in 1967-71

By Elisabeth Sherwin

Elisabeth Sherwin, a former resident of Hiram's Bowler Hall, has been a reporter and copy editor at several California newspapers. She is currently on sabbatical living in Davis, Calif. She can be reached via e-mail at and the address for her World Wide Web page, devoted to her column on books and writers, is

I moved into Bowler Hall in September of 1967. My grandmother drove me to Hiram from our home in the Chicago suburbs. I remember two things about the trip very clearly: we had been fighting (probably about my boyfriend), so it was a long, quiet drive. And I was wearing a pink and white Villager dress that I bought at Marshall Field's on sale when I was working downtown that summer.

I selected Hiram for two important reasons. First, there was no math requirement. I regret the fact that this was a crucial academic decision, but there you have it. I don't do math. Second, my best friend, Blair Humphrey, went to Hiram. She was two years older than me and totally cool. Guided by her best advice, I requested a room in red-bricked Bowler Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus.

It was there, in an empty room with impossibly high ceilings, creaky floors and vast windows, that I found myself one very hot afternoon in the fall of 1967. I was lonely at first because I didn't want to follow Blair and her roommate, Olga Smolakov, around campus as if I were lost. But I soon got to know Renate Metcalf, Sue Long, Suzanne Summers, Jane Thomas, Diane Arrington, Elsa Nunez, Gayla Fuller, Dale Abramson and other Bowler girls.

I lived on the first floor of Bowler. We had to sign out if we were going to be off campus for any length of time. Sign out? No problem. That spring I signed out for a long weekend at Menlo College in California where my boyfriend was going to school. In California I went to my first outdoor rock concert and be-in and was back at Hiram to tell everyone about it in exhausting detail on Monday morning. Later that year I recall Bowler's sign-out requirement was dropped. Over the course of the next few years, it seemed like all rules were abolished, with no resultant lurch toward chaos.

The autumns at Hiram were beautiful. I have lived in Northern California now for almost 20 years and miss the dramatic change of seasons so much a part of the Midwest. I remember an autumn birthday picnic held for a Bowler girl (was it Linda Stickles or Gretchen Leonard? Barbara Ayers or Giny Salinsky?) in the Hiram cemetery. The grass was still warm and green but the leaves were turning and when the sun went down it was cold. Still, the afternoon party was a success and it seems to me now that those permanent residents of the cemetery didn't mind the laughter taking place above. No disrespect was meant.

I remember walking down the street one dark, windy October night with a Hiram boy who I recall in every detail. We stopped under a tree that was losing its brightly colored leaves and kissed passionately. That night I wrote in my diary that I was perfectly, utterly happy. Of course, it didn't last. He lost interest and then came the endless Hiram winter. Bowler became a haven its residents rarely left. I found it absolutely impossible to attend with any frequency my afternoon modern dance class. It was so much easier to stay in our overheated rooms (by this time I'd moved to a front room on the second floor) where the steam pipes rattled and the windows ran with condensation. We drank tea in mugs heated with electric coils and ate crackers with cheese pumped out of a canister. It was delicious. I'm sorry to say I don't remember many of my classes in detail. I preferred to read on my own. I scared myself thoroughly one winter reading, from beginning to end, "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

I returned to Hiram in 1991 for my 20th college reunion. As Renate Metcalf Brenneke and I walked along the campus toward Bowler Hall we gazed up at the room we used to occupy. She looked at me. "You know what I remember? How long the days were. How boring it was."

I know what she meant. It was difficult coming from the overly busy, regimented life of a high school student and suddenly having a lot of free time at a small rural college. And, let's face it, there wasn't much to do at Hiram. We didn't have cars, we didn't have TVs in our rooms. We listened to a lot of sad folk music and wished we had something to do and someone (preferably male) to do it with. But maybe we learned something then about the value of filling free time. I was a reader then, I'm a reader now. There's never enough time to read. And Renate not only picked up a teaching degree but she married a Hiram guy, Bill Brenneke. So even though some of our time was boring, it wasn't wasted.

When the snow melted every year I would develop a bad case of spring fever and hatch innumerable unsuccessful plans to snare a date. As the weather grew warmer, we Bowler girls congregated on the front steps and eyed the men. Sometimes we walked across the street to the library to study but that was a fairly infrequent event.

I took off for Madrid my junior year. While there, I missed Hiram achingly. In hindsight I think of my year in Spain as a rich, wonderful experience but at the time I yearned for a cheeseburger and beer at the Road and a class in English. I picked up a Spanish newspaper one day in May of 1970 and read about the deaths of four Kent State students by the National Guard. I remember gazing around the University of Madrid in astonishment. Students weren't shot in Franco's Spain, how could they be shot in America, a few miles from Hiram? I had to get home.

I flew to California again to visit that old boyfriend. By this time he was going to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where students earlier that year had rioted and burned down the Bank of America. I couldn't help but notice that the women out there didn't find it necessary to wear bras anymore. The new uniform was either a long India print dress or blue jeans with peasant blouses from Mexico. Heavy boots completed any ensemble. Talk about culture shock.

I was unbelievably happy to return to Hiram in the fall of 1970 for the beginning of my senior year. But changes had come to Hiram, too. Hinsdale Hall was gone and the new Kennedy Center was open. Everyone in the downstairs grill was eating bagels, a food fad from New York City. Students were beginning to carry their books around in backpacks. Black students were forming their own social clubs and were forcing everyone to think about racial inequities. A women's support group formed and met on campus. Still, high in my room on the third floor of Bowler Hall that fall, winter and spring, I put my book down frequently and looked out over the campus with a smile. I was home.

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