Summer 2013

Life in the past lane

Alumni remember those places they called home

Feature Image
Steve Spirn, left, and Ted Hochstadt lived in the men-only Rafuse Hall in October 1960.

Last fall we invited alumni to tell us about where they lived as students. We received terrific letters from writers who were funny, nostalgic and sometimes surprised
by their own fortitude. Here they are, in order by the writer’s graduation date.

Lincoln Dormitory, Endicott, 1958

My friend and I decided to go bar hopping one day in my 1939 Chevrolet. I imbibed a little too much beer, so I gave my car keys to my friend to drive us back to the men’s dorm, the Lincoln Dormitory, and subsequently I fell asleep in the back seat of the car.

Arriving in Endicott, my friend parked my car in front of James Dormitory. The college had a strict rule applying to James Dormitory. No men were allowed into the dorm after a certain hour, and it was past the deadline for male visitors. I don’t remember the hour, except that it was early in the evening. The object of this rule was to protect the virtue of the young women, which was in line with the moral standards of the time.

Leaving me asleep in the car, he walked up to the dorm. He opened the front door of James and took a few steps inside, shouted something to amuse the girls and make them laugh, then turned around and left.

Somehow word of this incident got back to the dean, and he expelled my friend for violation of the rule. He also expelled me for aiding and abetting. My father immediately drove to Harpur and gained an audience with the president (Dr. Glenn Bartle). His plea for my reinstatement fell on deaf ears. My friend’s father also arrived and was received by the president. However, he surprised the president by acknowledging his son’s error in judgment and asking for reconsideration of my situation. This unselfishness so touched the president that he reinstated both of us.

–George Kostenbader ’58 (who admits he had a well-deserved reputation as a prankster)

Rafuse Hall, on campus, 1960

The photo, above, of Harpur College freshmen Steve Spirn (left) and Ted Hochstadt (right) were taken in (men-only) Rafuse Hall in October 1960. This student housing was not timeworn and definitely not luxurious. There were no communications devices (i.e., landline telephones) in the room, and our portable typewriters were manual, not electric. In the following autumn there were three persons living in that tiny room because of the delay in the construction of new residence halls.

–Ted Hochstadt ’64

Behind Broome Hall, campus, 1967

My former roommate, Dave Cohen (no relation) seemed to live in a world out of the latter half of the 19th century. Our dormitory room was filled with antiques as well as with his drawings (he was a fine arts major).

Judy was a photographer in her own right, but a fellow named Fisher arranged the photo. It was only a few months after the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album was released, which had us all mesmerized and focused on the surreal. This had some influence on us, as can be seen in the photo.

Judy was a Fellini film person and thought the Edison-phone horns would add that aspect to the photo. The broken umbrella was Dave’s. Dave and I had just completed three consecutive trimesters from July 1966 until June 1967, and we were completely exhausted, as is clearly evidenced by our expressionless faces.

Interestingly, while this was the era of the so-called “drug culture,” I can honestly say that none us were “drug people,” and drugs played no part in creating this photo.  I have the original 8x10 photo, which was framed by Judy’s mother. 

–Larry Cohen ’70

Crandall Street, Binghamton, 1970

In my senior year, my roommate and I decided to live off campus. We were both sheltered females from the New York City area.The first semester, fall 1970, she found an apartment in Endicott, which was quite nice. However, neither of us could drive a car, and public transportation took a long time. Often, we hitched, which is dangerous.

Foolishly, I thought we could find a place in Binghamton that was closer to campus. We did, but what a place! The three-story, crumbling old house on Crandall Street was rented out by what college students affectionately referred to as the “slumlord.”

I used to let five stray dogs walk with me to the bus stop, where they made frequent stops along the way to raid garbage cans.  It was a very cold winter, and I had a collection of wool hats that I used to wear.  I was known in the neighborhood as the college girl with all the hats who walked the stray dogs.

It was an experience I have never forgotten and can recall vividly to this day.

–Elaine Corts ’72

159 Conklin Ave., Binghamton, 1976

I lived at 159 Conklin Ave., Binghamton, my senior year, with Kathleen Valentine ’77, School of Nursing, and Ellen Flynn ’76, Harpur College. Kathy and Ellen had lived there as juniors, and I was returning from a year abroad in France and a summer working in Switzerland. My friends took me in as one might a stray cat, as I had no other place to live, and Kathy kindly agreed to share her bedroom.

This was an amazing apartment. We had two bedrooms, two living rooms, a sun porch and access to the roof. It was conveniently located above two bars and a liquor store overlooking the Rockbottom Dam. My share of the rent, including utilities, was $49.33, a bargain never to be experienced again in my lifetime. The only downside included bar fights in our parking lot almost every Saturday night about 2 in the morning.

The linoleum was cracked down to the floor, the floors were worn and, looking back, the apartment must have been a mess. Maybe the neighborhood was a little seedy. But we relished the space and, to us, it was a wonderful place to live for senior year.

