The Torch of Knowledge…

Remember the Torch of Knowledge we mentioned in our post about Evensong?  During the ceremony the Queen of Knowledge would use this torch to light the candles of the graduating seniors so they could share their knowledge with the world.

Torch of Knowledge

Senior class president, Clinton Shultz escorts Evensong Queen Karen Ceniga down the stairway and carries her torch. (Photo – 1970 – courtesy EOU Pierce Library)

On a recent visit to the staircase we were reminded that the Torch of Knowledge also graces the area above both doors on the south side of Inlow Hall.


Students entrance

And here…


Upon reaching the top of the Grand Staircase one had the option of exiting from one side or the other and then entering Inlow by one door or the other.

Two entrances

Photo (1977) courtesy EOU Pierce Library

And, we recently learned that the entrance on the east side was originally intended for use by students.  Appropriately, the quote over that door reads To reveal truth and beauty; to develop intelligence and skill; to inculcate social and civic ideals.”

The entrance on the west side was originally meant for faculty and staff.  The quote over that door reads “Not only is there an art in knowing a thing but also a certain art in teaching it.”


To read more about the staircase and why it needs saving go to our About page here.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at




The perfect backdrop…

When researching last week’s post on Evensong, we were struck with what a perfect backdrop the Grand Staircase made for photos of the Evensong courts.

There wasn’t enough room to post even some of those photos last week, but we couldn’t resist doing it this week!  Notice the comforting presence of Mt. Emily in many of the pictures.

1947 Evensong court

1947  Left to Right – Janette Frazier, Milton; Denece Decker, La Grande; Elda Mae Childers, Cove; Queen Sybil Smith, La Grande; Ida McCullough, Burns; Carol Banish, McMinnville; Sheila McCause, North Powder.  We love the spirea in full bloom in the background!

1948 Evensong Court

1948 Left to Right – Frances Wheeler, Irene Van Biveren, Queen Rhoda Challet, Dorothy Warren, Betty Gorden, and Hisako Kido

1950 Evensong Queen

1950 – Queen Hisako Kido – The gown Hisako is wearing can be seen in photos of other Evensong courts (e.g. see the 1967 photo below).  Perhaps each court had the option of wearing this “traditional” attire or dresses of their choice.

1955 Queen

1955 – Queen Virginia Cook

1957 Queen  

1957 – Queen, Roberta Miller

1958 Queen

1958 – Queen Jean Adamson – Note the smokestack in the background – most likely at the Templeton Lumber Company which would, in 1960, become Boise Cascade.  From 1925 to 1956, Templeton/Boise Cascade was the Mount Emily Lumber Company.  The 1920’s photo below (source Wikipedia) shows a similar smokestack – perhaps the same one!


1961 Court

1961 – Queen Sandra Thompson (center) with her court

1962 Queen

1962 – Queen Gail Fisher

1967 Queen

1967 – Queen Susan (Sue) Strong

1968 Queen

1968Queen Elissa Phipps Stites


Over the years the stairway served as the perfect background not only for photos of the Evensong courts, but for pictures of all kinds – class photos, graduation photos, engagement photos, prom photos, senior photos, etc.  Do you have a personal photo that was taken of you or someone in your family on the Grand Staircase?  We would love to include it in an upcoming post.  You can send it to us at  Please indicate what information about the picture you would like us to include (e.g. name/names, date, and occasion).


All Evensong Court photos in the post are courtesy of the EOU Pierce Library

To read more about the staircase and why it needs saving go to our About page here.





It’s graduation weekend at Eastern Oregon University!  That gives us the perfect opportunity to write the long awaited and much requested Evensong post – the beloved commencement week tradition so many of you mentioned when we asked for your Grand Staircase memories.

1947 Evensong

Evensong 1947 – photo courtesy of Sibyl Bolkan

Evensong began in the early 1930’s and was discontinued in 1971.  The ceremony, “a pageant of song”, was open to the public and took place on the stairway as the sun was setting.  It was symbolic of the graduating seniors going out into the world to spread the light of knowledge.

In the beginning, Evensong was composed of virtually the entire student body.  The 1932 Eugene Register Guard article below describes the event and reports that 1500 townspeople were in the crowd that night – an impressive number given that La Grande’s population in 1930 was just 8050.

Pageant staged

Evensong article

Seating for the audience was on chairs set up on Ninth Street.  The photo below (courtesy of the EOU Pierce Library) is from 1954 or 55.  We love the dog and children on the grass.

Evensong audience


The event was presided over by the “Queen of Knowledge” and her court of six courtiers. To be selected for the honor of being a member of the court a woman had to have at least a 3.0 GPA and to have been active in campus life throughout her college career.

