Johannes Dahle Interview




Johannes Dahle is the former Director of Student Activities and University Programs, the former Director of University Centers, and the former Director of Development and University Relations. He discusses his career and how he came to the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire in the 1960s, changes to music, arts, and programs in Eau Claire, and his role in the founding of the Viennese Ball by coordinating with Ada Bors and Dr. Haas, as well as their original vision. Dahle also discusses the inclusion of alcohol in the event, planning the event, and the university’s involvement with the student’s planning of the event, such as financial allocations and involvement of the Eau Claire community.


Interviewers Katie Webb and Faith Adams


April 19, 2019


KW: This is Katie Webb, I am accompanied by Faith Adams. It is currently 12:56pm, we are interviewing Jo Dahle on behalf of the Sounds of Eau Claire Oral History Project. The interview is taking place by telephone on April 19th, 2019. Hello, Mr. Dahle we would like to start off by asking you where you are originally from.


JD: Well, I’m originally from Minnesota. I was born in a town in northern Minnesota, my father was a methods minister so we moved frequently. I went to high school and junior high in Minneapolis when he served a church there and then I did my undergraduate work at the University of Minnesota.


KW: What year were you born?


JD: I was born 1933 just as the Great Depression was deepening.


KW: What lead you to start working at the University of Eau Claire?


JD: Well, this is a long story. In 1966, what was then the Wisconsin State University at Eau Claire, was celebrating its 50th anniversary and the president, Leonard Haas, had a vision for the campus as it was growing-that the cultural life for the students should be equivalent of the cultural life of the other universities. And he proceeded to recruit me from the University of Minnesota; he called James Lombard the Director of Conflicts and Lectures at the University of Minnesota and the person responsible for [name] auditorium and I was a music faculty member but also as an administrative work for the department and worked with the Minnesota orchestra and the other arts groups on campus and I was recommended by Lombard to Leonard Haas and when we conducted the interview I found that I had taken some graduate work in the administration of higher education and my professor turned out to be Dr. Haas’ principal professor and his thesis advisor when he got his doctorate or he was aware that not only I had a background in the arts and the administration but some familiarity with the higher education administration. You may know that after the merger of the state colleges and the university together the campuses had a chancellor rather instead than a president and now there is a president of the UW system.


KW: Your official title was the Director of University Centers in 1971 and you transitioned to Director of Development and University Relations in about 1984/’85 and you retired in 1995, is that correct?


JD: Well, it’s correct but incomplete. Because I started at 1966 to ‘71 as Director of Student Activities and University Programs and that dealt with all of the activities on campus-the artist series form and all the cultural events and the...I was actually hired to build and supervise a new major auditorium which is in front of the building where the fine art center sits now but later in ‘67 the project fell through: the funding disappeared and so what is now the confluence project in downtown Eau Claire fifty years ago could have been where the fine arts building is now.


KW: How did you become involved in the Viennese Ball planning?


JD: Ada Bors had an idea to promote the symphony orchestra on campus. She was a faculty wife who played in the orchestra, she was also a pianist and because she and Adam had spent time in Europe they were familiar with the kinds of festival balls that are held all over Europe but in Vienna in particular and she thought that one thing that could be done was to create a ball the promote the orchestra. Rupert Holman, the conductor, approved that and then Lenard Haas, the chancellor, supported that effort and there was a vote by the faculty senate which was needed in order to sell Viennese wines on campus. I, as the Director of University Centers, developed the budget for the project and then we organized the center staff and facilities and the food service and the logistics to make that first ball happen.


KW: Are there any specific departments that you collaborated with for the first and later Viennese Balls?


