When I arrived in Cullowhee in September 1961 to become one of the 500 plus freshmen at Western Carolina College, I could have never guessed that I would still be here 61 years later.
The campus was small with approximately 1,400 students, only five residence halls, and 15 other buildings. The only structure to the west and south of the McKee Building was Reid Gymnasium which was surrounded by open fields and pastureland. There were no WCU
buildings to the west and south of Brown Hall…only private residences, Cullowhee United Methodist Church, and veteran housing that was being demolished to make room for Benton and Albright Halls.
The area where Noble Hall stands today was occupied by the U.S. Post Office, The Town House Restaurant, a barbershop, and a new Laundromat.
The main entrance to campus was on the east side, which is now the Old Cullowhee Road entrance and, in the areas adjacent to the Tuckaseegee River Bridge, there were three groceries stores, three gas stations, a repair garage. two restaurants and a couple of other small businesses.
The total cost for an academic year of attendance was $848 which included tuition, all fees, book rental, residence hall occupancy, weekly laundry service, and a 21-meal plan. If you ate three meals during each day of the academic quarter, your cost was 57 cents per meal.
We were on a three-quarter system with three 10-week sessions. About half the courses required one hour of class attendance Monday through Friday. Most of the other courses required three hours of attendance weekly.
Students could not drive on campus during class hours. Females had to wear traditional dresses in all campus buildings and most males wore collared shirts, long pants (khaki or jeans), socks and shoes (loafers and tennis type). Caps were not to be worn in classrooms except for freshmen who were required to wear an official “beanie” until the Friday night before the homecoming football game. All students, except for those physically handicapped, were required to take a physical education activity course throughout their freshman year.
The five residence halls –Reynolds, Robertson and Buchanan for men, Moore and Madison for women – were managed by “Dorm Mothers” with strict conduct and cleanliness of rooms rules enforced, and no alcoholic beverages were allowed in the buildings.
There were no vending machines in the residence halls and there were only two places on campus to find food after sundown – the College Shop in the Student Union Building and the Town House Restaurant which was where the Subway is today. The Town House was a social center with a jukebox and short-order food. It was famous for its fried pies and honey buns, egg and grilled cheese sandwiches, Yankee Dogs, and fountain drinks.
The Western Carolinian was the major source of campus news and information along with WOWO, the campus radio station,
whose signal was carried to the residence halls through the heating system pipes. In addition, WMSJ Radio in Sylva worked closely with Western to promote activities and notices of events. Notices and messages were posted on the many bulletin boards found in each building. Also, paper flyers were commonly slid under doors in residence halls.
Newspapers were an integral part of most student’s lives in the 60s as most had mail subscriptions to their hometown newspapers and could be seen reading them all around campus. The Asheville Citizen-Times had vending racks in several places on campus and they were usually empty by noon.
Greek life was a visible part of the campus social scene.
Approximately 15% of the undergraduate enrollment in 1961-62was engaged in fraternity and sorority activities.
Entertainment on campus was limited but the administration did provide a variety of opportunities to entertain the student body. It should be noted that television sets were very limited in campus buildings. Each residence hall usually had one TV in its main lobby, and none were allowed in students’ rooms. The offerings on TVs were limited to outlets in Asheville, Greenville, Spartanburg, and Knoxville.
Radio was still a major source of entertainment during the evening hours when students could listen to pop music on one of the clear channel stations like WLS in Chicago.
There was a jukebox and dancing in the Student Union Building after the evening meal was served in Brown. There were also a few pool tables and ping pong tables in the Joyner Building at the campus square.
There was a free movie, relatively current, on the ground floor of Hunter Library each Thursday afternoon and evening. Hoey Auditorium was the site for movies with popcorn and soft drinks each Friday evening.
The administration also sponsored a Lyceum series with a quarterly event in either Reid or Hoey. About half were on the cultural/artsy side and the other half were popular music performances. I remember seeing and hearing Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Della Reese, Linda Ronstadt and Waylon Jennings in Reid in the 60s.
There were a lot of other activities that provided fun and a break from studies like the annual campus talent show which displayed the good, bad and unique talents of our student body. Sadie Hawkins Day, when the girls chased the boys, was another annual event.
And of course, my favorite area of entertainment and school spirit, our athletics teams.
Part II of my remembrances of life in and around Western and Cullowhee will center around athletics on our campus in the 60s.
Steve White is a 1967 graduate of Western Carolina and served nearly 40 years in WCU’s Athletics Department, mainly as Sports Information Director, and is now retired in Cullowhee but still serves his alma mater in several capacities and is the WCU Athletics Historian. He was the Sports Editor of The Western Carolinian as an undergraduate in the early and mid-60s. He is not employed or reimbursed by the Western Carolinian for this article. His opinions are not direct representations of the Western Carolinian or WCU.