I had an office in the Student Activities Building. A first year studentâ€”whose name I do not rememberâ€”was running for student government on the platform of doing away with freshman women’s hours. She was printing some flyers advocating that. It was past midnight. She asked me if she could stay at my place that night because she could not return to the dorm past midnight. I said sure. The next day, she happened to be campaigning at my fraternity house. During the Q & A, one of my roommates asked her if it was true that she had stayed at my house last night. (He must have seen her on the couch when he woke up.) She said yes and explained why. I think she won.
Coming of Age at UM
As most UM alum would say, their time at the U was a time to come of age in a variety of ways. For me, it was an awakening intellectually and emotionally. The late 60s at the U were truly a time of stimulation, excitation, frustration, and fascination. For one thing, it was the challenge and excitement of realizing that you were no longer the smartest one in the classroom. It wasnâ€™t high school any more. I remember the first day I moved into Adams Hall at West Quad. I met a guy from New York (Harvey will go nameless). He matter-of-factly informed me that he had already read all of his books for his classesâ€”and now was going to re-read them. I didnâ€™t even know what books I needed for my classes. Freshman year was an awakening. You have to work hard to be (stay) a Wolverine.
Of course, the Vietnam War was escalating during my U years. There were protests not just regarding the war, but on a number of other local and national issues (i.e., rent control, student rights, black power, civil rights, etc.). The campus was alive with action, most of which was external to the classroom. What an awakening as students, faculty, the administration, and the community brought forth the realities of discourse, confrontation, sit-ins, protest marches, and consequences. The U was totally alive with ideas and ideals. I was involved. No one could sit on the sidelines.
In the midst of this fully engulfing atmosphere, there certainly were other awakenings. In 1968, at a lawn mixer just before the Fall semester was to start, I asked a cute young coed to dance. She accepted. Later she told me that she thought I was a freshman that she could corrupt. I was actually a 21-year old junior, and so when I asked her if she wanted to grab a beer at the P-Bell, she had to decline because she was only 20. It didnâ€™t matter, we settled for an ice cream at Millerâ€™s on South Uâ€”and weâ€™ve been married now for 36 years.
Another awakening was just the mix of music on campus. I saw an ad in the Daily one day in â€˜68 announcing that applications were being taken by the Union Activities Center for staff to organize the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival. I knew nothing about the blues, but I thought that this would be an interesting adventureâ€”and it would look good on my resume. So, I first stopped by one of the record shops to “educate” myself about the blues and blues singers. With my one-hour degree in hand, I went for an interview for one of the main festival positions. The interviewer, Cary Gordon, talked to me and asked me if I liked the blues. I said yes of course, though I donâ€™t remember ever listening to a true blues LP. He asked which artists I would like to see at the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival. I searched my memory from my one-hour browse of the record shop and named off a few of the bluesmen. Cary informed me that two of the people I named were dead and, therefore, probably wouldnâ€™t be available for our gig.
Nevertheless, I guess that Cary was impressed enough with my eagerness, if nothing else, to hire me on as the festivalâ€™s Technical Director. That translated into the sound system, lights, staging, security and overall logistics. Iâ€™m pretty sure that I had as much knowledge of those areas as I did about blues musicians. However, the next 10 months provided me with a wealth of knowledge on not only the technical aspects of putting on a big outdoor music festival, but a deep and true understanding of the blues including a wide range of blues musicians.
I wonder if any of you remember the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival in August of 1969. If you werenâ€™t at something called Woodstock, you probably were in Ann Arbor out on Fuller Road listening to such blues legends as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton, James Cotton, and many others. There was even a relatively new kid out of Chicago, named Luther Allison, who could get everyone up and moving with his mix of blues, soul, and rock. I wonder where Luther is today (heard he went over to France for awhile).
I certainly came of age at the U in the late â€˜60s. The people I met, the classes I took, and the campus life I experienced, will never leave my memory. Go Blue!
In by the Skin of My Teeth
When I was applying to colleges as a Junior in high school in Alabama, my guidance counselor told me I had zero or less chance of being accepted at a Big Ten school. Since I never really listened when someone said “NO,” I went ahead and applied. To my delight, I got a letter of acceptance saying that a dorm room had been reserved for me, and asking me to forward a deposit (I think $50). I did that, and when the time to leave home rolled around, my parents drove me from Florence, Alabama, to Ann Arbor. I walked into the dorm, Wenley House, West Quad, and found that they had a place for me, but no photo on the bulletin board. Since I had not received a request for a photo, we were sent to the assistant dean, who told me that he had no record of my being accepted. This was the height of the post-war baby boom, and he looked at my transcript and said if I had a room (which I did, with the canceled check to prove it!), he saw no reason why I couldn’t stay. I stayed, I graduated, and I loved every minute of it, in spite of the unAlabama-like cold.
The Early 60's
Rules, hours and housemothers dominated our living arrangements in the early 60s (The day in loco parentis died, Nov 2007). We made fashion statements with our wool pleated skirts, knee sox and sweaters. No jeans or slacks on campus!
During the time period of 1960-1964 were memories of both Nixon and Kennedy campaigning on campus; we actually had hours lifted to hear JFK speak on the Union steps. Robert Frost read his poetry to a packed, hushed audience at Hill Auditorium. John Howard Griffin, the author of “Black Like Me,” mesmerized us. Activists were gathering signatures on the diag and at the fishbowl for voters’ rights in the South. There was always an issue that one could affix a name with a $1.00 contribution.
