The way dorm room selection worked at my college, rising sophomores got the worst part of the deal. Freshman had spots assigned in designated freshman dorms. Seniors had first pick of what was left, Juniors next, and Sophomores got whatever was left over. Frequently, this meant the rooms actually ran out before every student could get one. That’s what happened to me and my roommate Jim – we got put on a waiting list, told we’d get whatever opened up over the summer.
To make a long story short, we ended up living in the Zerbe Health Center on campus. Two giant patient rooms had been converted into two dorm rooms, four guys in each, to help alleviate the room shortage. There were two singles down the hall as well, so 10 guys total (and an eleventh friend who might as well have lived there). We had to keep things down during the day, but at night we had the run of the building. Wheelchair races up and down the hall were not uncommon. The kitchen was ours to do with as we wanted, too. There we learned valuable lessons like “Don’t put hand soap in the dishwasher.” On the day of meningitis vaccines, when tons of students were tromping through the building, we threw a dorky party. I had better single moments in college, but not a better whole year. We made our own fun, but not without help.
Part of what made “The Ranch” (as we started calling the building) so special were the nurses who worked there. In particular, the head nurse Karen Danielson. Go look at this picture again, I’ve made a note marking her in the background. She treated the ten of us like we were her kids. She was a chef on the side, published a successful cookbook and was more than willing to share her culinary skills with us. Karen even went along with our whims when someone decided deep frying a twinkie would be a good idea. She talked to us when we were down, thrilled as the seniors got jobs and/or engaged, helped pick out outfits for dates (in one case even altering some pants for a guy), watched afternoon tv with us, and of course took care of us when we got sick.
Karen died of a sudden illness on Wednesday. I just found out. Unfortunately I never got back to see her after I graduated. I won’t be able to make it to the funeral, and just wanted to get a few words down. Campus won’t be the same without her.