It will be fifty years ago in early September of 2019 that I, a scared seventeen-year-old teenager from southern Illinois, walked up three flights of stairs in Jordan Hall and unpacked my belongings in room 306 for my first year at Oakland City College. That year, 1969, had already witnessed the first man walking on the moon and, just before I arrived on campus, an event that shook the adult world to its very core at an out-of-the-way place called Woodstock. The war in Vietnam also continued to rage and my mother told me just before she and Dad left me all by myself to navigate in my new environment that I would have to bring my grades to the county draft board office in Mt. Vernon, Illinois immediately after every quarter term.
The most unexpected occurrence in those first several weeks at OCC was a horrible case of homesickness, a problem made worse every time one of Mom’s letters mentioned what my farming family was doing back home in the fields. One line in particular, “I guess you’ll be glad to be out of the hay fields,” almost brought me to my knees with homesickness.
It wasn’t that hauling hay was so wonderful. It was just that I had become very competent at that job and felt that I had earned the admiration of my farming elders. At OCC I was starting completely over. No one knew my name or understood the craft of stacking hay on a moving, gyrating wagon in the middle of a hot sun-blasted hay field.
Time, however, brought changes. With over seven hundred students from all over the country, the small wooded campus was bursting with activity. It helped too that I had the best roommate in the world, Carl Runyon from Poplar Bluff Missouri. We spent many nights talking into the wee morning hours about all the new things we had heard and discussed in our classes. My professors and new classmates were also exposing me to ideas and worlds I could not have imaged. My time at Oakland City College would change my life.
The late 1960s and early 1970s was also a high point of sorts for OCC. The article, “The Scent of Rebellion is in the Air: Oakland City College during the Age of Aquarius,” gives some sense as to what that unique but forgotten time was like. It is a sad but grateful ode to that time and place and to the people with which I shared many wonderful and interesting experiences.