Go back in time 50 years. Elvis Presley is on the radio. And Carson Hall is built on the University campus.
Fifty years later, in 2009, 24 University students are working as part of the maintenance crew renovating the residence halls, with half of the students working on Carson Hall. This summer, those students got a taste of the building’s past when they found remnants of the lives of previous residents - photographs, Christmas cards, meal tickets and notes between friends, fallen behind the old desks and cabinets they were there to remove.
“The oldest thing we’ve found was a meal ticket from the 1950s,” said Natalie Rombach, crew leader of the students who uncovered the documents. This is Rombach’s third summer working for University Facilities Services and her second year refurbishing the 50-year-old building. This year the student crew is working on the fourth floor.
The five-story brick building was built as a $6 million post-war building program. Work on the design began in 1945 and the building was finished in January of 1949. The first-year residents experienced the new residence hall in the 1949-50 academic year.
Other interesting finds include a resident assistant’s identity card from the early ’80s, a weathered report card from a time when student identification numbers started with 543, and countless personal notes between friends – all tidbits of the lives of hall friendships that most University students can relate to.
“It’s kind of weird just because they were talking just like kids do now, just no e-mails,” Taylor Tomlin, a sophomore student worker, said. Tomlin was surprised to find that students were similar to him. The letters contained “no ‘groovies,’ no ‘way cools.’ I almost feel bad taking down everything. So many people have experienced this furniture.”
One of the students’ favorite finds was a letter written in 1976 that was both a Christmas greeting and a Dear John letter. “The gist of it was, ‘Merry Christmas, I ran off with my deadbeat boyfriend,'” Tomlin said. “That still happens; we all know that feeling.”
“From my perspective, these are someone else’s memories,” said Danny Baxter, a finish carpenter who teaches the students to build some of the replacement furniture pieces. “That’s somebody else’s life from the past.”
He admits that they rarely find anything too personal. The treasures he finds in his work are the students who he works with throughout the years. “The human interest story isn’t what they’re finding, this invisible history. It’s the students that come in to fix (the dorms),” he said.
“The most interesting thing I’ve found is a church pamphlet from 1964 advocating Civil Rights,” Rombach said. “It said, ‘Racism is a sin, we’re all guilty of it,’ which we all thought was really cool.” Finding tidbits of the historical events previous University students experienced throughout her workday is a rewarding experience for Rombach. Notes from a pre-medical class the University no longer offers and plane tickets and phone bills with prices that are significantly lower than the market now charges are just among the daily blast from the past that Rombach experiences. “It’s cool to see how things have changed,” she said.
In summer 2008 the student crew worked on the fifth floor (the top floor), and this year the fourth floor is getting the makeover. “Last year we put some newspapers from the day we finished our work behind one of the desks,” Rombach said. The crew signed their names on a Register-Guard, Daily Emerald and Eugene Weekly. “We did it thinking someday somebody else is going to do what we’re doing,” Rombach said with a smile.
With a few returnees this year, Rombach anticipates that this year they will do the same, leaving future generations of Carson residents an opportunity to have a glimpse into the lives of present University students.