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Roommate Reflections: The Good

Badger Insider readers reflect on their best roommate experiences.

Students moving into the dorms.

The Good

My roommate during graduate school was a wonderful nun from Canada. She had a friend who was a monk. We especially loved the summer session when we stayed in the Lakeshore. They helped me to grow in my faith, and I am so sorry that I have lost contact with her and the staff at St. Paul's Catholic Campus in the early 1970s.
Patricia Zager MS’72
Neillsville, Wisconsin

My floormates from old Ogg (shout-out to Bullis House!) are still among my best friends! One of my favorite memories centers around my roommate’s horribly annoying, trumpeting, cat alarm clock and her uncanny ability to leave our dorm room door unlocked — and sometimes open — when she left for class. I enlisted others on our floor to hide some of Lynne’s items one day when she left the door open. This was before the time of laptops and iPhones and expensive electronic devices, so our devious plan centered around misplacing curling irons, alarm clocks, and packets of Easy Mac. It worked like a charm — Lynne was scared straight! But unfortunately (or not!), her trumpeting alarm clock was accidentally knocked off the shelf in the caper and was never the same. Lynne was devastated, but she perhaps found some solace when we found her deodorant in the freezer many months later!
Cindy Bush ’05
Middleton, Wisconsin

I realize that your request was aimed at undergrads and dorm living. But don't forget the grads. I entered the UW for my first semester in 1970, fresh from the U.S. Navy. We lived in a then-new apartment complex in Middleton. I had a terrific roommate. She was a registered nurse and at the time and worked the day shift at Madison General. Each morning, she would drop me off at the Engineering Research Building on the way to work. My "luxurious" grad office was in T-23, which is no longer with us today. At the end of the day, we would return to Middleton together. I would study and she would tend to family matters. I treated grad school in a business-like manner and having a supportive roommate cannot be overrated or over-appreciated. Thanks to my small research assistant stipend and, mostly, her nurse’s salary, we were in a position to live in a nice apartment, visit home (Pennsylvania) some holidays, and even participate in the Friday night fish frys. We had a great time at Madison and the education has served us well ever since. By the way, I still have the same roommate today. My wife (Penny) of 5-8 years in Madison is my wife of 51 years today.
David McAlees MS’71, PhD’74
Bellevue, Washington

My randomly assigned roommate is and will always be my best friend. She is the sister I never had. We have traveled the world together (Brazil, Argentina, Italy); gone to a Rose Bowl; spent the entire weekend on the couch catching up; and had many, many fun adventures back in Madison. We are part of each other’s families, and I cannot imagine my life without her. I will forever be grateful to UW Housing for putting us together freshman year in the Bradley Learning Community.
Renee Hill ’06 and Marie Vicksta ’07, MS’09
Milwaukee, Wisconsin; McMinnville, Oregon

I just finished talking to my former roommate who is flying in tomorrow from Washington, D.C. We try to get together annually. Bombing of Sterling Hall, angry demonstrations … we were the beginning of women's rights, having long hair, going bra-less. By [our] 2nd degree, [there was a] big change on campus — quiet. Marty starting to teach and I was running around with two kids in tow as single parent. But we have always stayed connected — see you at the Union!
Karen Sorenson LaValley ’83
Madison, WI

During my last year in college while residing in a small apartment at the Kennedy Manor at One Langdon Street, I had a roommate who was a very good friend and remained so until his passing last year. He had healthy fondness for Caesar salads with very generous doses of garlic. It was always obvious when he had treated himself to his favorite salad, for when he entered the apartment the air would immediately be saturated with the malodorous fragrance of garlic. Because he was a good and close friend, it was never an issue of contention, but we did share some good-natured laughs over his occasional bouts of garlic inspired halitosis.
Charles Hurlbut ’69
Prince George, Virginia

Our address was 723 State Street. It was my college home for three years. The reason I lived there was because it was also the address for St. Paul's Catholic Student Center and the eating co-op. Fr. Kutchera was the pastor and he allowed students to live on the third floor in return for some daily and weekly duties. My home pastor would NOT permit me to attend UW¬–Madison "because of all the Communists", until Fr. K. invited me to become a part of the third floor. The really special part of this "house boy" home was that I got to be roommates with Charlie Mohr x’60 (boxing) and Jim O'toole (baseball), as well as several other life long friends.
Paul Brandl ’58, MS’61
Madison, WI

My random-roommate freshman year turned out to be one of my best friends. Abby was funny, quirky, wickedly smart, incredibly sweet, adventurous, passionate, driven, spontaneous, loving, and was friends with everyone. We got along from day one. That doesn't mean we were inseparable — I was lucky to see her at all during the day — but we were pretty perfect roommates. We would've been roommates for the rest of college if I hadn't become a house fellow. We're in graduate school now, in different cities, but talk when our schedules allow. She's the person I call when I'm breaking down under the pressure of graduate school. I could not have asked for a better roommate or friend, and I know I was very lucky to have been matched with her. So many memories shared in 209 Cole and 213 Slichter, would not have traded it for anything! And yes, Badger Insider, she will definitely be in my bridal party when that day comes.
Jessica Fine ’14
New York, New York

My roommate and I still get a laugh every time we tell the story of our root beer kegger in the dorm. We lived in the Friedrick Center, now Vel Phillips Hall, and had a huge, well-arranged room with AC, carpeting, and its own bathroom. Two doors down lived our dutiful house fellow. For my birthday, we decided to have a little fun with him. We put a closed Facebook invitation out to everyone in the dorm we knew, except the house fellows, explaining exactly what we planned. Then we sneakily brought a keg of Sprecher root beer up the back stairwell. As you know, you're not allowed to have a keg of beer in the dorm, even if both roommates are over 21 (we weren't). But, as our house fellow did not know, there wasn't a drop of alcohol in our room. So we have over 20 people in our room, drinking root beer floats, playing root beer pong with red cups, taking shots of sparkling grape juice, Animal House is playing on the TV, bad music is blaring, and my roommate is reaching into the hall and pulling in passersby: "Come drink with us!" Then we get the inevitable knock on the door. I shout out, "It's the house fellows, hide the beer!" Of course, he hears this through the door and wonders how drunk I must be to think he wouldn't. Then I hesitatingly open the door.

