What hath time wrought?

It’s 1961, and I’m the new student getting the Port Huron Junior College tour by one Daniel Yakes, the sophomore who sort of adopted me, became my student mentor, and one of my best friends.  He even shared his locker with me, as I subsequently did with his sister the next year.

We weren’t St. Clair County Community College yet. That didn’t happen until the first semester I was a full time teacher at PHJC in 1967, when the voters approved a millage for a CC district and we became SC4. I even have the lay-off letter from the PHSD to prove it since none of the SC4 faculty worked for them anymore.

Tom Obee photo credit Twana Pinskey

Erie Square Gazette alumni Tom Obee addresses new inductees at the PTK Fall 2010 induction. Photo credit Twana Pinskey

The walls of the MB were pretty much lined with lockers (until the building was completely rebuilt internally in 1980-82 and came to look pretty much as it does now). After all, it was an old high school building..

The first floor was a basement back then, cluttered with a maze of machines from the old high school’s shop which were now being used by the college. On the far left of the front of the building, where the business department is currently housed, was the chemistry lab in which the infamous iodine incident occurred—caused by the two klutzes in the station behind me who also spilled acid down the back of my pant leg, burning the pants and me.

Most of us who were not in industrial arts programs stayed out of the central hallway as much as possible, since we would otherwise be sprayed with sparks from welding students who didn’t want us liberal arts types soiling their sacred ground. At the NB end of that floor: on the west side was the rather small cafeteria and on the east side was the college book store.

Let’s go up the stairs. No, you can’t take the elevator, at least not without a time machine. The second floor—now the administrative/conference room/Public Relations/Alumni Relations, etc., floor. Starting again at the east end of the building, Dean Browning’s Office is where the President’s Office is today.  We had no president yet.  Off to the left (as you faced the Dean’s Office) was a huge classroom and also the room in which new students were tested and oriented.  It’s now the Vice President of Instruction’s Office area, along with many other offices.

On the right is a copy machine cubby, and further over to the right is another large classroom.  Where Kirk Kramer’s Office is today were two smaller offices, one for the Dean of Men and one for the Dean of Women.  There was a very special man in the Dean of Men’s Office—Dean Chester Aubuchon, now deceased, but one of the great lesser known human beings of all time.  Ask me sometime what and his “out-of-pocket” scholarships meant to me and to worthy, needy students.

The second floor was really the main floor, with classrooms from one end to the other and the hallway lined with the ubiquitous lockers.  Funny story:  when I first came back as a faculty member, I was a smoker, and smoking was (gasp) allowed in the building.  I had a cigarette dangling—I’d like to think a la’ James Dean, but that’s pure fantasy—as I walked into the Faculty Men’s Room, and promptly was informed by (now) wonderful friend Prof. Bob Tansky that students were not allowed in the faculty men’s room, as he looked disapprovingly at the cigarette. Besides classrooms, the floor had many faculty offices including those of philosophy teacher Grace Donaldson and French Teacher Madame Koshay. On the east end along the hallway wall were the biology labs.

The third floor had men’s and ladies’ rooms on the NB side of the building (which are now part of 308MB and the elevator).  There were classrooms on the east side and the library on the west side. The library took all of the west side a good way past the “curve.” I worked there for 70 cents an hour until my sophomore year when I got a big raise to 75 cents.

But 75 cents would buy a great meal at Diana’s downtown.   You don’t know what you’re missing. It sure beat the food-poisoning pits I usually could afford. In the middle of that floor after the curve was a huge room – now mostly the Speech room and the classroom on the other side of the hall – called the “multi-purpose room” where registration took place and students congregated during the semester—it was sort of the student entertainment center where euchre tournaments were constantly ongoing.  Not poker. No one could afford that!

Past the multi-purpose room, you see more classrooms and offices of famous professors:  Elwin Hartwig (history), Alton Reeves (Engllish), Fred Adolph (political science), and many others. For me in my sophomore year, the centerpiece of that floor was straight ahead in what is now the third floor lounge:  the office of the Jay-Cee, one of the earliest incarnations of the now famous Erie Square Gazette.

I inhabited that office (crowded as it was) for most of 1962-63, co-editing with John Crist.  He did layouts and some writing.  I did editorials, news stories,  and a humor column called “Clyde Flakebrain,” mostly stolen (well, I really did have permission) from the young man who created the character, and who gave me that tour the first few days and who was now at WMU. Clyde was based on a real human being, a fellow student Dan and I both knew quite well.

Now for a tour of the rest of the campus: One old building, a collapsing machine shop which looked the part, was used by the industrial arts folks as well as the Maintenance staff. Most of us never went in it. It was torn down ages ago and replaced with the much bigger AJT about the time I came back as a teacher. A street runs from the end of River St. by the west side of the building, and intersects Erie St. just before the bridge. Just to the northwest side of the MB and across that street, right about where the gates to the Theisen parking lot are now, was a fabulous hamburger joint. The food was cheap and not too inedible.

Across the east side of Erie was a church, a Maytag store, and a couple other buildings where the parking lot now is.

Okay, that’s it.  Oh, you want more—the NB, the CEM, etc?  Sorry, foolish you.  The North Building was then St. Steven’s School. The crosses are still on the building. And where the CEM now is was a beautiful Catholic Church. Beyond them to the north were streets (Willow for one) lined with beautiful large old houses where many of us who were from out-of-county roomed. Mrs. Armstrong, bless you, wherever you are.  You took good care of my buddy and me from Sanilac County.  In loco parentis.

Where was I between June of 1963 and February 1 of 1967?  At the University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin.  But it sure felt good to come home again that February in 1967.

Tom Obee

Guest Writer

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