Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Warehouse Rebels

All the great tents of the Ole Miss Grove were born out of one thing…fun!

The Warehouse, 1985 (l-r) L. W. Thomas, Charles & Cornelia Henry, Frances Kopp, Willie Morris, Stacy Doolittle, Martha Cofield (hidden) and Jack Cofield.
The Warehouse, 1985 (l-r) L. W. Thomas, Charles & Cornelia Henry, Frances Kopp, Willie Morris, Stacy Doolittle, Martha Cofield (hidden) and Jack Cofield.

They can trace their roots back to small crews of young Rebels who were looking for some Ole Miss fun; the fun of a town’s “Tent Rebs” when they dress up, load up, meet up and head out for Oxford; the fun of frat brothers who’ve been Groving since before their sons became frat brothers; and the fun had by the great family tents that dot the Grove.
There are old groups who’ve been there since long before there were tents and who have anchored their ‘spot’ in God’s country for years. Whether on the Walk of Champions, across from Farley Hall, in the Circle, or down by the stage, they’re all there. Yes, all the great tents, born out of fun…and then…there is The Warehouse Tent.
Do you remember when the Country Village Mall was in its heyday? It was a special time in early 80’s Oxford. It was special, too, for friends and fellow Warehouse employees Frank Odom and Don Carlisle. As students, Frank worked the bar end of the operation and Don spent most of his hours in the kitchen. So, it made a good partnership when a deal was struck to buy The Warehouse from Woody Lovejoy.
The new owners brought in much loved Oxford character L. W. Thomas to help manage. Add to that, a few more infamous Rebels, and the stage, cast, and crew were set.
The Warehouse was the first time Oxford really knew it was cool. Parking on the Square and walking down to the Warehouse with an out-of-town friend was just silent bragging. One could feel, smell and taste the Southern vibe that lived there.
Ron Campbell, Brooks Odom and former Warehouse owner, Frank Odom.
Ron Campbell, Brooks Odom and former Warehouse owner, Frank Odom.

But, the Warehouse ambiance didn’t just extend to the customers. While it was Oxford’s go-to restaurant and the place we celebrated being us, there was a special relationship among the employees too. For the gainful employment-seeking students on campus, the Warehouse wasn’t just the coolest watering hole, it was the coolest work place too.
Then there were the Country Village tenants. From day one until February 1986, friends, with a closeness forged from thousands of nods and waves at each other, were coming in early and leaving late. The Warehouse lunch found most of the other Country Village renters eating, laughing, and celebrating being Oxford, too.
It’s been said that more than once that Dad, Mom, Willie the writer, L.W. the character, Stacy and others, who either clocked-out at the restaurant or stumbled out of the bar at last call, crossed the hall and opened Cofield’s Studio to dance to the music in the small hours. Those nights and years were some of Oxford’s best and would be enough in themselves for a group of fast friends to start a tent in the Grove.
The tent was forged, like all the rest, from memories of fun at The Warehouse, in the small hours, of course. It’s one of those unique combinations of Oxford and Ole Miss that make the timeless kind of remembrances shared by thousands. But they all knew the magic that was The Warehouse.
And, then, on Feb. 15, 1986, in the small hours, we lost her. The Country Village Mall burned that cold morning. From then on, the collective memories of those who loved her and loved what she meant to Oxford, were frozen in time and consigned to a mournful ash heap. The tenants all came in early and left late. Waves and nods were now hugs and tears. It’s easy to laugh with people, it makes for fast friends. People who cry together, from the heart, have a lifelong bond.
The Warehouse Tent Crew, 2013
The Warehouse Tent Crew, 2013

In time, all the now ex-mallers came out of the shock and sadness that rocked Oxford and Ole Miss and moved on. But the memories, feelings, and friendships didn’t just move on. Owners, employees, regular customers, and friends stayed in touch. And 5 years after they worked their very last shift, a few Warehouse Rebels out looking for some Ole Miss fun, headed for the Grove on game day. Later, like most groups before the tent days, a few Warehouse Rebels joined up with some more Warehouse Rebels, and, so it began.
Their ‘spot’ floated around some until it landed for good on the Barnard Observatory lawn at the corner of Grove Loop and Sorority Row. That first tent with a few chairs, some chicken and beer has turned into grand Warehouse game-day reunions. Tents, plural, along with dozens of chairs, friends, and former employees gather for a feast to renew the old bonds that were formed out of Ole Miss and Oxford fun, but were cemented in the winter of ’86.
Now on game day, parking on campus and walking down to the Warehouse Tent with an out-of-town friend is just silent bragging. As with so many tents, new members have married into the group and others are young Warehouse Rebels, by birth. But no matter which memory lane they took from The Warehouse restaurant in Oxford to the Warehouse Tent in the Grove, there is also a living history.
Kept alive by the Odoms and the cast and crew of Warehouse characters gather on game day to celebrate and remember from where they came. In 1985, or 2013, the Warehouse Rebels may not have won every game, but they’ve never lost a party. And, the bonds forged from a happy and sad past will keep this great Grove tent and crew together. The friends will come early, leave late, and finally Frank will shut her down, in the small hours.
To learn more about the Warehouse Rebels, visit their website at www.warehouserebels.com.
Editor’s Note: This is a partial story from an upcoming Grove Book by Seph Anderson
– John Cofield is a HottyToddy.com writer and Oxford’s leading folk historian. He is the son of renowned university photographer Jack Cofield. His grandfather, Col. J.R Cofield, was yearbook photographer at Ole Miss for decades. Cofield attended Ole Miss as well. Reach John at johnbcofield@gmail.com

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