How did you choose what college to attend?

How did you choose what college to attend?


My dad was a veteran of World War II. He enlisted before Pearl Harbor, but I have never heard why he did. He graduated from high school in 1936 so he had been done with school for 5 years at the time of his enlistment. I think he was living a fairly easy life. I know he spent a certain amount of time at the pool hall. When the war was over and he had married my mom, I think he decided to buckle down and improve his life. He wasn’t without skills. He at least had the beginnings of a career as a machinist. But I think he wanted to be an engineer like his Uncle Clyde. So with the GI Bill available to him, he decided to attend Iowa State College. He and Mom lived in married student housing, Pammel Court. My sister Carol Lynne was born at that time, but she died unexpectedly and brought their world crashing down. He dropped out of school. He tried again the next year after I was born but things just did not work out for him and he entered the workaday world as a tool and die maker.

All through my childhood my folks hinted that they would like it if I became an engineer. My junior and senior high school coursework included the underpinnings for that kind of career, math and physics, and I developed a talent for drafting and other technical skills. But engineering seemed just a little dry for me. I did like the castles and cathedrals I had seen when we went to England so being an architect seemed like a choice that would make everyone happy. I know I was looking forward to it. To make matters easier, Iowa State University which was still a college when my dad attended there, was just a couple of hours west of Cedar Rapids, another prime consideration. At the time ISU was supposed to be one of the three best Architecture schools in the country, ranking only behind MIT and CalTech. The deal was set.

I spent the first month of my summer after high school in England, checking out the castles and cathedrals once more, but also taking an interest in other famous buildings. I even took the train up to Edinburgh to see about attending their world famous architecture school. They told me I had to have completed my sophomore year in college and have at least a “B” average. Having not started yet, I didn’t know if that was realistic or not, but at least I had some idea of what might be expected of me.

I spent the rest of the summer in our stifling, unairconditioned living room reading all the James Bond novels that had been published up until that point and my new found thrill from my English trip, Sherlock Holmes. September rolled around and I was off to Iowa State.

Beyer House, Friley Hall, Iowa State University
Jeff Kragskow, Steve Hennesey, Paul Anderson, John Hawn – 1967
Robert Thorpe, Nyal Hodges, and Stan McAninch

I stayed in the dorms, Beyer House in Friley Hall. It was the biggest “house” on campus and on the fifth elevator-less floor, six floors if you count going down the basement cafeteria. I had two roommates, Stan McAninch from Indianola and Nyal Hodges from Panora. Our room was at the bend in the hall and so was a little bigger than most after accommodating for the unusual corner.  In Winter quarter I switched rooms to the far end of the house. I can not for the life of me, remember my roommate’s name. I do remember he was from Illinois. Then in Spring quarter I switched rooms again. This time my roommate was John Hawn. We have remained friends for the last 55 years (2021). Our dorm was fairly crawling with guys from Indianola. My roommate Stan was one of them. Parker Swan who taught me the basics of musical chord structure was another. Duane Nielson was a third one. For some reason I don’t know why, everone called him Leroy. He moved off campus in the Spring and showed us the absurdity of living in the dorms. And last but not least, Jeff Kragskow who lived in another dorm but hung around all the time because of all the other Indianola crew.

Our picture for the Beyer House Bulletin Board
John Hawn and Robert Thorpe
Jeff Kragskow
Duane’s Brownstone Apartment, Iowa State University
Robert Thorpe and Jeff Kragskow, jamming in the can

In high school I was in advanced senior math. Among other things, we studied differential calculus. This proved a little bit of an undoing for me. The first quarter of math turned out to be differential calculus. Great! Most students in the program had never had calculus. In fact, most had to have a couple of quarters of remedial algebra. I just breezed right in and skated through the course. I was just resting on my laurels. Second quarter was integral calculus, which I had not had before. Unfortunately, I kept my same study methods which were, none. The quarter did not go well for me and I managed to be able to drop the class so as not to get a real bad grade and drop my grade point. But it came at a price. I was now a class behind schedule. 

When I arrived at ISU I was only 17, but only for a week or so. When I turned 18 I had to register for the draft. I went down to the Selective Service System and dutifully signed up and was issued  a 2S, student, deferment. The deal was you had to maintain a load of 15 quarter hours of classes to keep your deferment. If you didn’t, you were eligible for the draft and could be sent to Viet Nam. I wasn’t in too bad a shape because architecture required a normal load of about 18 quarter hours, but my margin of error was narrowing.

I completed my first year and went home to Cedar Rapids for the summer. At that time, if you got a good summer job, you could earn enough money for your next year of school. I set out looking for one and started playing soccer in the evenings and on weekends. I was the goalie for the newly formed Cedar Rapids soccer team, the Comets. As my luck would have it though, while executing a phenomenal flying save, brushing the ball away with my fingertips, I landed flat on my stomach. I started bleeding internally and I could hardly walk. A friend’s dad gave me a ride home. The next day I couldn’t get up very easily and the day after that, I was under the knife. There were 2 months of recovery ahead and therefore, no summer job. This made the draft situation really, really bad. I needed to take my design courses in sequence and the next one wasn’t offered in the winter. Even if I could get it then, I had to take one or two extra courses per quarter and take a full load in summer school just to meet the draft’s mandatory credits requirement. It looked like a lost cause. In the late summer, after I could get a job again, I was hired by Quaker Oats on the swing shift. They were supposed to give you two weeks on days, two weeks on nights, and two weeks on graveyard. They started with the two weeks on days alright, but the third week was nights which only lasted one week. The fourth week was another single week of graveyard. By the end of the month I was a walking zombie. Then I heard that I could get my design sequence in winter quarter. I applied for a job as an office boy for Brown, Healey, Bock Architects. This company is another great source of memories but I will take them up in a later installment. After 3 months of making money and doing work that actually complimented what I wanted to do for a living I was going to be able to return to ISU and maybe be able to take enough classes to keep me out of the draft.

