AU-almamater

6/7/00

David Granger

AU PROF DISCOVERS LONG-ANONYMOUS AUTHOR OF ALMA MATER

AUBURN -- In 1924, William Thorington "Bill" Wood, a young student from Montgomery who was a member of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute's Glee Club and the API cheerleader, sat down and penned the school's Alma Mater.

Later that year, Wood traveled with the glee club to Eufaula for a performance, staying at the home of Simpson Foy, his Sigma Nu fraternity brother, where he taught Simpson's younger brother Jim the new school song.

Wood, who died just nine years later of pneumonia, could not have known that the younger of the Foy brothers would become the longtime dean of students at Auburn. Nor could he have known that his signature work and the Foy family would be intertwined for nearly 75 years before the real story behind the song and changes made to it when API became Auburn University were made public.

And it took the work of an AU associate professor of animal and dairy sciences to bring the story to light.

"I had seen on several copies of the alma mater where it had been revised in 1960, but there was no explanation of the revisions and no credit given to who was responsible for those revisions," says Dale Coleman, who is researching the origins of several Auburn traditions, including the creed, the tiger mascot and the "War Eagle!" battle cry. "Because of the date, I felt like it must have something to do with the name change from API to Auburn University, but I wanted to know for sure and wanted to know who was responsible for the changes."

Coleman went to David Rosenblatt, an archivist at AU's Ralph Brown Draughon Library, who suggested he talk to Bodie Henton, who was director of the AU Marching Band at the time. Henton couldn't help him, but suggested he call Foy, dean of students at Auburn from 1950 to 1978.

"Other people had mentioned Dean Foy as someone I should call, but I just hadn't done it yet," Coleman said. "Finally, it seemed like all roads were leading to him, so I called and his wife answered. I told her why I wanted to talk to him, that it was about the revisions to the alma mater and how they came about."

Emmalu Foy had been waiting nearly 40 years for the call.

"When he told me why he was calling, I told him, 'I thought you'd never ask,'" she said.

Mrs. Foy told Coleman how in 1960 she had written the revisions to the alma mater to remove references to API and replace them with Auburn, the school's new name.

"Dr. (Ralph Brown) Draughon (the president of the university at the time) had recognized that there needed to be some changes in the song and he first went to the alumni to see if they wanted to take on the project," Mrs. Foy said. "They declined. So he went to the SGA and they agreed to do it."

Coleman says the SGA placed an ad in a January 1960 edition of The Auburn Plainsman, inviting suggestions on how to change the words of the song. The ad even included a sample of how the words might be changed, but the sample included a line that ended with the words "Auburn U." -- words Mrs. Foy didn't like.

"We're not Auburn U., we're Auburn and I just didn't like that line," she recalled. "I was talking with Jim about it and he asked me how it could be changed since there's not much, if anything, that rhymes with Auburn. I told him that I would put Auburn in the middle of the line instead of at the end. When I told him that, he suggested that I submit a recommendation to the committee."

Mrs. Foy was reluctant, she said, since she was the wife of the dean of students. But she agreed after her husband assured her that the committee would not know who submitted the recommendations.

Mrs. Foy's recommendation included changing one line in the first verse from "Proudly stand O' Alma Mater, API" to "Proudly stands our Alma Mater head held high." Neither she nor Draughon were enamored with "head held high," so they collaborated and arrived at the present wording, "banners high."

Mrs. Foy also rewrote the chorus to include Auburn in the middle of a line and include the word "work," which she especially wanted in deference to professor George Petrie, the author of The Auburn Creed.

"In writing the refrain, I was very happy to be able to include the word 'work,'"said. "It is an important word in the Auburn Creed, and the creed and Dr. George Petrie mean so much to Jim and other Auburn people. I think that is my favorite part of my revision."

So Mrs. Foy sent in her recommendation, expecting to hear nothing more from it. Not long afterward, she was informed that her revision had been chosen.

"I was delighted," she said. "Bill Wood's original words and music are so beautiful, I was just so excited that my work was going to be a small part of it."

For nearly a half-century, Auburn people have sung the song at football games, commencements and other gatherings. But, in print, the credit always read "Bill Wood, 1924, Word revision, 1960," failing to credit the author of the revisions..

Now, thanks to Coleman's dogged digging, Auburn people everywhere will know of Emmalu Foy's role. That prospect pleases Dean Foy.

"It's always been in the back of my mind," he says. "I would go to football games and see the Alma Mater in the program and think, 'By golly, Emmalu revised that thing and that should be known. I'm gratified that she's finally getting some recognition and I think it's the right thing to do."

As a special treat, Coleman helped arrange acknowledgment of Mrs. Foy's work by the Student Government Association. At its annual officers' installation banquet in April, the SGA presented her with a resolution. After the resolution was read aloud, a quartet of students walked to the table where Dean and Mrs. Foy were sitting.

"They sang the most beautiful a capella version of the Alma Mater in wonderful four-part harmony," Mrs. Foy said. "It was a wonderful experience for me."

And Coleman said it was a special ending to his work to find the long-unknown author.

"It was truly an Auburn moment," he added.

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Auburn Alma Mater (Original and revised alma mater with revised portions italicized.


(ORIGINAL) Words and music by Bill Wood '24
On the rolling plains of Dixie 'Neath it's sun-kissed sky, Proudly stand, O Alma Mater A.P.I.
To thy name we'll sing thy praise, From hearts that love so true, And pledge to thee our loyalty the ages through.
Hail thy colors, Orange and Blue, Unfurled into the sky. To thee, our Alma Mater, we'll be true, O A.P.I.
Hear the student voices swelling, Echoes strong and clear, Adding laurels to thy fame enshrined so dear.
From the hollowed wall's we'll part, And bid thee sad a dieu Thy sacred trust we'll bear with us the ages through.
God our Father hear our prayer, May Auburn never die, To thee, O Alma Mater, we'll be true Our A.P.I.


Auburn Alma Mater (Revised version)


Words and music by Bill Wood '24 1960 word revision by Emma O'Rear Foy
On the rolling plains of Dixie 'Neath the sun-kissed sky, Proudly stands our Alma Mater Banners high.
To thy name we'll sing the praise, From hearts that love so true, And pledge to thee our loyalty the ages through.
We hail thee, Auburn, and we vow To work for thy just fame, And hold in memory as we do now Thy cherished name.
Hear the student voices swelling, Echoes strong and clear, Adding laurels to thy fame enshrined so dear.
From the hollowed walls we'll part, And bid thee sad adieu; Thy sacred trust we'll bear with us the ages through.
We hail thee, Auburn, and we vow To work for thy just fame, And hold in memory as we do now Thy cherished name.

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CONTACT: Coleman, 334/844-1512; James or Emmalu Foy, 334/887-3343.