Interview With Professor Emeritus Garff Wilson

Version 1.0
Garff Wilson, Professor Emeritus
Grace Tiscareño, Public Relations Director, 1988
Genro Sato, Senior Manager, 1988
Date of Interview:
November 11, 1990
January 22, 1991
Grace Tiscareño-Sato
(conducted at his home in Berkeley by Grace Tiscareño and Genro Sato)

Part I: 11 Nov 90

Introduction of interviewers:

Grace: My name is Grace Tiscareño and I was the Public Relations Director of the Band in 1988.

Genro: I'm Genro Sato and I was the Senior Manager, same year 1988.

Garff: Well I seem to think I remember.

Grace: OK, we just wanted to jog your memory.

Genro: It's rolling.

Background information on Mr. Wilson:

Grace: We first wanted to just get some background information on you, of course, as far as when you first came to Cal as a student and take you way back.

Garff: It takes me way back, takes me back to 1926. That's when I arrived on an August, late August, in the evening and my first impression was the smell of the ocean, the salt air. You see, I'd been born and reared in Utah and we had the Great Salt Lake with us and it's not like it doesn't perfume the air, like that August evening when I drove in with a friend. I'll never forget that wonderful aroma of the salt air, the ocean nearby.

I was worried about finding a place to live and since I'd graduated from Ogden High School I had there a friend named Chet Zin, Chester Zin. He had been my commandant in Junior ROTC and Chet said, “Well that's simple, come and stay at my fraternity house for the first night or two until you find a place and there won't be any problem.” I didn't know about rushing then. I didn't know about the traps they set. So I drive in and was deposited at the Pi Kappa Alpha house on 2324 Piedmont Avenue which is still there, still functioning. They call themselves “Pikes” now. Chet was there to welcome me and I was shocked at the state of the house. It had been well, virtually unused during the summer, just a few guys living in there, and the trash was monumental. I couldn't believe my eyes, coming from a house where there was a mother, a maid, and three female sisters, of course sisters are always female, where everything was scrupulously tidy, walking into that house I couldn't believe it. Well then as soon the freshmen and sophomores got back suddenly, everything was cleaned up and was beautifully organized. After two days without anything significant happening, then I started getting invitations from some other fraternities and that meant somebody knew I was in town and I was on a scholarship and that means I can pay a house bill, that's your rent. And so I started to get invitations and that galvanized the “Pikes” into action. I remember Chet said, “We'd like to take you for a drive” and they drove up on the road, back of the stadium. These snapshots you know are in your minds. It was in a convertible, we called them “ragtops”--what do they call them now?

Genro: Same thing.

Grace: Ragtops.

Garff: And this little ritual. There was no formal rushing then for the men. Women have always had lots of rules and regulations, but the men had none of those--it was purely “cutthroat” as we called it. And so I had been at the Pike house for all of two days and they said, “The men there like you. They think you could fit in very well. We'd like to offer you this pledge pin.” I was flattered, surprised and thought, “How could they make up their minds so fast? I don't know. They know I can pay a house bill, that's what they know about me. They can see I'm not an athlete, I'm not the hero type by any means,” but I accepted the pledge pin. I moved in and stayed there my whole college undergraduate career.

And then I got an A.B. and stayed on two more years as a teaching assistant in English. And this was now in the bad days of the Depression, the beginning of the Great Depression. I was graduated in 1931. And you say, if you entered in '26, how come it took you five years? I was out a year. I went to England on a debate trip. It was 3 men, one from Stanford, who became a diplomat, an ambassador, one from USC who became a lawyer for Hollywood stars, and myself who became a professor. We were the debate team and we had gone and spent a year abroad actually and would you believe the ASUC had paid for that? I got a whole trip to Europe with the ASUC paying for at least the basic things. I borrowed money to stay longer, just having been in England two or three months debating. We debated at 15 different English universities. In England when you debate there's always an audience vote afterward. They pattern after the procedure in the House of Commons where the house divides and who supports the motion. They don't use the same terms that we used to use in American debating, i.e. “resolve this house disapproves of modern women.” After that the house divides or as they leave the hall they cast a vote and you always get an audience reaction to what you've done, which I tried to introduce here at Cal, because it makes it so much more fun. The audience participates and they ask questions and they make comments. Then they have a vote on which side of the proposition they agree with. The audiences there were mostly very hospitable and they usually voted for the visiting Yanks as they called us. There was one vote we lost, “Resolve that one can live happier in America then in England,” or vice-versa, I don't know what it was but they did not vote that you can live happier in America then in England. So that's what caused me to graduate in five years rather than four.

Then I stayed on for two years as a teaching fellow, we called them, teaching fellows, not teaching assistants, not TAs but teaching fellows in the English Department, and got a masters degree at the same time then went looking for a job. This now was 1933 and the Depression had really taken hold. You people who live in an era of inflation don't realize what the Depression meant. It meant for example, that you could buy a milkshake and a hamburger for twenty- five cents. It meant that you worked for ten cents an hour or fifteen cents an hour or if you were lucky twenty-five cents an hour. What's the fair wage now?

Genro: The minimum wage?

Grace: $3.65 or $3.85, I think.

Genro: It's $3.85 and supposed to get up to $4.25.

Garff: Well things were in proportion--you didn't earn very much but things didn't cost very much. But those were not the days. Anyhow, I went looking for a job and the job lady on the campus got me the best job of the year. I became an assistant professor at what is now Humboldt State University. It was Humboldt State College then, actually Humboldt State Teachers' College. All the local now universities like Fresno State and San Francisco State were also State Teachers' Colleges. Now they are all universities.

Grace: So you taught there for a while--what year did you return to Cal?

Garff: Yes, I had a lovely time there. I was popular. I directed all the plays, coached all the debaters, taught three or four courses. It was a heavy load. But when you're in your early twenties you've got lots of energy. I was directing a play every day of my life. I was putting on 5 major plays a year! Nobody does that anymore!

Genro: Now they put on one play and keep it going for five years!