–Stephanie Klein ’76

Stella Ireland Road, Johnson City, 1975

In the summer of ’75, I picked up eight credits in anthropology when I joined up with an archaeology expedition to Show Low, Ariz., to survey the scenes of past civilizations. After returning to Binghamton to complete the compulsory lab work, I hitchhiked back across the country to visit a friend in the Big Sur campground. When late August arrived, the inevitable return to Binghamton loomed anticlimactic, but I returned.

Six of us staked a homestead claim at a dilapidated farmhouse on Stella Ireland Road — not too far from campus, but in another reality. The place was only a foothill away from the then-spanking new and modern Oakdale Mall. Nearby, a Greek Orthodox church’s spires stood sentinel over the valley.

There were Michael Rubin, Scott Moroff, Mike Garone, Jean Costa and me. Later on, there was Lisa Davis, Alison Sass and Barry Rosenwasser. Call us what you want —hippies, wannabees, homesteaders, rebels; we were definitely not on the OCC bus route. In the glory of golden autumn days, we went to campus in Dodge Darts, and by our wits returned home to our Woodstockesque lifestyle.

There were white German shepherds breeding, there were horses boarding in the barn/garage, there was a tired old goat tied to a cinder block in the dusty field. There were bean sprouts and goat cheese and once, Lynn Rosenblatt and I rode the horses over the hill and tied up at Pizza Hut while we got lunch. There were fences mended and hikes up the hill. There were field mice and late nights and some fights. We donned bandanas and carpenter pants and cooked organic and danced Afro-Caribbean welcomes in the run-down living spaces.

In the background was SUNY Binghamton — that semester I took yoga, Zen and Sufi mysticism; Indians and other Americans; James Joyce; women’s history and a gym class called Running to Awareness.

I’m still running to awareness, 35 years after graduation in 1977. I’m still studying cultures, religions and people. I’m still trying to get back to the land to set my soul free.

That time at Stella Ireland Road was post-1960s but it felt like we were right in the middle of it. Were we iconic? Back then, it just felt like fun and freedom and camaraderie and independence. There, in the fall of 1975, we staked our claims to off-campus life for the first time. That’s where we practiced living with the other people, getting to and from campus before the snow got too deep, and balancing responsibility and recreation.

Every morning, when I walk into my kitchen in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., and pour the boiling water into the French press, I remember coffee dripping through the unbleached cloth filter into the Mason jar in the kitchen on Stella Ireland Road back in the day. Sometimes, if I put on Bob Marley or Bob Dylan, I’m right back there, in my first off-campus home, in the kitchen in the farmhouse, getting ready to make my way to the Library Tower and the lecture halls and the Student Union.

I’ve driven by there in recent years — with my husband and daughters on the way to Ithaca — and the place was deserted, but still standing. Last summer, it had a “condemned” sign on it. Condemned to the past, but forever present in the music and the memories of that time back then.

–Judy Plotkin ’77

Thorp Street, Binghamton, 1979-80

For our senior year, Annie Kniffin (Savchak), Ruth Katz (Stromberg), Meryl Cohen (Rothenberg), June Lieblich (Kaplan) and I, all class of 1980, decided we were going to live off campus. Half the experience was finding a place. We were amazed at what passed as student apartments in the late ’70s. Many of these places were converted from small, older homes and then made into one or two apartments. I think the most bizarre place we saw had converted one of the front rooms (where the front doorway had been) into an extra bedroom, thereby necessitating the primary entrance to be reached by walking through the bathroom, no lie! The person showing us the place told us that our guests would never need to ask where the bathroom was!

Our neighborhood and house on Thorp Street (on the south side of Binghamton) certainly had character. We used to say we lived on the wrong side of Main Street but the right side of the tracks. Problem was, those train tracks were way too close to our humble little home, just the other side of our back yard. The freight trains usually came by at night, just as you were about to fall asleep. Needless to say the back bedrooms always shook when a train came by. 

Moving in was a whole other experience. Since the previous group of students who occupied our apartment did not major in cleanliness, we had our work cut out for us. As I needed to do a summer internship, our move-in was soon after the end of junior year. Our summer tenants, Annie, Judy Gridley and myself, were the first to confront the mess. I still remember the look on my mother’s face as she dropped me off at my “new place.” She later told me she cried on the way home because I was moving into such a dump.

Apparently Annie’s mom told her she never would have let her move off campus had she also seen the place. We literally spent the entire first weekend throwing things out, cleaning and scouring. I’ll spare one the details about the state of some of the old remaining furniture, but some of it was promptly put out by the front curb, only to be picked up by our less-than-discriminating neighbors a couple of hours later. 

We did keep one quirky item though. It was a portrait we affectionately called Ma and Pa Thorp, sort of a take on the American Gothic portrait, à la Southern Tier style.  It had its place of honor hanging in our living room (that’s June and Ruth with Ma and Pa in the photo.) 

We also befriended a very charming elderly couple down the block who told us many stories of the neighborhood’s history and kept an eye out for us. Learning to deal with landlords, shop, cook and fend for ourselves — these were all experiences we would never have had if we stayed in the dorms. It helped shape our character as well as made us grow up.

