Olivet College, Here I Come! (Leaving Highland Park)

Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan

Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan

Today, I rode my bicycle to Olivet College, my alma mater. As I rode through the small campus, I noticed a great amount activity. The students were returning to school. There were parents leaving their students and helping them get organized. As I was observing all this, the thought popped into my head: “This was what I was doing forty years ago!” Soon, the memories started to flow through my mind as I rode the twelve miles back to Charlotte, Michigan.

During my senior year at Highland Park High School, I was trying to decide where I should go to college. I had taken several courses at Highland Park Community College; so I would begin my college experience as a sophomore. After looking at various schools, I chose Olivet College because I really liked its small campus and small town atmosphere. Also, Olivet College was affiliated with the church that I attended which was the Highland Park Congregational Church.

Leaving home would not be easy. I had only been away from family and home for a few days during eighth grade camp at Camp Rankin. I would miss my Mom’s cooking and all the other things that she did to spoil me, including making my bed, and taking care of all of my clothes. Also, I would be leaving all that I had known for the first eighteen years of my life, including friends, the many bike rides through the Detroit Metro area, playing tennis at Ford Park and many other activities.  My life would be changed forever.

The day finally came when Dad would take me on the two-hour trip to Olivet College. We arrived on campus and soon found our way to the third floor of Blair Hall. As I walked into my room, I was surprised by its smallness and great simplicity. The walls were yellow. There was a single bed, a desk and chair, a dresser and a small closet. The heat would come out of an old radiator by the window. This would be home. I had a single room which was nice, but it also made life a bit lonely.

Dad looked at my room and didn’t say much, but I could tell he wasn’t real pleased.  Dad being in his late sixties was a real trooper in helping me bring up all my belongings to the third floor. After we were almost done, my Dad went to the restroom. Upon his return, he seemed quite upset. He told me in an angry tone: “The stalls don’t have any doors on them!.” This fact caused him to lodge a protest with the dorm supervisor, but nothing ever changed during the time that I was at Olivet.

Blair Hall in 2012

Blair Hall in 2012

When Dad left, I was there alone in my small room. I didn’t know a soul at the school. This would be a challenge for me because I wasn’t the most outgoing person in the world.

The school provided us with orientation activities where we would learn about the school, spend an evening with a community family, and play games to help us to get acquainted with one another. My group leader was “Big John”. He had come to school as a football player, but an injury would sideline him.  I didn’t know then, but “Big John” would have a great influence upon my life, even to the point that the following year, he would take me to the very church of which I am now the pastor.

I would soon face many adjustments. One adjustment would be the food. Breakfast was okay because I was quite happy with breakfast cereal and juice. Lunch and dinner were quite challenging. I had to eat food that my mom would never serve us. The food was so bad that the following year, the college had to hire a new food service.

Another great adjustment was my clothes. I would soon learn how to wash my own clothes. I must have walked around with wrinkled clothes because I don’t remember ever doing any ironing.

Of course, dorm life was quite different.  I soon noticed an unfamiliar smell from a room a couple of doors down. It smelled like burnt rubber. I must have been a bit a slow about this because I had never taken drugs, but I soon came to realize that my neighbors were smoking pot.

Another adjustment would be the noise level. I still remember somebody practicing with his electric guitar on full volume almost every day. The main problem was that he  played the same notes over and over again. I can still remember the notes that he played each day. There were stereos blasting away into the night. Sleep sometimes was difficult to find.

When the school year finally started, I soon made some friends. I also became involved with a group called Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. We would meet every Tuesday night. We would sing, share and hear a Bible message. Everything was vague to me. I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a Christian at the time; however, it was a great place to meet other students.

The Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship 1973-74

The Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship 1973-74

As I started my classes, I found myself in a class called Intellectual Traditions. This class was a six-hour class that would cover four semesters. The goal of this class was to study the “Great Books of the Western World”.  My teacher for this class was William Buchanan. He looked the part of a teacher for this class. His longish beard and thick glasses hid the quick mind that he possessed. Mr. Buchanan would guide us in discussions of the “Great Books of the Western World.” The reading for the course was immense. One Christmas break, he made us read War and Peace. Mr. Buchanan had a great knack of helping his students to think deeply about what they were reading. His questions for our class discussions were sometimes vague, but they were always challenging. He would have some classes at his house and he even invited us to his cottage on Lake Michigan for a weekend. Mr. Buchanan would help me to learn to think for myself though I am sure there were times he disagreed with me.

Mr. Buchanan is the teacher in the center.

Mr. Buchanan is the teacher in the center.

