While working on papers and studying for exams, students are often thinking about the timeliness in which they will graduate. Not often though, do they contemplate how the experience of returning as an alumnus will alter their perception of the campus they once knew. One student, now turned alumnus, came back forty years later to the present day view of Millersville University which we all know.
David Chavez, studying a dual major of Elementary Education and Spanish, entered as a student to what was then Millersville State College in August of 1974, finishing in December of 1979. This dual major was new at the time, and allowed Chavez to teach children from kindergarten through sixth grade, and Spanish for kindergarten through twelfth grade.
Chavez stated that one of the major world events happening at this time was “the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War. There were no protests or demonstrations to war happening on campus.” During his summer orientation as a freshman, Chavez and other new students had to reside within the dormitories, as was school policy at the time.
Chavez and his peers resided within Burrowes Hall, now torn down for present reconstruction. Female students resided from the first through the fourth floor, and male students resided in the fifth through eleventh.
A commuter, Chavez was unable to attend many of the club activities available on campus, as he was also working in Lancaster while completing his education. As a senior in high school, he learned of the Philadelphia House, a hangout available for commuting students on campus. This would become a place of fond memories for him over the course of his studies.
When Chavez entered as a student, the duplex building had both halves of the house available to students as we presently know it. Upon immediately entering the house, “The first thing you saw was an upright piano,” said Chavez. “There were a lot of elementary education majors, and we had to take a music class. We had to play some piece and we used the piano to practice.” In regards to the kitchen, there had been a Coke or Pepsi machine, and a payphone. In comparing his most recent visit, Chavez stated the “ugly tile flooring in kitchen was there before I showed up in 70s,” and that he hoped the university would have updated it since then.
Upstairs, “the room closest to the front of the house had a cot in it. Some people would take a nap,” said Chavez. At present this room still serves as an official quiet space, and houses comfortable recliner couches available for relaxation. Though it serves as a personal study room now, the room directly next to the bathroom held “a typewriter, and a nice desk and chair,” said Chavez. “There were no computers, not in the 70s. In the basement was a ping pong table, which people used to play. On the other side of the house, the lockers were more like those from a gym. Upstairs were rooms used for the Vietnam Veterans Association. These were two offices and a lounge.”
Activities offered in the house included an ongoing Pinochle game, fundraising events, an annual Christmas party before break, and a spring barbecue. Pinochle, a card game, would be played on a continual basis. “You could be there first at 6 a.m., and last at 7-8 p.m., and someone was still playing,” Chavez reminisced. The commuter spring cookout was held annually and included interactions with the veterans and neighbors, “especially the neighbor to the right. He was always invited.”
Despite much of the national attitude towards Vietnam veterans in the 1970s, student interactions with the veterans were “very friendly and honest.” Chavez stated that, “One would even tell stories of real life experiences they went through, even methods of torture. They were very open, and without them we wouldn’t have had the volleyball game we used to have. We wouldn’t have had the never-ending Pinochle game. We had a good relationship with them all the time.” Chavez spoke of Mrs. Helen C. Riso, Associate Dean for Educational Development and Off-Campus Housing and Veterans Affairs, interacted with Mike Weidinger, President of the Philadelphia House when he was a student. “She was in good terms with the President of the CSA [Commuter Student Association], who happened to be a Vietnam veteran.”
Similar to present day commuting life, there were difficulties finding parking while Chavez was a student. Parking for commuters included the “first row of parking spaces nearest to the commuter house, now called Boyer Lot. Parking tickets at the time only cost $1, even when I had my commuter permit on.” Another price difference from present university costs was that of textbooks and tuition. “Textbooks always cost less than a $100—the most for one was $50, new. I bought a ‘new’ science book, because I liked it and decided to keep it. The average tuition was less than $2,000 a year.”
Similar to campuses nowadays, Millersville State College offered activities for students during the academic school year, though fewer than we are used to. “The only big things happening would be football games, homecoming and the homecoming parade. The Lancaster Symphony Orchestra played there and I went for my Elementary Education Music class. The CSA partook in the parade, holding a sign up. They also had a musical, and concerts by students and staff.”
Chavez confirmed that there were guest speakers and events, though not at the frequency which we presently experience. Similar to our Superfest each spring, Millersville State College held a Spring Fling each year. This gathering was run by students and Greek Organizations together, and highlighted “a tug of war over the lake. This was before all the rocks were around the lake. It was a big thing of more craziness, like a combination of Halloween and Mardi Gras put together during the spring.”
As a commuter student, Chavez felt that benefits of commuting included having a cheaper tuition, and “an increased sense of independence by not being as connected to the university. I was also more conscious of time put into my studies. Plus my freshman year and a half, I didn’t have a car. I took a bus from Lancaster to Millersville. Buses from the 1970s were something from the 1950s. Twice a bus conked out at Village Greens. [Transportation Services] got a new one, which broke.” Chavez also pointed out the benefit of being able to meet a diverse group of students with a variety of majors, unlike some dormitory residents which may continue to follow a group with the same major. A negative aspect to commuting was time management, in having to prepare for your traveling start and stop times, and having the hope to find parking in relation to how traffic was moving.
After forty years away, many things change within a school environment and this was surely noticed by Chavez. When entering the Student Memorial Center (SMC), Chavez was “astounded, like being in a hotel lobby.” Chavez mentioned the presence of the many flat screen televisions within the SMC, comparing the Philadelphia house as a “TV graveyard”, having seen various older models of televisions sitting without use where his peers once played Pinochle on a regular basis.
“I felt really welcomed when I went to the CSA. I was a bit surprised it wasn’t more tech savvy. In the old typewriter room, the university could have provided an old desktop with a printer. The place is a little bit more cluttered with the old TV’s and there are more paper’s attached to the walls. We only had the bulletin board between the stairways. The old kitchen flooring could have been better, and I thought the windows would be double sealed for heat by now. I always felt the CSA was like a stepchild of the whole university. I always felt like you had to beg to get something done.”
When asked what advice he has for present students, Chavez noted “to have connections to people whomever you meet that are involved in your major. If they are able to or have time, get involved with any group club associated that entails their major.” In special relation to commuting students, Chavez suggested “attending evening events. I enjoyed getting involved with activities around 7 or 8 p.m. at night.” Chavez suggested that students shadow professionals in their career of interest for a day, as his son did in following an architect for his senior year project.
Upon completing his self-tour of the Philadelphia house, Chavez added his name to the historic wall in the attic. Upon seeing other students’ signatures and dates ranging from 1912 through more recent years, “I added mine,” Chavez said. Chavez noted his observation of The Snapper’s expansion, which had been a two page leaflet with glossy paper and print while he was a student. He showed an additional appreciation for the free local newspapers offered to students, unavailable when he studied in Millersville.
Remember that while we take comfort in appearances of our campus while we ourselves are students, things will surely change over time once we graduate.