewalks the next week and beyond. To this day the smell of the burning building is etched in my sensory memory.
We were let out a week early for Christmas vacation. Remember; all the hot water pipes for Xavier Hall were shut off so we showered at Hoffman Hall for weeks.
From Tom Olson '72...
I was walking across the quad from the South with 3 classmates and a Jebby (Freshman dean Fr.
A., I think) discussing something or other when
we noticed smoke coming out a top floor window of old Kostka Hall.
We rushed to the building and the dean gave us permission
to follow him up the stairs. When we got up there we found fire
extinguishers that did not work so good, and the alarm pulls didn't work.
Must be why the top floors were previously condemned.
The dean told me and someone else to run down to the Bursars' Office and tell
him to call the fire department.
We got down there and he didn't believe us. So we pulled the
fire alarm ourselves. "You are really going to be
in trouble young men!". And then we ran back up the stairs.
I can't recall who all was up there helping to locate and fight the
fire. After all, us freshman had only been at the school about three months and
still figuring out who is who, and what is where!
The big thing I remember is the upper floors
were condemned and we freshman generally were not allowed up there;
so this was kind of exciting in that I got to
see the VOC radio station that I had no idea even existed.
It was a sad day for me as Kostka contained the Gymnastics equipment and was
one of the reasons I wanted to go to Campion after spending five years enrolled in SOKOL Gymnastics, Cedar Rapids. Also, all my model rockets and airplanes
were in the first floor hobby room. And my art class stuff was in the basement.
When I phoned home to tell mom
that the school had no plans to replace the gymnastics equipment, she said
"tough luck, you aren't there for the sports; you are there to get an education;
so stay put!!!"
We were also told that personal losses would have to be covered by our folks insurance... dad said tough luck on my model losses.
Seeing the VOC studio inspired me to get involved a couple years later helping establish a replacement Radio Station in the
basement of Xavier Hall named WZAP, broadcasting via 'carrier current' through the power lines.
From Jim Moriarty '69...
The swimming team was at a meet. When we got back, Kostka was a shell, partly frozen in ice.
Memories, for me, begin when we were gathered outside in the field where the intramural football games were played. The guys in my circle were talking about going to town. I remember I had too many demerits, so I was not allowed to go. (and being the "straight and narrow" guy I am, I couldn't do anything that was wrong, so I stayed on campus. I remember one other freshman, Bob, wasn't allowed to go either. I wandered around for a little bit, and soon I found myself in Kostka Hall.
I figured it was time to do the 'thing' that my group did; go to the top floor, open the locked door to the upper top floor, and smoke a cigarette. Yeah, that's it. I've never been able to figure out exactly what it was that made this such a 'cool' thing to do, but it did give me some sort of grown-up feeling.
So, having decided, I began to climb the stairs on the first floor headed up. As I hit the third or fourth stair, I heard a familiar voice. I quickly looked up to see Father Lucy and one or two others just turning the corner on the landing above me.
AHHHHH. As quick as I could I reversed and shot down those stairs turned left and headed down the staircase to the basement. Whew, that was close!
I wandered down the hall to find Mr. Dagnon in the pottery shop. We exchanged greetings, and soon I found myself seated at the pottery wheel.
Yeah, this will be ok, make a vase or glass or ashtray. I think he set it up, because I remember that just as my hands sunk into the clay, I heard a panicked voice yell "Fire, the building's on fire!" I recognized the voice and quickly wiped my hands off and ran to see what's up. At the top of the stairs where the special locked door was, I found myself standing with three or four guys, one of whom I remember was much older.
"I gotta get up there and see what's happening" the older guy said as he looked around for a tool to use. I looked at him and before he said or did anything else, I lifted the zipper tab on my coat and stuck the corner of it into the keyhole, twisted the lock and unlocked the door. Every one looked in amazement as I opened the door and lead the way up the stairs. I remember the older guy and I standing in the room, some smoke sifting around but no fire anywhere to be seen.
There was the locked door up there, but it was one that no one ever could open. That was that!!! We all went back down to the first floor. My next memory was us carrying things from Kosta Hall to ???. Jim looked at me with that crazy look in his eyes. 10 or 15 thousand dollars in the box he had. We stayed together till we dropped it off. Yes, ALL of it off. Not a cent missing. That's it, that's my memory. Thanks for the opportunity to share.
From Jim Behrendt '72...
