Every Wagnerian knows the alma mater, “Beautiful Upon a Hill.”
But did you know that “Beautiful” was not our original school song?
That honor belongs to “We Stand United,” written by Frederick J. Melville, Class of 1918, and first published in the very first Wagner College yearbook, produced by the final class to graduate from the Rochester, New York campus.
Melville was raised in the Wartburg Orphans Farm School, a Lutheran orphanage in Mount Vernon, New York. President of his graduating class at Wagner, he graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1921. His first pastoral call was from St. Matthew’s in White Plains, a “gypsy” congregation that still had no permanent home. By mid-1925, a new church home was completed at the corner of Carhart and Mamaroneck avenues. Before long, Melville was president of the White Plains Ministers’ Association. Tragically, Melville suffered from chronic depression and alcoholism, from which he died in March 1930 at the age of 35.
A little more than a decade later, Wagner College senior Frank Betancourt was in charge of the February 15, 1941 campus revue that raised money for the Red Cross. One of the numbers from the “Top Honors” program was a new song written by Betancourt himself, called “Beautiful Upon a Hill.”
Later that year, America was drawn into World War II, and for the next 4 years, Wagner College did its part to support the war effort. But when student life started percolating again after V-J Day, so did interest in Betancourt’s song. For a few years, “Beautiful” and “United” were used together as college songs, evidenced by several Wagnerian mentions as well as a recording of both tunes by the Wagner College Choir.
“We Stand United,” recorded by the Wagner College Choir, 1949:
“Beautiful Upon a Hill,” recorded by the Wagner College Choir, 1949:
In 1947, a student body vote called for “Beautiful Upon a Hill” to be named the college’s new alma mater, but the trustees tabled the action to get input from alums. Two years later, “Beautiful” won the blessing of the trustees, and “We Stand United” was put to rest.