Centrepiece Online | Spring 2010
Home Sweet Home: 50 Years of Residence Life at Centre
In the fall of 1959, Bob Brockman ’63 packed his trunk and drove north with his parents 700 miles to Centre from their home in St. Petersburg, Fla. He moved into Breckinridge Hall with the 98 other male freshmen of his year. And like college freshmen of every generation, he wondered what the future would hold.
Fifty years later he returned to campus—a successful entrepreneur and chair of Centre’s board—for the dedication of Pearl Hall, a new residence that by intention invokes Breck’s quirks and beauty.
“It may come as a surprise to you that Breck Hall was by far and away the nicest place that I had ever been,” Brockman said at the dedication.
Centre’s oldest residence, Breckinridge Hall, on April 21, 1958. Fifty years later, Breck’s tower and round central window would be reflected in the design of Pearl Hall, Centre’s newest residence.
The new building is named for his mother, Pearl Brown Brockman, a physical therapist in St. Petersburg for 42 years, and his grandmother, Pearl Meader Brown, a retired English teacher who lived next door and made it possible for him to attend Centre.
Paige Hebard ’10, a Pearl Hall resident assistant from Meadowview, Va., highlighted the name’s legacy when she spoke at the dedication. “While Pearl is new to the campus, it already has a story, one that portrays the gratitude for all that a mother’s and grandmother’s love can provide,” she said.
To illustrate his dedication remarks, Brockman brought with him not only that original trunk, but also some of its original contents, including the sweater his mother had given him to keep him warm during his first cold winter and the World War I Army blanket that his grandmother sent along. There were artifacts from his years at Centre, including his Sigma Chi sweatshirt, a Marine Corps utility shirt (he joined the Marines a few blocks down Main Street from Pearl Hall), textbooks and a notebook from his favorite class—Charles Hazelrigg ’37’s English prose and poetry—and a box of his grandmother’s weekly letters.
Board Chair Bob Brockman ’63 puts a personal face on the Pearl Hall dedication as he unpacks the trunk he brought to Centre as a freshman in 1959.
Centre, he said, was “a place where I could grow up for the first time away from home. As a high-schooler, my behavior was not pristine. I was a little wilder than I would care to admit in front of you here. The reality is that I could have gone either way at age 18. Centre provided me the right direction. People like Charlie Hazelrigg were an example of what one ought to be like. Centre is truly a unique and very special place that had a material impact on the outcome of my life.”
Centre Then and Now
Fifty years on, Centre continues to provide students with “the right direction.” The College still values its intensely residential nature, with 98 percent of students living on campus. But residential life has changed considerably in the 50 years represented by the dedication of Pearl Hall.
In 1959, Centre’s enrollment was 454 students, spread across two campuses. Most of the men—who were 60 percent of the student body—lived in one of three fairly traditional dormitories on the main campus: Breckinridge (built in 1892 for the Danville Theological Seminary), Wiseman (1940), and McReynolds (1940), which also housed the men’s dining hall. Fraternities had their own houses scattered around town.
The women lived—and dined—half a mile down Lexington Avenue in three interconnected buildings at the former Kentucky College for Women: Caldwell (or West Hall, ca. 1860s), Morgan (1917), and Acheson (or East Hall, 1916). Sororities wouldn’t exist at Centre for another 21 years and wouldn’t have their own houses until 1994, when the first side of Greek Park was built.
What a difference five decades makes. Enrollment has now reached 1,216, of which 46 percent is male. There is only one campus, but housing options abound. Students can choose from 46 buildings, including traditional halls such as Breck and Bingham, Hillside’s townhouse format, the suites in Pearl, and houses on the campus periphery. Although the College has nearly tripled in size since 1959, its residential nature has helped retain the intimacy of earlier days, say current students.
“Life in the residence halls really forms a sense of community among the students, especially between grades,” says Jeff SoRelle ’10, a resident assistant in Pearl from Waco, Texas.
Hebard, his R.A. colleague, agrees. “I think the fact that almost all Centre students live on campus all four years is a unique opportunity for Centre community growth,” she says. “It is something that sets Centre apart from other schools.”
Pearl Hall opened in the fall of 2008 to great excitement. At nearly 56,000 square feet, it is not only Centre’s largest residence—housing 146 students mostly in commodious suites—it also offers amenities that students 50 years ago could not have even imagined. The suites have kitchenettes and private baths. Like every campus residence, it has wireless Internet access throughout the building. Temperature control comes primarily from a geothermal well field of 65 wells drilled 300 feet deep to take advantage of ground temperatures of 50-55 degrees (a green feature that helped earn it Kentucky’s first gold LEED certification).
