Throughout its nearly century-long existence, the art on Linfield’s senior bench has taken on many forms while providing anticipation and tradition for generations of students and visitors alike.
When it took its place beneath the Old Oak in the 1990s, the senior bench was seen as a campus staple for its symbolism rather than its looks.
Originally, only seniors were allowed to sit on the wooden bench, according to information compiled by alumna Katherine Pitman-Huit in “Linfield College’s buildings: Their structural changes and the individuals whom they stood for.”
On several occasions, freshmen and sophomores stole and hid the bench, leaving senior students to find it the next day.
In 1913, a concrete bench similar to today’s was built, and underclassmen had to think of other means to pull pranks on older students.
The colorful designs gracing today’s bench were inspired by the work of these freshmen, done as a prank in the dark of night.
At first, the bench only received a fresh coat of white paint from seniors at commencement time to maintain its appearance. In 1961, the concrete bench had amassed so many coats of paint, students decided to have it dismantled. In it, students found a copy of The Linfield Review from 1913. It was eventually rebuilt later that decade.
In the 1970s, the old rules were changed to allow all students to sit underneath the tree, but the privilege of painting it with new and different images was given only to seniors.
As an alumnus, Dean of Students Dave Hansen has seen the bench take on many forms since he arrived at Linfield in 1969 and has never seen a themerepeated.
The treatments range from the class of 2007’s “Oh the places you’ll go” Dr. Seuss motif, to one of a Ferris wheel car that incorporated the metal pole supporting the Old Oak’s surrounding limbs.
“It’s been festooned with favorite philosophies and adages,” Hansen said. “(There have also been) remembrances of newsworthy items from that year.”
Hansen said students often include messages, class mottos, handprints or signatures. Some have painted campus scenes featuring Melrose and Pioneer halls; others have had celebration themes.
Hansen remembered one design, painted by the class of 2005, featured a crossword puzzle students could fill out with the chalk kept nearby. Anotherdepicted the universe, complete with a black background and glow-in-the-dark paint.
Questions about the future of this tradition have been the center of many discussions, even before the Old Oak toppled on it in January.
“We began discussing plans to move it when we knew the Old Oak (was dying),” Hansen said. “We’re still making that decision.”
Though the bench sustained some damage after the tree fell, Hansen said there’s no reason it can’t be used in the future.
“(We’re hoping) to find a new location and have it up in time for this year’s seniors,” he said.
Hansen said he sees value in putting it back where it’s always been, but finding the bench’s new home is not an urgent matter.
“It’s more about maintaining the tradition than the particular location,”he said.