What I remember is meeting Schultheis in the line, of many, of us as ants trying to help empty out Kostka stuff and we were told to grab crap and it happened to be desk drawers from Kostka and take them to Lawler! There were scores of checks in one of the drawers and we didn't know each other .... and we both looked at each other kinda .... like can we do anything with these!!!??
But I think our years of Sister Mary Holy Water teachings made us do the right thing; and we just put them in Lawler as instructed.
From Brian O'Malley '70...
It was a brilliant November Saturday without a cloud in the sky. It was the day of the football luncheon or the Letterman's Club or some such. We were off campus at the Black Angus; coaches, team members, faculty members. Father Lucey, maybe Father Hilbert, Father Connelly (?) who was part of the administration for just that year. I think Bro Gillick, our biggest fan. Maybe a few parents. I remember nothing of the luncheon or speechifying. At some point all the top brass disappeared before the formalities ended. When it was over we stepped out of the relative darkness of the restaurant into the super bright early afternoon sun and looking northwest back towards town we could see the smoke and flames in the distance. I think I recall correctly that Kostka Hall was, at that time, the tallest building in Crawford County. The way the rest of that day unfolded has erased all detail of the formalities of the luncheon. I cannot remember a single word said.
John Roll gave me a color copy of this photograph at one of our reunions and I am so grateful to him for being such an avid photographer. Thanks Tom for all the good work you do to keep our collective memory working!
From Speed (AKA Dennis Depeder '70)...
We were in the sub basement "coffee house" and John Spellman was doing "Alice's Restaurant" by Arlo Guthrie. While we all waited for "it to come around" on his guitar again, John Ryan appeared in the stairway doorway and announced that the building was on fire!
As his reputation of insufferable prick preceded him, we all thought, yeah right, and turned back to Spellman and Arlo, just as "it came around" on his guitar again. J Ryan's pleas fell on deaf ears until another panicked senior arrived and, in a terrified manner, pleaded us out of the concert. We left the room, in an orderly fashion (must've been those grade school fire drills) still not fully aware of the dire straits we might have enjoyed had we not left when we finally did, only to find the top of the building bellowing flames. Down two basement floors, only one staircase exit, in a burning building, and John Ryan came to save us. Ha. I can't really describe the feelings we all shared (think WHEW!!) upon full realization of what might have happened. We were all pretty awe struck (and relieved to be safe) once we got outside and realized the magnitude of what was actually happening.
From Bob P. ...
Yes Speed, I too remember being in the coffee house, heading up the stairs and gathering in the space to the side of Kostka to watch in awe and dismay of what was happening. But my clearer memory is of the time many of us spent in the old gym earlier that year working on what was to become our own little Fillmore Upper-Midwest. I'm not sure how the mural spaces were divied out, but spent many hours working with a team on a Frank Zappa mural based on the Zappa Freak Out album cover (Suzy Creamcheese?). Marty R. had a fantastic mural on the opposite wall based on Magical Mystery Tour (Roll Up Sir.) If I wasn't in JUG or at Ma's, I was in the gym. The team work we put into that endeavor was probably the best learning experience I had at Campion; and then we stood there and watched it burn and collapse; and by Monday, it was back to class and life as usual... weird.
Right on Bob. Did a full floor to ceiling mural on the gym myself. Painted a lot of bubble words on the floor too. It was the Cream Cheese Castle. Painted the giant canvas with the name too. Also remember the lizard from there Doors album Waiting for the Sun. We had one good dance there before the flame took it. But, it was a pretty big dance. We had an actual "professional" group (they got paid, and think they were from LaCrosse, BIG time). What a beautiful time. Spent many a poignant hour in that room. Good memories. Speed
From Daniel Mesta '70...
Tom Thompson and I were walking to the weekly movie(was it Saturday or Sunday?), we saw smoke coming from the top of the building... we went inside and ran up the stairs all the way to the last floor,(I had never been up there before).
Tom and I found two mattresses on fire, no flames, only a lot of smoke.....like someone had been smoking there since I remember we found cigarettes lefts...Tom(a strong and forward action guy) told me to run downstairs and warn the supervisor at the movie theater taking place at the moment....so I did as Tom told me to do...ran downstairs through all those creaking stairs, went down the movie theater going on..... I could not see anything at all but the movie screen....someone reached to me.
