Protest puts SU president Wutzke into custody

A combination of youthful enthusiasm, righteous indignation and an activist student culture led to one of the most significant nights in the early history of the University of Lethbridge and the young life of Richard Wutzke (BASc '72).

It was May 1968 and determining the future site of the fledgling university was the topic of the day. While University administration, faculty, students and the City of Lethbridge all agreed that a westside location matched the vision of the University's founders, the provincial government did not originally accept this recommendation, and instead proposed a local referendum to determine the site.

SU protest
Days after SU President Richard Wutzke spent an evening in a Lethbridge jail, the University's first graduation class, along with faculty, marched in city streets to protest the proposed referendum that would decide the future site of the U of L campus.

With philosophical lines drawn, University students took to the streets, and on one fateful night, to the avenue in front of Lethbridge MLA John Landeryou's house. It wasn't long before Wutzke, the Students' Union president, was being hauled away by police, to be joined later by his right-hand man, Arthur Joevenazzo.

"Looking at it from the age of 63 and looking at it from the age of 18 are two different perspectives entirely," says Wutzke, now an artist living in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal.

"Now when you look at it and you see a campus with 8,500 students and a third of the city's population is on the westside, it all seems so obvious that this was the right direction to go. But if you were picking up the tab for some kind of a pipe dream like this, I think you might say, "Wait a minute now"."

Student politics of the day had grown more and more confrontational and Wutzke admits he was elected SU president as an activist candidate. He says that as the debate ramped up, a culmination of factors led students out into the streets that evening.

"We were really keen on this type of activity," he says, noting that he and Joevenazzo were the debate champions of Alberta at the time. "There's a lot of testosterone pumping away in your veins and you're just looking for a scrap somewhere."

Fueled by what he calls "hearsay" and inspired by "the struggles of Mahatma Ghandi and the readings of Henry David Thoreau", an evening meeting with University faculty was the impetus for a placard-waving group to descend upon Landeryou's home.

"Today I'd be embarrassed to go forging out on an expedition like this with the kind of information we had," chuckles Wutzke. "We felt that somehow Mr. Landeryou was in cahoots with landowners surrounding the junior college who all stood to make very handsome profits by the expropriation of their property. Now, like I say, that is what we believed at the time and that's the information we acted on and we did so with righteous indignation."

When police arrived, they quickly identified Wutzke as a ringleader and put him in a police cruiser.

"I was taken into the police car and then the car was surrounded by students," says Wutzke. "Everybody sat down on the asphalt to prevent the police car from moving. Finally they basically threatened to run people over and they left with me. As soon as I was taken off the scene, my most able henchman, Arthur Joevenazzo, took up the charge and started the chanting again. They came back and picked him up too."

Wutzke and Joevenazzo were actually never arrested, as lore would have it. They were never charged, fingerprinted or put into a cell. University President Sam Smith got out of bed, drove down to the police station and vouched for the duo's character and Wutzke's father eventually came to drive him home.

Two days later, following the University's first convocation, a street march was held, culminating with a rally at Galt Gardens. Days later, with provincial eyes now on Lethbridge and its rebellious students, the government backed off and the westside plan was ratified.

"If I hadn't been there, somebody else would have been there," says Wutzke modestly. "What's important is that in that time in history, the students, even though they would not be the recipients of this glorious new campus, acted and didn't sit on their hands and change occurred. When I look back at that, there is a sense of pride. Not only that I had some personal role in it but that I was part of a student body that really had the guts to get up and be heard."

It's a spirit he continues to see today, and one he applauds.

"Sometimes students really get on your nerves because they are always agitating about something, but it shows you it's a very essential part of the democratic process."

This story first appeared in the February 2012 edition of The Legend. To view the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.