Early Life

A big event at Freshman Orientation was Flag Rush—a competition between the freshmen and sophomores to capture a piece of cloth pinned to the top of a pole or ladder. At “stake” was the right to walk certain paths on the campus and release from the requirement of wearing a freshman beanie.

The first three years of Joe Wilson’s college life were spent on the UR’s old campus, on Prince Street, where the Memorial Art Gallery is located. In 1930, the River Campus was brand new, and Wilson and the rest of the Class of 1931 were the first seniors to march on the Quadrangle and study “Beside the Genesee."

All through his college years, Wilson and his classmates watched the new campus being built and visited the buildings during construction. He witnessed Eastman’s philanthropy, but also saw the example set by his family and neighbors in lending their support—financial, intellectual, and physical—to their community.

Rochester photographer Josef Schiff documented the brand-new River Campus buildings and interiors in the fall of 1930.

Even before he came to the UR as a freshman, Joe Wilson would have known about the UR. In 1924, a fund-raising campaign was held to raise the money necessary to build a new home for the University. Wilson’s father (Joseph R. Wilson) and grandfather (JC Wilson) both contributed.

The theme of the 1924 Campaign was “A Greater University for a Greater Rochester.” Brochures expounded upon the idea that the community as a whole would benefit if the University had better facilities to educate the young men and women of Rochester; Joe Wilson would have seen around his own home, because his father was on one of the Campaign “teams” that canvassed the City.

My plea to you is a simple one--much too trite perhaps--almost a cliche--but not really. It comes from deep within me, at any rate, and at the risk of sounding like preaching, I am going to plead that you Read! Read! Read!

...No one who ignores, and not to read is to ignore, no one who ignores the great minds, the spirits, the meaning of justice, of truth, of happiness, of sacrifice, of grief, of courage, of love and friendship, is really living. They are existing in a kind of vacuum isolated from that great human parade which stretches back and back into the dark past before records were made. It Is the parade of people whose towering achievements and his poignant frailties has made us, our beliefs, our minds, who have left us priceless heritages of ideas and concepts, of ideals and appalling craven notions, of criminal depths in men, of deep and sensitive portraits of men and times.

Commencement speech, The Columbia School (now Allendale-Columbia), June 7, 1967