Save Our Amphitheater: A Story of Student Triumph

On any given day, the center of Clemson’s campus is a unique blend of bustling students rushing to class and relaxed students enjoying the outdoors during their break in the day. The library stands tall and white against the sky, opening its massive glass doors to those who need to work, while just a short distance away, students admire the light gleaming off the water in the reflection pond through the Amphitheater pillars and relax on the concrete, brick and grass steps.

But without courageous students a few decades ago, this image may not 
have existed.

A gift of the classes of 1915 and 1940 for the stage and seating respectively, the Amphitheater was built in early 1940 and was dedicated to both classes while it hosted its first graduation for the class of 1940. Since then, it has grown to be not only an iconic image and representation of Clemson, but also a beloved host to student organizations, weekly pep rallies, graduations and afternoon naps. In the 1970s, when the students learned of the administration’s plan to renovate and redesign the current Amphitheater and replace it with a low-walled brick structure to better match the other buildings on campus, the student body was appalled.

“There must be more student input into every decision that is made here!” 

This was the rallying cry of the student organization known as SOAP (Save Our Amphitheater People) that assembled more than 1,200 students and townspeople to protest the proposed Amphitheater renovation in 1977, possibly the largest protest in Clemson University history.

Petitions were signed and students were urged by the student body government to stand up to protect the amphitheater, inspiring several people to speak directly to the president regarding their disapproval and disappointment.

Just a few short weeks later, President Edwards met with his cabinet to discuss the issue and ultimately decided to postpone the renovation indefinitely.

Instead, thanks to the determination of the Clemson student body in fall 1977, the University arranged to have the Amphitheater stage restored to the splendor of the 1940s and the wooden benches replaced with the current tiered concrete seating.

Decades later, the Clemson Amphitheater is still home to not only festivals, theater groups, pep rallies and afternoon naps, but also to the strong Clemson Spirit that protected it so many years ago.

Clemson Memorial Stadium

“Put about 10,000 seats behind the YMCA. That’s all you’ll ever need.”

Those were the words of Coach Jess Neely as he left for Rice after the 1939 season. Fortunately, Clemson didn’t follow his advice.

In 1941, the S.C. General Assembly authorized the issuance of $100,000 in bonds to build a stadium. The project was a mid-1900s version of a Creative Inquiry project: Civil engineering students did the preliminary surveying, Professor H.E. “Pop” Glenn and Carl Lee, a 1908 engineering alumnus, provided the design and construction drawings, and players cleared the hill- sides. Coach Frank Howard and returning football players laid the sod in the summer of 1941. Legend has it that Howard put a plug of tobacco into each corner of the stadium as the concrete was poured.

When all was said and done, it seated about 20,000 fans in 26 rows. The University’s trustees named it Memorial Stadium, commemorating all of the alumni, faculty and staff who had died in service to the country.

The first game of the season in 1942 was against Presbyterian College, as it had been since 1930, and Clemson rolled over them 32-13. PC head coach Lonnie MacMillan is credited with providing the stadium its nickname in 1951 after being defeated 53-6.

“It’s like going into Death Valley,” he said.

The name stuck and gained even more traction with the addition of Howard’s Rock in 1966, presented to Coach Frank Howard by an alumnus after a trip to California’s Death Valley. It was at the 1967 game against Wake Forest when rubbing The Rock became a tradition. Legend has it that Coach Howard challenged the team by saying, “If you’re going to give me 110 percent, you can rub that rock. If you’re not, keep your filthy hands off it.”

Another 17,500 seats were added in 1958 (overseen by Professor Glenn), and in 1957, the first Tigerama was held. In 1960, dressing rooms, restrooms and additional concession stands were added along with 6,000 more seats.

Had the original plans for Hartwell Lake gone forward, Memorial Stadium would have been flooded up to the 26th row. Lengthy negotiations and the addition of dikes ensured the stadium’s survival.

More seats have been added over the years, with current capacity at more than 80,000. And just this summer, Yahoo Sports ranked Clemson as having the most exciting entrance in college football, referencing its designation by sportscaster Brent Musburger as “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football.”

An agricultural revolutionary

Interred in a shady plot along the periphery of Woodland Cemetery — a short punt from Death Valley and a pebble’s throw from Clemson family names like Sikes, Poole and R.C. Edwards — lie the earthly remains of one of the most influential Americans whose name you may have never heard.

frank lever

Frank Lever

Asbury Francis Lever — Frank to family, friends and constituents alike — was born on a family farm near Spring Hill in Lexington County on a winter day in 1875. Within 40 years the South Carolina farm boy would transform agriculture in the United States. All it took was a stroke of a pen and a vision for the future.

