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Mission Matters #49 – The Music of the Life of Catheryn Kurtz Lausch ’35

Violin recital

This semester we are reflecting about the student experience.  

Reflections by Michael G. Cartwright, Vice President for University Mission and Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religion, based on a memoir by Eugene Lausch ’60 and commentary by Dr. Elisabeth Hoegberg

Until recently, we have not had ready access to narratives about the student experience of young women students at Indiana Central College from the first half of the twentieth century. As a result, it has been difficult to bring this part of our history into focus. We know it was a time of financial hardship, but we haven’t been able to see the ways that the pursuit of excellence then resembles that quest in the 21st century. Thanks to the foresight of Eugene Lausch (Class of 1960), we have the life story of the ICC class of 1935 that partially fills that gap so that we can see both aspects of the story.

This month’s Mission Matters reflection presents a Depression-era memoir of ICC student experience, provides a précis of her life as a whole, and concludes with some reflections about institutional mission – then & now – first in the context of the “major” in music performance and then in the context of rising standards that Indiana Central College and its graduates found themselves being measured against during those hard times.

In 2009, Catheryn Kurtz Lausch ’35 had an extended set of conversations with her son Gene about her long life (1914 to 2009). This memoir, aptly titled First Chords, tells the story of a life shaped by love of music, devotion to family, service to church and community, and the kind of character that displays determination and resilience among other traits. The ninth chapter narrates Catheryn’s student years at Indiana Central College from 1931 to 1935. It is an uncommonly rich narrative, not simply because it takes place during the years that we remember as the Great Depression, but also because of what we learn about this young woman from Kokomo, Indiana, whose studies prepared her for her work as teacher and musician as well as spouse, parent, and citizen.

Catheryn recalled that higher education was strongly valued by her family: “As early as I can remember I was told, ‘You will go to college.’ Because I was sickly as a child (and there were doubts about whether I would be strong enough to attend college), my father had added a caveat: I would go to college if I was able.”

“When it came time to select a college, the only school I considered was Indiana Central College, in Indianapolis, Indiana. I had visited the college quite often when Jennette [her cousin] was a student there. It was the only school I knew anything about, was relatively close, and I had gotten to know some people there. My father did not make the decision about where I would go to college, but left it up to me. I was aware that my father would have been unhappy about my going some distance away to school.”

First Year of College

“In the fall of 1931 I began my academic work toward a college degree as a freshman at Indiana Central College. I decided to major in music and Latin. I had been playing the violin and piano for several years and had enjoyed and done well in Latin contests in high school.”

“As a freshman, I became actively involved in musical activities at Indiana Central. . . . I took violin lessons each of my four years in college. While in college I played the violin in the orchestra (I was first chair my junior and senior years) and also played that instrument in a string quartet and a string trio. In addition, I sang in the college choir and in the choir at the University Heights United Brethren Church. From time to time I was asked and agreed to play background music for social occasions on campus. I did not take piano lessons in college because I was proficient on the piano when I entered and my focus was not on that instrument.”

“As a first semester freshman, I joined the Philalethea Literary Society. Demands on Philaletheans were described in the 1934 Oracle as follows. ‘Thou shalt sit erect and keep both feet flat on the floor. Thou shalt refrain from whispering. Thou shalt know Robert’s Rules of Order from cover to cover.’ I was a Philalethea Literary Society member for four years.”

“My father saw me fairly frequently when I was in college. He visited the campus about two or three times a semester. Sometimes my father would visit when he was in Indianapolis for other reasons; sometimes he would just decide to come down and see me. His visits were frequently a surprise. He was able to see me and visit with me when I was free. He would usually have a meal with me in the dining hall. My father came often enough that many people on campus knew him; he had a distinctive appearance with his snow-white hair. I was always happy to see him.”

“Before the depression my father thought there would be sufficient funds for me to attend college; the business enterprise at Vermont [IN] was doing well. During the middle of my freshman year things tightened up. My father came to see me and ask if I could get a job. I got a job in the college laundry, making $.20 an hour. My pay was applied directly to my bill. I worked 12-15 hours a week when school was going on. The College had washers with wringers. Some items, such as pajamas and pillowcases, were ironed. As a sophomore I dried dishes, making $.20 per hour. I got one hour credit for each tub I dried.” (See credit memoranda here.)

