"Dedicated to the encouragement of hilarity"
Don’t laugh, but there was once a Laugh Club on campus. No fooling? No fooling. The club promoted pranks, laughter and, oddly enough, cross-country hitchhiking races as club members good-timed their way through college in the years following WW II. True enough, but they also had a serious, studious side that would serve them well later in the professional world.
Described in the 1949 Aquinas yearbook as “an officially non-existent campus group dedicated to the encouragement of hilarity,” the club had a short but memorable run, being first mentioned in the university’s online archives in an Oct. 24, 1947, Aquin newspaper story, and last mentioned in the 1949 Aquinas.
Bill Hedrick, 87, still laughs recalling the good times he experienced on and off campus as a member of the club. His memories may not be as clear as they once were, but his laughter remains strong.
“Anything for a laugh was our motto – within reason,” Hedrick ’50 said in a recent interview. “Of course, I don’t know if we were limited to reason.”
Born in St. Paul, raised in Minneapolis, a graduate of De La Salle High School (from which he jokes that he was “paroled”) and a U.S. Navy veteran, the former oncologist and doctor of internal medicine now calls home an assisted-living facility in Bloomington. His wife, Deidre, died in 2012. They raised seven children, two – John ’82 and Anne Hedrick Sarles ’88 – are Tommies.
Although the club, unofficial as it was, lasted but a few years, it received plenty of publicity in the student newspaper.
“Most of us wrote on the Aquin – John Byron, Tom Jardine, Bob White and myself – wrote on the Aquin,” Hedrick explained. “We’d write stories for them whether they liked it or not.”
“We patted each other on the back,” he added with a laugh.
The pats on the back were harder-hitting than the stories they filed: “Laugh Club Travels East” and “Laugh Club Visits New York, Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburg, On Trip (hitchhiking excursion stories); “Laugh Club Halts to Meet Faculty” and “Laughing Boys Play Game,” (Laugh Club-Chemistry Department faculty basketball game promotions); and “Vacation Virus Vies With Final Exams,” (summer vacation plans of Laugh Club members).
The club won best float honors in the homecoming parades of both 1948 and 1949. The elaborate floats, a pirate ship in 1948 and a train in 1949, and the club members riding them, of course, made the campus newspaper and yearbook.
As for pranks, “We tried to do stunts that were reasonable and not too bothersome,” Hedrick said, all the while trying to avoid run-ins with Father Bernard Coughlin, the dean of students. Coughlin, no doubt, was a man to be avoided.
“Father Coughlin was a product of the University of Notre Dame, where he had been a member of the Rockne-coached football squad that included the renowned Four Horsemen,” wrote Joseph B. Connors in Journey Toward Fulfillment – A History of the College of St. Thomas.
Hedrick’s most exciting club adventure was a team hitchhiking race during Easter break in 1948 to the Everglades Hotel in Miami, Fla. He and a cousin, Bob White, won the race, beating the other two-man teams of George Seiter and Frank Preston, and James Atkins and John Byron. Hedrick still proudly shows off the heavy, black-glove trophy, which sat for years on a prominent shelf in the Hedrick home in suburban Minneapolis. The glove is mounted on a sealed cigar box that is covered in and filled with plaster, and quite likely with something very heavy embedded inside the box.
A small plaque mounted on the trophy reads:
Hedrick and White
The trophy, a prized possession to this day, was sturdy enough to survive seven kids throwing it around the house, noted a son, Bob. “I just remember it being the most interesting nostalgia in the house,” he remarked. “It was the one piece in the house that someone would see on the shelf and just instantly realize there must be a good story behind it. And there was.”
Through the years the seven often heard the story of the Laugh Club race to Miami. Club members also hitchhiked to New York City in 1949, but that excursion was a “ramble more than a sprint,” Hedrick said. The hitchhikers spent time touring the city with an uncle of one of the group and took in a Radio City Rockettes show.
“We had a good time wherever we went,” Hedrick said. “That was part of our thing. You were supposed to laugh.”
That they did, but they also had a serious, studious side. Club members went on to earn titles of doctor, lawyer, chemist, public relations director, psychiatrist, dentist and even neurosurgeon, among others.
Hedrick is a member of the St. Thomas class of 1950, but without a degree. Before his class graduated, he transferred to the University of Minnesota and attended medical school; he graduated from medical school in 1954. He practiced medicine in the Medical Arts Building on the Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis.
Even without a St. Thomas degree, the school has always remained dear to his heart. Hedrick considers it his alma mater. He laughs easily and often recalling the friendships and adventures shared during the grand days of the Laugh Club following WW II.
“It was a very fun time. It was a highlight of my life,” Hedrick reflected, “and nobody was arrested.”