Tied to Knox’s established history, Flunk Day is a long standing tradition which has undergone many changes through the decades from mock chapel congregations to the drugs and alcohol antics of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
Past newspaper clippings indicate Flunk Day originates out of a Knox tradition called Roughneck Day or Roughneck Week which took place during the early 1900s, during which male students were not allowed to shave and female students were not allowed to wear makeup. According to a 1922 edition of “The Gale,” Knox’s discontinued yearbook, punishment for breaking the rule was “a sound dunkin under the pump in the town square.” Eventually the Roughneck tradition was disbanded by the Knox administration and for a replacement the Student Council created Flunk Day.
ver a puddle of water circa 1970 (Photo courtesy of : Special Collections and Archives, Knox College Library, Galesburg, Il.
Records indicate that the first Flunk Day may trace back to May of 1922. Posters were placed around campus announcing that classes were cancelled. While one newspaper clipping indicates Flunk Day replaced the rowdiness of Roughneck Week with a faculty and student-oriented picnic to celebrate the spring, other pictures and clippings show students donning their most flamboyant clothing and speak of students driving around Standish Park and on the campus greens in their “surreys.”
“The riot started with mock chapel, including distinctly original responsive readings and hymns. A jazz orchestra presided over the musical end of the program, then transported bodily to the West, where the management presented a movie for the entertainment of all young Siwashers,” an excerpted archive photo describes of the first Flunk Day.
Owen Muelder ‘63, director of the Knox College Underground Freedom Railroad Center, recalls Flunk Day in the early 1960s, when events were not limited to the Knox campus.
“It used to be that [when] Flunk Day would be announced [students] would drive around town to the homes of professors early in the morning, honking their horns, yelling ‘Flunk Day,’” Muelder said. “And then they would return to campus and they would get permission from the city to do a snake dance and weave from the campus down to The Orpheum Theatre where they would look at a movie in the morning.”
According to Muelder, in the afternoon students would return to campus and take cars or buses out to Lake Storey for a picnic. Some students would swim and others would play in the faculty-student softball game. However around the time Muelder started working for Knox, Galesburg expressed concern over the blatant intoxication at Lake Storey. At Lake Storey open alcohol was banned, much less other drugs. As a result, Flunk Day was held only on the Knox campus from then on.
“The hippie yippie days of late ‘60s and early ‘70s the city became unenthusiastic about some of the behavior that was associated with the changing student antics of college students associated with the changes in society that occurred during the Vietnam War,” Muelder said.
Among other Flunk Day memories, Jay Larmee ‘74 recalls early morning dances in the Gizmo and late night fireworks. Before Knox brought in the festival rides such as the bouncy castles or zip-lines, many Flunk Day activities included field-games such as wheelbarrow races or human-pyramid competitions. Determined to win the three-legged race, Larmee and his friend prepared ahead of time, destroying all the competition.
“We decided to practice. We would go on for a couple weeks ahead of time tying our legs together and practice running down the field and around the goal posts or whatever,” Larmee said. “And we got really good at it, so that we could almost run a three legged race as fast our paces matched pretty well we could go almost as fast as we could on our own.”
Larmee also recollects the pre-Flunk Day hype, before there was the Knox Wikifire website to post Flunk Day predictions on.
“One of the clues was that the lights would be on in the Fine Arts Center because they would be printing up t-shirts for the friars to wear,” Larmee said.
English professor Cyn Fitch ‘00 recalls how Flunk Day was helpful when she was a single mother attending Knox.
“But when I was a student, Flunk Day was an opportunity,” Fitch said. “I was a single mother with four elementary aged children so it was a good opportunity for me to go round the kids up and bring them back to campus because there was always a community picnic that night. And there were activities and things for the kids to do, plus there was food.”
After Fitch graduated she worked at a non-profit in Galesburg. When the organization was scouting for places to hold an event, they coincidentally visited Knox during its Spring 2006 Flunk Day. Fitch said this visit is one of the reasons that solidified her desire to come back and work for Knox. Fitch felt like she had come home, but hadn’t been invited to join the party.
“I absolutely lamented that I was no longer here. And when I came to campus and it was Flunk Day I couldn’t stand it,” Fitch said. “It was like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to get back on that campus, but somehow I belong here.’”