By Ryan Reed
Every March since 1908, the canonization of St. Patrick is delegated to a mortal student to represent the patron of engineers. The original St. Patrick was born in Scotland during 432 and was captured by Pagans and carried to Ireland. During his six years on the Emerald Isle he was enslaved as a sheep herder. At the age of twenty, St. Patrick absconded back to Scotland only to return to Ireland by the commandment of God to convert the Pagans. Within forty years, he converted the entire island and died an elderly man on March 17. Rolla’s original St. Pat was from the Bluegrass state. Known around campus as the Kentucky Colonel, he was called to the Ozarks in 1907 to study Civil and Mining Engineering. At the age of 22, he left our city for Birmingham, Alabama via Berkeley, California.
|Menefee as St. Pat in 1908.*|
The residents of Rolla and students enrolled at the Missouri University of Science and Technology are well versed in the events of the first St. Pat’s celebration. Students were denied a request to dismiss class to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. In retaliation, the secretly met and plotted the first Best Ever. On Tuesday, March 17, 1908, St. Patrick arrived on a handcar. The student body escorted him to campus where he was met by a disapproving faculty at the steps of Norwood Hall. St. Pat approached the 29 year old director of the Missouri School of Mines, Lewis E. (Lew) Young, and asked him to bow and receive a blessing. Young obliged and supposedly St. Pat stated, “I dub you the first Honorary Knight of St. Patrick of Rolla.” Thus began a tradition that has lasted for over a century.
This well documented event has become legend on the university and in the city of Rolla. What is less known is the life of the first St. Patrick, George Gilmore Menefee. He was obviously a popular person among the student body to be chosen to portray St. Pat on that fateful day. However, very little is known about Menefee.
|Menefee from Georgetown College yearbook in 1907*|
George Menefee was born in Stanford, Kentucky on July 25, 1886 to Dr. John N. Menefee and Ellen Cowan. His father was a farmer and subsequently was elected as the Mayor of Stanford. As a child he attended Stanford public schools and excelled at his studies. Menefee is mentioned numerous times in the local paper, The Interior Journal, as being on the honor roll of his school. During his teenage years, Menefee was active with the local drama club. He consistently had leading roles in plays such as “Cousin Faithful” and “A Notable Outcast.” The Interior Journal stated in 1905 that Menefee “had been before the footlights several times in good parts.” Menefee graduated from the Stanford Male Academy in 1905 and was accepted to attend Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky. While attending Georgetown, Menefee immersed himself in activities and organizations. He was a member of Delta Phi Fraternity, captain of the football team and played upright bass with the school’s music department. For unknown reasons he left Georgetown after his sophomore year and traveled to attend the Missouri School of Mines in Rolla.
The Missouri University of Science and Technology archives have very little information concerning Menefee’s time on campus. What is known is he only took one course in Civil and Mining Engineering. There is currently no record of Menefee being a part of any organization on campus; however he was likely very well known among the student body. Nicknamed the Kentucky Colonel, Menefee’s only known contribution to the university was portraying St. Patrick. He likely had no comprehension of his impact upon the history of the university. By the summer of 1908, Menefee left Rolla to attend the University of California-Berkeley to study chemistry. Menefee stay in Berkeley was brief. By November 1909 he accepted a position as a chemist with the Lakeside Sugar Refinery in Eagle Lake, Texas.
During his adult life, Menefee worked various jobs across the country. Prior to the United States involvement in World War I, Menefee had worked in Eagle Lake, Texas, Columbus, Ohio Birmingham, Alabama and Syracuse, New York. His employment typically consisted of working as a salesman with a plethora of companies including the Forest Paint Company in Syracuse, New York and the Ohio Varnish Company in Birmingham, Alabama. While crisscrossing the country, Menefee met and married native Kentuckian Hallie James Edwards. Edwards had a daughter and a son from a previous marriage. Menefee and his new family finally settled in Birmingham, Alabama where he would live the remainder of his life.
|Georgetown College football team, 1907. Menefee is second from left in the back row.*|
The Menefee’s lived life as a typical middle class family in Birmingham. George was employed as a manager with the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. His wife tended to the rigors of the home while her two children attended school. In 1920, Hallie began to suffer from a prolonged cough and chest pains. She was diagnosed with Pulmonary Tuberculosis and was admitted into the Red Mountain Tuberculosis Sanatorium near the suburb of Homewood south of Birmingham. As her conditions worsened, Hallie was moved to the larger St. Joseph’s Sanatorium in Asheville, North Carolina. Within months of her move, Hallie succumbed to the disease and died on December 15, 1922.
After his wife’s death Menefee met and married divorcee Beauford Terry Henderson. Similar to Hallie, she had two children from a previous marriage. For the remainder of his life, Menefee continued to work with Goodyear. On August 3, 1943, George Menefee passed away in Birmingham at the age of 57. His remains were transported back to Stanford, Kentucky and buried in the Menefee family plot at Buffalo Springs Cemetery.
George Menefee may have never known the impact he had on Rolla and the university yet for over a century we reenact the events he first acted out. The arrival in Rolla on a handcar, the march down Pine Street and the submission of the faculty to the will of St. Pat, these acts have become tradition and Menefee will forever be held in high esteem in Rolla.
* Image of Menefee as St. Pat courtesy of the Missouri University of Science and Technology Archives.
* Image of Menefee from the Delta Phi Fraternity Courtesy of Georgetown College, Bolton Archives, The Belle of the Blue: 1907
* Image of Menefee from the Georgetown College Football Team Courtesy of Georgetown College, Bolton Archives, The Belle of the Blue: 1907
Special thanks to Leann Arndt of the State Historic Society of Missouri-Research Center-Rolla