The heart of homecoming

Jen Yokley

Credit: DKS Editors

WATCH a slideshow of pictures from the class of 1958.

Kent State’s Golden Order celebrates the 50-year anniversaries of graduating classes. At this year’s Homecoming, it will pay tribute to the class of 1958 and everything they have accomplished so far in their lives.

The university was very different 50 years ago. There were no black squirrels to dash in front of students on the way to class, May 4 was just another day on the calendar and the School of Fashion was 30 years away from establishment. Students didn’t wear hoodies and Ugg boots to class, and hell would freeze over before your significant other could spend the night in your room.

Yet these students still loved their college experience, at least enough to keep them coming back year after year for Homecoming festivities. A closer look into their everyday life explains why.

Campus Life

The building that is now Oscar Richie Hall was once the home of student life on campus. The Kent Student Union was home to such familiarities as the Hub, the bookstore and the meeting place for student organizations. Designated areas where students were forbidden to study gave the Union a fun, comfortable atmosphere.

According to the Kent State 1958 yearbook: “Living up to its name, the Hub serves as the center of the students’ recreational life. Hubsitting is a favorite pastime at Kent State. With the juke box playing in the background, students talk, eat and read.”

With two dormitories for men and five for women, residence life was completely different than what we know today. Corridor parties, individual bull sessions, sock hops, formals, exchange dinners and pajama parties were typical events for nearly 2,000 residents. Because dorms were strictly gender-separate, dates were to meet in the social lounges, and women had a “house mother” who kept a strict lights-out time.

Campus fashion today consists of what students happen to roll out of bed in, but in 1958, the rules restricted style.

“Women were not allowed to walk across the campus wearing shorts,” said Mathalia Price, a ’58 graduate. “Thighs were not to be seen on campus.”

Discount stores such as Kmart made their appearance around 1958, entertaining students with thrift shopping. They would also spend their weekends downtown at Ray’s and The Robin Hood.

“We probably didn’t drink as much as they do now, but we still celebrated,” Price said.

Performers who are better known by “Saturday Night Live” impressions were once headliners of campus concerts.

“We went to a Robert Goulet concert in Kent my senior year,” Price said. “This was when he was young and handsome.”

Tradition Never Dies

For a freshman in 1958, there was more to fear than new professors and finals week. The entire class was expected to earn its Kent State stripes by participating in an annual freshman leaf rake as well by performing the alma mater in front of onlooking upperclassmen in the Hub. In addition, any freshman caught stepping on the university seal (next to the current Starbucks) would be given soap and a scrub brush and be told to start cleaning.

Activities such as the Rowboat Regatta, Penny Carnival, Pork Barrel, Top Hop and May Day Relay were very symbolic to students. Both Greek life and dormitories would compete for trophies and more importantly, bragging rights. Students took pride in tradition, going above and beyond expectations by creating extravagant yard decorations and floats for parades. Other smaller traditions continue today, including sled riding on cafeteria trays down front-campus hills in the winter season.

Homecoming was one of the biggest events of the year, with students campuswide getting involved and showing their Kent State pride. Elaborate floats were designed by fraternities and dormitories to be presented in the annual parade, and front yards were decorated with dummies of sister school Bowling Green. Which brings about another 1958 fun fact: Homecoming was determined by the date of the Kent State-Bowling Green football game. If the game was on their field, it was their Homecoming, and vice versa.

Price said she remembers Kent State Homecoming as more of a formal event, but with the same energy and spirit we see today.

“At that time, it was very dressy to go to the football games,” she said. “Your date gave you a great big chrysanthemum, about 6 inches, with a big bow on it.”

Graduation Day

As commencement draws closer, the thought of uncertainty is something in every student’s mind, even 50 years ago.

“I remember a very strong feeling when I finished school,” Price said. “At the end of my last class I had this terrifying feeling, like, what will I do next? Except for getting married, it’s one of the biggest steps you’ll take.”

Price’s advice for students is simple.

“I would just say to follow your dreams,” she said. “You can do anything you want to. Keep at it!”

Contact alumni affairs reporter Jenn Yokley at [email protected].