When my Dad left me that day forty years ago, I realized that my growing up days in Highland Park were nearly finished.  Yes, I would return home for a couple of summers, but life would never be the same. Highland Park was now in my past. My future was ahead of me. My two years at Olivet College would be life-changing in many ways.

P.S. Please visit my other blog: http://www.markjemilbooth.com.  This is where I share my views about spiritual matters and contemporary issues from a spiritual perspective.

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Playing Tennis in Highland Park

The 1972 Highland Park High School Tennis Team

The 1972 Highland Park High School Tennis Team

Our trip to Epps Sporting Goods would affect my life even today. Dad took me to buy my first tennis racket.  I was about twelve years old and I had decided to learn to play tennis because my older brother played tennis and I wanted to be like him.

Dad checked out the cheap tennis rackets and found one that would fit into his budget.  He didn’t want to buy an expensive racket because he didn’t know if my desire to play tennis was just a passing fancy.  When we arrived home, Dad gave me my first and only tennis lesson.  He took me out in the backyard.  Then, he handed me a tennis ball and told me to keep hitting the tennis ball up in the air. This would get me use to hitting the ball as well as keeping my eye on the ball.  I continued to do this every day.  I began to imagine myself becoming the next Rod Laver.

By the time, I was in eighth grade, I would take my tennis racket to Ford Park and hit the tennis ball off the tennis court wall. The problem was that I would often hit the ball over the wall, which meant I spent more time retrieving my ball than hitting it.  Eventually, I could hit the ball with some regularity. Now I was ready to hit with anybody who was willing to hit with a young person who had a great desire to play tennis, but not much ability.

One man, who took a special interest in me was Ed.  He was a man in his late fifties or early sixties.  I was always excited to see his large white Chrysler park in the alley behind the tennis courts.  Ed patiently would hit with me, which soon gave me some confidence in playing tennis. There were others who hit with me because I was never shy to ask anybody who didn’t have a tennis partner to hit with me.

My getting ready to go play tennis at Ford in 1969.  Notice the Highland Park Recreation Baseball T-shirt.  I played in Class F for the Royals.

Getting ready to go play tennis at Ford in 1969. Notice the Highland Park Recreation Baseball T-shirt. I played in Class F for the Royals.

My first experience of playing organized tennis was in ninth grade when I played on the
U of D High School tennis team.  I definitely was the low man on the totem pole, but going to the practices and hitting with others helped my game. My coach once encouraged me by saying the my serve was so slow that he could catch it with his bare hand. However, I wasn’t going to quit. I was determined to succeed in tennis.

In tenth grade, I was back at Highland Park High School, and I joined the tennis team.  Tennis was not an important sport at the school; so I became the number one singles player in my junior and senior year.  This may sound impressive, but when we played schools like Grosse Pointe South, it meant that if I won a game or two, I was doing well.

There were perks to playing on the tennis team.  At the beginning of the season, we received three or four pair of tennis socks, four cans of tennis balls and the best of all, a brand new pair of Jack Purcells tennis shoes. These shoes were the top of the line.  By this time also, I had graduated to a Jack Kramer Autograph racket.  This was the top of line in rackets.

A Jack Kramer Autograph Tennis Racket with a bracket to keep the racket from warping.

A Jack Kramer Autograph Tennis Racket with a bracket to keep the racket from warping.

Another perk was that I received physical education credit for playing tennis. This was a big perk because it meant I didn’t have to take swimming class or gym class during my time at Highland Park High School.

Practicing at the Ford Park tennis courts.

Practicing at the Ford Park tennis courts.

One problem about being on the tennis team was that our coach never played tennis.  We never did any drills. We never received any instructions on how to serve. He basically would go with us to matches and tell us to try harder.  When we played schools like Ecorse, River Rouge or Ferndale, our lack of ability didn’t show; however when we played Grosse Pointe South, Monroe or Dondero, it was embarrassing.

Speaking of Monroe, this was our favorite place to play. After getting beaten by Monroe, the coach would take us all to a restaurant and we could eat all the chicken we desired.  It definitely made the thrashing that we had received go down better.

In my senior year, Highland Park was no longer in the Border Cites League. This meant that our competition was more on our level.  We actually won a few matches during the season. At the end of the year, the Detroit News selected me to be on the All-Detroit tennis team. My photo was in the Detroit News with the other players who had been named for this honor. Before I could get too proud, somebody in the school told me that the Detroit News writer who selected the All-Detroit team was a graduate of Highland Park High School. This took the wind out of my sails.

After I graduated from Highland Park, I would continue to play tennis.  I played on the Olivet College team as a freshman; however, I soon played less and less tennis.  It has only been in recent years that I have taken up tennis again. Playing tennis again brings back memories of those great days of playing tennis at Ford Park in the early Seventies.