Sophomore Year

“The first semester of my sophomore year I was seated next to Ralph Richard Lausch, a freshman student from Orangeville, Illinois, in a psychology class taught by Deleth E. Weidler. (Weidler had assigned seats alphabetically.) Weidler . . . was a short man with a large girth who spoke in a monotone and gave uninteresting lectures. Ralph and I introduced ourselves to each other. We would talk to each other before and after class sessions and become friends.”

“When in college, I had a checkbook that allowed me to write checks on my father’s account. I was instructed to write only checks that were “absolutely necessary.” I wrote a check for $5 or $6 each month for incidental expenses. One occurrence illustrates the shortage of money in the early 1930s. In the second semester of my sophomore year I wrote a check for $6.00 and cashed it at the business office at Indiana Central. I then spent part of the money, slightly over a dollar.”

“The next day, the day of President Roosevelt’s inauguration, the President ordered the closing of the banks for a period of three days. The check I wrote had not had time to clear and was returned to the College. A person in the business office at Indiana Central got in touch with me and said they would require repayment of the $6.00. I telephoned my father (making a long distance telephone call then was unusual—normally reserved for exceptional circumstances—because long distance calling was expensive). My father mailed a five dollar bill to me and indicated: ‘Make this last as long as you can; I have no idea when I can ever give you more money.” I knew “money was short; you held on to every penny you had because you did not know when you were going to get another one.’ I felt like I was splurging if I bought a candy bar.” (See memorandum of charges here.)

“In February, 1933—during my sophomore year—I invited Ralph to the annual Sadie Hawkins event, where women ask men for a date.”

“In the second semester of my sophomore year I assisted Diane Clements with Clement’s junior recital in Kephart Auditorium. Among the works I played was the first movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Opus 64.”

Junior Year

During the 1933-34 academic year, “I started dating Ralph Lausch. Ralph and I had . . . previously been out on dates, but when I was a junior we became more serious about each other. . . . Ralph was majoring in history and mathematics. He was passionate about sports and was a skillful baseball, basketball, and softball player. When Ralph started at Indiana Central, he wanted to teach and coach after he graduated. During college Ralph developed a hernia, but he did not have money to have it surgically repaired. He concluded he would not be able to coach and so did not take physical education courses.”

“Ralph worked a significant number of hours a week to earn money to pay college expenses. Ralph’s parents were unable to help him meet college expenses; the only money he got from his family was $50 from his grandmother when he started at Indiana Central. When Ralph graduated in 1936, he had amassed a debt of slightly more than $400, a not insignificant sum in that era.”

“. . . Ralph and I would sometimes travel to the Kokomo area to be with family members. We would stay at Aunt Allie and Uncle Harley’s home. Ralph, who was personable and liked people, got along well with everyone.”

“. . . instead of staying in the dorm, I lived in the home of Ethel and D. Harvey Gilliatt, which was located a block from campus. Ethel taught voice at Indiana Central, and D. Harvey taught religion there. D. Harvey was away for the year finishing up his doctorate, and Mrs. Gilliatt wanted some help with household tasks. Another student, Alice Vance (who was in her second year of the normal college degree program and whose parents were friends of the Gilliatt family), also lived at the Gilliatt’s that year. I paid $2.00 a week for board and room and, along with Alice, was responsible for doing the dishes and some housekeeping. We cleaned the downstairs once a week.”

“Alice and I were expected to keep women’s dorm hours, which were 7:15 p.m. during the week. The Gilliatt’s had a daughter, Geraldine, who was a sophomore in high school. Geraldine, although an able student, was having difficulty with math. My friend Ralph Lausch agreed to help her with her math studies. If Ralph visited me on a weekday evening he had to leave by 7:15. However, if he was helping Geraldine with her math, he could stay later. I enjoyed living with the Gilliatt family and they apparently enjoyed having me stay there. In [Catheryn’s copy of] the 1934 Oracle Mrs. Gilliatt wrote, ‘You have been a very good daughter this year. Really we’ve enjoyed having you in the home.’”