I am sure he realized I was panicking ...I told him quietly(that is what I remember) that the building was on fire and he must get everybody out of the building....who was he? I do not know, I am sure he remembers that moment...
Next thing I remember was trying to run upstairs to find Tom, but the amount of smoke did not let me go back up the stairs...I told someone standing on the stairs that Tom was up there trying to kill the fire...I was standing outside and watched the firefighters taking Tom to the hospital...later at night I remember seeing the water from the firefighters hoses hitting the building and turning into ice !!
Next day I was very happy to see Tom at he hospital feeling ok!!
This all I can remember!!
"Tom Thompson was the hero that day!"
From Tom Thompson '70...
Ah, the fire. While some of the details are slipping away, the incident itself is still pretty vivid. Thanks, Dan, but "hero" might be pushing it. Dan, myself, and I believe George Sterling, and possibly someone else (?) were the first responders.
I don't recall if we were coming or going to the WVOC Radio Room but that, along with the Ham Radio Room were the only two accessible rooms at the top of the stairs. There were strange noises, crackling sounds, coming from behind the locked corridor door.
The idea of breaking through that door seemed risky - not because we thought there was an actual fire and the sudden change of atmospheric pressure might create a horrible draft and violently spread the flames engulfing all of us, but rather, if we broke that door for no good reason we'd be hit with a couple of office JUGs and likely get the bill for repairs.
But break it we did. And just like Dan says, there were two mattresses on fire in a small room to the right.
I'm not sure what my initial reaction was, but I think the contemporary translation would be "Oh, F%!K". At that point we all did what we could given our limited fire training skills. I remember pulling the fire alarm pull station at the top of the stairs, but I don't remember hearing any horns. I remember grabbing my first fire extinguisher and heading back to the room. I dropped it and it started squirting all over the place. At least it worked as I believe one of the other ones we grabbed didn't! I remember yelling FIRE! as loud as I could in the stairwell but no one was there to hear it. So you movie goers owe Danny Mesta a round of applause for getting the word out. We truly did try to put that fire out. We went anywhere we could to find more extinguishers.
By the time the cavalry arrived the fire was no match for those water-based-upside-down-squirt-bottle fire extinguishers. The fire was in charge now. I was escorted over to the infirmary. After a full service nose-flushing, coughing up some choice soot balls, and sucking down half a tank of oxygen, I was good to go. Apparently someone called my parents to tell them where I was so they jumped in the car and headed up to Campion. Later that evening, back in my room, there was a knock on the door and dad came in. Which one of us wouldn't have expected these words from a worried, compassionate parent of a 16 year old, rushing to the side of their child, "So, tell me you didn't start the fire?"
Our little fire squad did what we could. To this day I feel badly we couldn't get it stopped. If we had a bit more experience in firefighting we could have prevented that horrible loss. I am just glad no one was seriously hurt. I miss that building and the stories I heard in my head as I walked on those creaky floors looking at all those pictures and faces on the walls.
Today, as I deal with building life safety codes, fire exits, fire detection and suppression system, I have a personal insight to their significance - especially for the professional firefighters that rely on their existence and proper operation. Too bad I didn't take Fr. Aspenleiter's optional "How to Fight Fires" class instead of his "How to Study" class, as my illustrious academic accomplishments would need more than that!
Happy holidays everybody,
From Joe Trad '71...
All I can remember is JVOC saying that had we all gone up and pissed on the fire when it started, we would have put it out!
From Schaefer O'Neil '72...
I remember well that we had a rocketry group in a room on an upper floor facing the dining hall. All LOST !!! very sad day.
I also recall helping to carry out stuff from the bursar's office (first floor on the right) in boxes and armfulls.
At home, somewhere, I have s brick from the demolished building
From Chick Foxgrover '70...
I loved the hobby/craft space and learned the very first bit about art and sculpture there. My brother and I still have work we made there.
From Bob Henkels '69...
Kostka Hall Fire
I helped take records, information and "permanent files" from Kostka Hall. We made several trips before the fire department said we could not go in any more.
I specifically went in one more time to get the Class picture for "1965", which was the year my brother, Ron, graduated. I hope it is hanging in some revered and hallowed space!
Interesting aspects regarding the fire:
The Prairie du Chien fire truck could not shoot water to the top of the building, so they had to let it "burn down" to put water on it!
The ROTC program and rifle range were located in that building and there was concern about possible munitions explosion in the basement.
"Bro Stabler" was heart-broken, as he watched an "old friend" pass away.
