Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Bike class lures men to Christian College

In 1851 Christian College became the first woman’s college chartered west of the Mississippi River. It remained a two-year junior college for women for more than a century.

President Edgar Lee’s son, some male drama students and a few part-time enrollees, including our son, Walt Gerard, were day students before the college accepted its first male dormitory student in the late 1960s. That fellow had his own "dorm" in a two-room suite near the auditorium.

President Merle Hill asked me to help solve one problem: All students were required to take four semesters of physical education classes, but we offered few activities that could accommodate one man.

Basketball, field hockey, volleyball, softball, tennis, ballet or even modern dance were poor choices for a fellow. Even the aquatic sports weren’t suitable. In addition, we were especially anxious to have activities in which men and women could participate together because more male students were expected to enroll as time went on.

When I suggested a class in bicycling, president Hill fairly shouted, "There’s nothing to learn about riding a bike once you can stay up." I almost shouted back, hurriedly mentioning various kinds of bikes, correct size and adjustment for individual riders and skills such as "ankling." I was just getting started when he interrupted me, and I made my point by what happened next.

"Sue, how fast can you ride?"

"I don’t know," I said. "Last Saturday I rode to Mexico to have lunch with my cousin and … "

"Mexico? WHAT?" he shouted. It was Mexico, Mo., of course. "That’s 40 miles from here! You didn’t ride 40 miles!"

"I did," I said, "and I’m 58 years old. I stopped in Centralia to get out of the sun a bit and to drink a Pepsi before heading east to Mexico." Calculating the mileage, he figured I was riding about 10 mph.

Hill changed his tune! "Make a list of what you think you’ll need," he said.

A week later he had the business manager secure prices from the two local bike shops. Our son, Walt, owned and operated a bike shop nearby and offered the bikes for less than retail because he was anxious to help get this class started. Christian College was pioneering, offering bicycling for physical education credit!

They bought nine 10-speed Peugeots, three 3-speed Raleigh bikes with brakes in the hub and two tandems. The students were eager to enroll and Hill approved Walt’s offer to help me teach the first semester. I could do it alone afterwards. Each student paid a small fee for the class, and we scheduled two classes each day, four sections per week.

The early classes got the bikes out and topped off air in the tires. The classes that followed checked to see that all the bikes were working properly and put them away. Students soon learned to do minor adjustments and repairs. More men enrolled at Christian College and for bicycling; in two years the fees had paid for the bikes plus replacement parts and repairs.

One day I was pushing a white Peugeot to Walt’s for repair and leaned it against a brick wall, placing my own bike in front of the disabled one while I went inside an office for a few minutes. When I returned I found that someone had stolen the college’s Peugeot!

Later it came to Walt, black instead of white. The chain was off because the thief had removed it to paint. He didn’t know how to replace the chain! Walt discovered that the paint was still wet under the bottom bracket — and the bike’s serial number was issued to Christian College.

The police arrived minutes before the thief came to claim it and pay his bill!

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