Looking Back

Retiring faculty member reflects on 60-plus years at SU

BillTaylor_360
Story by: Bill Taylor
Published: 2014-06-16

Bill Taylor, professor emeritus of English, retired at the end of the academic year after six-plus decades at SU, first as a student and then as a faculty member. He shared the following remarks at his retirement party in May.

This event today has been very moving for me. I want to thank the people who worked so hard putting this party together, and all of you for coming to it. It's a humbling experience.

Sentimentality is the death of art, but under these circumstances, it's hard for me not to indulge myself in a little sentiment. Having spent 75 percent of my life on this campus, the prospect of leaving it has generated some emotions that are new to me (though I hope to come back and teach a class from time to time). 

As I wondered what would be appropriate to say at an event like this, I knew it would be impossible to reflect on the many thousands of students I have known and the hundreds of friends, past and present, who have made this a very good life for me. 

In recent days, many of you have come up to me and said, "Boy, you must have seen a lot of changes in this place over the years!" and that's certainly true. And I thought that many of you might like to share a little of my nostalgia about some of the changes in our campus over these years, which would give me one last chance to exercise my role as Institutional Memory. 

Naturally, I have been looking back over these 59 years, or really, 62 years, since I entered SU as a freshman in 1952.  And I recall one specific event, a tiny moment, but it has stuck with me. On a warm evening early in the fall of my freshman year, I indulged in a moment of nostalgia, in advance. As I walked along the mall in front of the Admin building (which was then the rear of the building), I looked up at the copula with its cross, and I thought what a good place I was in in my life. I wondered how this scene would look and feel to me in the years to come. And I have had that thought, and that experience, many times since, though it has changed somewhat over the years. But I wasn't prepared for how much it has now changed. Last Wednesday night, after my evening class, I looked up at that cross again, and revisited that memory of more than 60 years ago. It felt very Proustian. 

Looking back now brings to mind everything this place was to me then. I even took out my four annuals (we had yearbooks then, called The Aegis ), and I looked through them, seeing again what I had not looked at for at least fifty years. 

The campus was a very different place. At that time, the library, both the stacks and the reading room, occupied the northern half of the third floor of the Administration Building (which was then called the Liberal Arts Building.) 

Where Pigott now stands, there was a large warehouse, on the second floor of which was stored a portable stage, which could be broken into sections and carried across 11th Avenue to the gymnasium, our athletic facility, which stood where the St. Ignatius Chapel, the pool, and the lower parking lot are now located. And the stage was re-assembled there for all dramatic and musical productions, because it was the only theater we had. When the show closed, we took the stage apart and returned it to the warehouse. In my freshman year, Dave Brubeck played on that stage in the gym. Johnny and Eddie O'Brien were in their senior year, and practiced on that floor. 

There was no Fine Arts building. What we now know as the FA building was the Engineering building. 

The student cafeteria was a large classroom in the basement of the Garrand building, which was then called the Science building, as it housed chemistry, physics, and biology. The entrance to the cafeteria, which was appropriately nicknamed "The Cave," was down a few steps on the north side of the building to an entrance which is still there. You had to crawl over a hundred other patrons to get to any of your friends on the other side of the room, and you can imagine the density of the cigarette smoke in 1952. It was a cave-entering it was a bit like spelunking. 

The bookstore was two classrooms on the second floor of the Garrand building, above the Cave. The building now occupied by the Bookstore, and all the other offices in University Services Building, was then a soft drink bottling plant. Where we stand now in the Casey building, there was a tumbled down, two-story structure known as "The English House." Beside it were two similarly aging houses, named after priests, which were torn down to make room for Loyola Hall. The English House was the location of my office when I first joined the department. The English department has occupied a variety of other spaces: Buhr Hall, a portable on what is now the large village green between Pigott and Fine Arts; we were in Xavier Hall for a time, then Marian Hall, an old, decaying apartment house which has been replaced by the quad and the fountain. We moved from there, with the rest of Arts and Sciences, to Casey. 

Where Hunthausen now stands, the first real Student Union Building on campus was constructed. It was called "The Chieftain," with a cafeteria still known as "the Cave," by students who had no idea why it was called that. The name was later given to a convenience store on the lower level of Bellarmine. I believe it is now in Campion. The Lynn Building was near the Chieftain, but it was still a mortuary. 

So what still remains of the campus I first saw? Not much. This is not an exhaustive list, but among our present buildings that did not then exist, are the Lemieux Library, the Student Center, the Pigott Building, Bannan and the Engineering Building, the Chapel of St. Ignatius, the Connolly Center, the Lee Theater, Casey, Loyola Hall, Campion, Bellarmine, the Murphy Apartments. The women's dorm then was Marycrest, on the west side of Broadway, on ground now covered by the Swedish Hospital. 

As I look up at the cross on the Admin Building now, it seems to me not to have changed at all. There's a metaphor in that. Perhaps a truer measure of the time that has passed is that beautiful Redwood tree on the south side of Pigott, nearly twice as high as the building itself. In my earliest memories of Pigott, that tree was less than half as tall as the building. 

I don't quite understand that metaphor myself, but it feels right.


 Discussion

 
 

* All comments are moderated and subject to approval prior to being posted.
Read the policy regarding comments »