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“Wittenberg, dear Wittenberg” Composer of Alma Mater Leaves Significant Mark

March 3, 2010  
 Filed in Campus History

Each year during New Student Days, Opening Convocation and Commencement, those assembled stand for the singing of Wittenberg’s “Alma Mater.” Originally written in 1913 for the glee club, “Wittenberg, dear Wittenberg” grew so quickly in popularity that by 1923 the college had adopted it as its official song.

Composed by Robert H. Hiller, an 1889 graduate, and the class salutatorian, the song (music written in 1891, words in 1913) replaced another that won “Wittenberg, dear Wittenberg” Composer of Alma Mater Leaves Significant Mark WITT WORLD witt world wittworld wittworld an “Alma Mater” contest in 1921. Yet, the “Alma Mater” was not Hiller’s only mark on Wittenberg. Although his title was professor of Greek, Hiller was also a prolific composer, writer, poet, artist, tenor and musician a mongother achievements.

Hiller came from New York in 1886 as a sophomore and was in the first class to use Recitation Hall. The Phi Kappa Psi member was also on the first tennis team and loved riding a high-wheel bicycle. For two years after graduation, he taught Latin and English at the Wittenberg Academy before going to Hartwick Seminary, where he received his B.D. in 1894.

In 1896, Hiller returned to campus and was named head of the art department at age 31. Also a member of a newly organized music department and glee club, he taught vocal culture and sight reading. Hiller is credited with originating the crimson and cream college colors, the torch as the school’s emblem, the first-ever Witt yell and penning the national song of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, “Noble Fraternity.”

He returned to New York in 1897 where he studied music, sang tenor in church quartets, taught at Montclair Military Academy and Cutler School for Boys, and earned his A.M. at Columbia University in 1910.

Returning to Wittenberg in 1911 to serve as a professor of Greek, Hiller married Florence E. Fellows in 1915. In 1930, he received his Litt.D. at Muhlenberg College for his 1925 translation of Homer’s Odyssey into English from the original Greek text. He also painted formal portraits of Wittenberg Presidents Ort and Heckert.

Additionally, he wrote “The Wittenberg Hymn” in 1935 for the 90th anniversary celebration and a book of his poetry, Along the Way and Other Poems, was published in 1940. Hiller also translated the New Testament into the idiom of present-day English from the original Greek. His final poem, dated April 1944, was a centennial ode for the March 1945 100th anniversary of the college.

Upon his retirement in 1943, he and his wife moved to Otsego Lake, N.Y., where he died in June the next year. Following his death, a gift from Hiller and his wife paid for the renovation of the chancel in the chapel of Recitation Hall. His final mark on Wittenberg was dedicated in 1948 by Wittenberg President Rees Edgar Tulloss as the Robert H. Hiller Memorial Chancel.

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