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Monday, May 2, 2016

Gray Matters: Unreasonably Disappointed

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I was truly surprised one recent morning when my daughter and I drove to Iowa City for an appointment at University Hospitals. I hadn't visited my alma mater for years.

The lovely Hospital Tower is almost totally obscured by the vast new medical facilities. These all but run into the Stadium which I absolutely refuse to enter. As I have often said, I want to keep my freshman recollections of 1939 the magical year Kinnick won the Heismann, untouched by today's reality. Next, I was amazed to find former East Campus schools transferred to the West Side of the river. I realize there wasn't space for Law, Dentistry, and others, to expand in their old locations, but the reality was still a surprise.

I was happy when we turned onto Hawkins Drive, which encircles the stadium. It was named in honor of the late, personable Max Hawkins. Max was a favorite freshman math classmate of mine. His deep-south accent added to his charm. A member of Kinnick's Iron Men, he returned to the University as the long-time Director of the Alumni Association. In this capacity he served as the liaison with the entire state, most particularly as a legislative lobbyist. At the time of his death in 1986, he was recognized as the Quintessential Hawkeye!

After matters were effectively tended to at the hospital, we crossed the Iowa River where again things seemed completely different. Happily, when we turned north on Clinton Street, and drove past the Old Capitol, all looked as it should. Schaeffer and Mac Bride Halls were in place. The buildings, which had held the schools now on the West Campus remained, though I have no idea of their present use. Continuing north on Clinton I remembered several sorority houses and a lovely old church along the way. Newer dorms occupied most of the space up to Currier Hall where I spent my first three years. It has been renovated, but retains much of its original character. The street dead-ends at the president's mansion. Virgil Hancher and his family were the first to live there, settling in the summer before my junior year.

Turning, we went back down N. Dubuque Street, which was very different except for a few delightful memory-filled pockets. The Methodist Church looked just as it did back then. An old house next door had been the Wesley Foundation where a friend and I kept the place clean in exchange for our room rent my senior year. (By the way, I managed to eat well that year on $1 per day.) It had been replaced by a brick structure many years ago so I was familiar with that change.

It took the 'modernization' mandated by the University, plus the devastation of two disasters--a flood and a tornado--to totally rearrange almost all else of downtown Iowa City. There are walking malls, open-air eateries and all sorts of innovations, with only the old City Hall and Court House appearing suddenly as signposts of the past.

The rest of the world has changed dramatically over these many decades so I shouldn't have been so surprised. In discussions with friends, I find I'm not alone. Somehow we seem to expect those pivotal sites from the past to remain just as they are etched in memory, and we are unreasonably disappointed when they don't.