I studied the class offerings and found a way to add 2 courses, Life Drawing and Beginning Russian. When I submitted my schedule to my adviser, he hit the ceiling. It all added up to 25 quarter hours. 15 is the normal load. Even for architecture it was 7 credits more than normal. He said I could take one extra class but I had to drop one. I agreed to drop the Russian. I don’t know what I was thinking, there was no way I could have handled that kind of load.

The quarter started out ok but right off I started having problems with that darned old calculus. I got in deeper and deeper and when I went to the professor she said, “Sink or swim, Buster.” While doing ok in my other courses I was destined to fail the math. I tried to drop the course again, but the Dean said he couldn’t just let anyone go around dropping courses when they felt like it. I don’t know why not. I was paying for them and not getting credit so why should they care. So, a lower grade point average and 3 less quarter hours that I absolutely had to have. Spring quarter I started my next courses, taking the math over again. There was no second grade option in those days so I just had to lump it. I wasn’t doing much better in the math the second time around either.  When the Government course I was required to take started looking “iffy” I realized I should just drop out of school altogether. The draft was going to get me anyway and there was no point in having a lack luster transcript if I ever wanted to do better in the future. When I went to the Dean again, he put on his sad face and told me he hoped to see me again some day. I knew in my heart of hearts that he wouldn’t. But I had hope and I tried pretty hard to create life situations that would include me finishing up in architecture. In the end, that just never did work out. Not that I didn’t go on to other things. I eventually ended up with an Associate’s degree, a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree. But again, these adventures are parts of other stories..


My generation of my family was the first to attend college. My parents did not have educational opportunities. They both came from large families of modest means. My older brother went off to the University of Iowa in Iowa City before I even went to kindergarten. His plan was to become an engineer but he never finished. He married and entered the world of business and management for his career. My sister Diane also chose business. She got a job with the telephone company and ultimately moved into a management position. My next oldest sister, Sue, decided to be a teacher and chose the University of Iowa. When it was my turn I can’t say that I really contemplated any alternatives. I chose the University of Iowa in Iowa City as well. My youngest sister, Linda, went a totally different way and chose Iowa State University in Ames. She met her husband Dan there and both of them graduated with their Bachelor’s degree. Linda made a career as a fiber artist.

While the choice seemed obvious to me there were some very solid reasons for attending school in Iowa City. First, I wanted to go someplace big. There were loads of small colleges across Iowa then with nice tight knit homogeneous student populations. When I thought about going to college I knew I didn’t want a place that seemed a lot like high school in size and environment. The University of Iowa was known to be a more cosmopolitan atmosphere with students from all over the United States and from other countries as well. I knew my classes would be a lot bigger and that I would be learning with people that had different experiences and viewpoints than mine. It would be impossible to know most of my classmates so I was sure to meet new people everyday.

Karen Spicer 1967

I graduated from high school in 1967 and began my freshman year that fall, choosing to live in Carrie Stanley dorm. The University of Iowa fairly pulsed with 60’s politics and the rebellious attitudes of young people. I was no rebel in high school but I came from a family who cared about what was going on in the world. We were a family of informed and loyal voters. I grew up during the era of racial unrest and had followed the fight for equality and fairness on the nightly news. I wanted to be informed and on the right side of social issues. The war in Vietnam was hotly debated both in classrooms and everywhere on campus. Protests were forming and most people had an opinion they wanted to express. Young college students are the perfect age to begin to form deeply held idealistic views and the atmosphere at the University of Iowa was the perfect environment. During my time there, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated and the campus lit up. There were many protests about the war and about military recruiting on campus or the visits of companies who were producing the weapons of war. It was a passionate time.

My major was Elementary Education. Career options for young women at the time were not too varied. Most of the people I knew planned to get a degree and teach for a living. The University of Iowa had a large and respectable education college that would provide me with a good knowledge base and practical experiences in schools. My older sister, Sue was finishing up her degree in education when I was getting started. It was a logical plan for me to choose the same program. Both Sue and I eventually finished our degrees and had long and satisfying careers as teachers

Finally, I knew that I needed to attend a public University near home that I could pay for myself. My family was not going to be able to pay for tuition, books and room and board out of the regular family budget. I had held a part time job since I turned 16 years old and had saved a high percentage of my earnings to prepare for attending college. A state University tuition bill for a full time student was $327 with room and board in the dorm coming in at a little less than $1000 when I was a freshman. It was possible for a kid to work and save enough over a summer to pay for the next year of school. That was dependent on the modest tuition at a state school and very careful spending and saving. There were no extras for travel and private tuition bills. Again, the nearby University was the best option financially. I paid my own way with the help of a small scholarship, Pell Grants, and small loans. My parents sent me small amounts of extra spending money when they could.

Karen and Judy in Alumni newsletter, freshman orientation 1967
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1 Response to How did you choose what college to attend?

  1. craig behrndt says:

    Good info, interesting!

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