The fire smoldered for several days after.
A major concern was Campion Hall and Xavier Hall catching on fire and both buildings were drenched with water from the other fire departments who responded to the call.
The staff pulled it all together and there was little damage to any surrounding buildings.
All were upset about the loss of the oldest building on campus. All of the administrative office were relocated into Lawler Hall.
From Paul McCullough '70...
Demerit (i.e., JUG) list posted in dining hall (and elsewhere) Friday 13, Dec 1968; the day before the fire.
Life goes on "ooobla-dee, ooobla-dah."
List is actually from Jim Trausch '69.......top of the list. Why one of Campion's star lettermen and the top guy of the ROTC brigade (Yup, the (full) Colonel - 3 diamonds on the shoulder - "The Man", the guy who when you were in uniform - and probably other times, too....you were afraid to make eye contact with) ends up being summoned to the Assistant Prinicipal's office that Friday........., well, I guess we are all human.
I kinda feel like the old lady in the movie "Titanic" who says "I can still smell the fresh paint." I can remember the smell of floor polish and varnish the moment you walked through Kostka's front door, the creaking of the linoleum and the amplified sounds of the footsteps of people walking along the corridors......I guess made loud by the wooden paneling along the halls that extended up about five feet, with the multiple glass display cases of all the sports and academic awards/recognitions and hanging above, the decades of photographs of graduating classes looking down on us all. The wood, the odor - the ever present smell of cleaners/solvents, the "oldness" of the place always gave me a feeling the place was a tinderbox, ripe for a bad fire. Best to be somewhere else.
If one one went to Bro. Hottenger's hobby/craft shop on the second floor, you'd walk by classes with gobs of old wooden desks and furniture, the same creaky linoleum floors, the same paneling, display cases and class pctures. Pure kindling.
Here's a previous report by Paul McCullough '70...
Kostka Hall Fire
Saturday, December 14, 1968, dawned cold, clear and bright.
Some four to five inches of snow lay on the grounds of Campion Jesuit
High School as students and faculty followed the school's longstanding
Saturday schedule: wake-up bell - 6:45 am for sophomores and juniors,
7:05 am for freshmen (seniors got up when they wanted); breakfast (including
cereal to be eaten by students - virtually everyone - enrolled in an
on-going Crest Toothpaste study); classes or study hall from 8:30 to
11:40 am; lunch; recreation and lockout from the dorms from 1:00 to
On the first floor of Kostka Hall, the school's administrative
offices were open. Secretaries typed away and students summoned by the
assistant principal (this feared position only recently re-titled Dean
of Students) sat on a long wood bench outside his office.
office was open and was able to dispense the weekly stipend to cash
strapped Campion Knights ($3.00 for upperclassmen, $2.00 for frosh)
through the world's smallest bank window. Immediately inside Kostka's
front door, sophomores and juniors without scheduled morning classes
busied themselves in the first floor study hall, the site where student
offenders had served "JUG" for decades. For those persons
lucky enough to be going off campus, the request "Cab to Kostka
Hall" softly telephoned in by the front desk receptionist, could
be heard echoing down the corridor. In the center of the building,
next to the enclosed four storey steel staircase and freight elevator,
students passed through the corridor that traversed Kostka and led between
Campion and Xavier Halls on their way to classes, the ROTC classrooms
and rifle range in Xavier basement, or (for seniors) their dorm rooms.
In short, all was routine.
Scheduled activities that weekend included a home basketball
game at Hoffman Hall. The debate and forensic teams would be competing
away. A Sodality Society fundraiser movie, "A Man for All Seasons"
was to be shown at 1 pm in the Kostka basement theater, the time being
changed from 7:00 pm that evening due to the basketball game. Students
were encouraged to attend and to purchase admission tickets costing
50 cents, not an insignificant sum given a Campion student's weekly
allowance. Nothing special was planned liturgically for that weekend,
apart that it was to be Gaudate Sunday. Students were more joyful about
the upcoming Christmas recess as opposed to any overt reflections about
Advent being almost over and they were accordingly making their travel
plans. There was some urgency among the many Chicagoland residents to
book their trip on the charter bus to O'Hare Field because the Burlington
Railroad had refused to provide additional coaches and to stop at Campion
Crossing, the result of a small riot with Campion involvement on a Twin
City Zephyr the previous April. Besides, the bus fare was some $3.00
to $4.00 cheaper.