Garff: Well even at the University theater here one of the staff members directs one play a year. If they're going to do three or four plays that year they alternate the direction. Since I was the only director, I did all the directing. I also was Dean of Men The college itself, now the University itself has some seven to eight thousand students. Its enrollment in 1933 was barely 300 students and it teetered on the brink of dissolution. The state was poor too. The Depression had affected taxes and everything. So we were always afraid that the institution would be destroyed, would be closed down. So one device to keep the enrollment around 300 was to have all the faculty members register for a course of two! But it was tightly knit family group and there are still friends of mine, some of them at the time were almost as old as I was. I went up there when I was 23 or 24 and during the Depression there weren't jobs and a lot of students then came back and used up their savings or borrowed money to return to college to get a degree. I still see them. Is there any memento in here? (in the room) Only about a month ago they wanted me to come up to Arcata where Humboldt State University is now located, and speak at their Homecoming celebration. I'm so fragile now I had to back off and said I couldn't do it. And so they said, “We'll come and visit you.” And so 9 of them came here of my old students and sat around this table and they brought all the food. It was very heartwarming and very touching for me because I'm fragile and I'm now eighty one years old. I don't know whether that astonishes you, it does me. You know you never expect to be eighty one! I never expected to live past forty! I used to say “Well, there's nothing to look forward to after forty. I might as well make up my mind I want to die then.”

Grace: I'm sure you've changed your mind by now.

Garff: The ignorance of youth. No, the best years are after forty. And your good years depend upon your health. If you keep your health, keep your vigor and do things, why, you can enjoy life. Yesterday for example, I did too much. Today is a rest day. One of my dear friends, a Cal man, Christian E. Markey Jr., was for 12 years a superior court judge in Los Angeles, and then he was offered the job of being a vice-president and a judicial officer for the University of Southern California, USC. He gets a lot of flack for being now a vice-president at USC. I remember we used to hate them--I guess we still do.

Genro: We still do.

Grace: That hasn't changed.

Garff: Well, Chris was here and he drove me every place and insisted that I go to the football game or at least a quarter or two. We stayed until halftime then he brought me home. But it was a wonderful game. I didn't realize Cal was that good!

Genro: Nobody does.

Grace: It just happened this year. We're trying to figure out what to do with it.

Garff: And I thought there was no future with the Cal football team with Bruce Snyder. It's been pointed out to me that Bruce Snyder inherited the recruits that Joe Kapp had brought in--they were not his recruits--they're not boys he had chosen. And this is the first year that the team is made up of all Snyder's recruits.

Grace: That was the big news in the fall and summer.

Garff: And he evidently is a good recruiter because we've got a winning team for the first time.

Grace: In a long time. Okay, so let me ask-- you taught at Humboldt State and then you came back. When were you offered a teaching position here at Cal? When did you come back to Cal?

Garff: No, I got restless up at that small place and started to say could I make it in the big league? But in the big league you have to have a Ph.D. So I borrowed the money and went back east to Cornell. All my previous college work had been here at Cal and I thought I needed the experience of an eastern university. So I went to Cornell and got a Ph.D. Then I went back to Humboldt State for one year, then Cal called me. Jerry Marsh was chairman of the speech department here and he was the one who telephoned and asked if I'd be interested in a Cal job. Well of course! That was the reason I got a Ph.D so I could get into the big league! And there's no bigger league than Cal. So, I came down in the fall. We were on the same calendar then. Oldies like me call it the old, original Berkeley calendar. I won't tell you the story of the calendar changes here, but we began in August, at the end of August until December when we took finals and then we had completely free time during Christmas as you do, don't you, then registered in January and went through to May. We finished finals in May and had the first chance to get summer jobs so we liked that.

Grace: So what year was that, when you were offered the job to come back?

Garff: Well, that is the point I was about to make. So, I was offered a job in 1941 and started teaching in August of 1941 and I clearly remember December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor. I had a little apartment down on Dwight Way and nobody could believe it. I was sitting there listening to a good music station and correcting papers and suddenly the announcer broke in and said, “Excuse us for breaking into the Sunday morning concert but we have some incredible news that has not been confirmed yet. We have news that the Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field, both the United States Navy and the United States Air Force. We'll keep you informed.” Well, that shattered the world. I had a final to give the next day after that Sunday, that would have been Monday, 8th of December, wouldn't it? There was a poor student there who resided in Hawaii, in Honolulu and she had no idea what had happened to her house, her parents and so on and I excused her from the final. I said, “You're in no position to take a final so we'll just base your grade on your marks so far.” I wasn't enlisted. I went around looking for one of the services that would give me a commission. I thought, and it turns out to be true, being an officer in any of the services is much happier that being an E.M., an enlisted man. Well, nobody wanted to give me a commission. Nobody would take me. So I just got drafted and had a small taste of being an enlisted man. I didn't care for it.

Grace: Which service was this?

Garff: I was in the Air Force then. Of course it was the Army Air Force back in 1942. So I immediately applied for OCS (Officer Candidate School) and the first sergeant in my flight said, “You only arrived here. You're already applying for OCS?” I said, “Do you mind?” He said, “No, but you have to go before a board of officers to see if they will recommend you for OCS.” And having taken oral exams for a Ph.D., I wasn't afraid of an oral exam. I went before the officers board, and passed fairly easily and then I had to go before the flight commander. I think he is dead because that squadron was in the raid on Plisty (sp?) on the oil fields. Where is Plisty? It's in Yugoslavia or someplace in the middle or eastern Europe. And the squadron got mostly wiped out there because the anti-aircraft defense was much stronger then they anticipated. So I did apply for OCS and got accepted and guess where they sent me?

Grace: After you got your commission?

Garff: Now, I thought they would have sent me to the administrative Air Force school, but instead of that they sent me to that branch of the service that has to do with weapons and machines and so on. I can't remember the name now.

Grace: Were you operational?

Garff: We were three month in OCS, training to be an officer. They were tough months. You were up at 5 o'clock and you were drilling or studying or doing your specialty. Mine was in artillery, ordinance, that's the word.

Grace: Was this at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas?

