College pride was on display Saturday, as Iowa Wesleyan University hosted its Homecoming weekend celebration of football and all things purple and white.
The university offered a full schedule of events beginning on Friday, with a hospitality room and homecoming registration for alumni and concluding Sunday with a worship service at First United Methodist Church with special music by the Iowa Wesleyan University.
Among the alumni, the Class of 1968 was receiving extra attention as it observed its 50th anniversary. On Saturday, Oct. 6, 13 members of the class gathered at the hospitality room in the Maple Leaf Athletic Contest to share memories and catch up on classmates.
Nothing is closer to the heart of a college than the memories of its alumni. In their recollections, the grass grows ever greener, the trees more stately and the professors eminently wiser.
So it was for Paul Mulcahey, Class of 1968. A little grayer and a step slower than the days when he played forward for the Tigers, Mulcahey had nothing but beautiful memories of his college years. “I played basketball for the college. It was lots of fun. We had a great bunch of guys,” he said.
A Providence, Rhode Island native, Mulcahey was recruited by legendary coach Mike Sarkesian.
“There were about 20 of us that Mike recruited from the East Coast. He knew of us because he was from that area,” Mulcahey said.
When he first arrived in Iowa, Mulcahey said he received a culture shock. “It was a different lifeystyle. The pace was slower and there was more civility in Mt. Pleasant,” he said. “It was the first time I ever had a steak. I thought it was a roast when they served it.”
At the table with Mulcahey was his friend and teammate, Joseph Dailey and their wives Louise and Nancy. He and Mulcahey both graduated from LaSalle Academy in Providence. “I met a lot of nice people here. I lived above Crane’s Funeral Home while I was on scholarship. I also met my wife here,” he said.
“That should have come out first,” said Mulcahey.
Dailey returned to Providence, but Mulcahey moved to Rock Island, Ill., and became a professor at St. Ambrose College and played numerous roles in local politics. “I really like it here. It’s a good place to live,” Mulcahey said.
Robert Williams, Class of 1964, has returned to the college campus every year since 2000. He travels from Ocean City, N.J. He says it’s the relationships he built that bring him back. “It was a very good place for me. I made many friends here. It’s great to get together again with my frat brothers. I played three sports: football, basketball and baseball,” he said.
“I spent an extra year here so I could get a double major. I was the assistant varsity basketball coach that year,” he said.
Eventually, he accepted a teaching and coaching position in Illinois as his first job.
It’s a long-standing observation that college students remain the same age: only the professors age. But a visit to a college campus seems to reverse that aging process.
In Old Main, another group of alumni had gathered in celebration of the 100th anniversary of its music department. Enfolded again by the old walls, old windows and younger students they picked up their sheets of music and took seats in the music room.
Director of Choral Activities Blair Buffington was putting together the inaugural Reunion Choir, which he envisions as an annual homecoming event.
I’ve been looking forward to this. We have students, alumni and friends of the university in the choir,” he said. “We are very pleased to welcome everyone into this inaugural event.”
The alumni shared memories and news and greeted the beloved professor who would be playing the piano for them that day. As Buffington took his place in the front of the room, the talking stopped. “Let’s begin with the Wesleyan Hymn,” he suggested.
With melodies deep and rich, the choir united as one as they sang the old hymn again with their classmates.
At the college gym, Armel MacDonald, Class of 1964, was greeting former classmates. Not tall but powerfully built, he played football and wrestled for the university. He came to Iowa Wesleyan from a home a few blocks north of the Bronx. Yet another East Coast kid who found himself in the Midwest. “People think they had a tough childhood. I had a tougher childhood,” he said.
Abandoned by his parents, he was raised by his grandparents. Life was tough, but somehow, he found his way to Mt Pleasant. “It was transforming. It was one of the two transforming events in my life. The other event was my marriage to my wife, whom I met at this college. She was a student at English Valley high school,” he said.
He visits the area often and can give detailed descriptions of Mt. Pleasant and Washington and the small towns surrounding them.
There were many reasons why so many East Coast students came to Iowa Wesleyan, he said. Part of it was the fact that Iowa Wesleyan actively recruited students from the eastern states. But there was something else that prompted parents and students to look west for education. “It was the ‘60s. There was a lot of upheaval. There was an aura of safety here. The girls’ dorm had strict rules about locking the doors after hours. Parents hoped their kids would be secure here,” he said.
MacDonald talks fast with only the slightest trace of an East Coast accent. His mind moves quickly and the conversation picks up speed as his interest in a topic increases. It’s exhausting to keep up with him. “The minute I start talking, people know I’m not from Iowa. There was a girl here from Mississippi. The longer she was here, the thicker the accent got. With me, it was different. I tried to change my speech patterns. I thought of it as a detriment,” he said.
For MacDonald, the college years were an introduction to a better quality of life and the natural beauty of the state. “It was a defining moment in my life. It gave me an opportunity to study and grow. It’s about the outdoors and the way people treat one another,” he said.
Like many other graduates, he never left the Midwest, settling in Omaha, Neb.
“I never had any desire to go back. This is home,” he said.
Like New York native Gart Williams in a “Twilight Zone” episode, MacDonald and the other East Coast alumni may have found their Willoughby.
“I’m not leaving,” he said.