Skip to main content


First, when I entered the Department I, along with Dick Cramer, was assigned to a suite of rooms on the 3rd floor (I believe).  It had an outer section plus 2-3 rooms leading from it where Dick and I were housed. The outer portion had cabinets along at least one wall (to the left? as you entered) and on top of them were old copies of a rural sociology newsletter which, I believe, had formerly been distributed from the Dept.  On top of them was a layer of dust.  Also in the room was an old manual typewriter.  And with the typewriter came a “secretary” (name unremembered) who was very old and quite frail.  She was able to hunt-and-peck out a letter—within a week or so.  One wondered why she was not retired and collecting Social Security.  I think during the first year of my arrival, the University painted—sprucing up—(parts of?) the Alumni Building (wasn’t that the name of the Soc-Dept building?).  This resulted in our “secretary” coming to work with a paper bag over her head (I kid you not) to protect her from the paint fumes.  (Being bothered by the fumes was understandable, but a paper bag?!).  As I recall (I cannot vouch for its accuracy), our secretary would not reveal her age and (maybe thereby) had no Social Security to live on so the University could not (or would not) fire/retire her.  So there she was, and there we were.  I think fairly shortly thereafter she did get sick and die.  I’ve wondered what her apartment and life was like.  It’s like stuff you read in novels (Dickens?), but in real life!?  (Maybe “only in Chapel Hill”—just kidding).

Second, and this one is only tangentially related to the Sociology Department in that one day in the Department, maybe because someone pointed it out and informed us, I (we) looked out the window past the planetarium (wasn’t that nearby?) toward the main drag through town (forget name of street) and–WOW!–there was a ball of orange flame engulfing a building (on the South side?—at least the far side) of the street.  Maybe the biggest fire ball I have witnessed in real life (I saw another house go up in flames in Coralville, IA where a family we knew lived).  Was pretty amazing to see.  But the kicker in this Chapel-Hill story is that the disturbed (high?) school girl who set the fire had set another fire at school and LIVED IN THE OTHER HALF OF THE DUPLEX IN WHICH MERI AND I AND OUR KIDS LIVED AT THAT TIME!  Somehow I don’t remember being very nervous about that fact because we didn’t learn about the fire’s cause until later than immediately after the event. (Of course, the girl’s family continued to live with her in our duplex.  If they felt safe, maybe we figured we should too.)

I remember the civil-rights marches and our picketing the motel with its “whites only” sign.

Also, the rhododendron flowers in the Spring.

Speaking of civil rights, I recently saw a special on TV about the North Carolina Ku Klux Klan and maybe I should have been more scared/upset/outraged than I remembered being at the time.  This helps me understand why my father left the South and remained somewhat estranged from his Southern roots for the rest of his life—we had limited contact with our Southern relations (a second cousin—I think that’s how you would describe the relationship—went to UNC while I was there).

After many years on the faculty at the University of Iowa (with a stint as Sociology Department chair) my wife, Meri, and I have retired to suburban Minneapolis, where one of our daughters lives with her family.  Our other daughter lives in Brooklyn, and our son, Greg, who lives in Massachusetts, goes down sometimes to the Research Triangle for meetings held there by the company he works for..  Recently, I guess they have taken to teleconferencing so he may not be traveling there as much as in the past.

submitted August 2016