“I gave my junior violin recital in Kephart Auditorium in the spring. I played several works, but the program featured the second and third movements of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor.”

“When I was a junior I decided to also major in English. I took extra work in English by correspondence from Indiana University in the summer between my junior and senior years.”

“Summers during college were spent at Aunt Allie and Uncle Harley’s home. Jobs were not normally available for college students. Heads of households (usually men) were given any jobs that were open.  Another impediment to getting a summer job was that I did not have a car.”

Senior Year

In Catheryn’s senior year, she recalled that she had several opportunities to exercise leadership on campus, including serving “as a member of the YWCA cabinet for the school year.”

“. . .  Ralph and I continued to date, and we visited the Kokomo area to see family members more frequently than when I was a junior. We traveled by Interurban. The Interurban would depart from the station on Market Street in downtown Indianapolis and we would get off in downtown Kokomo. A family member would drive into Kokomo to pick us up.” (See railroad time table here.)

“During both semesters of my senior year, I had two one-hour violin lessons a week with the violin instructor. I was expected to go to a practice room and practice two hours for each lesson. I surpassed this expectation, practicing two or three hours each weekday. In the lessons the instructor and I spent a good part of the time preparing me for my senior recital. By the time of the recital, I had memorized the pieces I was to perform.”

“My senior violin recital was scheduled for May 12 in Kephart Memorial Auditorium on a Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. The date and time of the concert caused me a great deal of frustration. I had wanted to arrange a day and time when Aunt Allie and Uncle Harley could attend the concert . . . ”

(After her mother’s death, Catheryn, lived in the household of her Aunt Allie and Uncle Harley and their three children from age nine to the time of her wedding. Her father lived there part of the time, then went to live a mile away with his aging parents.)

“The instructor selected a day when Aunt Allie and Uncle Harley could not attend and, even if the day would have worked, selected a time that would not have allowed them to get back in time to do the milking. My father and Katheryn Grau, a relative, attended the concert. President Good must have heard about my disappointment over the scheduling of the concert because he called me in to ask me about it. The instructor, who had differences with other persons that year, was not back as a faculty member the following year.”

“In the recital on the 12th I was assisted by Florence Barbour, pianist, and the College Concert Orchestra. The program included compositions by Edvard Grieg and Max Bruch. The auditorium was full and the program was very well received.”

“Graduation ceremonies were held at Indiana Central College on June 5, 1935. The College Choir sang “Gloria” (from Twelfth Mass) by Mozart and the “Seraphic Song” by Rubinstein-Gaines. The commencement address was given by Paul C. Stetson, Superintendent of the Indianapolis Public Schools. I finished my work at Indiana Central with a Bachelor of Music degree. (The Bachelor of Music degree required a large number of hours of music coursework. For example, I took violin each semester for four years, harmony for each semester for two years, music composition both semesters of one year, and counterpoint for both semesters of one year. The degree demanded so many hours of music coursework that courses in subjects such as history, mathematics, and science were not required for the degree.) I graduated magna cum laude, ranked second academically in my class. I had majors in Latin, Public School Music, and Violin Performance. My father and Uncle Ira came to my graduation ceremony.

Opportunities Beyond Graduation

“In my senior year President I.J. Good talked to me about the possibility of teaching at Indiana Central at a future time. The conversation was unexpected. President Good indicated that if I would earn a master’s degree at a good graduate school, like Indiana University, that there would be place for me to teach music at Indiana Central.”

“I thanked President Good, but declined right away.  There were reasons why this course of action would not work for me. I had signed a contract to teach the coming school year, and Ralph Lausch and I were planning to get married. Also, while not knowing much about graduate school, I knew it would entail cost and I did not know how I would be able to pay for more academic work.”

“My father had said he would pay for my college education, but the thought of additional academic work had not crossed either of our minds. I don’t think my father had a very clear idea of what graduate work was and when it might be appropriate. I never discussed President Good’s informal offer with my father. I believe that my father, who saw earning a college degree as a major attainment, would have had questions about whether doing graduate work was justified. While my father realized that I had excellent academic skills, he justified college for a woman as “something to fall back on” if something would happen to her husband, and she would need to support her family by teaching.”

