By Richard Sipos – Ole Miss BSME 1971, BSCE 1977
I was a Florida boy… Sunday Morning Late August, 1966.
My parents were of the “Greatest Generation.” From the age of 15 years old, my assigned development plan was focused on working as doing manual labor and as a small town supermarket stock clerk/ bag boy. My parents wanted me to scratch out my future as they had. Earnings went straight to a savings account for college. Good times were not on the agenda. I was socially under-developed.
As with many middle class families in the 60’s, we were directed to choose an engineering profession that would lead to professional career with a fairly good return on investment of college costs. The end game was to have achieve better standard of living than our parents.
Ole Miss was chosen almost by default… it was the first school acceptance… my parents jumped on the bandwagon (I guess to get me out of town). I had applied because Ole Miss had a Navy ROTC program, and an engineering school. Along with the acceptance letter came a small Ole Miss decal for the back window of the family sedan. As soon as I had received the acceptance letter, it was a foregone conclusion and a “done deal” that I would be attending. Neither my parents, nor I had ever set foot in the state of Mississippi. I was aware of the riots of 1962, but didn’t mean much to me growing up in Florida. I knew as much about Mississippi as any third world country.
Note – The Viet Nam War activity level was accelerating. Any able bodied young man not successfully attending college would surely be drafted. Of course, anyone graduating from college was pretty much guaranteed participation in the conflict, although possibly a better duty assignment. This added a personal anxiety not shared by young people today
I was 17 years old. The last week in August my parents took me down to the airport in West Palm Beach. I had plane tickets to Oxford via Delta Airlines and Southern. I had a suitcase with clothes, a math tables book (needed for engineering) a check book (had never written a check to that date) and $40 in my pocket. I had never been away from home on my own, and had never flown on an airliner. I was being pushed out of the nest. With no cell phone, smart phone, or credit card… plan B consisted of a collect call home from a pay phone.
The first leg to Atlanta was a Delta Airlines Convair 880 (entering the jet age with a four engine jet)…. The pilot (still learning to fly a jet) hit hard in Atlanta damaged the plane to the extent it couldn’t continue. After a while we were directed to a Douglas DC-7 piston four engine plane for the next leg to Memphis. This plane was kind of beat up and noisy. The flight was uneventful.
In Memphis, I changed planes to a venerable Southern Airlines Douglas DC-3, for the final leg to Oxford. Can you imagine… Oxford had scheduled airline service? The plane flew low over the green August country side. There was a young person sitting next to me. He looked older than me. He introduced himself as Danny Roy. He is the first real Ole Miss person I had ever met. He asked me who I was. I told him I was from Florida and was going to be a new engineering student. He said he was in engineering and would be a senior in chemical engineering.
He pointed to Sardis Lake the surrounding National Forests out the window and we had other small talk. He asked where I was staying. I told him I would be checking into the dormitory that night. He said the housing office would not be open until tomorrow (Monday). He then asked where I would be staying… I had no answer. He asked if I had anyone to meet me at the airport. I had no answer. Danny at that point took responsibility himself and offered me a ride to a motel “not far from campus.”
Thank god someone with some experience knew the ropes here. I was lost, but he took control of the situation. He met some others and I loaded my suitcase into their sedan.
We drove a couple of miles from the Oxford – University Airport to a small motel on Jackson Ave. West (Highway 6). It was the Gentry Motel, and was near the drive in movie, both down from the roadway and bordered by a cotton field. I thank my benefactors and took my suitcase inside.
The person who checked me in showed sincere interest in who I was. While in high school, I only worked and missed out on socialization. This was new and unique to me. I got the key to the room. The desk clerk asked if I was hungry. I said yes. I hadn’t eaten since the DC-7. He then said to come back to the front desk when I had settled and was ready to get something to eat. I returned in about ten minutes. He then drove me down Highway 6 a couple hundred yards to the Ole Miss Drive-In. As I got out, he said “When you are ready to come back, call me and I will come get you!”
Wow, these people were really very nice. No one in Florida would be that nice.
I ordered a cheese-burger, fires and a coke. To my amazement, the cheeseburger came with cold slaw on top. I had not eaten many burgers in my life. Almost all of my meals were from home and my parents never prepared them. Ole Miss was looking better already!
As I paid for my meal, I asked the man at the cash register to use the phone to call the Gentry Motel (I didn’t know the number) and they would come get me. He said that wouldn’t be necessary, he would take me back. We went to his car, and got in. He asked where I was from and drove me back. A very friendly person. Seemed like all Mississippians were nice.
The next morning I was at the front desk checking out. I asked the desk clerk, (different one this morning) to call a taxi for me to take me to campus.
There were other young people checking out who had people picking them up. He politely asked if they would take me to campus. They invited me to come with them. I asked if they could get me close to the housing office. The took me straight to it. In those days, Ole Miss streets were accessible to cars. Again, in a space of perhaps 20 hours, people unknown to me had demonstrated that Mississippi had hospitality that I didn’t know existed anywhere in the world. I was a stranger and they looked after me, and demonstrated that they were the kindest people I had ever met.
Last week, I traveled to Ole Miss to visit friends. I was astounded and somewhat disappointed in the changes, but accept them. It is not the same Ole Miss. Social Media has taken over the culture of the young. It seemed like the campus could no longer be navigated by vehicles. The names of the University buildings change with current benefactors. The campus infrastructure is three times the size it was even in 1980. On a positive observation, it is clean and very well maintained, foliage neatly trimmed.
Oxford and the surrounding area has become blighted with a sprawl of pricey condominiums for the weekenders and retirees. Gone are the Kiami’s, Ole Miss Drive-in, K’s Barbecue, and the drive-in movie theater. There are fast food restaurants with great fare; these change as frequently as the years. I was pleased to have breakfast in the stalwart landmark Beacon Restaurant (has the same booths as 1970’s).
All things change. Ole Miss will continue to prevail albeit without Colonel Rebel – what next in the mindless politically correctness of the era. I believe that fond memories of Ole Miss will be embedded in the hearts of all those who attended. Among them, the memory of my first day at Ole Miss.