Alum remembers life in the Rock House

Dulcie Clark was a housemother to Shirley Holland and Vera Guthrie at the rock house at WKU in 1950. The Rock House is set to be demolished by either spring or summer break.

Cameron Koch

The Rock House served many purposes throughout its roughly 100-year life, but perhaps it will be most affectionately remembered as a women’s dormitory at a time when WKU was still Western Kentucky State Teacher’s College.

Shirley Holland, now 80 years old, remembers her years at the Rock House fondly. Holland arrived at the college in 1950 to pursue a career in teaching physical education.

“Back then I was a foreign student,” Holland said, joking about going to school so far from her Pennsylvania home. “You came here to become a teacher if you were a woman. If you were a man, you could aspire to be a lawyer or a doctor or some other profession.”

Upon her arrival in Bowling Green, Holland said she knew she never wanted to live anywhere else.

“My husband swears I only married him so I could stay here,” Holland said.

Holland still lives in Bowling Green and is still married to James Holland, whom she met while at WKU.

“It kills me to know they are going to tear it down. I knew they were going to do it. They weren’t taking care of it.”

Though she loves it now, Holland’s first impressions of the house were less than remarkable.

“I thought, ‘Oh, this is a dreary place to live,’ but it wasn’t,” Holland said.

She would go on to live in the house for all of her four years at Western, enjoying the small home atmosphere of the building.

Holland lived in the house while Dulcie and HB Clark, both WKU graduates, were dorm parents. The Clarks raised two of their own children in the Rock House while it was a dorm. Dulcie Clark is 95.

Vera Guthrie also lived in the house at the time and said many of the girls worked as babysitters around town and for the Clarks’ children.

Some of Guthrie’s and Holland’s best memories of the house involve the annual dorm Christmas party, when all the girls would exchange names and receive gifts.

“It may seem tame, but we still had a good time,” Guthrie said.

One Christmas, Holland couldn’t go home, so she stayed with the Clark family — Holland said she felt right at home.

“The Clarks became my home away from home,” Holland said.

When Holland wasn’t working the telephone at the Rock House desk, she attended class in Cherry Hall, where the majority of classes were taught, and spend time at the Goal Post, now a parking lot next to the Rock House.

The Goal Post served as an unofficial student center of sorts, a place where students could purchase meal tickets, eat and socialize.

“We could get a nickel cup of coffee and linger over that cup of coffee for hours,” Holland said. “It was our student center, I guess.”

While Holland lived in the Rock House, many of the luxuries students enjoy today were nonexistent. No refrigerators, no dryers, and only two showers were shared  among the 27 girls living in the house. Clothes were hung on pipes in the basement to dry. Girls would receive clean sheets for their beds once a week.

Students were required to sign in and out at the desk whenever they left and obeyed a curfew of 10:30 p.m. on weeknights. Girls who attended events or practices were also required to return to the house within 15 minutes of the end of said event or practice.

Students who wanted to leave town had to receive special permission.

Another radically different procedure from today involved boys — or the distinct lack of them.

“No boy ever went past those swinging doors,” Holland said.

Boys were required to wait in the lobby to talk to a girl or pick someone up for a date. Never was a boy allowed into a girl’s room.

“It’s nothing like today with all the visitation kids have. But we didn’t have anyone pregnant either,” Holland said, laughing.

Holland did note that she remembered one exception. Holland, during her time at WKU, was part of the theatre group, Western Players, and one night was busy painting a set when her then-boyfriend and future husband James arrived at the house. In an attempt to meet him out front, Holland spilled paint all over the front lobby.

“I was in a panic to get it all up; and he stayed and cleaned it up, which was really a no-no for a boy to come past the door after curfew,” Holland said.

Though the Rock House will soon no longer be standing, the experiences and memories of those who lived in house will always remain.

“It’s my favorite subject,” Holland said. “I love the Rock House.

“It’s a shame to let it go. They can take the building, but they can’t take the memories.”