Having started on time with at least 100 to 150 students
in attendance, the Sodality movie was ten or fifteen minutes underway
when Fr. R. Brodzeller entered the theater via the doorway under the
iron front stairs of Kostka, turned on the lights and signaled to the
projectionist to stop the film. "Gentlemen, there is a fire in
this building" was all he said, upon which there was a loud rumbling
noise as everyone hit the wooden floor, feet running, and made for the
two exits. Putting up his hands, Fr. Brodzeller shouted "WAIT!
HOLD IT! You will leave by me under the stairs." The audience,
half in and out of their seats, swarmed the exit, knocking Fr. Brodzeller
back and forth, ultimately pushing him out into the theater stairwell.
Despite being dazzled by the sun's reflection off the
snow, the theater audience assembled on the lawn in front of the dining
(Loyola) hall and waited in silence. In fact, the silence was the most
noticeable phenomenon as nothing extraordinary was occurring. At this
time, Kostka Hall seemed as solid as ever without any signs of danger.
The rest of the campus was also very quiet. Word had spread that a fire
had started in the WVOC radio studio on the fourth floor and that a
small number of students and scholastics were up there trying to contain
it. Minutes later, a single, old, tired appearing fire truck pulled
up in front of Kostka and its riders went inside, causing some tittering
that one fire truck is probably not going to be enough to address this
problem. Over time, one could see smoke building up behind the glass
panes in the top floor dormers, obscuring the window shades from view
and turning the room to darkness as observed through the glass, a gray-white
color. On the front stairs, scholastics and seniors were asking people
in the crowd to come to the first floor offices as a decision had already
been made to start removing school records. This process was underway
when a muffled thud, sounding like a gas range being lit too fast,
was heard and a huge mushroom of flame burst through the roof of the
building. At least half of the top floor in the front portion of the
hall appeared to be involved, signaling to all present that the fire
was hopelessly out of control. The effort to remove records and vital
equipment rapidly accelerated; a parade of students began collecting
and carrying materials over to Lawler Hall where they were stacked in
the foyer. Recovered items included drawers filled with documents, the
public address microphone and amplifier, typewriters, postage meters,
the addressograph machine and address stencils, and the contents of
the bursar's office. The recovery process was halted when the first
floor began to fill with smoke, probably from entrainment of smoke and
fire through the stairway and elevator shaft located in the center of
the building. Despite some protests, everyone was ordered out. Word
had also spread that those on the fourth floor were accounted for and
were safe. At least two more fire trucks arrived and were stationed
behind Kostka Hall between the infirmary and the music hall, pouring
water on the rear of the building.
For students, there really wasn't anything more to do
except watch. The fire moved rapidly, consuming the entire top floor
and the old freshman dormitory located in the back of the building.
The fire department's role rapidly became one of containment, especially
in protecting Campion Hall, pouring hundreds of gallons of water onto
its roof and west facade. At one point, small flames were seen on the
dormers of the western side of the building (the chemistry laboratory)
and were quickly extinguished. The room darkeners in the chemistry
laboratory melted and produced a black, treacly goo that coated the
walls (probably the only overt damage to Campion Hall). It remained
bitterly cold and because of the temperature, water quickly froze,
encasing all exposed surfaces in ice. Everyone and everything smelled
of smoke. By late afternoon, in spite of fire department efforts, Kostka
Hall was losing a floor to the flames approximately every two hours.
At dinnertime, as they took their meals at tables located on the south
side of Loyola Hall, students could look out the window through the
darkness to see fire consuming the first floor, including the principal's
office, the assistant principal's office, and the study hall. Members
of the debate and forensic teams, returning by car along Route 18 at
dusk, reported seeing a tall column of smoke miles before reaching
Prairie du Chien.
In spite of the fire, Campion continued to provide food
and shelter to its 500-plus resident students Saturday night and Sunday.