Genro: No, this was at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. That's where they develop the weapons, the cannons, all the guns. We were at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and we were not actually in the Proving Ground, in a large vacant area outside that, then put up huts full of Japanese beetles. In OCS when you marched, you marched looking straight ahead, your shoulders back. If a beetle landed on your eye you couldn't brush it away and just blinked and hoped it went away. I can't believe I've done all those things!! OCS at Aberdeen Proving Ground and we did all the things we were supposed to do. We had to study had too, book learning. They weeded out, they had two washouts. You had to rate everyone in your own little group according to who ranked at the top--who you thought were the five best, but you had to rank the five worst. This was called FYB night, when you ranked them, Follow Your Buddy. So I survived that, got my commission as a second lieutenant and then we had a week's furlough, a week's leave. But you don't realize that transportation during wartime was taken up by the armed services; I couldn't get to California from Maryland, no way. I got as far as Chicago and then I was bumped off the train and it was taken over. So then I was assigned as an adjutant in an ordinance battalion and in that ordinance battalion I spent the war. It was the 142nd ordinance battalion. We were stationed in ten different post camps and stations in the USA. Then we were shipped to Europe, to France and spent almost a year in France in a little town called Langres, L-A-N-G-R-E-S. The GI's called it “Langress” of course, as spelled. And we were there for a year. Then V-E Day came. That was early in May 1945. Ya, it's coming back to me. And we expected to be sent home. We hadn't been overseas a whole year and so we were alerted for movement to the Pacific, right away and all of the boys said, “It was a short peace, wasn't it?”, because of the war with Japan so we moved west. And nobody as far as I knew had any inkling of the atom bomb that came as a startling, shocking surprise, but it did end the war.

Grace: Can I get you back to when you came back to the campus? I need to start asking you about when you first were exposed to the band when you came back after the war.

Garff: We were shipped to Japan with the Army occupation, my battalion, the same ordinance battalion. From there I was stuck in a position in the Army. Every slot is designated and if you're in a slot that calls for being a first lieutenant, either you stay, you don't get promoted to captain unless you move to a position that calls for a captain. Well, I finally got out of that outfit and asked for a transfer and got into a higher headquarters there in Yokahama. Suddenly there came a telegram from the War Department in Washington ordering me to be released. I couldn't believe it. The war on both fronts was over and, let me recollect when this order for my release came. It was I guess November. I got back to Cal for the new Spring semester, November 1942. No that's not right.

Grace: This is after the war was over? So it would have been 1945 then? Garff: No, 1946! That's when I got out because I had three months of terminal leave. I sometimes, once or twice I appeared on the campus in my uniform, I was a captain by that time.

Grace: So you returned to teach again in 1946?

Garff: In 1946, that's when I got back and I started to teach almost immediately because they were shorthanded here. I was completely baffled by the fact that I had been released early. Now if I had been married with a pack of kids, you had a point system, and you got points but I was still single. I was supporting my own mother so she was the one who got me out. I said to her when I got back, “I can't imagine how I got out,” and she said, “I got you out.” I said, “How, what did you do?” She said, “Well, I wrote to the senator from California and said, ‘My son has been in for almost four years. He's needed at the university to teach more than he's needed in Japan being an assistant to somebody.’” And the senator said, “You're right.” He was the one. He was on the Armed Forces committee in the Senate and he packed a lot of weight. So I got back in 1946.

Grace: And you began teaching in the Spring semester of 1947. So you were a professor of english?

Garff: I was in the speech department which is now rhetoric. I was also in the dramatic art department, I taught in two departments here in speech and in dramatic art.

Grace: So then, when did the Band first come to your attention? Was it when you were first a student?

Garff: Cal Band?

Grace: That's what we really want to link your story to.

Garff: I should say so! I remember vividly. The first football game in the fall of 1926. There was no orientation then. We weren't told what to expect. I was sitting in the rooting section, which is still the rooting section, and suddenly I heard the sound of trumpets in the North Tunnel, and in marched the Cal Band. I say there were 3 experiences when I was a freshmen, that sent the chills up and down my spine, and that was the first one. But I still remember the sound and the looks of the Band. How can Stanford put up with that farce of a Band down there compared to the Cal Band. The Cal Band is, I think, the greatest ambassador that we have on the campus. They make more friends for Berkeley, they do more for every organization. What would a thing be without the Cal Band? Can you imagine a football game without the Cal Band? Can you imagine a basketball game without the Straw Hat Band at least, without some segment of the Band? Can you imagine the old Charter Day without the Band?

Grace: So that was your first exposure to the Band, your first football game?

Garff: That's right. It was the first football game. It wouldn't have been August. We didn't start to play football in August. It would be September of 1926 the first time I heard the band and they marched down on the field. I had the chills, I still recall. And the Band still has that effect for most people, you know. Cal Alumni doeth on the Band. You can't do anything without the Band as part of it. And they're always willing even though it's maybe only 5 people playing as we had at the dedication of the gate of the Class of '54.

Grace: Yes, I have this issue of the Cal Monthly and I saw your picture in there too.

Garff: But there had been a bigger segment of the Band. It was unclear when they were going to have the ceremony, that's why I tottered in late. But, like I keep saying, what would the campus be without the Band?

Grace: So when did you become a friend of the Band? When did you start getting involved with the Band? Was it later when you become the Director of Public Ceremonies?

Garff: Oh yes, that was then because no public ceremony could be staged without the Band. We used the Band when we had a famous visitor on the campus. When the Ambassador from England came we had a segment of the Band down at California Hall. His limousine drew up and the Band struck up with “God Save the Queen” which of course is “America” and I remember the Ambassador saying, “My word, is that for me?” and I said, “Certainly!” And when the man from Red China, no we used the campanile for him. Red China, what is the full name, the Peoples' Republic of China, we had the campanile play as they started walking up toward the campanile to go up the tower. We had them playing “The East is Red”, of course Red means beautiful. But we've the band to welcome...“My word, is that for me?” said the englishman.

Genro: What year did you become associated with Public Ceremonies?

Grace: We're trying to establish when your relationship with the band really developed.

