Letter to the Editor – A long-awaited return to campus

Al Howard, UWO class of '84

A couple of weeks ago while on a visit to Milwaukee from Orlando, Florida, I had an urge to drive another 90 miles north back to my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. I had been there in recent years, but not to spend time actually walking the campus. On this day trip I was accompanied by my life long friend and fraternity brother, Jay Johnson. Like myself, Jay attended and graduated from UWO; Jay the Class of ‘83, and I the class of ‘84.

We parked our car in the parking lot across from Reeve Memorial Union and proceeded to our first stop, the Multi-Educational Center, where we met for the first time Dr. Carlos Salazar, the center’s director. Dr. Salazar greeted us with open arms as we proudly announced that we were back for the classes of ‘83 & ‘84. He shared his vision for the center and assured us that he intended to keep the welfare and history of minorities on the UWO Campus moving forward. The MEC is a place that Jay and I had spent a considerable amount of time at during our college days, as it was a well utilized meeting place back in the day for social events, fraternity meetings, choir rehearsals, and the hosting of celebrity campus visits; U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young.

Jay and I proceeded down Algoma Boulevard like we had both done so many times before going to class. The Pollock House, the free clinic, and onto Dempsey Hall. My very first recollection of the UWO campus was going into Dempsey Hall with my parents back in 1978 to sign up for classes and to settle financial aid matters. I clearly remember asking myself how the $2,500 per semester tuition was going to be paid if this financial aid package didn’t come through. Fortunately, my parents were able to co-sign for a $1200 Student Loan to get me through that first year, after which our agreement was that I’d get a job and claim myself as an independent student. With God’s grace, things went as planned and I left UWO after 5 years with about $10,000 in student loans which I was able to off without adding any further burden onto my parents.

After Jay and I walked through Dempsey Hall we walked down to the Arts & Communications Building and made our way back down Elmwood boulevard to Polk Library where we spent some time. From the library we went into Reeve Memorial Union where we had spent many socially satisfying hours. Back in the day, the Union, like I’m sure it still is today, was the Mecca of the campus. Although we didn’t have all of the amenities that students have available to them today, the union was the place to be! Room 221 was where the African-American fraternities, sororities, and social clubs threw their parties. Thursday nights were party nights for our fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, the Ques, the Kappas, the Deltas and the Sigma Gamma Rhos. Thursday was the chosen party night as a vast number of African-American students would either go home for the weekends, or would kick-back into our own social settings over the weekend, or frequent off campus party settings in either Appleton or Green Bay. I would say that all the university has done to Reeve Memorial Union is great, but it isn’t anything like it used to be. We had a lot of fun there, solidified life long bonds there, and utilized it as our safe haven in the middle of our newfound campus world.

College days swiftly passed… Jay & I enjoyed the nostalgia of going back to a place which allowed us the time and freedom of growth. It’s been 43 years since we set foot on the campus of UWO, and it was good to see that overall things have remained the same. I’m confident if we’re blessed to visit our university in another 25 years that the only thing that will have surely changed is that our walk down to the Arts & Communications Building and back down Elmwood Boulevard will take much longer than it did on this visit. Keep up the great work!