Tuesday, October 28, 2003


How to find a roommate who doesn’t speak Spanish

My first visit to the University of Illinois was to attend an ROTC dance with my high school boyfriend, who was an engineering student there. I doubt that he noticed, but I wore the same formal I had worn to the Christmas dance when we were junior and senior in high school. Neither of us knew how to dance, as I recall.

I stayed at the sorority house of a high school friend for the week-end. I think she and her housemates were the first to tell me about the dorm where I would live when I transferred to Illinois. They had lived there before pledging. My relationship with the boyfriend ended before I got to school in the fall of 1958, but I thoroughly enjoyed my years at McKinley Hall.

McKinley Hall was a conveniently located, independent (not Greek, not owned by the university) women’s dorm on Wright Street, one of the main streets through that campus on the Champaign side. It was owned by the YWCA and was named for Hannah McKinley, mother of an Illinois politician and businessman, William Brown McKinley. It was built in 1913 and counting the walk-out basement, had four floors. Our dining room was in the basement, the main floor was the offices for the Y, a lounge with comfortable furniture and a fireplace, a sun porch, and a large activity room where we had our house activities like parties and dances. The girls’ rooms were on the second and third floors.

McKinley Hall was a block from Green Street where the bookstores, restaurants, and pharmacies bustled. It was across from Altgeld Hall, which many years before had been the law school and former library and from which the chimes were rung every quarter hour. Also on the same side of the street were the offices of the Daily Illini.

Mrs. Stone, the housemother, arranged for me to have a roommate from South America when I told her on my interview I had studied Spanish. Dora was born in China and raised in Brazil, so she spoke Shanghainese, as I recall, and Portuguese. However, it was a great match and our years together provide precious memories. Today she is a successful artist in Boston and a new grandmother. I have a whole scrapbook of her Christmas cards collected over the last 40 years. I haven’t seen her since 1989, but when I do, it will be like she just walked down the hall for a few minutes.

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