Garff: Well, I got drafted in '42, got back in '46 and very quickly began doing Public Ceremonies. Sproul was President of the University then and he said to his assistant George Pettit, who is now dead, both of them are dead, he said, “I don't like the President's reception for new students. It needs recasting. I want to shake hands with those new students,” and so on. We didn't have Zellerbach then, we had only the Womens' Gymnasium. And he said,“Who is there that can do this?” And Pettit said, “Garff got back from the war, he is back from the war. I think he would be the one to do it.” So that was the President's reception for new students in the fall of '46. Sure, it had to be that. I worked my tail off for that because I didn't know anybody on campus, what office to go to, who were the key people. But we put on a dazzling President's reception, after which Sproul called me in and said, “I want to borrow one-sixth of your time to work for me, to do Public Ceremonies.” And I said, “You know I'm a single man Mr. Sproul, I don't have a wife to act as hostess.” And his reply was, “One single man is worth two married men to me!.” or five or something like that.

Grace: So he offered you the position right away of Director of Public Ceremonies in 1947?

Garff: That's right, the fall of 1946.

Grace: So at this point you became more involved with the Band, call them up to do certain events?

Garff: Oh yes!

Grace: How did that all take place. What was the first event you set the band up for?

Garff: Let me remember. My memory is the Band has always been there. It has always been a part of Public Ceremonies and special events, and to pinpoint when I was first aware that this was an absolutely essential part of campus activities, I can't quite remember. I do remember when Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, visited the campus, there was a howling mob of protestors. I don't know what they were protesting. He was meeting administrators and so on up in the Regents Room we called it then in California Hall, on the second floor. And I looked out the window and there was this huge mob catcalling and howling and I learned something about royalty. We immediately conferred, two or three of us, and said, well, we'll take him out the west entrance and loop around and have a car there so he avoids that. But the crowned prince of England is used to facing hostile crowds and he said, “No way, I'll go out this way.” So, in and out he made his way through the crowd until we got to where they were part of the Band. They'd been expecting to pipe him from California Hall. He wanted to go up to the Campanile so they expected him to do that. And with the howling bob there, we continued until we made our way out of the crowd. Then the Band escorted him to Barrows Hall because he was going to have a sort of little seminar in the Lipman Room of Barrows Hall. And the Band escorted him up there and was waiting for him when he came down again. He came down and instead of walking they had a car and the Band piped him some royal music down there on that little grassy space between Eshleman I guess it is and Barrows Hall.

Grace: And what year was this? This was late 40's when the Prince of Wales came to visit?

Garff: No, the early 50's.

Grace: We have this list of significant historical dates in the Band's history and I'm missing that one so I'll jot it down.

Garff: Leave me your phone numbers and let me go back to my daily dairies and look up some band dates. You know I'm the speaker at the Band banquet this time.

Grace: In January?

Garff: No, on the 27th of December. I said to Bob Briggs, “I've spoken there several times.” He said, “You haven't spoken there for five years. There won't be anybody that's heard you.” I said, “I can use my old material? I'll do it then if I don't have to prepare a brand new speech.” So there won't be anybody except a few alums who heard me talk 5 years ago it was. It was 1985.

Grace: That was before we got here because our first banquet was January of 1986.

Garff: So you haven't heard it, you haven't heard my material, but it's good material.

Grace: You have watched the Band perform in many different places. I'm really curious as to what performances are the best in your mind--the ones that struck you as the best performances. What are your fondest memories of the Band is really what I'm trying to ask you. Any specific performances that come to mind?

Garff: As I said, the Band seems to have always been a part of anything important going on the campus, but I've already said the first time the Band marched in the North Tunnel, it sent the chills up my spine. I think another would have been the first University meeting which ended with the whole convocation, it was in the Greek Theater, standing and singing “All Hail Blue and Gold” which we don't sing anymore, and the Band playing with that or accompanying that. And that was another spine-chilling thing. I had not been told about the Alma Mater song and everyone stood and sang “All Hail.” Now we stand and sing “Hail To Cal” which is not the official Alma Mater song unless somebody has made it that recently.

Grace: This was the first university meeting? Was this like the convocation?

Garff: That would be about September 1926. Sure, my beginnings go back to 1926 which is 57 years ago now.

Grace: Something like that. What was it? 1926? It's 64 years. Tacked on a few years.

Garff: What have you noticed about the relationship that the Band has had to the student body during the years? Have you noticed any changes?

Garff: Yes! The Band has become more an independent entity that has its own Alumni Association, its own records, its own activities. They don't just play for football days and charter days. They have their own Spring Show and a whole raft of activities. It has become, under Briggs too. A professor of music, Charles Cushing, used to be director of Cal Band and he got a lot of criticism eventually for not doing enough, playing often enough, promoting enough spirit. That's when, of course, Bob Briggs had been in the Band under Charles Cushing. I don't know how Briggs was chosen, you'll have to ask him.

Grace: Was this Dr. Berdahl?

Garff: Oh yes! There was Berdahl in there! Sure, Sure! Briggs succeeded Berdahl. Grace: Berdahl came in in 1950 and then Briggs came in in 1977.

Garff: Sure, sure, I had forgotten Jim Berdahl.

Grace: So did you know Charles Cushing? He was the director from 1930 to 1950.

Garff: Oh yes, I knew him, very well.

Grace: What can you tell us about Charles Cushing?

Garff: Well, he was sort of a gentleman of the old school. He had great dignity. He knew music from the academic side and that's the way he conducted, more like a symphony orchestra than a rabble-rousing Band. Before he resigned under a lot of pressure, I remember hearing Sproul defend him. There had been a lot of criticism of the Band. “To my ears it makes beautiful music!” But then Jim Berdahl became far more acceptable and popular, and molded the Band into a very prominent position.

Grace: So, under Cushing, you say he was criticized for not playing very much?

Garff: That's right, and for not playing anything lively enough. I remember Clark Kerr as Chancellor saying, “Why can't he play a Sousa march? Why can't he do something lively?” In the old-fashioned Charter Days, where we march in the Greek Theater, there used to be a musical number from the band as part of the program, in the middle of it. We never got anything lively, we got something symphonic, and Clark Kerr said, “If we can't get something lively, we'll do away with it.” We get something lively now at all the Convocations now which sort of parallels that. We will have a Convocation on Charter Day or that is in March. Governor Raymond Haight signed the document charting the university on March 23, 1868 and so actually Charter Day is March 23. In the old days when they had Charter Days, they tried to put it on a date that was close to the 23rd, not if the 23rd fell on a Sunday they didn't do that. But then we came into the era of Free Speech and protests and did away with Convocations in the Greek Theater.

