The French Professor: Herbert Manser
It seems a little odd that the main dining hall at Mansfield University is named for a French professor. Manser Dining hall was dedicated during homecoming weekend, Sept. 26-28, 1969 in honor of Herbert T. Manser. Manser was professor of French for many years and later served as Dean of Instruction when the institution was a state teacher’s college.
Professor Manser was born in 1892. He married the former Agnes McCausland (1907-1999), a 1925 graduate of Mansfield High School. He graduated from Columbia University and the Wellsboro Gazette noted in 1946, when Manser was promoted to dean of instruction, that he “gained unusual experience and training by study and work in France and other parts of Europe.” Unfortunately the story does not detail his study and work there.
That study certainly paid off, though. Locally Prof. Manser was a sought-after speaker during the Great Depression and World War II. He was a regular speaker at the Wellsboro Current Events Club meetings (non-members of the club paid 25 cents to hear him talk) and he spoke on both cultural and political topics. His speeches included “Character and Temperament of the French People” (May, 1932); “French Politics” (November, 1933); “Development of Modern French Music” (October, 1935); and “The Mediterranean Crisis” (October, 1937). Speaking at the Wellsboro Business and Professional Women’s Club in February, 1941, he accurately predicted that the United States would eventually have to enter the war and that the country was not prepared for that war.
When the United States did enter the war, there was concern that German aircraft would attempt to bomb cities and towns on the East Coast. As a result, local air raid wardens were trained to help civilians get to safety in the event of an attack. Prof. Manser did his part and was named chief air raid instructor. His job was to train the air raid wardens for the local area. In that capacity, he worked with John Myers (Meyers Band Field).
Following the war, the soldiers began returning home. Under the GI Bill, many veterans were able to enroll in college and Mansfield State Teacher’s College saw its enrollment increase dramatically. In 1946, enrollment stood at 800 and 28 faculty and staff were either hired or replaced to meet the demand. That same year, Manser was promoted to the position of Dean of Instruction.
In addition to teaching French, Manser was a musician and sang as a tenor. Owing to his training in the French language, he was able to sing in both French and English. One example was detailed in the Dec. 18, 1929 issue of the Wellsboro Agitator when Prof. Manser sang for the Wellsboro chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. His selection included “The Slumber Song” from the opera “Jocelyn” in French and “Cantique de Noel” in English. He was later persuaded to sing the first verse in French.
Manser continued to teach at Mansfield and earned the respect of the students. In the 1950 yearbook, the Carontawan, a quote by Alexander Pope was placed next to Prof. Manser’s photograph. The quote reads: “A little learning is a dangerous thing. Drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring. There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain. And drinking largely sobers us again.”
Prof. Manser passed away in 1955. Soon after, Agnes and daughter Hope moved to Pottstown where Agnes taught school. She eventually returned to the area where she passed away in 1999.
The trustees of the college dedicated the new dining hall in 1969 and the dining operations were moved from North Hall. By all accounts, dining became much less formal for students. In the old dining area at North Hall, students were expected to dress for dinner and had assigned seating. Students were assigned seats and those assignments were rotated regularly. This gave students the opportunity to make new friends over meals.
The new Manser Dining Hall displaced the former YMCA hut. A new Hut was built on the hill behind Manser. The Hut has hosted a non-alcoholic dance club, various small concerts, movies and other student activities.
Manser Dining Hall includes three dining halls, which are used for both regular meals and for special events (typically the north side dining room). The downstairs features a café in an area that used to house the bookstore. The bookstore moved to a much larger facility when renovations to Alumni Hall were completed in 2000.