The year we lived on Thorp Street was full of many experiences — a “peeping tom” (looking through our living room window), biker guys who crashed one of our parties, late-night girl talks while devouring ice cream or cake (long after the boys had left). All in all, many good memories and solidified friendships that continue to this day, more than 30 years later. 

–Heidi Laska Butcher ’80

Champlain Hall, on campus, 1979–80

I lived in Dickinson’s Champlain Hall in 1979 and 1980, on first-floor north. A fellow resident was given permission to paint replicas of record-album cover art on the hallway walls. Each album cover spanned the wall from one door to the next, from floor to ceiling. I remember cover art of Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Godspell. In all, there were about 10 covers. Alas, I have no photos and I believe they were painted over sometime in the later 1980s. 

Those of us who lived among the record covers were a fun, close, creative band of friends who were happy and proud to reside on such a beautifully painted hallway. We included a number of guitarists, pianists and singers, and live music was often heard emanating from the rooms. And the sight of us all after a particularly muddy game of intramural football was truly jaw-dropping. Fond memories!

–Peter Gorobetz ’81

191 Corliss Ave., Johnson City, 1982

Google “no building codes” and 191 Corliss Ave., Johnson City, should pop up first.

You can’t make this up: The fire escape was wooden. When the dirt-floor basement flooded, the landlord’s comment was, “Boys, you have the first indoor swimming pool in Johnson City — and I’m not going to raise your rent.”

The original structure was divided into three residences: left, right and above, where an outdoor staircase saw the comings and goings of a family so large we never really could pin down a number. 

The grade in the back yard came up to the kitchen widow.

When we graduated and asked whether we should return the furniture to its original layout, the landlord wisely said, “No, put it on the curb where it belongs!” In the picture are Effie, Judy and Jay.

We returned about five years ago to show our boys the notorious 191 Corliss, but there between No. 189 and No. 193 was nothing but a vacant lot. Guess either nature or the building department finally razed our beloved home, leaving us nothing but the memories.

–Judy Klein ’82

The Colonial, Vestal, 1988

My most memorable experience while at “SUNY-Binghamton” was rooming in the Colonial Inn off-campus housing in 1988. Colonial Community was next to the Sugarman’s Plaza on the Vestal Parkway and was demolished a few years after I left.

Colonial was for transfer students only. A former motel with carpeted, key-in rooms, there was no central hallway to meet people and no cooking units. You had to walk, drive or take a bus to campus for the dining halls.

I lived in the only quad there — a large, carpeted room with a bathroom — with three other guys (four counting a near live-in friend!). I was a junior majoring in chemistry, and my roommates were sophomores majoring in either government or computer science. I ended up dropping one of my hardest classes to have fun like them during my first semester away from home, which meant sleeping through what would have been my 8 a.m. class!

This was not to be! A cleaning lady came in every Tuesday (Thursday, too?) at 8 a.m. while we were still sleeping. She quietly cleaned the bathroom first, then started vacuuming! While we were sleeping! We were too young to protest this to anyone, even each other, probably because we were used to mom doing it at home. I never did figure out why this housing complex had someone clean the rooms so early in the morning because Dickinson (Whitney Hall) didn’t, and neither did Hayes, to my knowledge. Everyone at both cleaned their own rooms. 

Colonial was terribly inconvenient on multiple levels, and I was glad to move to Dickinson that spring. I never understood those morning cleanings and am glad they’re in the past!

–Glenn Allen Jr. ’90

The Colonial, Vestal, 1989

My roommate and I graduated from SUNY Morrisville in the electrical engineering program. We selected Colonial Community, just not sure why.

Our first night at Colonial, our TV wasn’t working properly. We called the resident assistant (RA), who quickly popped in to confirm. “Yep, the TV doesn’t work.” Of course, I wanted to know why. Her response was simply “welcome to Colonial!”

OK — a little humor on day one. Then came day two. The hot water wasn’t working so we once again called the RA. We said, “There isn’t any hot water either — welcome to Colonial?”  She said, “Yes!”

It only lasted one year.  The washing machines were too close to the outside door (in a separate wash room) and the water lines would freeze in cold weather. So our clothes had plenty of soap embedded even though they were dry!

We transferred to Hayes in our senior year. I couldn’t understand the difference. There was sheltered parking, rooms with a kitchen, living area, bedroom, bath (with warm water). It was like heaven. I could actually do my homework in the room without freezing from cold airing blowing beneath the door!

Now I needed a job to pay for life at Hayes. I enrolled as an escort with the University Police. It was a great job. Lt. Tim Faughnan was a great police officer to work for.
My first call was to escort a student to her residence. I showed up after a long walk to the graduate dorms. Once I located the student who requested an escort, she began walking outside with me — then paused to look around. Her next statement was, “Where is the car?”  I responded, “It’s in the shop, you are stuck with my company!”

I remember visiting Binghamton following graduation and Colonial was a distant memory. However, great memories endure. I loved the academic program in the Watson School. We made great friends and continue to meet each other (our wives, children) 20 years later.

–Paul S. Pinto ’90