“The majority of our students live on campus because it really is a wonderful place to be,” says Katie McKenna ’10, a Pearl Hall residence director from Mount Sterling, Ky. “It allows for students to get to know everyone better than they would if they just interacted in the classroom.”
We Had Never Been Divided
Centre did not become truly coeducational until January 1962, when the first of the new women’s dorms—Acheson-Caldwell and Cheek-Evans—opened on the main campus, along with Cowan Dining Commons. No longer would students have to ride a dilapidated bus to get to a class on the other campus.
The Class of 1965 was the last to live on the old K.C.W. campus, and then for only one semester.
Two campuses become one: Women leave West Hall on the old K.C.W. campus for the last time, Jan. 25, 1962. Morgan Hall is to the right. Both buildings were torn down to make room for Danville High School.
“It was very hard to leave those beautiful old buildings,” recalls Jane Burch Cochran ’65, now a fabric artist in Burlington, Ky. “We had big parlors on each hall, not to mention the wonderful big parlors on the first floor. Since we were going to be moving and the building torn down, we were allowed to paint or write or decorate the walls in any way we wanted. One student painted a wall black and then splattered it with red.”
Mary Clyde Callaway Hardin ’62 was a member of the last class to live almost all four years on the women’s campus. The longtime Louisville resident remembers that meals in East Hall were formal sit-down affairs served by waitresses three times a day. If one needed a snack to get through the night, there was always the bookstore in the basement of Morgan Hall, where “a dear lady on duty until 8 o’clock at night would make you a wonderful hot peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” she says.
The three main buildings at K.C.W. were connected, a major asset in the days of strict curfews for women. Although housemothers in East and West halls “kept pretty close tabs on us,” Hardin says, once the doors were locked—“at 10 p.m. during the week, 11 on Fridays, and midnight on Saturdays—we were free to go to any dorm at any hour. If a friend in one of the other dorms wanted to talk, she could come in PJs for a visit.”
Most students lived in two-room suites, essentially private rooms, a luxury not possible with their new housing.
“Many of us were not happy to move,” Hardin recalls. “We had spent three and a half years living in suites. The new dorms were two to a room, with one closet. And even though the buildings were new, they didn’t allow us to visit the other women’s dorms after they closed at night.
“We had never been divided,” she says.
In Loco Parentis
Like most colleges in 1959, Centre looked on students as children under its care. There was check-in and curfew for women and required chapel for everyone. An adult lived in each dorm. Even the fraternities had housemothers. And in 1959, Breck Hall had Max Cavnes.
Dean of Students Max Cavnes (here with his assistant, Happy, about 1959) kept order by being visible.
Cavnes taught history at Centre from 1958 until he retired in 1985, but he is probably best remembered for the 13 years he served as dean of men. With his wife, Doris, and dog, Happy, he lived among the students, in Breck (1958-68) and Nevin (1968-73).
“Human nature hasn’t changed a whit, but other things did,” he says of his tenure as dean. “Remember that during those years we had alcohol. In the late sixties, we had drugs. We had Vietnam. We had to integrate the campus—President [Thomas A.] Spragens had come in 1957 with the understanding that there would be no discrimination.”
Cavnes kept order by being visible. He and Happy were a familiar sight around campus—especially the fraternities—at all hours. One of his assignments was to ensure that the dorms were properly maintained by the residents. He didn’t encourage tattling—he expected the miscreant to turn himself in—but if no one confessed, he had a strict accounting system for any damages that students might inflict on their living quarters.
Jim Perkins ’63, now professor emeritus at Westminster College in Pennsylvania, recalls how it worked: “In 1960, the spring of my freshman year, someone trashed the lounge in Breck. Max called us all in and told us we had a few days to let him know who had done it. No one told, and Max called us in again and said that he would refit the room and charge each of us an equal share of the cost of the repairs. Refit it he did. He went to Martin, Durr, Caldwell and bought the best furniture and drapes most of us had ever seen. When he gathered us together again to pass out our individual portions of the bill, he smiled and said, ‘Nothing is too good for my boys, if they are paying for it.’”
Housemothers were still keeping an eye on things nearly a decade later when LeeAnne Darroch McCann ’73 moved into Cheek-Evans in 1969.