Grace: But they're back now.

Garff: They're back.

Genro: Yes, they started doing Convocation again.

Garff: And the Band sits in the center section. I've been there.

Grace: There's also still Charter Day, still happens in March mostly.

Garff: We think what will happen naturally is that Chancellor Tien, who is a very popular man and very gun-ho about athletics and band and everything, and that if his inauguration is in March around Charter Day time, he will just leave it there instead of having the Convocation in the fall. Now historically, next time I have a chance to talk to him, I'll just point out that historically there has always been a fall convocation to welcome new students. It hasn't been a dress affair with faculty processions and all those processions. That has been reserved for Charter Day, the processions, the formality. And if it's an Inauguration in March that's full dress, academic dress, we call it, caps and gowns, and all the faculty processions, then there's no reason why we can't just keep it there. Because that fall convocation they try to build up and it does not have the tradition and for the old Charter Days they always got a very famous person to speak, the Charter Day speaker, and they spoke at the Banquet that night. The most famous Charter Day speaker we ever had, we had to move Charter Day from the Greek Theater to the stadium, was John F. Kennedy. But if you get speakers of that caliber, and we had the King of Greece once, you will come to see a King and a Queen!

Grace: I asked you a few minutes ago about what you had noticed about the relationship between the band and the student body. Your overall impression has been that the band has become more and more independent recently. What about the relationship to the student body? What was it like in the 60s, 70s?

Garff: Before the Free Speech Movement--well, let me move back. The ASUC actually had tremendous power. They appointed football coaches, the Executive Committee of the ASUC appointed all coaches and they appointed the band leader. Then the ASUC became an organization without much power and not much activity and also old traditions were abandoned and the ASUC itself was in great disrepute, nothing but a sandbox they called it where gun-ho politicians scratched, a sandbox for scratching politicians. There's so much interwoven, and I get things mixed up myself. If you have any more questions you think I can answer right now...

Grace: Well, we do have a lot of questions but I don't want to keep you here all day. I do want to talk to you at a later time, continue the interview because there are a lot of things I still want to ask you.

Garff: Alright well, let's do it later. I've got to go down to the market and do it before it gets dark. I don't like to drive in the dark anymore, I like to have lots of daylight.

Grace: Well, is there anything right now that comes to mind, anything that you remember from the years you've seen the band that you'd like to give me for now?

Garff: I will say that my impression is that it's becoming an independent, hardworking, functioning organization, not just to play music, but it does all kinds of other things. It's really an important student activity. I think the campus realizes it's an important student activity now. Don't you have lots of people try out for the Band?

Grace: The numbers have been hovering around 180 to 200 people that end up in the Band.

Garff: Well, that's a lot of people.

Grace: You said, now the band is appreciated more. How has that changed?

Garff: The Band was always admired. I don't remember any administration, any chancellor who did not realize this was a dependable group. When the Free Speech Movement started, I remember Kerr saying, “Can't we organize the Band as a counter-organization to Mario Savio and his group?” But nothing was done about that.

Grace: But overall, the administration has always been very receptive; what's the correct word I am looking for?

Garff: The administration has been very dependent on the support that the band has always given them. They can always count on the band to give them support for the good guys against the rabble-rousers.

Grace: When you were Director of Public Ceremonies was the Band funded entirely by the university? Who funded it? Athletics? Because I know that relationship has changed a lot in terms of financial support. Was it funded mostly by Athletics or the ASUC?

Garff: Well, originally it was funded entirely by the ASUC when that was a powerful organization. Then, it got... it's gone through...I don't know who funds it now! Do you?

Grace: Well, now the University supplies about forty percent of the money and the band raises the rest of it. That's part of becoming an independent group--lots more performances, lots more fundraisers. Did you notice that change occur?

Garff: Well, the years of change were quite traumatic for me and for almost anybody. I stayed off the campus and I stayed away from all the protesting and I got letters from friends in other states saying, “It must be terrible!” And I would say, “I'm not part of it. I drive onto the campus to my parking spot, walk to my classes, then get out, get away!” And a lot of people did that. And now, I'm weary so we'll continue this some other time if we need to.

Grace: We'll do that. I'd like to ask you more about Silent Walk and directors that you knew and all that, but it can wait definitely.

Garff: Well, I can tell you I've got a record of the first Silent Walk. I've jotted down on my cards that I use, so I know exactly when the first one was so I can look it up. I think it was 1957.

Grace: Has your speech changed at all during the years?

Garff: It's shorter! You can never hurt a speech by shortening it!

Grace: That's true, it's very true. I want to thank you very much for spending this hour and a half or so with us. We'll call you up in a couple weeks to finish.

Part II-22 Jan 91

Garff: In the old days we had a Christmas university meeting. It was held in Harmon because we didn't have Zellerbach. It was the musical organizations presenting Christmas music. The ASUC president who was very enthusiastic about this was Dan Coelo. Now, when was Dan Coelo ASUC president? If you go into the living room there is a big book in the first set of bookshelves, the Centennial Record, it's called.

Grace: You want me to go in there right now? Okay.

Garff: The easiest thing would be to look in the index. And Danny Coelo was very enthusiastic about it. And it was held in the evening, and to arouse an audience he had the band march through college town playing Christmas music and inviting everybody to join in and follow him and led them down to Harmon Gym since we had no other auditorium. And it was all set up in the rain. And that's the only time I remember the Band actually marching through town.

Grace: Interesting.

Garff: Even the year we won the NCAA National Basketball Championship the Band just gathered in the Greek Theater and played their heads off.

Grace: Did you know that the Band marches down from the football games, after football games, down Bancroft every Saturday?

Garff: Oh yes, they march up and down there, but it's not the same thing.

Grace: Right, I understand.

Garff: Marching through town. But that's the time they marched through town to gather an audience for the Christmas university meeting. And I think Danny Coelo is still alive if you want to call him. C-O-E-L-O, simple.

Grace: Danny Coelo, ASUC president from 1949-1950.

