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Western Oregon University: Celebrating 150 years
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   Selected Emeritus Alumni/Faculty writings from events and memories that occurred at Western Oregon University

Coffee & Coziness in the old Student Center

by Richard A. Davis

In 1964, when I came for my job interview at OCE, Dr. Snyder, the Dean of Administration, took me to coffee in the student center. When I accepted the job offer and came to teach at OCE, I realized that the student center was, indeed, the very heart of the college. It really was where everyone came together: faculty-students-administration.

Fred Norman, a new speech and drama teacher who came to OCE the same year I did, and Terri Caminiti, another new Humanities faculty member—and later three more new speech and drama teachers, Marion Rossi, Doug Mackenzie, and Stephen Andres, all got to know each other , our colleagues and many of our students by coming, between classes, to a coffee break in the student center. But it was not just faculty meeting faculty, but faculty meeting students that made the student center coffee shop such a warm and friendly place

The coffee shop was very small and full of tables and chairs. In those days it consisted of what is now the Oregon or Fireplace room. Food could be ordered and prepared at a counter which is now the wall of The Wolf Express which faces the Oregon Room. From 1964 to the end of the sixties, the cozy atmosphere existed because enrollments on campus were steadily increasing and contributing to crowding, especially at noon time.

To have coffee in the coffee shop and sit down, it was necessary to accept the unwritten rule that everyone was welcome at anyone’s table. So one would sit at a table with faculty members from another discipline or students you might or might not know. I remember one day when Erhard Dortmund came across the room and introduced himself to me. The rumor, amongst new faculty, was that he was one of the more radical faculty members. He asked me some probing questions and seemed friendly, and probably found me pretty conservative.

One night President Rice came through the coffee shop after an evening in the Pacific Room downstairs. He apparently saw a group of drama students and sat down in a friendly way to chat with them. When the conversation was over the students, all members of Alpha Psi Omega, the national drama honorary, came to me, their advisor, saying the President had encouraged them to perform Aristophanes’s Lysistrata on campus. I found that hard to believe; so hard in fact, that I went to see President Rice to see if indeed he had encouraged them to do Lysistrata. He was calm and friendly, firm and precise, and very conservative. He smiled and explained that he had enjoyed his conversation with the students, but that he did not think that with the Viet Nam War in escalation that doing Lysistrata would be politically wise.

The Pacific Room was downstairs in the student center. It served as a place for dances and dining area or Commons for the dorm students. I remember going there for major faculty and administration events, also, such as the President’s yearly opening reception, in those days called the President’s dessert. I remember “twisting” there as a faculty chaperone for one of the student dances.

At the height of the sixties controversies, one faculty wife was ordered out of the building for disturbing the Army recruitment table display in the student center hall way. In order to let students speak their views on Viet Nam and any other issues of the sixties a special place on the front brick entrance area overlooking Maaske Hall was set aside as a free speech platform and marked as such with a plaque. It is long gone, covered now by a portion of the bookstore.

I have fond memories of the old student center. Of long philosophical talks with students like Brent Jones and Richard Gatti—planning their futures—Brent died in an auto accident trying to complete one last credit in summer school—and Richard went on to be a noted lawyer in Salem and California. And I remember the Humanities nights in the student center mural room, later called the Willamette Room. Here Humanities faculty took turns reading poetry, prose, and drama to interested students. Sometimes there were guest speakers. We did oral interpretation presentations of plays like “The Lesson,” and “Macbird” there. The mural was of the Monmouth and college countryside, a huge landscape photo, put together like a giant jigsaw puzzle on the wall of the room. It had evidently been hand colored by college and community volunteers when the building was completed several years before I was hired. If my memory serves me correctly, it was in the Mural Room where the faculty senate met to hear a set of official opinions read by each department senator and the administration regarding the question of whether there should be a name change to drop the “of Education” designation. Each representative—perhaps seven in all in those days—read his statement. President Rice, who was on the faculty senate representing the administration, summed things up with the idea that should the time come when a name change would be a good move, we should do it; but in his view, it was not the right time, and that was that.

In 1972, the press of students and the need for enlargement brought a remodeling and a name change for the building from “student” to “college” center. The coffee shop moved downstairs to the Pacific Room—a huge room in comparison; and that was the end of the close-knit faculty and student mix. The social science faculty did meet in the Pacific Room for coffee, but nothing was ever quite the same again. The college center was better able to accommodate the needs of the 70’s, but there was something about the close-knit faculty-student-administration relationship that could never be the same. Faculty tended to stay in their own areas and mix less with students and the university moved into a new and different era—the malaise of the 70’s. There would be at least 5 or 6 later adjustments and remodeling to the building now known as the Werner center, but an era had ended.