“In the summer of 1935, after graduation, I took nine hours of English at Purdue and earned enough additional hours to add an English major. After this work, I was licensed to teach English, Latin, and music.”


One’s student experience is but a part of one’s life, and alumni have their own preferences about how to correlate the four-year sojourn of the college years to what happened before and after. Chapter X of First Chords describes the two years that she taught between college and the wedding. Catheryn Kurtz Lausch wanted her autobiographical reflections to conclude with her marriage to Ralph Lausch in 1937.

Following his mother’s death in 2009, Gene Lausch added a “coda,” which includes some highlights of her long and very full life. Setting aside her family’s memories of her, consider these features of this life well-lived of this 1935 graduate of Indiana Central College.

  • The years Catheryn and Ralph lived in University Heights neighborhood, where they began a family and participated in University Heights Evangelical United Brethren Church (1939-1951).
  • In 1951, they moved to a 210-acre farm located between Kokomo and Greentown, Indiana, where Catheryn shifted focus from suburban life to managing the chickens and organizing the family’s daily life.
  • Her service as director of music at Hillsdale Evangelical United Brethren Church for more than five decades, which was not limited to playing the piano and organ and directing the church choir. Catheryn also “selected the music to be played and encouraged others – especially young people – to perform, whether on a musical instrument or singing.”
  • Beginning in the fall of 1960 – a few months after her son Gene graduated from her alma mater – Catheryn resumed teaching children in one of the grade schools in the area.
  • After retiring from teaching schoolchildren in 1980, Catheryn “embarked on a new phase of her career, teaching piano and violin from her home” after school. Over the years, “the number of students she taught ranged from 20 to 45.” She “used an individualized approach for each” of her students.
  • For several years in retirement she played violin in the Kokomo Symphony and she served as a community volunteer with the Kokomo Morning Musicale, an organization that sponsored competitions to encourage young musicians in the community.
  • Catheryn also “organized public recitals for her piano and violin students twice each year at the Hillsdale Church.”
  • Finally, in the 1980s she joined an organization of women in Greentown, Indiana, who met each month to learn about a topic that had been researched by one or more members.

All of these features of Catheryn Kurtz Lausch’s life meaningfully illumine the University of Indianapolis’s current mission statement, which aims “to prepare its graduates for effective, responsible, and articulate membership in the complex societies in which they live and serve, and for excellence and leadership in their personal and professional lives.”

I have offered a brief summary about her life-work as a musician and teacher. Readers may wonder: what about her personal life? Catheryn’s son Gene offers the following comments about the values that were upheld by his parents.

“Catheryn and Ralph provided a home life where constructive values and attitudes were fostered. Catheryn and Ralph encouraged their children to adopt the traits of personal integrity and self-reliance and to treat all persons fairly. Catheryn was especially adept at stimulating her children to be curious about the world and to look at things in an open, non-judgmental way. She also imparted an important value to her children. Catheryn never called herself a feminist, but she taught her children by word and deed that boys and girls and men and women were capable of the same work and achievements.” [First Chords, 98]

We do not know enough about how Catheryn thought about the integration of her studies in music with respect to her leadership in the personal and professional spheres of her life to be able to say much more than what has already been stated. What we are in a position to say, however, is how Catheryn’s own music performance practice ethic as a violin student in the 1930s compares with music performance majors at UIndy in the 21st century.

The Music Performance Major, Then & Now

I asked Dr. Elisabeth Honn Hoegberg, Chairperson of UIndy’s Music Department, to identify similarities and differences between Catheryn’s experience and what 21st century music performance majors experience.

“Like today’s students, Catheryn took lessons and performed in ensembles for all four years of college, presented recitals as requirement for graduation, and contributed her talents to the University through other performances, such as providing background music for social events.”

“There are also some differences between her studies and current requirements. Catheryn’s personal discipline of practicing 2-3 hours daily is comparable to what we expect from majors now; however, very few students have such dedication to commit to such a rigorous schedule, and Catheryn’s discipline is even more impressive given the University’s policy that students only needed to practice two hours for each lesson received for a total of four hours weekly. Our current practice policy is that majors should practice six hours per week for each ½ hour lesson; this means that on their primary instrument, on which they receive an hour-long weekly lesson, they should be devoting a minimum of two hours daily to practice; performance majors are expected to double that amount for a total of 24 hours per week.”