Garff: He has just recently given some money or an endowment of some kind. I think he is in southern California. The Alumni Association would know where he is.

Grace: Okay. We barely touched on this last time. I wanted to ask you about when and how did you first become involved in the Annual Silent Walk?

Garff: The annual what?

Grace: Silent Walk, for the new bandmembers. The Silent Walk that you do every year.

Garff: Oh! The Silent Walk!

Grace: Yes, when and how that all came about. (phone rings) Do you want me to get that for you? Pause.....Back to my question of how and when did you first become involved in the annual silent walk?

Garff: Turn that off.

(At this point, Professor Wilson insisted on going upstairs to get his diaries to let me know exactly when the Silent Walk first started for him.)

Garff: Hugh Barnett conceived the idea of a Silent Walk following the first home football game and that they should take the new recruits to the band around certain important and historic spots on the campus, beginning at Sather Gate. And I was asked to do the speech at Sather Gate and I have here that 1959 was the first one then it goes '60, '61, right on through. 1990 was the 32nd! Now I've been included, there's a blank in '71--I was probably on sabbatical leave then and there's a blank in '80 and I probably was away then. So it dates from '59 and has been held, performed every year since then. I have noted that the 1990 class was the 32nd, '89 was the 31st. I think those years I was absent, the person who did it instead of myself, was Dick Hafner, Rich Hafner who was the Public Affairs Officer. Did you know him?

Grace: I know that name, I don't think I ever met him.

Garff: He's retired. He's making wine up in Alexander Valley. Grace: Okay, that's good to know.

Garff: Sure, and definitely. You have a copy of this speech.

Grace: No, I don't.

Garff and Grace (together): But the band does.

Garff: Every year before it is, they offer me a copy and I say, “No, a big sheet?” I've got my own little notes here.

Grace: Yes, I remember when I was, of course, I went through it as a freshman, my first year--as a new recruit, I went through it. Then my senior year I was the person that was in charge of the recruiting. So Genro, the guy who came with me, Genro Sato, was the senior manager at the time and the two of us led the Silent Walk that year. That was the fall of '88 so I've seen you do it twice. Your freshman year, you hear it and you're just kind of in awe of everything and you hear it again as a senior, if you get the opportunity, it means so much more to you. Have you changed it?

Garff: I make notes of how I do. This last one, my rendition was, “Mediocre, not relaxed, not genial and warm. I was too busy projecting and ignoring my notes.”

Grace: You critique yourself, that's interesting.

Garff: So I graded myself very low this last time.

Grace: How have you changed it through the years? I heard you say last time we were here that you've shortened it a bit.

Garff: That's about all. I must have the original someplace among my files. But I just got the feeling that since there was a long program to follow, that it should be short and crisp and to the point. But I wanted to be genial, that is warm and friendly to make them feel that the big, impressive Berkeley campus has a warm, personal touch.

Grace: That's very important, as a freshman especially.

Garff: Yes indeed.

Grace: Do you feel that maybe your participation in the Silent Walk has become your greatest contribution to the band? Because to me, my perception has been that that's your big connection to the band. Do you feel that it is?

Garff: My really biggest contribution to the band has been my loyalty to the band, my praise of the band, every place I make a speech. And now, my provision in my will that I'm leaving the band a hundred thousand dollars and that is evidence of my pride and my connection with the Cal Band. And as I keep saying, what would the campus be without the Cal Band? I keep saying that the Cal Band participates in and embellishes and enhances everything, not just athletic games but all the other Public Ceremonies and the welcoming of important visitors. Alumni of Berkeley, in general, recognize that and are very proud of it--and especially when they compare it to the Stanford band.

Grace: Right, or try to.

Garff: Stanford band is a disgrace, a sort of source of humiliation.

Grace: I wouldn't want to be represented by that group of people.

Garff: But for Stanford Alumni, they feel that way about it. But the oddballs down there think it's somehow cute and so they shame their university and their alumni. And they try to say, 'oh look at the California Band, so disciplined, so square.' There's the band making good music, and marching admirably and adding to every other occasion.

Grace: There's a lot more pride involved in what the Cal Band does. I know that when I was in the Cal Band, I was always just proud of what we did, and what they did, I couldn't understand how they could keep doing it day after day, it's so awful.

Garff: (laughs)

Grace: Mr. Wilson, do you remember any specific individual band members that come to mind that you'd like to tell me about. You mentioned Hugh Barnett, but I'm wondering if you interacted closely with any others.

Garff: I'd have to have a list to...

Grace: I have that. There you go.

Garff: ...remind me. Oh good, you're farsighted, you look ahead.

Grace: I know that when you ask somebody to think back so many years that it's nice to have some tools to help you remember.

Garff: Marty Parker I remember. Bill Dal Porto?? Grace: Did you work mostly with Senior Managers?

Garff: No. It was a hit and miss, the band members I got acquainted with, on a personal basis. Sometimes some of them were in other organizations that I was connected with, like Golden Bear. OGB they call it now. I remember Nolan Chong and of course, Steve Spafford, whose father was a friend of mine. His father was a member of the Old Time California Club.

Grace: Steve Spafford is currently, I believe, the president of the Alumni Association, the Cal Band Alumni Association. He's still very active.

Garff: He's a leader, well it's in his blood. Genro, oh, he's recent.

Grace: Right, that was my year, 1988. They're divided up by Senior Manager, Drum Major, Student Director, Public Relations Director, Secretary. Garff: I see. And of course, Dan Cheatham. The man keeps himself engaged, involved. He's kind of...he was drum major. Well he's tall enough.

Grace: I believe he was on the committee the same year as Hugh Barnett when they went to Brussels.

Garff: A lot of names reverberate, but the faces don't all come.

Grace: I was just curious if you knew any on a personal level--seems like you remembered some of them.

Garff: Well I remember Eliot Smyrl because I was enchanted by the name Smyrl. But he was a good-looking, hard-working guy wasn't he?

Grace: He was incredible. He graduated with honors and he finished graduate school here now and he's doing some computer graphics design somewhere, running a firm or something, doing very well. I'm really curious, when the band elected to allow women in the band in 1973, did you detect any major differences in the performances or was it a smooth transition? That's one thing I've never asked anyone before.