“Our housemother met each of us as we arrived and was usually present in the lobby when any young men came calling,” she says. “At the very least the entrance door to her private apartment just off the dorm lobby remained open in the evening until curfew. Dorm rules were no men beyond the lobby, and all women had to be back to their dorm room by curfew. My freshman year the policy for men’s dorms (and fraternity houses) was similar: no women beyond the lobby.”
Joel Coryell ’77 and Brad Schlenk ’77 (right) in the latter’s room in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house (now LaMotte House) in 1975. Stereos were the main electronics then, and a game of cards required another person, not just a computer.
But the old ways were fading. In 1970, Breck became Centre’s first coed dorm. “Floors were either all men or all women, and during daytime hours members of the opposite sex could be on the floor as long as the room door always remained open,” says McCann, who still lives in Danville. “Any infractions resulted in the offender going before the Student Judiciary Council. Usually punishment amounted to being barred from social events in the fraternity houses, being banned from a coed dorm if you had violated the rules in one, or in some way being grounded.”
Although students were not allowed to have refrigerators or other kitchen appliances in their rooms, a few managed to sneak them in. “One girl on my hall brought a small (one cubic foot) dorm refrigerator and kept it hidden on the floor of her closet,” says McCann. “At this time the basement had a kitchen and vending machines for soft drinks and snacks.”
Cindy Miller Turcea ’73, now an elementary school teacher in Danville, remembers many changes that occurred during her student days. “No sit-down family-style dinners with student waitstaff after frosh year, and our class was the last class to wear beanies,” she says.
Another tradition that would soon disappear: freshman women were required to learn certain songs. Some of the songs featured in “candlelights,” a singularly female dorm tradition when someone got pinned, lavaliered, engaged, or married.
“It was a way to reveal the surprise,” explains Turcea, who met her husband, Danny Turcea ’74, at Centre. A friend of the girl would shout ‘candlelight,’ we’d come running, the lights would be turned out in the hall, and a candle would start going around in the circle while we sang ‘Maybe you were meant for me . . .’”
The girl being honored would blow out the candle when it got to her, and then everyone else would push her into the shower. “It was great fun,” says Turcea.
From Campus Cop to Counselor
In his 36 years at Centre, Eric Mount taught religion, served as chaplain, coached tennis, and did several tours in student life, including five years as vice president and dean of students, a position he took only after then-President Richard L. Morrill assured him that he would “not have to be a policeman.” During his time as assistant dean for student affairs and co-curricular activities (1968-70), he played a part in relaxing rules governing many aspects of student life.
“In the mood of the times, we reviewed and often revised or discontinued the parietal regulations of the in loco parentis era,” he says. “Breckinridge Hall became the first coed dorm (by floor, not by door). Visitation was introduced, but not overnight visitation, and not for first-year students during their first term.”
Enjoying the sun on the Wiseman roof was a popular rite of spring, here in 1976.
Keeping men out of the women’s residences during that first term was a particular challenge for the R.A.s., he says, recalling stories he heard from his daughter Marcia Mount Shoop ’91, now theologian in residence at University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“I would hear voices not characteristic of freshman college women coming from a room and go to check it out,” says Shoop, who was a freshman R.A. for two years. “I got some amazingly creative answers about where the voices were coming from: the TV, the radio, someone’s imitation of her brother’s voice. I was always impressed with their valiant attempts to protect the men who snuck in, but in those rooms there was only one place to hide, the closet, and it wasn’t hard to find them there.”
When Nancy Lackey joined the student life staff in 1986, R.A.s still “tended to be the ones who monitored things,” she says. She helped shift the focus toward the current emphasis on leadership and counseling.
“There was no broad opportunity for leadership on campus then; there were segments—judiciary or sports or Greek—but nothing open to the entire community,” says Lackey, who was Centre’s first dean of students to come to the job with a professional residence life background. “We wanted to use it as a leadership position, with R.A.s serving as role models and developing counseling skills.”
And to recruit the best R.A.s possible, she wanted to make the position far more competitive. Thus was born R.A. Roulette, a system for choosing the student residence staff that remains in place today (though under a new name, R.A. Pursuit).
“Centre’s R.A. training is still a program that makes the Centre Experience unique,” says Lackey.
Sarah Scott Hall ’93, associate dean and director of residence life, agrees. She has seen the R.A. system as an R.A. herself and now as the staffer who runs the program.
“Our main focus is helping students. We’re less of a police force and more of a peer-counseling force,” she says. “I think the training students receive as R.A.s—conflict management, confrontation skills, and so on—are skills they’re going to use the rest of their lives. It can be very challenging, especially if they have a difficult hall, but they come out of it with the reward of tremendous confidence.”