Attendance was taken at 5 pm for freshman at Marquette Hall, sophs and
juniors at Lucey Hall. Seniors were allowed to enter Xavier Hall, although
persons living in the south wing of the building were required to collect
their mattresses and belongings and to double up in student rooms in
the north wing Saturday night. Dinner was served. Hoffman Hall remained
open and the basketball game was played. Heating, water and electricity
were maintained in all buildings (except for the infirmary and music
hall which temporarily lost heat). Marquette and Lucey Halls were left
without hot water for 24 to 36 hours. Showers, by necessity, were very
Recovery began almost immediately. On Sunday, December
15, which dawned gray and overcast, a large crane with a wrecking ball
arrived around 10:00 am to remove a portion of Kostka's western wall,
some 60 to 70 feet high, that was still standing and threatening to
collapse on Xavier Hall. Displaced seniors were allowed to return to
their rooms later that day. Junior division services were restored
in Campion Hall. During the day, large numbers of students assisted
the Jesuits in transforming the first floor of Lawler Hall into administration
offices. At 8:30 am, Monday, December 16, classes resumed at Campion
again. The morning public address announcements lasted close to thirty
minutes and gave an overview of how services formerly provided in Kostka
Hall were to be replaced. A brief description of the fire and the efforts
to contain it was given. One student, Thomas Thompson '70, was singled
out for special praise because of his work in getting people out of
the building and in fighting the fire (he was reported as having sustained
burns to his arms but expected to recover fully). At the start of his
chemistry class, Maurice Oehler projected a large overhead slide that
reduced Saturday's events to an applied example of thermodynamics: "That
was an exothermic reaction with an increase in entropy!" By lunchtime
Monday, from the students' perspective, all services appeared to be
fully restored. Apart from the morning's abbreviated first period class
caused by necessary announcements, there was no interruption of student
instruction because of the fire.
The remnants of Kostka Hall remained entombed in ice
and snow until early April 1969. Upon removal, the building's foundation
was covered over and seeded with grass, creating a small quadrangle
between Campion and Xavier Halls. Movies resumed and were shown in the
freshman gymnasium on weekends. The first floor of Lawler Hall functioned
effectively as Campion's administrative center, with the assistant principal's
(Dean of Students') office being positioned closest to the dining hall.
Painful losses included The Little Theater (the center of Campion dramatics),
the radio station WVOC, the Cream Cheese Castle
and the equipment used for Camp Campion, the
school's summer youth program. Salvage of alumni records was later found
to be incomplete; in subsequent years, requests for information regarding
Campion alumni were mailed to students, recent graduates, and their
families in an attempt to recover lost information.
Specifics about who or what caused the Kostka Hall fire
were never fully disclosed to students. From the information circulated,
the fire appeared to have originated in or near Campion's radio station
on the fourth floor. Smoking was alleged as the probable cause. Two
students from the Class of 1970 were suspended shortly after the fire;
one was ultimately allowed to return.
Paul McCullough '70
Kostka Eulogy excerpted from a previous article titled 1968...
Probably the most heartfelt eulogy for
Kostka and example of the Campion Spirit came in the form of a letter of gratitude
written by Bro. Staber to the editor of the PDC Courier Press on January 9,
1969. Having been on the fourth floor and seeing the firemen's efforts to contain
the blaze, he wrote of his "admiration for brave men who frequently risk injury
and even life in the pursuit of civic assistance". He further paid tribute
to the firemen injured on December 14, including Vern Fishler and Paul Mara,
writing that through their efforts, the fire was sufficiently contained to save
Campion and Xavier Halls, the destruction of which would have put the school
out of operation. In addition to the PDCFD, appreciation was also expressed
to the Marquette-McGregor and Bloomington Fire Departments, the PDC Police Force
and Rescue Squad, WPRE Radio, Wisconsin Power and Light, and General Telephone.
Finally, Bro. Staber thanked his own staff and remembered the building; his
words are worth quoting:
"Always much taken for granted-yet a vital part of Campion's
lifeline of operation, the loyal employees of the school - John Novey, Chief
Engineer - Frank Bozek and Arnold White, Electricians - Ed E. Bouzek and Leo
Pulda and the other Boiler Room men whose vast knowledge of Campion's heating,
water and electric network, helped to save thousands of dollars and property
by knowing what valves to shut off---how to cap this, turn on that etc. They
were ably assisted by Bro. James Kirsling, S.J., Asst. Superintendent and Bob
Gillitzer and other employees who returned or volunteered during this time of
crisis. Also the Kitchen Food Service who provided coffee etc. and kept calmly
to their duties throughout the excitement."
"Kostka Hall was the venerable building
of the campus - attached and associated with many memories and changes during
its 84 year old history. The 1884 section was especially strong and rugged.