Garff: Musically, there was no change. Visually there was a change because the tallest man and the shortest woman were a great deal different. They're arranged, when they're performing on the field, they're arranged according to instruments aren't they? So it's only when they get lined up in this special formation that you notice the difference in size.

Grace: What was the band like in the 1960s when all the turmoil was going on on campus? Did the band seem relatively unaffected by it or did they try to tone down in any way.

Garff: I remember one incident where President Kerr asked the band during the turmoil to come on and play on the steps of Wheeler and see if they could have a calming effect. They played--whether or not it made much difference I don't know. Wheeler steps reminds me that in my student days, after the Big Game there was always a step rally on Wheeler steps to welcome and congratulate the team whether they win, lost. The band was always there to congratulate the players. That was a nice tradition which has now disappeared.

Grace: It's too bad. It seems like a good one.

Garff: But so many other traditions, I gather, will replace them that's why--always something new comes along.

Grace: It's true.

Garff: They become revered and remembered then they too fade and are replaced by others. Because the world, the campus, the students change with the times. Students...there used to be a dress code for the girls on the campus. It would be unthinkable for them to walk around in Levi's trousers of any kind. The old fashioned pictures of the girls on the campus, they all wore dresses or suits. The men were better dressed too, but not too well-dressed. The men on this campus have never taken any pride with this. Sophomores, we all wore Levi's. Juniors and seniors, we all wore cords, corduroy trousers, and you could vary a sweater or a top.

Grace: Of course, if you were in the band you had a uniform. Men or women, they're all wearing the same thing.

Garff: Uniforms are a great help to appearance. During my days in the first, no the second world war, during my days in the Army, you'd see groups of recruits, draftees coming in all kinds of raggle-taggle clothes. And as soon as they were issued uniforms it wasn't the same people. Looks improve so dramatically in a uniform, in a group in a uniform.

Grace: Very powerful.

Garff: How is the band coming in its campaign for new uniforms?

Grace: I think that last I heard, this was several months ago, is that they are supposed to be getting money specifically for uniforms in the next two years.

Garff: I know the class of 1930 is very interested. It's headed by Bob Bridges who is a rich man and I think they're involved in getting the band new uniforms.

Grace: I heard something about that, but when you're not actually in the band anymore, you don't always get the first facts.

Garff: I certainly hope the band has new uniforms to go to Spain!

Grace: Oh definitely! There's a lot of old things, the plumes are all faded, the vests are all dirty and you can't clean them up anymore and some of the pants are all funny. Definitely new uniforms would be nice for a tour like that.

Garff: The next time I see Bob Bridges I'll say, “Get your class to finance new uniforms!” It's no small project to outfit over a hundred people.

Grace: Uniforms run about six hundred dollars a piece, those uniforms, market value these days. We looked into it when I was on the committee but it was just too much. I have just a few more questions. I asked you about your contributions to the band. What do you think has been the band's greatest contribution to you?

Garff: To me?

Grace: It's kind of a big question but I wonder what you think it has been.

Garff: Oh! Friendship and pride. It has given me lots of friends and given me tremendous pride, and tremendous assistance in staging public ceremonies. I couldn't do it without the band. Tremendous assistance in receiving the crowned heads of Europe, prime ministers and so on. I remember, if I remember this correctly, the Ambassador from Great Britain arriving at California Hall. Where does the Chancellor have his office--still California Hall?

Grace: The chancellor should still have his office at California Hall.

Garff: I think so. Well, the Ambassador from Great Britain stepped out of the car and the band was across from the clock and they started playing what to us is “America, My Country Tis of Thee”, which was “God Save the Queen”, of course. Then he stopped and listened in surprise, and said, “My word, is that for me?” I said, “Of course that's for you!”

Grace: Who else comes to mind as far as world dignitaries that the band entertained at some point? The Ambassador of England, the Prince of Wales you told us about last time.

Garff: The Queen of Greece, I remember her on the stage of the Greek Theater, and oh yes the Queen of the Netherlands, Queen Fredicka.

Grace: These were both while you were Director of Public Ceremonies?

Garff: My own memory is fading. But I think that the last Queen I arranged a program for was the Queen of the Netherlands. Later I was named an officer of the Royal House of Orange Nassau, which is the Royal House of the Netherlands. And I still have, of course, I still have the beautiful gold chain and medal on it. I can wear the ribbon on my buttonhole, which I do sometimes. And there's been only one person who ever recognized what that was. That was the maitre'd at I think the Mark Hopkins Hotel. He said, “My word, you've been decorated by my country haven't you?” I said, “Yes.” Not many people recognize that it's important but they should. But when I wear it, when I wear the rosette and somebody does, I'm gratified!

Grace: Have you ever had, in all the performances you've seen, has the Cal Band ever done anything to give you a negative impression of them?

Garff: No, I don't remember a thing. Cal Band has never made anything but a sparkling, musically fine impression.

Grace: That's good. That's what it's been to me and to most people who have interacted with the band, but I was just wondering. Is there anything you may know about the band or its history that you might think nobody else knows, some piece of information that you have that you might like to give for historical recording?

Garff: All I know of that band was happy. The director, Charles Cushing, he was more on the classical side of band and they were unhappy with him and he eventually resigned because of that. I guess that's when they got...

Grace: James Berdahl?

Garff: Ya, and he was much more successful in stimulating enjoyment and spirit and pep and all that. Jim is still alive isn't he?

Grace:He sure is. I've seen him recently at several football games. Most recently I saw him last fall for Alumni Band Day. He was there and he got up on the ladder and conducted us as he tries to do every year.

Garff: Well, he's getting older, the way we all are, but he's not as old as I am.

Grace: I don't know who's older, I think you're pretty close.

Garff: I am 82.

Grace: So you just had a birthday recently? You were 81 in November.

Garff: Nixon has the same birthday, on January 9th. That's a matter of great shame to me.

Grace: You couldn't do much about that though. Happy late Birthday!

Garff: I know I'll have many more of them, oh yes! I get a little weary of living, I do. Bright spots and bad dull spots. And when you're asked to be involved in this and that, you have to say, I just haven't the strength anymore and you regret that.