JD: Well, certainly the most elaborate was the department of music because it required not only the conductors but the students, a number of performing groups and individual artists who were willing to commit their time to prepare and to participate. As far as the rest of the campus goes, because of Director of University Centers was responsible for the food service and the bookstore and all the services in addition to supervising those cultural events we could bring to bare the technical staff of the centers and the custodial staff and the food service staff. And I should really give praise at this point to Laury Gavcull, was the technical person for the University Centers for all the events that occurred, including the events in the arena and elsewhere on campus-all the ceremonial events, you name it. And his work was always behind the scenes and I’m sure not fully appreciated by many. I want to add one thing about Dr. Haas’ vision for the ball, he believed very much in international education, his goal was as many students as possible to study abroad or have and international experience and saw this event as having international educational benefit, it would raise some scholarship money and ultimately in the relationship with the government of Austria and the city of Vienna. Scholarships for students were generated so students could attend workshops and semester study in Southberg and other places and in fact in some cases the Austrian government provided airfare for the students going over. I think he really thought that this was important for bringing the campus and community together that a goal that he and predecessor W.R Davies had that the campus should not be an ivory tower but should be part of the community and students and faculty and administrators were encouraged to take their full part in the life of the community weather its volunteering, serving on boards, being
full citizens of Eau Claire and he believed that because we had all the arts events, the artist series, the forms, the films series: many other things were town and gown. They had steering committees that were run by students, faculty and citizens and members of the community and he saw that model for the ball so that the ball had community members organizing on the committee and it was community participation that Ada stimulated and encouraged. You may be aware that many volunteers, speakers from the community and the faculty made tarts, special baked goods, black forest tarts, lindor tarts, and others for the occasion and the community members were very important in the growth of the ball.


FA: And if I may ask what was your opinion about the eventual inclusion of alcohol to campus and how was that decided?


JD: Well, in order for the event to have the kind of atmosphere and cultural impact the Viennese wine were going to be sold and in order to do that it took that special permission for the faculty senate and the Chancellor. It was the first time, that I am aware, that alcohol was sold on the campus or maybe even served on the campus. There was this kind of irony, that night of the first ball was a concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Intention in the Arena and Centers staff were involved deeply in that, making that concert happen and afterwards one of the staff reminded me that it was kind of a strange evening- we were serving wine in the Davies Center and we were taking pot away from students in the Arena.


KA: You said that Ada Bors was the main coordinator. Did you have any interactions with her during the planning process?


JD: Yes, continuous.


KA: Do you have any specific memories of that?


JD: Well certainly, Ada came to me with the idea. She and I took the idea to Leonard Haas and then we began that approval process and it required some faculty support to take us to the faculty senate and then she asked me to develop a budget for the event based on my experience with all the events on campus. She had not administered anything previously, so we developed a plan for the event and then with the Centers staff we planned the logistics. The ball was in the Davies Center and there was a ballroom-the Spruce-Tamarack room combination- had a parkay floor so it was ideal for the dancing, for the waltzes and so on. In 1977 an addition was built in the Davies Center which gave us another huge performance space-the Council Fire room- which had another four thousand square feet of performance space so as well as additional fine dining space so that there were more opportunities for performance areas. As far as the even it goes itself Ada was involved in getting the orchestra organized and the performance organized and I took the responsibility for the event and as far as you’re aware it grew from one night that first year to two nights and that took a really special effort from all of the staff, the logistics, the food service and so on. I also want to praise the food service in its enthusiastically supporting the event with special foods and that conterfrust the tom cat breakfast that took late at night and also the special effort to create the decor items. I remember one year a sponge sugar violin- a gorgeous thing
made out of sugar and there was a sense by everyone that this was a special event and I think for the participants and it was kind of a night of romance. Being transported to Vienna for one night and being able to have a really high class, sophisticated party right on campus I think was very important.


KA: As Director of University Centers you dealt with student activism and protests, correct?

[00:18:35]JD: Oh yes indeed. We were with the students twenty four hours a day.


KW: Were there any protests during the time of the event?


JD: No, that was a quiet time. The event started in ‘73 or ‘74 and the principle activism was in the late 60s and early 70s. You may remember the killing at Kent State in the spring of ‘70 and the students who were killed in Jackson State and the campus had a multiday strike and we’re very much involved with the students and again Dr. Haas was very much supportive of the students’ right to strike and we made every effort to allow and encourage students to march and to do the things that express their feelings. We had sit ins, we had protest march and I think when that Friday afternoon in May when the apple trees were planted south of the Davies Center to honor the students killed at Kent State. The werry students who have been up for almost three days were sitting on the ground and Dr. Haas talked to them and thanked them for the wonderful way in which they had conducted the strike and their conduct. I did the ullage for his funeral
service and I mentioned those werry students got up off the grass and gave him a standing ovation and there very few, probably none college leaders who were getting standing ovations from students that week. Leonard Haas was a remarkable man.


