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StoReads: Dear Old Hill: The Story of Manitou Heights, the Campus of St. Olaf College

Are you desperate for factual reporting of St. Olaf history but not boring enough to read “History of St. Olaf College 1874-1974,” a book with a title that matches its level of excitement? Are you worried about the credibility of the early memoirs about our school? They are hilarious books, but also wildly unreliable ones. St. Olaf needs a book that is both informative and fun — something with a bibliography and a punchline. 

“Dear Old Hill: the Story of Manitou Heights, the Campus of St. Olaf College” is the best St. Olaf history book ever written. Joseph M. Shaw brilliantly weaves together history and humor, explaining how the college evolved and grew. Do you want to know why Mohn Hall was built? Are you curious about the original Mohn Hall? Not only can you read about the construction of our modern Mohn Hall and the original hall, you can also laugh about the time the girls of Mohn Hall used a firehose to chase the men of Ytterboe Hall off of the Mohn balconies!

“Dear Old Hill” covers the time from when St. Olaf’s School began in 1874 to the year 1992, when the book was written. While enough time has passed that there are now three decades of history unaccounted for, this book captures the timeless spirit of Oles. There are stories about students flooding their rooms to create ice rinks and swimming pools, stories about Ytterboe the dog, stories about pranks from a certain rival college in town, stories about the Crown Prince of Norway, stories about how we’ve grown and changed, and stories about how we’ve stayed our course. 

Many St. Olaf history books are memoirs, which are frankly a little inaccurate at times, but consistently utterly entertaining and endlessly hilarious. “Dear Old Hill” draws from those sources and that humorous spirit, in addition to relying on trustworthy records and archives, while also incorporating student accounts and voices. Shaw and Georgina Dieson Hegland will both tell you that a young man had his clothes eaten by a cow after swimming in the Cannon River, but “Dear Old Hill” is the book that will put that event into broader historical context, while still keeping all of the hilarity from the original telling. If you want a good blend of humor and facts, “Dear Old Hill” is the one for you. It tells the story of the students, and it’s a book we should all read, not only for the history, but also for the humor. It’s a brilliantly crafted telling of our story, not just as a school but as our home.