Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
The Short Course Building
(The Helyar Experience)
People who visit social media sites are inclined to reminisce about the old days. They remember growing up in ____ or hanging out with ____ and the allure of the food in their favorite pizza shop. Nostalgia affects us all, but to various degrees. The frequent chronicler who calls himself the Footloose Forester is no different when it comes to harking back in time. His motives, however; are more aligned with the desire to connect with others, to communicate about the old days, the old gang, and the old places. He firmly believes that good communication is currently too spotty to serve everyone equally; and we should strive to make it as clear, concise, and efficacious as possible. The purposes of communication are, after all: To Inform, To Instruct, and To Entertain. All of us have, at one time or another, an unstated craving for all of those purposes. Furthermore, all of us can be satisfied when we share the information, the instruction, and the entertainment value during the communication process.
The purpose of this chronicle is to shine a light on an institution that was a literal home for the Footloose Forester when he was an undergraduate at Rutgers University. He is proud to mention that he was a part of the Helyar House tradition at Rutgers during the last two years of his undergraduate tenure. Helyar House was christened in 1968 as a modern student living facility offered by the university to a handful of agriculture students who come from families with limited financial resources. The ones lucky enough to become a part of such an on-campus living group would henceforth and unwittingly be assimilated into a bonding tradition similar to that of a college fraternity. In our case, it was a living and working arrangement that permitted us to stay in College of Agriculture buildings and to put in a nominal amount of work time each week doing farm related chores.
The first and most prominent building in the Helyar House satellite of living groups was a stand-alone farm house surrounded by actively cropped fields. It was the original building used as an assisted living venue in the 1930s and carried the name Phelps House. Its historical precedent and credentials included the fact that a person could see the Joyce Kilmer Oak from one of the second story bedroom windows. The new Helyar House was relocated to a different part of the campus in 1968.
As time passed, other venues were added to accommodate needy students under the umbrella of the Helyar House experiment. Indeed, the system was so impressive that in 1992 a book was written about it. The Helyar Experience: Cooperative Living on the Agricultural and Cook College Campus of Rutgers University (Paperback-1992) by Bonnie J. McCay (Editor) explains the system and its history in detail.
One of the larger facilities was known as The Towers, a suite of second-story rooms above the laboratory of the Department of Entomology. The number of student residents was less than 10, but it was big enough to allow them to cook their own meals there. Taking turns doing the shopping and the cooking was part of the arrangement. Another living facility was in The Poultry Building, and ours was on the third floor of the Short Course Building where the Footloose Forester spent a couple of memorable years. No more than six students at a time lived there, but the cozy arrangement had a kitchen with a large table, sink, and stove where we fed ourselves year-round.
The Short Course Building was the best of the lot, in the opinion of the Footloose Forester, because it allowed us the opportunity to use the adjacent and vacant offices intended for grad students as our own study areas, as well as the empty classrooms on the second floor. As fate would have it, that second floor also housed the Department of Forestry. As a forestry student, the Footloose Forester took several classes there: Forest History, Dendrology, Wood Technology, Forest Management, Silviculture, Logging, and Forest Mensuration. He also took a course in Agricultural Economics in one of the classrooms on the first floor.
The classes were given during daylight hours but the rooms on the second floor were left open during evening hours and we students were free to use the desks and blackboards. The basement of the Short Course Building was also the place where the forestry tools (chain saws, axes, planting bars, etc.) were stored. Since the Footloose Forester had been assigned to maintain the tools and use them in the university wood lots, among his tasks under the cooperative living arrangement, he got to know the Short Course Building from top to bottom. He was even trusted to drive an official vehicle when going and coming to and from field operations. In retrospect, the Helyar Experience was very gratifying on many levels.
Looking back on those college days, the cooperative living arrangement as part of the Helyar Experience was the most satisfying adult period of a give-and-take existence that went beyond attending classes and enjoying the occasional sports and cultural events. We aggies were part of a scattered family. And what a family it turned out to be. The Footloose Forester can attest to knowing, during his time, at least six Helyar Experience alumni who later earned Ph.D. degrees and themselves became university professors. There must be many more because of the more than 900 alumni of the Heylar Experience, he recognized the names and knows of the faces of 32 other aggies who went on to distinguish themselves.