Of late, Hannah has been into “death cleaning.” It’s a Swedish concept for seniors to get rid of all the crap that they have accumulated over the years, so their children don’t have to do it when dear ole mom and dad cash in their chips. By the way, she has renamed it as “deep cleaning.”
During the process, Hannah asks if I still want my College of Wooster letterman’s jacket that she thinks is in the upstairs bedroom closet. Turns out we gave it away a while back, but its significance is not lost on me during an impressionable time in my life. Let me explain.
I hated the College of Wooster, which I entered as a freshman in the fall of 1966.
In no particular order, I hated the cold, damp, rainy, snowy, windy Ohio weather from September through May; as an aimless kid, without a clue what the hell I was doing in college, I floundered; the pointlessness and dead-ended-ness of majoring in political science didn’t inspire me; I was a passive receptacle in my lecture-oriented classes, obediently taking notes and barfing them back on the tests; I was just a 20 year old going through the motions because that’s what this son of college grads did; all the while listening to so much Mamas and Papas that my head and soul were filled with California Dreamin’ and escape from the Buckeye State.
Every spring, I wanted to transfer, and finally did, to Arizona State University after my junior year.
To clarify, this situation is all on me. I wasn’t mature enough to make the necessary choices and just wallowed in blaming the institution and my circumstances. That said, I did have my moments at Woo.
Of the three best things that happened to me at the College of Wooster, being a part of the tennis team was #2. I loved being one of the guys. And that’s the connection to my letterman’s jacket.
When I was applying to colleges as a high school senior, my sole criteria for a school was whether I could make the tennis team. Tennis was my claim to high school fame and I wanted to continue to serve and volley in college. Back in the day, the College of Wooster was a small school (Division III now) of 1500 students. Making the tennis team seemed plausible.
Turns out I was selected for the team. As one of three freshmen to make the team that had six singles and three doubles teams, I played #4 singles. I fashioned more wins than losses that first year, but mostly I loved just belonging.
With another freshman, Larry Lindberg (#3), I played the backhand side of the #1 doubles team. The top teams (Dennison, Wittenberg, and Oberlin) beat us like an old rug, but we held our own v. Muskingum, Baldwin-Wallace, and Hiram.
Our team had training meals before matches in the basement of Kenarden Hall. Always steak, with a side of potatoes, peas, and rolls with honey. In the spring of 1967, carbo loading was not a thing yet.
On away matches, we ate early at Wooster, then traveled to another campus in the Ohio Athletic Conference and bonded in the three-seater station wagon the college provided.
Our coach, the Dutchman, Al Van Wie, had a peculiar bit of post-match behavioral modification for us. If we won, which he associated with us playing well, we went out to for a nice meal at TJs in downtown Wooster. If we lost, we got fast food burgers.
As athletes around the world know, better players can often bring out the best in one’s game, though one still might lose. And often we as a team played better v. Dennison or Oberlin and played down to the weaker teams like Hiram. Still, that calculation was lost on the Dutchman and the pattern of post-match meals never changed.
At the end of the year at the tennis awards ceremony, any player making the team for the first time and playing more than half the matches, which I had, would earn a black with tan leather sleeve letterman’s jacket, similar to what the football and basketball players wore.
Back in the day, this was about as cool as it got. Once I had my letterman’s jacket, I was so damn proud but never so delusional that chicks would be flocking my way.
Throughout all the moves I’ve made around the country to Arizona to California back to Arizona, then to New Hampshire and to our current home in Maine, I always kept my Wooster letterman’s jacket. It never really fit and within years of earning it became out of style. Even so the accomplishment of earning it meant so much that I couldn’t let it go.
So, College of Wooster wasn’t all bad. By the way, you might be wondering what were #1 and #3 of the best things about my three dismal years there in Ohio.
#3 was my college roommate during my sophomore and junior years, Jim Francis (Mule). As my best friend during those Ohio years, he taught me a valuable lesson in life that I live to this day.
When I would come back from a date with Hannah Kraai, a drop dead beautiful women’s tennis player, with cookies or brownies that she had made for me, I would just keep them to myself, though I shared a dorm room the size of a walk-in closet with Mule.
Soon, he had enough of my crap and said how it’d be nice if I shared them with him. I honestly didn’t think about sharing them with him. I was so embarrassed; I appreciate his courage to challenge me.
That was the moment that I began my evolution from a scarcity mentality (one of fear of the future so hoarding is necessary) to an abundance mentality (life is filled with good and the more you give the more you get).
By the way, he, too, transferred out of Wooster after our junior year. First to the University of Utah (he as an Idaho boy), and then for the second semester of our senior year to Arizona State where we were roommates again.
Numero uno? The one and only Hannah Kraai Rothermel. We dated strongly during our sophomore year, broke up during our junior year; after which I left for the sunshine of the Grand Canyon State with a broken heart. After our 1970 graduation, I taught social studies, science, and Spanish in Anaheim, California while she taught elementary physical education in Pittsford, New York, within a few miles of her childhood home of Fairport.
Fortunately, in the fall of 1971, she moved to Arizona to see if we had any magic left. Turns out we did, and we married on July 1, 1972.
And for that reason, I have a very warm spot for the College of Wooster.