Grace: Because you know that people think so much of you that they would like for you to continue being involved.

Garff: Here I had to turn down an invitation to speak to the annual Band dinner. I'm simply not up to it.

Grace: The last question I'd like to ask you is if you know of any resources or people that we could tap for this research project. You gave me a list of people you think I should contact about writing the introduction. I'm wondering if there's any people you worked with, perhaps in Public Ceremonies or afterwards, that are still around that would be interested or have some sort of information about the band that would be useful to us.

Garff: Let's see. There's....Come on memory, loosen up with these names. Jerome “Jerry” Thomas, he's retired now, he was an engineer. But he's a real gun-ho guy and he was always interested in helping. And then still active in Business Administration is Wayne Bowtell, B-O-W-T-E-L-L. He is another gun-ho guy who goes to all kinds of games, athletic games and knows all kinds of athletes. I already mentioned Bud Chite.

Grace: So these are people who basically have just seen the band over the years?

Garff: Oh yes! And they are good citizens. They don't turn up their nose at campus activities and campus events, they attend them. I think that probably a man who's now the Executive Vice-Chancellor. Of course the Chancellor himself is gun-ho for the band.

Grace: That's true. I've seen him!

Garff: Tien and his first assistant, a very popular professor of political science, who's now the number one vice-chancellor. The name doesn't spring up. Just look him up.

Grace: What is he the vice-chancellor of, which department?

Garff: He's a very popular lecturer in his course, I think it is only one course now.

Grace: You said he's currently a vice-chancellor also?

Garff: He's currently a vice-chancellor and I don't think he teaches any courses now. He does all the administration. The name won't come.

Grace: Vice-Chancellor of Student Activities, or what division?

Garff: I don't know whether they call him Executive Vice Chancellor--it's the Vice Chancellor. I'm trying to get at his name by remembering his father's name. No, it won't pop out.

Grace: Where can we find Bud Chite? Is he in the Bay Area?

Garff: Oh ya, he's still active in businesses administration. Whether he's dean, I don't know, but his office would be with Bus Ad. Earl “Bud” Chite.

Grace: And how about Wayne Bowtell?

Garff: Wayne Bowtell is in Business Administration, yes, he has an office over there.

Grace: And Jerry Thomas?

Garff: For Jerry Thomas you’d have to call Engineering because he’s retired.

Grace: He’s a retired professor.

Garff: Yes.

Grace: Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about Charles Cushing or any person or event that comes to mind that you’d like me to take with me?

Garff: No, but if something special comes to me, do I have your name and phone?

Grace: I’ll write it down.

Garff: If any band stories come to mind...

Grace: I’m currently living at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento.

Garff: You’re living where?

Grace: Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento. Do you know where Mather is?

Garff: No.

Grace: It’s in southern Sacramento.

Garff: Why did I pull this thing [a photo album] out?

Grace: Oh, I brought that [from the living room] when I brought this because I didn’t know which one it was, I brought both of them with me. It’s a photo album isn’t it?

Garff: Yes, of a special occasion, when I retired, one time when I retired.

Grace: Yes, you were given the Honorary Life Membership, if I remember correctly, in the Cal Band.

Garff: That’s right, that was the occasion wasn’t it?

Grace: It must have been. The only time I’ve seen it given away since I’ve been here was at a retirement party.

Garff: Those were the glory, good days.

Grace: And you’ve had plenty of them, Mr. Wilson, definitely.

Garff: A few, and now it’s a matter of a kind of sad regret that you’re slowly fading, rapidly fading, both physically and reputationally. Now I managed to get two pair of my glasses. I like to have them handy when I’m upstairs or downstairs. This (916) area code is in Sacramento?

Grace: Yes, I can write that down.

Garff: I remember that’s in Sacramento. I almost went up there for a luncheon.

Grace: Long drive.


Grace: I really want to thank you once again for your time and making that extra trip upstairs. I really appreciate it.

Garff: Well, if I’ve contributed a tiny bit that’s good. And you could contribute a bit more if you would return those books to where they were.


Personal Note From Interviewer And Transcriber

Graciela E. Tiscareño-Sato

6 July 1992

At last! The transcription is finished! It took me a year and a half but I’m happy with it now.

I just wanted to add notes about a few personal feelings I have about this interview with one of my favorite Cal personas, Professor Emeritus Garff Wilson. I was very privileged to have spent so much time with the man, first interviewing him with my boyfriend (now husband) Genro Sato, then alone in the second part of the interview. I had looked forward to the interview for a long time and had prepared several key questions with other members of the Cal Band History Committee. My intention was to just ask those questions and not keep Mr. Wilson too long.

As it turned out, he had many stories to tell; stories that came back to him as I asked him to recall his first days at Cal as a student, then later when he returned to teach there. So the end result is a more complete story of his very enriched life, from 1926 as a pledge in a fraternity, travelling through Europe as an undergraduate as a member of Berkeley’s debating team, to his time as an officer in the U.S. Army during World War II. Also included is his story of teaching at Humboldt State and his journey through that campus and Cornell University on his return to his teaching career at Cal then later as Director of Public Ceremonies.

Although listening to all his stories made for two really long interviewing sessions, I was too fascinated with his life to cut him short. Anyone looking for specific Cal Band information will need to sift among the various anecdotes of his life--a very interesting task indeed!

Finally, I must add my own personal note of sadness. During the second part of this interview, I had the pleasure of looking at some of Mr. Wilson’s prized possessions--the Centennial Records (the Cal yearbooks) from many years ago, his photo album of his retirement celebration when he received his Honorary Life Membership in the California Band, his original notes from the Band’s Silent Walk since 1959, and the Medallion presented to him by the Queen of the Netherlands. I fear that he lost most, if not all, of these items in the tragic Oakland Hills fire in October of 1991 when he lost his home. This saddens me greatly, especially since just several months before I had sat with him in his lovely home, looking at these items with him. I only hope he didn’t lose everything. In either case, Mr. Wilson was wonderful, sharing these items, and most importantly, his stories with Genro and myself, so that now they may be stored permanently, as a record of his relationship with, and love for, the California Marching Band for almost seventy years!

[Printed 01/31/94]