That reward apparently makes up for the somewhat meager material benefits (a small salary, a single room for the cost of a double, and a parking pass). Hall typically has more than 100 applicants for the approximately 25 slots open each year. (The total R.A. and R.D. staff is close to 60.)
“It’s extremely competitive,” she says. “The logistics have become more difficult with more students wanting to be R.A.s and also to go abroad, but we’re working it out.”
Rising Expectations for Life Outside the Classroom
The whole student life arena has altered dramatically since the days when Max Cavnes and Happy were on night patrol. It is no longer enough for a school to have a strong faculty. Today’s students—and their parents—have tremendous expectations for what goes on outside the classroom, as well. There are legal issues that never used to exist. Students often arrive on campus with more complicated personal lives than they once did. And parental involvement has soared, not necessarily to their child’s benefit.
Drew Lally ’07 relaxes after class in his room in Acheson on April 12, 2007. He said he kept the television set turned backwards so that he would study more. It must have worked; he’s now a med student at the University of Louisville.
“For parents, I think the biggest challenge is learning to let their child continue the process of growing into an adult,” says Randy Hays, current vice president and dean of student life. “Parents need to learn to let their students fight their own battles, learn how to navigate housing contracts, learn how to ask for help. It’s more than okay to call and say, ‘I don’t know who to tell my son or daughter to call,’ but don’t make the call for them. It’s all a part of the education that happens outside the classroom.”
Remember Pay Phones?
The last five decades have seen dramatic changes in residence life at Centre. Two campuses have become one. The office of student life has expanded and become increasingly professional in response to 21st-century demands and desires. There’s been an explosion of housing variety—along with the number of electrical outlets required for each room. And yet, in spite of all the changes, Centre intentionally is now—as it was in 1959—an intensely residential place. At the Pearl Hall dedication, President John Roush reflected on why it’s important to remain so.
“One of the things that makes residential liberal arts colleges special,” he said, “is the firm belief that academic, residential, and extracurricular life should support one another in a seamless experience of intellectual, social, and spiritual growth. This is particularly true at Centre.”
Hall has seen a lot of these changes as a former student and now employee, but the one that current students find most remarkable, she says, is the telephone.
Freshman Jeff Blair ’89 takes a call on the Nevin pay phone out in the hall. There were no room phones in his day, let alone cell phones.
“When I moved into Yerkes as a first-year student in 1989, there was no Internet, there were no telephone lines in the room,” she says. “We had one pay phone on the hall and one in the stairwell. And nobody wanted the room right next to the phone because you had to answer it all the time. Students today can’t imagine that it was our only form of communication, other than letters.”
Eventually students were allowed to have phones in their rooms, but only if they set it up themselves with the local phone company. Ann Young, a 30-year Centre veteran who is now director of student life and housing, recalls that rooms already fitted with a phone jack by an earlier resident were favored during room selection in the 1980s and 1990s. “You only had to hook up the phone, which was something like $20, as opposed to $100 to run the line in,” she says.
Helena Josic ’10 (far left) checks the Internet in her Pearl Hall room with Christy Ferko ’10 (on bed), Cara Newcomb ’10, and Willie Polio ’12
Today, landlines in student rooms still exist, but largely go unanswered. Students rarely bother to attach a phone to them; cell phones have become ubiquitous.
And if you don’t have the number, you can always try Facebook—every room is wired.
Pearl Hall, dedicated at Homecoming 2009, is named for the donor’s mother and grandmother.
Photo courtesy of Hastings & Chivetta Architects Inc./Fentress Photography
Pearl Hall Facts
Construction started: May 2007
Opened: August 2008
Dedicated: Oct. 30, 2009
Named for: Pearl Meader Brown and her daughter, Pearl Brown Brockman
Donor: Bob Brockman ’63
Size: 55,900 square feet
Capacity: 146 students
Room type: Suites; most have four single bedrooms, two bathrooms, a common area, and a kitchenette. Living features: Front porch (with rocking chairs) overlooks main campus, back courtyard deck overlooks soccer fields, laundry facilities, study areas, large main lounge. Green features: Geothermal heating and cooling, efficient windows, energy-efficient lighting, water-saving plumbing fixtures, water-efficient landscaping. Green math: 2 percent initial added investment will be paid back over 10-15 years.
Total cost: $15,000,000
Awards: Certified LEED gold by the U.S. Green Building Council, Vision Award for a Green Community from Bluegrass Tomorrow, Downtown Investment Heart of Gold Award from Heart of Danville.
50 years of Deans (click here).