Dr. Hoegberg went on to offer a couple of observations about the curriculum requirements then and now.

“I was also interested to read . . . that the [ICC music] degree included a year each of composition and counterpoint. These are electives for all students (save those following the theory/composition track); currently we only offer one semester of counterpoint. The harmony requirements are similar; we’ve recently moved to a four-semester sequence rather than the five-semester curriculum of previous years.”

“The most striking difference is that because of the heavy music curriculum—which is still true today as most music degrees exceed 120 hours considerably—students in Catheryn’s day weren’t required to complete a full liberal arts curriculum as she says they were released from science, math, and history. (Don’t tell our students that!)”

“Also, the recital process was quite different; our students usually only perform with piano accompaniment, and only have the opportunity to play with an ensemble through our annual concerto competition. Catheryn was a remarkable student, and so I wonder if her performance with the school’s orchestra was an exception rather than the rule.”

Prof. Hoegberg’s comments help us to put several aspects of Catheryn Kurtz’s student experience in context, but it is also important to take into account where Indiana Central College was in its institutional development during her student years.

Evolving Standards of Excellence in Higher Education in Indiana   

At any given time, students at a college or university may find themselves caught in between sets of evolving standards. Where that happens, students may face special challenges and opportunities. This was certainly the case for Catheryn.

During the time that Catheryn Kurtz was a student, Indiana Central College had not yet received accreditation for its baccalaureate degree programs. We know that before the North Central Accrediting Association finally granted accreditation to Indiana Central in 1947, the faculty had to add liberal arts coursework to the curriculum in several areas, which in turn entailed the college adding faculty who were trained in those fields. President Good and the faculty and staff in the 1930s and 1940s struggled – as did other small colleges in the state of Indiana – to comply with rising standards of excellence in liberal education during the first four decades of the 20th century.

Thanks to Fred Hill’s centennial history, we also know that President Good appealed to the State Commission on Education to reach an agreement that made it possible for students at some of the small Christian Colleges in the state of Indiana to be certified to teach if they were able to complete additional coursework at one of the accredited universities in the state of Indiana. Catheryn Kurtz’s additional study at Purdue University the year after she graduated from ICC appears to fit that general pattern (except that she also added a major area of study at the same time).

In sum: Catheryn Kurtz ’35 was by no means the only Indiana Central graduate in the 1930s who had to do additional work following graduation in order to qualify to teach in Indiana public schools. Perhaps because she excelled at her alma mater, she had little difficulty meeting the Indiana standards. In so doing, she also lent credibility to the claims of her alma mater that an Indiana Central education was excellent in at least some respects even if the college still had deficiencies that must be addressed.

That explains, in part, how it is that we can look back at the era of the Great Depression and see that in addition to the financial worries of students as well as college leaders there is also a family resemblance. Then as now, the faculty was discernibly working with students “to prepare its graduates for effective, responsible, and articulate membership in the complex societies in which they live and serve, and for excellence and leadership in their personal and professional lives.”

During her long life, Catheryn Kurtz Lausch would often help others identify standards of excellence by which they could measure their own performance in music and in life. At her funeral on Sept. 29, 2009, one of her grandchildren managed to capture the vitality of her life-spirit still evident despite her declining health: “She was fully engaged in her life, still listening and learning, still full of life and stories, still wanting to do and to help, still ready to teach and love.” [First Chords, 115] Over the span of six-plus decades, this remarkable Indiana Central alumna contributed to the growing reputation of Indiana Central College graduates for outstanding leadership and service in their personal and professional lives. Like her senior recital in the spring of 1935, the music of Catheryn’s life was well-received.


Next month’s Mission Matters reflection will focus on the life and work of Robert Frey ’60, a proud alumnus who practiced the historian’s craft and served as a college administrator before spending his retirement years cultivating the heritage of the Evangelical United Brethren Church. As always, I invite your feedback at In the meantime, thanks for taking the time to reflect with me.

Remember: UIndy’s mission matters!