As a South Carolina congressman, Frank Lever — a Clemson life trustee — would team with Sen. Hoke Smith of Georgia to author a bill that would carry both their names. The Smith-Lever Act, which became law May 8, 1914, authorized the Cooperative Extension Service, in which federal, state and county governments cooperate to extend research-based science from land-grant universities like Clemson to working people who could apply it.

The concept wasn’t new to Lever. He had seen it at work before in his native state in the tomato demonstration clubs of the Lowcountry and in the trains that took Clemson professors across the state to teach farmers and their families the best practices for growing crops, preserving food and safeguarding the land.

“As early as 1905, Clemson was publishing a weekly fertilizer bulletin and mailing it to 12,000 farmers and agricultural businesses,” Clemson President Jim Clements reminded county agents and Extension specialists at their annual meeting in December. “Special Extension trains took faculty members throughout the state.

“What happened a hundred years ago was transformational for the country,” he said. “The Clemson model became the national model.”

“The county agent is to assume leadership in every movement, whatever it may be, the aim of which is better farming, more education, better living, more happiness and greater citizenship,” he said in floor debate on the bill. “You cannot make the farmer change the methods which have been sufficient to earn a livelihood for himself and his family for many years unless you show him, under his own vine and fig tree as it were, that you have a system better than the system which he himself has been following.”

Extension was established the same year World War I broke out in Europe. It immediately went to work to help farmers increase the production of crops essential to the war effort. In the century since, the revolutionary concept of extending university-based knowledge to working people resulted in Lever’s “revolution” in crop yields. An acre that grew 24 bushels of corn in 1911 will harvest, on average, six times as much today. Extension continues to deliver research-based education in agriculture, natural resources, food safety and nutrition, economic and community development, and 4-H youth development.

Today, as in Frank Lever’s day, agriculture is the state’s largest industry. And thanks to Lever’s legacy, the next century looks just as bright.

Frank Lever photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Harris & Ewing, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-123456]

A store lost in time

The red brick store that sits on 307 College Avenue hasn’t changed much in the 78 years since it was built. It’s one of the few Clemson landmarks that doesn’t get renovated, updated or even painted. The faded black sign on the front reads:


And when you push open the front door, you feel like you’ve wandered back in time to the days when your receipt was written on the brown paper bag that held your purchases.

The store got its start across the street in 1899. A member of the very first class of Clemson cadets, Isaac Leonard Keller left school after two years and opened Keller’s Store, stocking cadet uniform supplies. Legend has it that he could determine sizes and hems of uniforms without even measuring, and so he was given the nickname “Judge.” In 1918, he moved across the street into a wood-frame building, where the store remained until 1936, when the current brick building was erected.

The cadet uniforms might be a thing of the past, but within the walls of Judge Keller’s you can find the uniforms of contemporary Clemson students and fans. Stacks and racks of T-shirts and shorts, sweatshirts and hats cover almost every available surface. For years, they offered overalls, dyed orange, for sale.

The Judge’s grandson and namesake, Isaac Leonard Keller ’70, runs the store today with the help of his son, Ben. But that doesn’t mean you can’t see vestiges of earlier generations. Three hats that belonged to Leonard’s dad still hang on the wall. And if you look through the boxes on the shelves, you might still find a nice pair of white leather shoes from the 50s.

The Oak Tree of Clemson

If you were chatting with Jerry Reel before a meeting, it wouldn’t be unusual for him to lean over, his eyes sparkling, and share some odd bit of knowledge with you such as, “Did you know that today is St. Columba’s Day? He’s the patron saint of bookbinders and poets.” He’s a veritable font of information about any number of things, about which he can usually spin a yarn that will captivate you, amuse you and educate you along the way. And when it comes to the history of Clemson University, he can claim the title as resident expert. In 2003, the University recognized that and named him University Historian. In that role, he has written two volumes of history about the institution, the latest of which was published this spring. For decades, students filled his “History 101 – History of Clemson” course in which he indoctrinated generations with stories of the families who founded the University and the leaders who presided over it.

It’s not often that we designate a living person as a landmark or legend. But Jerry Reel just begs to be both. Sometimes referred to as the “Oak Tree of Clemson,” Reel joined the faculty in 1963 while he was still finishing up his Ph.D. in history at Emory University. He was the second professor named an Alumni Master Teacher, and in addition to being a faculty member, served as dean of undergraduate studies and senior vice provost. He directed four inaugurations as well as the Clemson Centennial, witnessing five decades of traditions and transitions. And in 2000, Clemson named him an honorary alumnus.

A native of New Orleans (of which he is justifiably proud), Reel is married to Edmee M ’82, who he will tell you that he met for the first time when she was two years old, running through the backyard, “naked as a jaybird.” The two of them have raised three children (all Clemson alums) and have advised and encouraged 50 years worth of Clemson students.

