This Year Marks Notable Anniversary of WVU Alma Mater

Alma Mater 4

WHEELING — Loyal Mountaineers have an extra reason to celebrate and sing this year.

Not only is 2017 the 150th birthday of West Virginia University, but also it is the 80th anniversary of the school’s Alma Mater written by then-student Louis D. Corson.

Joan Corson Stamp of Wheeling said her father didn’t talk much about this accomplishment, but she learned that he wrote the composition for a WVU contest. In a vote by the student body, his entry was selected as the official Alma Mater in 1937, which was the year he graduated.

“He was very proud of it,” Stamp said, adding, “He just loved WVU.”

Stamp, who also graduated from WVU, said her father attended many football games in Morgantown when she was a student, but, ironically, the Alma Mater wasn’t played at Mountaineer Field in those years.

Singing of the Alma Mater at home football games was reinstated by David Hardesty and his wife, Susan, during his presidency. Stamp said, “They brought it back. They felt it was important, and they still sing it.”

Corson, who died in 1982, never wrote any other songs. “He never pursued music at all,” his daughter said.

Stamp added, “My dad was not a music major. He was a history major both in undergraduate and graduate studies.”

However, she said, “He could play piano by ear. At fraternity parties, he would sit down and play.”

To mark the Alma Mater’s 50th anniversary in 1987, university officials recognized Corson’s widow and presented a plaque in honor of her husband.

Stamp said, “There wasn’t anything to memorialize the Alma Mater at WVU until they rebuilt the alumni center.”

When the new Erickson Alumni Center was constructed, an Alma Mater Room was created in the building. The room contains a portrait of Corson, and sheet music for the Alma Mater is reproduced on one wall.

Stamp has learned more about the history of the composition from an article written by the daughter of one of Corson’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brothers.

In 1936, WVU official Frank Cuthbert suggested that a song be written to open and close glee club concerts and he solicited entries for a student contest.

Taking up the challenge, Corson, who was then a junior, sat down at a piano in his fraternity house during the 1936 Easter vacation and composed a tune and wrote lyrics for a school song. In a vote by students in 1937, his submission was chosen to be the Alma Mater.

After earning a doctorate in education at Stanford University, Corson served as dean of men at Florida State University and the University of Louisiana. He then accepted a position at Washington National Cathedral as business manager of the College of Church Musicians.

Stamp doesn’t know if her father ever mentioned his own musical accomplishment to the church musicians participating in the cathedral’s educational program.

In addition to his love for WVU, Corson loved his fraternity and served as national president of Phi Kappa Psi. “He was such a loyal fraternity man,” Stamp remarked.