On a chilly evening in early September 1964, I stepped off the plane at Des Moines Airport. Barely 17, it was my first time away from home. There I stood, in my blue suit and white socks, meeting upperclassman Dick Whittlesey ’65. Two other students, also from the East, joined us for the ride back to Central. We loaded his car with our luggage and began the trip southeast on Hwy 163. Along the way we stopped at a restaurant where I experienced my first ‘Sloppy Joe.’ In the blink of an eye we passed through the tiny town of Otley, soon afterwards arriving on campus. Assigned to Gaass Hall, I found my room, which was of fairly good size. While unpacking I met my roommate Richard Crine ’72.
The following week, having oriented myself to campus, I was ready to sign up for classes and meet fellow students and professors. The campus was expanding, and there was a lot of construction in progress: a new Student Union and two new dormitories opening that fall. By the end of 1964, enrollment had grown to 700. Semesters were only two terms—fall and spring. I chose courses in Intro to Visual Art, with the popular Lawrence Mills; Freshman English; World Civilizations with Laura Nanes, an acclaimed professor of history and social studies. The attendance was so large her classes were held in the Chapel. Other courses were General Psychology and Cell Biology. That’s a total of five courses, 15 hours, not counting the required courses of Orientation, Bette Brunsting ’56, and Physical Education, Don Larsen.
At a formal dinner one evening, sitting at the table with Dean Jim Graham, I was discussing how I had shipped a foot locker several weeks ahead, via Rock Island Freight Line. It seemed to have been lost en route, and I had been living out of my two suitcases. It was a relief to find that it did arrive but was tossed in the basement of Graham Hall. I found it damaged but intact.
Life on campus for freshmen was a combination of cheers and groans. We were made to wear a beanie and a giant rectangular nametag, three feet wide by one foot tall, strung across our backs. Many upperclassmen took pleasure in it as we walked through campus, and god forbid we were ever caught without that ID. Kangaroo Court awaited all transgressors. At one formal dinner all those wearing white socks with their suits were made to stand on the cafeteria tables and lift their pant legs to the ridicule of all onlookers. I never wore white socks again! After homecoming, we were free of that branded paraphernalia. It didn’t take long to get acclimated to college life.
Central was a small, down-home higher education institution, not one of those fast-paced unsympathetic campuses you find back East. I felt comfortable and welcomed, developing friendships with locals in town, as well as students on campus. There was plenty to do on campus: concerts, plays, recitals. I attended all the rehearsals and the three performances for the production of “Our Town,” directed by Mr. Birdsall.
At first, I showed off my deep urban roots, having grown up in New York City. It granted me a measure of elegance and street smarts to have grown up in an inner city neighborhood. I felt I had a step up on all my rural friends. “I’m from the Bronx,” I’d say with a bit of swagger. But it wasn’t long before I fell in love with the town and the campus and New York didn’t matter as much anymore. I was 1,200 miles from home in a different world, a new environment and a pleasant, easygoing one. I was swept up with the laid-back Midwestern charm. Everyone was in less of a rush to get where they were going.
After brief visits home at Christmas and spring break, I was eager to return. My mother had bought me a heavy down coat that made me look like the Michelin tire man but kept me warm through the bitter Iowa winters.
Although tuition, room and board was a fraction of what it costs today, I supplemented my expenses with odd jobs: phone duty and mopping up in the cafeteria. I also worked part time at the Rolscreen (now called Pella Windows) and did a stint at Dubit’s Pizza.
Next term was the spring of 1965. My courses included Old Testament Survey; General Zoology; Fundamentals of Speech with everyone’s favorite, Maurice Birdsall (Mr. B); World Civ., with William Lubenow; Beginning Spanish with Jim Smalley, and gym. The next term began in the fall of 1965. After the spring term in 1966 it went to a tri-semester format.
My career choices were just developing that first year. My critical thinking and reasoning were improving. I felt less vulnerable as my cognitive skills and intellectual growth blossomed. I could sense changes relating to others around me—affecting attitude, values and moral development. Central was making a direct impact on my life experience. I have a treasury of images both comforting and unforgettable. My path through Central was just beginning.
Gregory Christiano ’69 is the author of five books, including his autobiograhpy “Sworn to Remember,” available in print and on Kindle and NOOK. He is currently working on a poetry chapbook and a collection of one- and two-act plays and short stories. Christiano has done research for The Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) regarding the origins and spread of the game in the New York area during the 1850s. Three of these articles will be published and released in the spring of 2013. He has also created a series of maps pinpointing the early baseball clubs in the metropolitan New York City area, currently on file at the Library of Congress. Christiano’s eight-chapter novella, “Invisible Universe,” was translated and published in a popular Chinese Science Fiction magazine as a serial. You can read it online in English at www.prose-n-poetry.com.