COL Anslem Keefe

Col. Keefe.jpg


COL Anslem Keefe


COL Anslem Keefe


The first military organizations to appear on the St. Norbert campus were the Blue Jacket Club and the Caisson Club. These units became active in 1926 under the direction of Father A.M. Keefe.

Activities for these clubs consisted mainly of a weekly drill period with their respective units in Green Bay. The members of these clubs were paid regular military wages for the time spent at drill since they were actually members of the United States Army or Navy Reserve. They also participated in a two-week summer training program.

The Blue Jacket Club had the purpose of stimulating interest in the Navy among the student body and pointing out the many advantages of the Naval Reserve. Several St. Norbert students were called to duty with the 121st Regiment, to aid in settling the violence of a serious milk strike. The summer training programs offered to these organizations were similar to the present ROTC summer camp for advanced course cadets at Fort Lewis, Washington.

These clubs remained active on the St. Norbert College campus until the installation of the senior ROTC program at the College in 1936.

In early 1928, Father A.M. Keefe, president of the College, wrote to the 6th Corps in Chicago requesting an ROTC unit for St. Norbert College. The request was denied due to a lack of funds. As a result, the College temporarily abandoned the idea.

In February 1935, Father Keefe attended a board meeting of the State Reserve Officers Association in Fond du Lac, Wis. At this meeting, Dr. Silas Evans, professor of military science at Ripon College, delivered a proposal to expand ROTC throughout eastern Wisconsin. He suggested having one ROTC unit installed at a university and one installed at a college, the university to be Marquette, and the college to be St. Norbert.

The subject was brought up again when Father DuPont, the registrar of St. Norbert College and Father Wint, the director of athletics, suggested to Father Keefe that the institution try to get an ROTC unit. When Father Keefe reported on the Fond du Lac proposal, the priest fully supported the concept for two main reasons. Primarily ROTC would greatly improve the social life on campus and secondly, the program would assist in the accreditation process by the North Central Association. The addition of the Army officers would alleviate the shortage of physical education instructors.

On May 3, 1935, Len Liebman wrote to the pentagon requesting an inspection to see if St. Norbert College was qualified for an ROTC program. Several prominent businessmen in the area also wrote to ask for an inspector. This cooperative effort resulted in Colonel T.J. Christian from the University of Chicago coming to inspect the campus. He reported that his mind was made up before he had even left Chicago.

As a result of Colonel Christian's visit, Senator F. Ryan Duffey, Sr., received a letter from Washington stating that St. Norbert College would be supported with an infantry ROTC detachment. During semester break, on January 17, 1936, the War Department formally approved St. Norbert College and stated that the professor of military science (PMS) would arrive during that winter.

On March 6, 1936, Major Walter E. Lauer arrived to become the first PMS at St. Norbert College. Major Lauer remained here until he was assigned to a new position at the end of 1937.

During the spring semester of 1946, approximately 750 veterans returned to St. Norbert to use their GI Bill benefits. The veterans became known as the 52-20 club for most received $20 a week for 52 weeks to allow them to adjust to civilian life again. This influx caused the College to add a number of classes and adjust some of the pre-war controls over the student body.

Father Keefe, upon his return in 1946, took a special interest in the veterans and assisted many in their transitions back to civilian life. He also resumed his duties as a member of the six digit society. This group was comprised of soldiers having only six digits in their serial number. Even with a distinguished rating, the program was under scrutiny for not maintaining a sufficient quantity of graduates.

The pro ROTC and dominant majority was spearheaded by Father Keefe. He along with strong backing from Fathers Dupont, Cagney (a WWII infantry officer) and Steinmetz provided the solid backing needed by the ROTC program. This support was not dictated by any monetary concern. At that time, St. Norbert was facing severe financial problems.

With its small enrollment (roughly less than 500 males) every new student meant money and as such was actively promoted. Despite this, St. Norbert College refused admittance to a number of prospective students who did not opt for ROTC. The dropping of the cadet for failure to abide by ROTC regulations was another example of support by Father Keefe.

These facts emphasize several realities of this program. Primarily, that St. Norbert College had been under severe pressure and undue scrutiny for over 40 years and yet refused to sacrifice demanding standards for both graduation and commissioning. This precedent first expressed by Father Keefe in 1950 continues both as a tradition and a trademark of the St. Norbert College graduate.

In 1955, Abbot Pennings, founder of St. Norbert College in 1898, passed away. Father Dennis Burke was selected to replace him as College president. Father Anselm Keefe retired from the United States Army Reserve as a full colonel in the Chaplains Corps. St. Norbert College began a period of progress under the direction of Father Burke while Father Keefe continued making his personal remarkable contributions as head of the biology department. The Corps of Cadets routinely participated in civic ceremonies and parades.


Kelly Levenhagen


St. Norbert College ROTC Website


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May 2, 2012


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St. Norbert College


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