Hanging Out in Rockford: A personal journey—part five

After I had worked at RC for a period of a couple of years, I was doing well enough that I had accumulated some cash. The idea that I still owed Beloit College a good deal of money weighed heavily on my mind. I wanted to start repayment, even though I knew I would probably never be able to complete my Beloit education. It was just the way I was raised; it was a debt, and it had to be paid.

I made an appointment with the financial manager of the college, a man whose name I cannot even remember now, but someone I should because his kindness was pivotal in my life. He was amazed that I came in with a check. He never expected to see any portion of the money I owed the college. He asked me if I wanted to finish school. He remarked that I had a lot more going for me than many of the students they had enrolled. I was thrilled and set about planning to go back to school.

To be able to finish my education, I would need a part-time gig. I applied for one of the head resident positions, running a dormitory; these included room and board, and would make life a lot easier. But the position was filled by someone else. So Robin, Drew and I found an apartment on the first floor of an old house on Park Street next to the Gerry’s hamburger restaurant. We had some interesting upstairs neighbors.

The first day I met Gordy Neese, he was wearing a torn Budweiser T-shirt and standing in the stairway that led to the upstairs apartment. He wondered if I could help him turn on the gas so that he could take a shower. He had called the gas company, but they wouldn’t be able to come out for a couple of days. We went into the basement and found the gas valve. It was sealed by the gas company. Naturally, we broke the seal, but then we broke the valve, too. Gas was rolling out into the basement. Hastily, we stuffed the hole with a wet rag and called the gas company. They came right out. In a very short time, Gordy was enjoying his shower. I don’t think they ever did anything to us for the problem we caused.

We invited the kids from upstairs to dinner. There was Gordy, his brother Chris and Chris’s girlfriend. I can’t remember her name, but I remember she was very beautiful. Robin made pasta according to her mother’s recipe. They were knocked out. A few days later, I was lying on the couch under the lone air conditioner, having just returned from running my Saturday route. There was a knock on the door. I jumped up and ran into the other room while Robin answered the door. The deliveryman entered the room with one of the largest floral bouquets either of us had ever seen. It was of a massive size only seen usually at funerals. The card read simply, “Thanks for the great dinner.”

We followed the antics of our neighbors with great interest. They always seemed to be spending money. Everyone had a motorcycle, either a Triumph or a BSA. On the weekends, they would buy expensive toys or games to amuse themselves. They seemed to be very rich, but they never let on. This was where I first smoked grass. This was where I first heard Led Zeppelin. Our neighbors turned out to be the inheritors of the Neese fortune. The Neese family owned the Beloit Corporation, at the time the largest closed corporation in the United States.

Then it came time to start school. At the last minute, the person who was supposed to be the head resident in North Dormitory dropped out. I was offered the job. This was terribly exciting as it ended all my financial worries. I took over North Dorm, the same dorm I had lived in when I first attended Beloit. I was on my way to completing my college education. I was about as happy as I had ever been in my life.

Having been a Beloit dorm student and having spent some time in the real world gave me an edge when it came to being a head resident. The college had been having a problem with damage in the dormitories. So much so that entire dormitories had to be refurbished every few years. Damage totals were accumulated for each of the dorms. They ran to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. I was determined that my dorm would not go down the same path.

The first semester, my dorm was all men. I called a meeting to talk about the damage situation. I told everyone that if I caught him doing damage to the dorm, I would not call the dean or their parents, I would call the Beloit Police Department. I later heard that the dean who accompanied me at this meeting was horrified. You simply did not talk to Beloit students in this manner. After two semesters, my dorm had no damage except for someone having stuck a ski pole through the ceiling. Haven Hall, just one dormitory south, had more than $50,000 in destruction. The dean in question re-evaluated his position.

More next week.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com, and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!