KW: Thank you for sharing that. With the involvement of UWEC and the Eau Claire community I doubt there was any hesitation to involve the community in the ball, is that correct?


JD: There was no hesitation at all.

[00:21:33]KW: Was bring the two communities together the original plan of the first Viennese Ball?


JD: The Viennese Ball began as town and gone venture.


KW: During your time as faculty at UWEC you said that you would deal with financial and budgetary of the ball. Do you remember if the ball budget changed in any way?


JD: It certainly was a dramatic change. The first year we covered the expenses and we generated some very modest amount of money for scholarships but then as the ball grew and expanded to two nights we generated much more. We had many more treats to sell, which the selling of the baked goods was one of the ways to raise the money and then we also had a campaign to buy the Bosendorfer piano-that special piano from Vienna that’s used during the ball. And there was a effort, we sold keys in effect so donors could buy a key so that we could acquire the piano. And then of course, as I made the transition from Director of University Centers to the foundation then I continued to support the project because the foundation is the fundraising arm of the university and we generate money for scholarships and all of the scholarship funds that were raised by the ball are held within the University foundation.


KW: You and your wife Arlene, you both funded the multicultural scholarship, is that correct?


JD: That’s right. When I retired we were approached and it was suggested that a scholarship recognizing the multicultural students would be an appropriate scholarship because both Arlene and I worked so hard to encourage students from all over and there’s many stories to tell but Eau Claire approached minority students in a really positive way. And I can remember one anecdote that maybe should be remembered. Arvin Zielsdorf was the head of the law enforcement in Eau Claire and each year he had a session with incoming students, many of our African American students were coming from Chicago and had a different opinion about law officers and Arvin spent time with them, telling them that the police in Eau Claire are not like the police in Chicago. And he assured them that if they had any issues that they should call him personally and later
that year he had a call, I think it was a collect call from Black River Falls, and it was one of our students who had gone home to Chicago for the weekend and he was on his way back to campus and his car broke down in Black River Falls and he didn’t know what to do and when he remembered that the chief said “If you have a problem call me,” and the student called him and the chief sent a squad car down to Black River Falls to bring him back to campus and later we figured out how to get his car fixed and bring it back. And it was one of those kinds of things that made Eau Claire a special place for minority students.


FA: Overall what would you say the greatest benefit of introducing the Viennese Ball was?


JD: In some ways I think the greatest benefit was to the music students themselves because they were encouraged to learn repertoire that was not in their standard repertoire. Like the waltzes and the other kinds of music that they would be playing and same thing is true for the coral groups and the soloists. The were encouraged to learn that Viennese music that they probably would not have included in their studies. They also had a chance to understand why Vienna became such a remarkable place in the musical world. Obviously the scholarships are an important outcome. I always thought that the relationship with the community was an important outcome. So there were many.


KW: Is there anything else that you would like to share of your experiences that we have not asked that you feel would be important to the Sounds of Eau Claire Oral History Project?


JD: Well, I’m not sure. I think it is wonderful that the history of the ball and the impact on the community is being studied. I do appreciate the help that you’ve done in terms of generating a telephone interview as we no longer travel. Again I don’t know how the ball functions in the new Davies Center. I understand that the ball was last weekend and I don’t know if you attended?


KW: I regret to say no.


JD: Well, I’ve mentioned again what a remarkable man Leonard Haas was, I should not ignore his wife Dorellin who was also such a key figure in of the progress of the campus and I can remember an occasion where a faculty member in one of, I forgot what department, as it wasn’t retained, it was a tenureasion at which meant that he was not rehired after several years. And there was a student protest and they were marching around in the front of the chancellor’s house and Dorelin in her hospitable way came out and served them hot coco because it was very cold. She was a full partner with Leonard and these activities. I also want to praise my wife Arlene who was my full partner during all those years and we celebrated, in December, our sixty second wedding anniversary so we’ve been partners a long time.


FA: What was the last time that you attended the Viennese Ball?


JD: I think it was when I retired when they had a ceremony that honored me for the work that I had done, and presented a gift. It was a special evening. So that was the last occasion in 1995.


KW: Thank you so much Mr. Dahle for your time for sharing your experiences with us.


JD: Oh, thank you much to the both of you and good luck in your studies

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