It was not a very attractive building - but was in its way like the giant redwood
trees of California. Withstanding rigors and abuse yet able to be remodeled
and changed to accommodate itself to the changing generations... . All
knew that some day Kostka Hall would have to come down - none, however, wanted
it to go in quite the manner it did."
Campion didn't skip a beat. On January 23, 1969, the Courier
Press reported the results of the state fire marshall's investigation of the
blaze, the evidence indicating that students' smoking was the cause. The article
also reported Campion President Fr. J. R. Hilbert statement that the school
planned to rebuild.
The school received a payment of $484,964.00, presumably an insurance payment, on April 23.
The basketball team posted a 14-6 season and went to the regionals,
beating archrival Aquinas. The Masquers performed Stalag 17 in the auditorium
of St. Mary's Academy. Over Mother's Day weekend, the ROTC Corps marched on
the quadrangle and the Concert Band, resplendent in white dinner jackets, performed
in the freshman gymnasium. The regulations regarding hair length were still
being enforced. One hundred nine members of the Class of '69 took their diplomas
in May and would attend colleges including Notre Dame (5), Georgetown (5), Marquette
(9), Creighton (9), Holy Cross (2), Boston College, Cornell and Yale. Students
received scholarships from National Merit, Loyola-Chicago (2), Georgetown, U.
of Detroit, John Carroll, Saint Louis U. (3), Marquette, Notre Dame, Xavier,
Ripon College, State of Illinois, Army ROTC (3), and Air Force ROTC. After his
year as principal, Fr. Connolly went on to complete his Ph.D. in communication
It had all been a great success. As students departed for
summer vacation, the future of Campion seemed assured. Everyone, especially
juniors waiting to savor the freedom of Xavier Hall (myself included), was convinced
that 1969-1970 would be an even more noteworthy, perhaps spectacular year.
A piece of fiction found by The Ghost of Joe Campion...
Switches, buttons, and lights appeared before me.
Ramjets appeared on all four legs.. three on each to be exact!
There were horizontal and vertical foot pedals on the first two legs.
Everyone around me disappeared.
One of their voices suddenly penetrated through, but quickly vanished.
I pressed the ignition button. With a puff of smoke I was climbing.
It didn't take long to understand the controls. Two pedals controlled
left and right motions, and a third controlled the elevation.
The control board looked complicated, but was really very simple.
I pushed the fast forward switch.
I could see playgrounds and buildings pass under me.
Fields of dead yellow corn flowed inward to a point directly below me.
A wide long river passed under. A barge was headed North on it.
I became sea sick and decided to try and land. Cutting back on the power
and manipulating the pedals landed me in a strange room.
Someone was setting some boxes on fire against a cement and brick wall.
The person didn't seem to notice me from across the room.
But no matter; he didn't stay long.
Seeing him run, I followed him out into a hallway.
I got a slight glimpse of him, but lost him.
Thinking of the fire, I ran back to the room.
A crowd had gathered because of the thick smoke.
I asked for a fire extinquisher.
Someone yanked one from a cabinet near my head.
While he was putting out the fire I got another extinquisher and helped
put it out. Afterward, I helped clean up the mess.
We all went to a football game. It was a home coming game.
I sat next to the person who first began putting out the fire.
He told me that there has been a lot of fires recently.
I decided I wanted to catch this 'pyro'; so, my new friend let me
stay in his room 'til I was ready to leave.
It came the third day of my visit; when the hall was flooded
with water from a fire in the garbage chute.
I helped an angry, seemingly important man, named Fr. Gates,
mop up the floor. When we finished I was exhausted and ready
A few hours later, I woke up, so I decided to wash my clothes.
It was a hot night and after I put my clothes in the washers
I went to a lobby to get a bit of fresh air.
There, the 'pyro' was just finishing lighting a couch on fire.
Before I could say anything, he ran off.
This pyro played it cool for the next few days, except for
a small sign fire.
I got a feeling he was going to strike again, so I woke up
and hurried down stairs.
I looked all around. I walked into the T.V. room and there
he was; just lighting a match to the drapes.
I tackled him. I held his arms behind his back and pushed
him up to a prefects room.
I knocked on the door and pushed the kid in saying
"Here's your pyro".
The prefect questioned the kid saying
"Why do you get your kicks.......
"Wake up! Why do you get your kicks day dreaming in MY English Class??"
Go report to the dean!
Originally mimeographed for Fr. Rob Fitzgerald, SJ's Short Story Composition Class, October 1971.