J. KARL MILLER: Springtime brings back entertaining memories of MU

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 | 10:31 a.m. CST; updated 5:02 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 10, 2011

COLUMBIA — As one who thoroughly enjoyed his undergraduate years at Mizzou, I get my nostalgia fix driving the perimeters of the campus and through it on those streets which are still open. The increase in size of the university, both in sprawl and interior growth, over the nearly 60 years since I enrolled is mind-boggling to say the least.

With spring just around the corner, memories return with a rush. The first thing noticed is the difference in appearance of the students, comparing 1953 to the present. Through most of the 1950s, there was a uniform style of dress — neither doctrine nor enforced, merely the choice in conformity.

For the guys, it was wash khaki trousers or jeans, an oxford cloth button-down shirt, dirty white bucks and, for cold weather, a suede jacket. Female attire was invariably a skirt and sweater with saddle shoes as the preferred footwear. Variety in shoes included "Threadneedles," a popular but clunky article in a hideous shade of yellow for men and penny loafers for the young ladies.

In contrast, some 58 years later, it appears that an edict from somewhere exhorted students to "dare to be different." That bait was snatched with gusto and clever originality — the result is a campus of students comfortably attired but often in bizarre combinations — through the eyes of this septuagenarian at least. Additionally amazing is the backpack borne by nearly every student; in the '50s the only accouterment was the slide rule, the T/O equipment for engineers.

I suppose that in some ways, bigger is better and growth equals progress. MU educates far more people in many more disciplines than when the size of the student body was under 10,000. Quantum advances in techniques and equipment, particularly in computer sciences, have improved procedures and results multidimensionally along with the speed and accuracy of achievement.

While acknowledging the inevitability of progress and change for the better, I regret that today's students are denied some of the pleasures we took for granted. In the 1950s, Memorial Union (north building and archway completed, abutted by a gaping hole to the south) was a hangout for snacking, studying and bridge playing. All too often, certain bridge addicts became far too engrossed in 3 No Trump or Grand Slams to deign to leave their seat to attend class.

Entertainment was handy to the campus. There were five downtown theaters within walking distance: The Missouri, the Hall, the Uptown, the Boone and the Varsity. The number of restaurants was rather limited; however, the three primary food groups, pizza and burgers with fries were plentiful. Students with access to autos were also able to avail themselves of Columbia's cultural establishments: the Stables and Andy's Corner.

The Stables was located at the bottom of the hill south of Broadway and Andy's was a cinder block structure located in an open field, approximately on the site now of Murry's. Both were roadhouses, their popularizing ambiance was a total lack of it — they were no-holds- barred, let-it-all-hang-out beer joints. Andy's location served it well; when the liquor inspectors came to town, a messenger dispatched from the Stables passed the word.

Broadway, which was gravel beyond West Boulevard, led us in the spring to Hulen Lake for swimming and sunning on a sand-covered beach — a welcome respite from the fierce corkball competition using Cramer Hall as backstop. It cost a quarter to get through the gate; the two in the front seat paid 50 cents while the two under the blanket and the three in the trunk entered free. In those days, a quarter was big money, the cash savings for freebies paid for five beers.

Among my greatest disappointments at campus change occurs when facing south from Jesse Hall where one views the Reynolds Alumni Center. I suppose it represents progress, but I miss the Shack, Byron Price Clothiers, Campus Jewelers and Barbershop and Gaebler's Black and Gold that once lined Conley Avenue.

Intercollegiate athletics was not yet big business in the 1950s; accordingly, most players were student athletes and remained in school for four years. As I recall, most who attended the games were students also — and actually knew the players. The MU-KU rivalry was well entrenched, but it was a respectful, respectable competition, unlike the offensive and often vulgar shenanigans seen today.

Finally, thank you for hanging in there with the ramblings of an older but still motivated grad. One day, your remembrance of your Mizzou experience will keep you young or from aging too fast. It is a period of growing up without having to be a grown-up.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Ellis Smith March 9, 2011 | 12:19 p.m.

White bucks! I recall them, and the clothing worn by women at MU, William Woods, Lindenwood, Washington U., SMS, etc. (The other University of Missouri campus at that time had essentially no female students.)

"Entertainment was handy to the campus." Yes it was - at MU. Elsewhere, there was a magnificent array of entertainments - once you'd driven to St. Louis*! I'd like to have the cash value of all motor fuel spent in those days going to and from either St. Louis or Springfield.

Only very recently did our campus get a genuine student union (privately financed). Our 1950s "student union" was a tap room over a bowling alley. There was no complaining, because the upside was that the facility wasn't on university property. :)

One thing hasn't changed: athletic events had minor (Miner?) importance in the 1950s and still have minor importance. Floating the Meramec, Current, Gasconade and Big Piney rivers is where it's at!

*- Obviously to view the zoo and the art centre - never the Saturady midnight performances at the Grand burlesque theater.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble March 9, 2011 | 4:47 p.m.

"It is a period of growing up without having to be a grown-up."

Very well said!

Change only seems to accelerate on campus - it seems as though campus has been one continuous construction zone since I graduated. Perhaps that will start tapering off, to allow students memories that don't involve parked bulldozers and orange-plastic fencing.

We're fortunate to have such a community cornerstone that is tied to education - it does tend to keep a community youthful and energized. And somewhat perplexed, too.

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