JKF died while I was in an English lecture at Angell Hall; the clarion tower played the Star Spangled Banner as we gathered in clusters all over campus.
LBJ flew in for our graduation on May 22, 1964 keeping a promise Kennedy made to return to U-M. We were searched and scanned as we entered the stadium. My grandmother, who lived to be 96, marked seeing the president at my graduation as a highlight of her life.
Basketball dominated sports with Cazzie Russell, Oliver Darden and Bill Buntin. Tickets were free for the football games. Ohio State was always the last game of the season. We gathered 20 tickets from students going home for Thanksgiving and brought all of our high school crowd to the game for free in 1963!
There was much happening in the world in the early 60’s but in some respects we were still innocent and liberal.
I remained in Ann Arbor and pursued a Master’s Degree part time while teaching school. The years of 1964-1968 were very different on campus. Rules were gone, dress changed to jeans, torn and otherwise. Protests erupted daily over Vietnam. Students were trying to get into school and stay there to avoid serving in the Army.
I later returned in 1974-1977 to work on an advanced degree.
U-M will always hold a special place in my heart and my life.
(Re: The day in loco parentis died, Nov 2007.) Three feet on the floor? How about no female feet on any floor. In Anderson House, E.Q. in the late fifties, NO women were allowed beyond the lobby except, perhaps, on a once-a-year daytime visitor day. Female visitors were allowed into the rooms for a couple of hours, provided that the door was wide open. I remember the Housemother and Resident Assistant constantly pacing the halls during those few hours. It was such a rare and awkward policy, that few men availed themselves of this few hours of “freedom.”
Frieze Building Romance
In 1969 I was a junior taking a Speech class in the Frieze building. I really did not like the professor and wanted to drop the class, but something, in addition to it being a requirement, made me stay. About a month into the semester a guy kept following me out of the Frieze Building trying to talk to me until I got home to Betsy Barbour. I thought he was probably some pesky Freshman since the class was loaded with them. Well, it turned out he was also a junior and soon after we went on our first date to see the movie, “Z” at the State. We were married in 1971 and lived in a really awful married housing called University Terrace, near the hospital. Two of our three kids are Wolverines and they all know the story of the mom, dad and the Frieze Bldg. on State and Huron. While I am sure that North Quad will be very nice, I am still sad that the old building is gone. The other place I am nostalgic about is Drake’s Tea Room, corner State and North U. Now, my daughter gets her tea at Starbucks. I’m not sure that’s progress.
I have two moments that will live in my memory.
The first being my attendance of a fine piano recital by Vladimir Horowitz at Hill Auditorium, and then meeting him personally later at one Ann Arbor’s night spots. He was very personable and not like anything I had read about him previously.
The second was a trip to Spain with the University of Michigan Concert Choir to act as the Opera Festival Chorus of the Perez Galdos Theatre of the Canary Islands. Hob- knobbing with the likes of opera greats Joan Sutherland, Marisa Galvany, Paul Plishka etc. was thrilling. And to top it off, to be chosen by the director, Tito Capobianco, to sing a tiny part in La Boheme was more than a dream.
The Firebrand Instructor
When I returned to Ann Arbor after a stint in Germany on the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes, I enrolled on the GI Bill in poli sci. Before the Army, I had studied four years of Electronic Engineering and hated it. Today I can’t change a fuse. But I have been a journalist and essayist for nigh on a half century.
Almost instantly upon re-joining the best university in the U.S., I married a city editor at the Daily (she’s still working as an editor on the Lakeville (CT) Journal). We moved into the Veterans Housing Project the university had so thoughtfully built for us and I earned extra pocket money by serving as Ann Arbor correspondent for the Detroit media.
During the last week in school, we had finals every morning. We slept all afternoon, studied all night and then took our exams.
Midweek I was awakened from our post-lunch nap by sirens. The university operator told me Haven Hall was burning. I hopped on my trusty three-speed Raleigh bike and pedaled to the scene. It was a “perfect” a fire; flames shooting into the air; the streets blocked by fire trucks, hoses and firefighters from neighboring towns.
My Detroit editors ordered me to stay and report on the conflagration until the last ember was doused. The building was razed to the ground.
I got back to the apartment exhausted about 10 p.m., lungs filled with smoke, clothes blackened with soot. My dear wife force fed me with a bowl of chicken soup and I fell asleep.
Next day in my Blue Book I explained how I had spent the previous day, and since I hadn’t studied for the final, begged for the instructor for mercy because I needed a passing grade to graduate.
He gave me a C and I proudly displayed my mortar board and robe at ceremonies in the Big House.
That fall I was a reporter for the late lamented Hartford Times and was in for a surprise. (My wife worked in the Wadsworth Atheneum, the oldest public museum in the country.) One afternoon a story winged its way across America on the wires of Associated Press teletype machine. It was from Ann Arbor. A member of the U-M faculty had been arrested for arson; he had ignited the fire in Haven Hall. He was my instructor. Now I fully understood why he had given me the C I didn’t deserve!
I had gone to Michigan partially because of my father Gerrit Wierda’s success there as a part of the 1948 Big Ten Championship Basketball Team and the University’s great tradition. I remember how satisfying it was that all of the Michigan logos were so understated; representing the humility that is expected of greatness. I remember losing my voice in Michigan stadium in 1969 (yes, in the student section) when a heavily favored Ohio State football team came to town and they were turned away after a long set of downs approaching the end zone. Michigan will forever be an understated but powerfully satisfying part of my life.