A snapshot of postwar student life

A remarkable collection of photographs was recently shared with the college, offering a brief time travel to postwar student life from 1946 to 1950. The images follow a group of girlfriends, first pictured in their Pfeiffer Hall room, through four years of adventures culminating in a graduation shot on the King Chapel steps.

Helga Koch Konopacki ’50 (second from left) and her friends and roommates in Pfeiffer Hall enjoying Cokes and knitting.
Helga Koch Konopacki ’50 (second from left) and her friends and roommates in Pfeiffer Hall enjoying Cokes and knitting.

These photos are from the personal collection of Helga Koch Konopacki ’50 (1927-2004), who came to Cornell from Kimballton, Iowa. Her experience during the post-World War II era is noteworthy in part by the inclusion of a wide range of athletics shots. Konopacki was the first female sports reporter at her high school and a dedicated sports fan. Her attendance at Cornell happily coincided with the 1947 national championship wrestling team.
While student lifestyles and traditions have evolved since she captured these young Cornellians on film, the palpable energy, allegiances, and community spirit have not.

Hundreds of Helga’s photos are available on Flickr.

  • Helga Koch Konopacki ’50 was very interested in sports, and became the first female sports reporter at Elk Horn High School.

  • Coach Paul Scott ’29 (left) and his 1947 national championship wrestling team pose at the Mount Vernon Depot before departing for San Francisco, where they would win the national AAU meet.

  • Several hundred students greeted the 1947 Cornell wrestling team upon their return to Mount Vernon after winning the AAU championship (“we waited 2.5 hours in the rain” according to Helga).

  • The 1947 Cornell wrestling team is paraded through Mount Vernon after winning the AAU championship.

  • Downtown businesses display pride for Cornell's 1947 championship wrestling team.

  • Armstrong Hall decked out for Homecoming 1947.

  • Flag-rushers pose after climbing the greased pole and capturing the flag, circa 1948.

  • Helga Koch Konopacki '50 (center) titled this "Studying for finals." With Mary Hickox ’50 (top) and Jean Huxsol ’50.

  • Marilyn “Maril” Maurath ’50 and a friend on the college lawn.

  • Helga and her friends and roommates enjoy life on the Hilltop.

  • Helga and her friends in front of King Chapel.

  • A Cornell couple relax on the lawn.

  • Jean Huxsol ’50, Grace Larsen '50, and Helga Koch Konopacki '50 in Pfeiffer Hall.

  • A play from a Homecoming football game, dated 1949.

  • Homecoming Court, 1948.

  • Proprietors George and Alice Brown ran George's, an establishment sometimes confused with the college's Cole Bin social center.

  • Grace Larsen, Helga Koch, Jean Huxsol, and Mary Hickox at graduation in 1950.

  • Grace Larsen, Helga Koch, Jean Huxsol, and Mary Hickox in the same order from their graduation photo at their 40th reunion.

About the photographer:

Helga Koch Konopacki ’50 was born Aug. 5, 1927 in the parsonage of the West Denmark Lutheran Church, near Luck, Wisconsin. Her father was Holger Koch, a Danish Lutheran minister. Helga grew up in the West Denmark Danish community until 1937, when Holger moved the family to Kimballton, Iowa to take over the operation of a brickyard after his brother, Frode, who was the manager, died from a fall while building a brick silo. The Koch family continued to run the brickyard until they sold it in 1947 and moved back to Luck.

Helga wrote in her journal that she was shy and unhappy as a teenager in Kimballton. She went two years to the Kimballton High School, then two years at the neighboring town’s Elk Horn High School (Kimballton did not have a four-year high school). She was a ‘tomboy’ and was very interested in sports, mainly as a fan. She followed professional baseball closely. She became the first female sports reporter for the Elk Horn High School.

While many of her friends, as well as her older sister Ela, went to Grand View College after graduating high school, Helga chose to attend Cornell College, perhaps partly because everyone else was going to Grand View.

Grace Larsen ’50 (left) and Marilyn “Maril” Maurath ’50 enjoy a light moment in uptown Mount Vernon. The water tower has been replaced but the building at left is still in operation as the Perfect Blend.
Grace Larsen ’50 (left) and Marilyn “Maril” Maurath ’50 enjoy a light moment in uptown Mount Vernon. The water tower has been replaced but the building at left is still in operation as the Perfect Blend.

She graduated from Cornell in 1950 with a major in Spanish, but she stayed at the college, working as a secretary for the dean of women and dean of men. In 1952, she moved to Carlsbad, New Mexico, to work at a bank. There, she met Walter Konopacki, who was stationed at the Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas.

Walt and Helga were married in 1954. Their first tour of duty was to a U. S. Air Force Base in Japan. After a few years, they returned to the U.S. and were stationed at Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico. They had two children while there: Paul and Barbara. Walt’s military career took them to bases in Tucson, Arizona and Duluth, Minnesota.

Walt retired from U.S. military service in 1968. The family moved to the home where Helga grew up in Luck, Wisconsin. Helga became involved in the community as a 4-H leader and the town librarian.

She attended all of the sporting events (local and away) her children participated in while they attended Luck Public High School. Even after the kids graduated and went off to college, Helga would attend the sporting events at the Luck High School, because she knew the kids from her 4-H and library work. Her interest in sports never waned. Quite often she would sit in her living room with the AM radio playing Minnesota Twins, Vikings, or Timberwolves games.

Helga attended reunions at Cornell in 1990 (40th) and 2000 (50th). In 1998, she embarked on a genealogy project, with the hope to preserve her heritage, rich in the traditions of her Danish-immigrant ancestors.

Helga passed away in 2004 from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She is buried in the West Denmark Cemetery, along with many of her relatives, and her husband, Walter, who passed away a year later in 2005 from a heart attack.