Gifts of Yesteryear - Maine Stein Collection
Fill the steins to dear old Maine. Shout till the rafters ring!
Stand and drink a toast once again!
Let every loyal Maine fan sing.
Drink to all the happy hours,
Drink to the careless days.
Drink to Maine, our Alma Mater, The college of our hearts always.
Most everyone knows that the rousing Stein Song made famous by singer Rudy Vallee ‘25 became the official anthem of the University of Maine as well as a popular tribute to the flagship University as an institution of higher learning.
But fewer people may realize that the song also inspired the creation of an impressive stein collection, most of which is displayed in Fogler Library’s Oakes Room. Established more than 40 years ago, the assortment currently consists of more than 200 colorful mugs of various shapes and sizes donated by alumni, faculty and friends from across the country.
Nowadays, students contribute most of the steins and even clean them as part of their service projects, according to Joyce Rumery, dean of libraries, who says that each year the honor societies known as Senior Skulls and All Maine Women add to the grouping.
“It’s connected to the Maine Stein Song, so it’s an interesting and unique collection,” says Dr. Rumery.
According to information obtained from Fogler’s Special Collections, the idea for a collection originated in 1962 when Omer Thibodeau ’64 of Presque Isle pointed out the words in the song and inquired why there were no steins “to fill.” He suggested establishing a room to house a collection of the UMaine symbol.
Although there initially was some concern about the propriety of developing a stein collection on a “dry” campus, the Memorial Union board deemed it appropriate since the University had long identified with the Maine Stein Song which had become a national favorite – even reaching number one on the pop charts in 1930.
So, in May 1962 the Governing Board of the Memorial Union, encouraged by Nelson B. Jones, then director of the Union, formally authorized creation of the stein collection to be housed in the lobby of that facility.
Barry Millett ’56, then assistant dean of men, got the ball rolling by loaning a few from his own collection. Then, the Memorial Union appropriated money to buy five steins from an antiques dealer. The first donation was made in September, 1963, by Mrs. Rena C. Bowles, a member of the class of 1921, and a former trustee who had been active during the campaign to raise funds for the Memorial Union.
Over the years, steins have been donated on a regular basis by students, alumni and friends of the University. The majority are many years old and were made in Germany. Donors have supplied a full identification of the steins and a description of their history, source of manufacture and other significant data.
In October 1964 UMaine junior Richard Rhoda of Houlton donated a stein that he purchased in Austria while spending his spring semester in Europe. A photograph of Dick presenting the impressive-looking, 20-inch stein to Nelson Jones appeared in the Oct. 29, 1964 Bangor Daily News.
“I knew we had a great stein collection at the University, and there I was in stein country,” says Dick, now a Houlton attorney whose son, Les Rhoda ’98, works in UMaine’s Information Technologies Department.
“It was an opportunity for me to give something back to UMaine. After all, the University had made it possible for me to go to Europe, something I never expected to do,” says Dick who today calls his semester abroad “one of the 10 things that did the most to shape my life. I was exposed to things that I never would have thought about back in Houlton, Maine.”
Meanwhile, the number of steins increased by leaps and bounds. In the 1970’s, outgrowing the lobby, the collection was moved to a room on the first floor of the Memorial Union. Then, in the mid-1980’s, numbering around 160, it was relocated to its current spot at Fogler.
“We needed office space, so we spoke with the folks at the library to see if they were willing to provide housing for the collection. They were more than willing to do that,” says David Rand, then director of the Union and associate dean of student affairs.
“It was an appropriate thing for us to do at the time – it was an opportunity to get in touch with the university’s history. People enjoyed the collection. It was attractive and it was unique — particularly because many of the steins were quite valuable.”
Although she often heard talk about different organizations that planned to take possession of the steins, in the end, they stayed right where they were, says Dr. Rumery.
“We’ve taken care of them and become the stewards.”
Over the years, the steins continued to inspire conversation. Alluding to the early apprehension about creating a stein collection, Nelson Jones wrote in the Spring 1985 Maine Alumnus: “It is hard to believe now that barely a decade ago there were some misgivings about the propriety of having such a collection. Drinking on campus was not permitted. Would such a display suggest the wrong emphasis? The line in the song beseeching everyone “to drink” to something did not seem relevant. However, there were no protestors and no pickets and the project continued!”
Not all of UMaine’s steins are in Fogler Library. A number also are on display at the Buchanan Alumni House, thanks to loyal Black Bear Edie McVay King ’67, who liked UMaine’s connection with the Stein Song so much that, after graduating, she decided to contribute to the collection.
Traveling around the country and the world with her husband Louis ’60, Edie began amassing steins of all sizes and shapes. “The largest – 27 inches with its lid – is from Bermuda. The next largest is from Germany,” says Edie, whose steins also come from the Bahamas and from Frankenmuth, Michigan, a quaint Bavarian community.
“I’ve also gotten some from antiques stores throughout Maine, and some have been Christmas gifts from my father and my husband,” says Edie.
Although she initially figured she’d bequeath the steins to UMaine, she changed her mind once the Buchanan Alumni House was built.
“I thought, ‘what a perfect place for them to be right now!’’’
Today, Edie has donated approximately 40 steins that are scattered throughout the Buchanan Alumni House, including in the offices of a number of University of Maine Alumni Association staff members. Last year she gave to UMaine President Robert Kennedy the very first stein she got in 1972.
Edie, who lives in Waterville, often visits campus and takes great pleasure in seeing her steins displayed prominently at the beautiful Buchanan Alumni House.
“They just fit in so well there,” she says. “Now, more people get to see them and I enjoy them more here than I ever did at home.”