Whitney, I’m Sorry They Named Whitney After You


Clayton Whitney, retrieved from Murphy Library

Karley Betzler, Sports Reporter

It seems like every UW-L student has an opinion on the dining hall, Whitney. This opinion is shown through profanity-filled nicknames or phrases. However, Whitney was someone’s name and legacy that should grace more than a mere dining hall.

Clayton A. Whitney was the man the dining center was named after. According to an interview retrieved from Murphy Library, Former UW-L Special Division Advisor William Laux stated, “Mr. Whitney, had a rather difficult childhood. He was a completely self-made man.”

Whitney began his career as a become a teacher  in 1900 with a rural, one-room school in Michigan. This is where Whitney taught for 10 years until he decided to further his education at the University of Michigan to study geology. Whitney then enrolled in the University of Chicago and continued his graduate studies in Geography.

Whitney was a lot more than just his education, though. “He was a great guy, and he was very sympathetic,” reflected Laux.

Whitney cared deeply about his family. During his time at college, he became very homesick. In a recorded interview retrieved from Murphy Library, a former student of Whitney, only identified as Mary, recalled, “He said when he was going to college, it was fifteen miles from his home and he told us, “One night or one afternoon he got so homesick that he hiked home fifteen miles to see his family and then he hiked back that same night in order to be in time for the 8 o’clock class the next morning.”

This man had a passion for learning and teaching. His is quoted saying, “If a young man or woman likes to work with young people and children, be with them daily, so it does not disturb their mental equilibrium, and be content with the salaries paid teachers, then enter the profession.”

Whitney came to UW-L in 1915 where he worked for 37 years until his retirement in 1952.

Whitney was UW-L’s three-time acting President, Vice President and served as Chairman of the Geography Department.

“He was a man who craved friendship very much and didn’t know how to cultivate it,” explained Laux in the interview, “He suffered an unspeakable tragedy when his younger son died. Mr. Whitney never recovered from that tragedy.”

Through his struggles, Whitney remained a compassionate and caring individual. Another former student in an interview recovered from Murphy Library, recounted Whitney’s reaction to her telling him about her father had passed away. Whitney supported her through her own grief. “It was just wonderful. We talked for about two hours…he was the fatherly type.”

Whitney was always looking for ways to help students. For many years, he was president of the La Crosse State Teachers College Foundation board which attended to loans for needy students.

Before you throw around insulting nick-names to the building, remember that Clayton Whitney’s legacy lies within that dining hall, and the name is representative of so much more than the poor food it serves