Freshman Week, 1960 Oak
During freshman week and the following week when all the students returned to campus, there was a mixer dance every night except for Sunday. Jim and I were extremely nearsighted and wore thick-lensed glasses before contacts hit the marketplace. We attended the dances like two kids in a candy store but were at a great disadvantage. Without our spectacles, we were like two blind men leading each other around on a dimly lit dance floor. We would quickly slip on our glasses, like two criminals doing something wrong, then look around the dance floor until we spotted a “good looker” and instantly pull off our glasses and proceed toward her. The only time we would be seen wearing glasses was in the classroom.
Taking orders: Freshman Week, 1961 Oak
Throughout my first year, I lived in the freshman dorm with 300 other male students. I had been assigned a roommate, Dick Price from Mount Union, a small town in the middle of Pennsylvania. Dick was a bright guy, a nonconformist, and a fellow art student. His father was a professional sign painter and owned his own small company. Dick had inherited the creative talents of his father and worked the sign painting business during his high school days. We shared an end room on the third floor of the dorm, which was about three feet wider than the normal rooms. We figured, because we were art students and required more room for our art supplies and painting easel, that we were given a larger room. Good logic, but we were never more wrong.
At the end of the first semester, our hall counselor informed us that a roommate was moving in with us starting the second semester. It was hard to imagine how another student could possibly be shoehorned into our room. The first day of the second semester, Dick and I arrived back on campus early to rearrange our room for the new kid. At 5:30 p.m., Billy arrived with his parents during a heavy winter snowfall. He was coming to college as if he were leaving for Boy Scout camp. He and his father lugged up three flights of steps two suitcases, an army duffel bag, a sleeping bag, pup tent, ice chest, and a green Coleman gas stove. We stashed everything on and under his bed, which was the first bed inside the room and having no more than a foot between each bed across the room.
Passing the time: students playing pool, 1961 Oak
Billy was exactly what his paraphernalia claimed he was, an outdoor enthusiast, bright eyed and bushy tailed, appearing like a premature college boy that landed in a Norman Rockwell painting on his way to college. He reminded me of Scotty Hamilton, the Olympic gold medalist figure skater, in build, looks, and personality. He was easy to like and got along well with us in tight quarters over the semester. Billy stored his tent and sleeping bag under his bunk and never found much use for them on campus that winter or spring. But he immediately earned the nickname of “Will-Gas,” attempting to cook his breakfast early the next morning on the Coleman stove in our room. We shut his Coleman stove down for good after being awakened by the smell and sound of crackling bacon and propane gas.
Living in the dorm, we made friends quickly, especially with the guys on our wing. After study hours, we would gather in each other’s rooms to horse around or get into these philosophical discussions about Religion, God, and the Universe, the great mysteries of mankind. After all, we were now college students and were to be developing our great intellects. It was just plain enjoyment to be on our own, living with a bunch of guys without parental control and few restrictions; it was an educational experience of its own.
A Lead to Follow
We lived in the wing of the dorm with 26 other guys sharing a men’s lavatory and taking our meals in the same building in the first floor cafeteria. Every wing of the building had a hall counselor to help control the boys and enforce college rules. Don Wonderling was our hall counselor, a Korean War veteran nearly 10 years our senior. Don came from a small brickyard town, 25 miles east of Pittsburgh on the Allegheny River. After his service days, Don returned home to work in the brickyard, joining his father and brothers as laborers for the next five years. He realized this was not to be his life’s work and utilized the G.I. Bill to enroll at Indiana as a freshman in the fall of 1959, like the rest of us in the dorm. Don was a man’s man. At six foot, 180 pounds, he had the strength of an ox, and his body was as solid as a brick. No one messed with Don, not because he was intimidating or mean in any way. We simply respected him and followed his lead. He was overtly friendly, mature, and willing to help any of us when we needed his advice or assistance. Most often, you would find him in his room at the other end of the hall studying.
Mixing on campus: Students converse on a bench, 1960 Oak
Don graduated in 1963 from Indiana, and we lost track of each other for nearly 10 years. When my wife and I and our two young children moved to Natrona Heights, Pennsylvania, to our pleasant surprise, Don and his family lived one street over and our families became good friends. By this time, Don had earned his Ph.D. and was the superintendent at the School for the Blind and Deaf in Pittsburgh. It was one of those remarkable stories and turnaround lives that could only happen in America with the G.I. Bill, combined with individual initiative, after three generations of family brickyard workers.
A Man’s Freedom
In the 1960s, the men’s and women’s dorms were not only separate, but on different ends of the campus. The girls were well protected by elderly house mothers who gave parents peace of mind when they dropped off their freshman daughters at Indiana. The closest the boys got to their rooms was in the entrance hall of their dorm, where we dropped them off after a date.
The south lawn of Sutton Hall, 1960 Oak
Boys had more freedom and no restrictions on their time. We could come and go as we pleased and stay out all night if we wished; whereas, the girls were treated more protectively. On weekdays after their evening meal, they were restricted to the dorm and expected to be in their rooms studying. From 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. was their Cinderella hour, when they could meet their boyfriends on campus or simply go out with a group of girls to the Student Union for an hour. At 10:00 p.m. sharp, their house mothers were at the entrance steps of their dorm with a bell signaling the girls back up the steps and into their rooms for the remainder of the night. We headed back to our dorm; on many evenings we went to the Capitol Restaurant downtown for a cup of coffee and their famous grilled cinnamon rolls. Jim, Dick, Will Gas, and I would sit there for an hour locked into conversation and humorous tales.