Clemson’s history in 8-inch squares

This installation of tiles tells the history of Clemson in 8-inch squares.

As you enter Hardin Hall, you’re greeted with an artistic rendering of Clemson’s history. Some very abstract, others more representational, 84 tiles spread across a curved wall that stretches for 60 feet. Installed in 2004 in the then newly renovated home of the history, philosophy and religion departments, the project was sponsored by the Art Partnership Program and funded through the R.C. Edwards Endowment. Artist Kathy Triplett was chosen through a regional competition that spanned six Southern states.

“The title [“Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny”] is inspired by the idea of the single cell and how it progresses to a complex organism,” said Triplett. “I used this idea of progression as a metaphor to represent the development and evolution of the University, from the initial spark of an idea in Thomas Green Clemson’s mind, through its expansion, diversification and growth into a complex and more open institution, which is in many ways like the growth of the individual student.”

The tiles range from the expected — commemorating Thomas Green Clemson and M.B. Hardin and the always present Tiger — to the unexpected — depicting the development of the Phorid Fly and the illusion of parallel lines.

In an interview in 2009, Triplett compared the work to a poem. “At first you grasp it with the heart,” she said.

Perhaps the best description comes from Denise Woodward- Detrich, director of Lee Gallery, who said, “Standing at either end of the installation, you can’t see the other end. Just like the arc of the University’s history.”

Always in the details

Louis Henry

I have always felt blessed and unabashedly proud that my academic career brought me to Clemson University — and doubly so that my greatest influence there was Louis Henry. He was, after all, a native son: Born in 1931 to parents who were employed by the University, he would graduate from Clemson in 1953 and some two decades later be named the first Alumni Master Teacher. I’d known nothing of the award until I picked up a 1974 Homecoming program a few years ago on eBay and started thumbing through in a fit of nostalgia. There he was, featured in a two-page article, younger than I’d ever seen him, but much the same man I’d come to know during my college years in the 1980s.

“Yes, that was quite an honor,” he chuckled when I called down a few days later, then promptly shifted conversation in another direction, a classic Henry maneuver. Of all the subjects on which he’d freely converse — and there were many — he was least inclined to discuss himself, always more interested in the person who’d taken up a seat in his office, living room, wherever.

Louis Henry was a gifted educator, and a good deal more, in part due to his belief that teachers did their greatest work outside of the classroom. It was a mantra he’d adopted early on in his career and practiced daily in his first-floor Strode Tower office. Like so many other Clemson students, I spent my share of time there. First as an undergraduate, then a graduate student and finally, for two years, as an instructor, I took any and all questions — many of them grammar related — and mooched coffee that might have been poured from a crank case. I always felt welcome there, its book-lined shelves punctuated with photographs, the manual typewriter and potted plants. It was a comfortable, easy-going space that seemed in those days Louis Henry’s natural domain.

Equal parts inspiration and common sense, that’s how I remember him and that’s what I took from two of the most valuable lessons I ever received. The first he seemed to embody: Find your passion and pursue it. His work with students over the years spoke to the depth of his commitment. The same might be said of his friendships, now that I think about it, since there was scarcely ever a conversation that didn’t involve the latest on half a dozen other folks of our shared acquaintance. A lot of those lives crossed paths through Louis Henry. Then there was lesson number two, a tough one in this high-tech, fast-paced age that holds everything at the fingertips except time. “Life is in the details,” he said, and said it over and over in the way he lived.

For the past 22 years, our conversations were split between the telephone and the occasional visit in his living room out in Central. The last decade or so saw his health compromised and his activities pared down so that eventually he had to give up his Clemson baseball tickets. Years ago we’d discovered a mutual passion for baseball in general, Clemson baseball in particular, and this near obsession became a recurring theme.

Dr. Henry’s birthday was in February, the same month the Tigers fire off the first pitch, appropriately enough. He knew all the players by name and position, could detail their respective strengths, and preferred “watching games on the radio.” And his trip out to the College World Series in 1996 stayed always fresh in his mind. Indelible, really.

“You have to go. That’s a trip you just have to make,” he kept saying until there was no missing the opportunity and I found myself on a plane out to Omaha with my 9-year-old son in 2010. Life in the details, I remember thinking then, as my traveling companion, who carries the Henry middle name, settled back and tried to rein in his excitement. Always in the details … though it may be years before we fully grasp their meaning.

There are two memorial funds for Dr. Henry set up with the Clemson Foundation: the Dr. Louis Henry ’53 Endowment, supporting The Tiger newspaper, and the Clemson Baseball/Louis Henry Memorial supporting the baseball team.

Clif Collins ’84, M ’88, largely due to the influence of Dr. Henry, is now teaching college English in Laurel, Md.