1952 Evensong court

Queen Merlene Baldwin presided over 1952’s Evensong – photo courtesy EOU Pierce Library

The program began at dusk, heralded by the sound of trumpets.  The graduating seniors, in their caps and gowns, gathered at the top on the View Terrace.  The underclassman, in white shirts and pastel dresses, lined the steps. The band assembled on the lower landing.  The Queen of Knowledge and her court were escorted to their place of honor on the middle landing.

Evensong trumpet practice

1968 – Evensong trumpet practice – the actual sound of trumpets was provided by the band – photo courtesy EOU Pierce Library

Many reading this post will remember Dr. Lynn Bishop, the university’s music department chair from 1948 to 1976, directing the musical part of the program – songs celebrating “the countryside and the college”.  One of you recently wrote us that “Standing on the steps singing Day is dying in the West as the sun was going down” is a special memory for you.

At the end of the evening, The Queen would summon the seniors to light their candles from her flaming torch (the rather imposing object to the left of the Queen in the 1952 photo above) and speak these words.

“May you ever keep your purpose strong, your courage high, your loyalty true, and ever bear aloft the torch of learning.”

The seniors would then descend from the staircase and go out into the world to live their lives and share their knowledge.  The undergraduates would climb back up the stairs to the halls of learning to continue their education.

1970 Evensong

1970 Evensong – photo courtesy EOU Pierce Library

Following the program was the Evensong Ball.  1953 Evensong court member and current EOU Foundation trustee Arlene Anderson Young recalls inviting a boy named Jerry to escort her.  So began their story – they were married two years later!  After receiving his PhD, Jerry Young became a faculty member at EOU.  He taught chemistry and mathematics, was the division head of the science department, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, and served as president of the EOU Foundation.  Additionally, he was also in charge of the Evensong Ceremony for several years!

In the photo below from the 1953 Evensong Ball Arlene is the third court member in line.

Evensong Ball

Photo courtesy of EOU Pierce Library

A restored Grand Staircase might or might not mean the return of the Evensong tradition, but it would certainly open the stairway up as a venue for EOU and community music, theater, art and other events.

To read more about the staircase and why it needs saving go to our About page here.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at




Springtime in La Grande.  Lilacs, tulips, irises, and of course, spirea.  Spirea with its masses of small, white flower clusters.  Spirea with its delicate foliage.  Spirea with its cascading branches.  Spirea around the Grand Staircase.

spirea Spirea at the top of the Grand Staircase – Photo – May 2, 2015

We heard from some of you about your memories of the “mysterious hiding places just on the outsides of the stairs”.  Might some of those hiding places have been the secret places created by the propensity of spirea to mound, the arching branches bending to the ground to form an umbrella?

And, every little girl who attended Ackerman Elementary School knew that, when shaken, spirea branches release showers of petals – armfuls of delicate white confetti.

From early pictures, it appears that spirea were planted around the staircase in the 1930’s, as a part of the original landscaping.

The 1919 Gardeners’ Chronicle of America, Volumes 23-24 indicates that the Vanhouttei (bridal wreath) variety of spirea “has justly achieved great popularity”, so it was likely a common choice of landscapers of that era.

Spirea Vanhouttei

In the 1934 photo below (courtesy of the EOU Pierce Library) you can see the small bushes (although not in bloom) at the bottom (along with the “baby” arborvitae).

Spirea 1

By the 1960’s, bridal wreath spirea had become an impressive feature of the hillside, each spring showcasing a profusion of white blossoms.

Spirea 2

Some of the spirea is now gone and the extensive work needed to fully restore the Grand Staircase may one day necessitate partial or total removal of the rest.  In addition, Eastern Oregon University’s 2012 Master Plan calls for a “local landscape palette” – planting with locally available native and adapted species to help meet the University’s sustainable development goals for landscape management.

From what we’ve seen so far (e.g. with the plantings around the Hoke Union Building) David Lageson, Director of Facilities & Planning at EOU, has done a great job leading that effort.  So, we’re sure whatever is in store for future landscaping around the staircase will be just wonderful!

Hoke 1

Hoke 2

Hoke native plant landscaping – photos courtesy of David Lageson


We will end with an aside, classified under “random things you learn when you’re trying to save an architectural treasure”.  We were fascinated to find out that the word Aspirin comes from the name of the chemical ASA—Acetylspirsäure in German. Spirsäure (salicylic acid) was named for the meadowsweet plant, Spirea ulmaria, from which it could be derived.  You can read more about it (and the fascinating history or Aspirin) here.


To read more about the staircase and why it needs saving go to our About page here.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at