Me: "What's up? Are we being too loud? We can turn it down."

Him: "What are you doing?"

Me: "Oh, um... Just celebrating my birthday, maybe having a... few... drinks..."

Him: "What are you drinking?"
My roommate, from the back corner, perfectly says "root" very very quietly, then finishes "beer" at full volume.

There was this moment. Our house fellow takes in the reality of two dozen people around a keg, absolutely no effort at discretion, in a room just two doors from his, and now he's got to bust us all. He raised his face to the heavens, and you could just feel this mental scream coming off him, "OH GOSH WHY?!?"

It was just a moment, and then he regained his composure.

Him: "Okay, I need to see everyone's ID, and Joe, I want you to put all the alcohol in the bathroom."

Me: "Uh, what alcohol?"

Him: "The alcohol you've been drinking."

Me: "I think you need a root beer float. Come on in!"

The whole room erupted in laughter. My house fellow doubled over, laughing with us. All the house fellows came in and had root beer floats.
Joseph Lubin ’11
Baltimore, Maryland

My freshman year at the UW began in the fall of 2008. I was paired with a random roommate in Chadbourne for my freshman year. His name was Andrew Czech, and he was from Eagan, Minnesota. (I’m from Waukesha, Wisconsin.) I tried to look him up on Facebook but had no luck. I tried to find him on MySpace — still no luck. I did not have a phone number for him, so I sent him an email. It was about a month before I heard back from him. (It turns out his was on an Alaskan cruise.) On the drive up to Madison on move-in day, I was still very skeptical about rooming with this total stranger, especially because I couldn’t find out anything about him on what was still very primitive social media. When we finally met face to face, we hit it off instantly. We enjoyed living with each other so much that we lived with each other every year that we were at the UW. Andrew graduated in 2012, and I graduated in 2013, and even though he lives in Madison and I live in California, we are still best friends. We talk to each other pretty much every day. If it were not for the random roommate assignment and the UW, I would never have met my best friend. Thank you, UW!
Taylor Braun ’13
Garden Grove, California

Sixty-five years after our graduation, Mary Vant Hull and I are still friends. We lived off-campus in a house with other girls, but really had a chance to get to know each other on weekends because Mary worked late as a linotype operator for the Cap Times and I worked in a restaurant late afternoons. After graduation we stayed together, sharing an
apartment on Lake Street; and have remained in touch through her move to Egypt, back to Iowa, and now for many years in Bozeman, Montana.
Ivy Nevala ’50, MS’62
Cedar Grove, Wisconsin

My roommate and I were in Showerman House in Kronsage. Some may remember our phone was in the hallway outside of our room. Just before the holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break — students wanted transportation home. If they wanted to use Badger Bus, they would dial to see if space was available. If they forgot to dial 9 to get an outside line, they would get our room by their mistake. We would get LOTS of calls. We developed a way to handle the bother by being "funny" without messing up their trip. Sometimes we would pickup the phone by saying, “Badger Buslines.” We would answer any question by saying, “We have space to Wausau or Green Bay” or where ever they wanted, and then we would say something stupid like, “We will have a few live animals in cages in the rear of the bus. If that is not a problem, we can accommodate you.” We hope no one had problems getting home, but at the time we thought we deserved some relief. Our next-door partners were Jim Baaken x’62 and Don Schade ’62. Hello guys, if you read this! Been a few years since Tom W Golf Event in Vegas!
Ken Kullmann ’62
Roswell, Georgia

I had a number of roommates some better than others but all were bright and interesting. A couple I would really love to know how they are doing. David Steinberg of then Chicago, and Robert E. Browne of Milwaukee are the only two names I remember completely. There was a Michael from South Milwaukee who I believe lives in Madison and we lived in Elm Drive B my junior year.
Robert Brown ’73
Chicago, IL

Having grown up on a farm in southwest Wisconsin, attending a one-room rural school for eight years and then on to a small high school with 64 students in my class, I was in for a real culture shock at UW. Assigned to Vilas Hall, I met my roommate, David Saul, who was a Jewish kid from Philadelphia. He was probably about as extroverted as I was introverted, but somehow we were a good match and had a successful year. Both of us were pre-med students (wasn't half the freshman class pre-med?) and spent a lot of time studying. Unfortunately, I lost track of him after that year. David, where are you now? My roommate for my sophomore year was also a pre-med student. The amusing thing about this young man was that he could not get used to the "cold" weather in Wisconsin. He was from Southern California and had not anticipated what for him was a tremendous change in climate. In the winter he wore a fur lined cap with earlaps that tied under his chin. He wore a heavy wool coat that came down close to his ankles and on his feet were high buckle boots. And he was still cold.
Robert Kuhl ’64, MD’67
Redmond, Oregon

When I arrived at the U of W, I was accidentally placed in the residence hall for Jewish girls. Looking back, in some ways, I regret not having stayed. It was my first exposure to the warmth I was to meet at the U of W. The girls were so warm and welcoming and encouraged me to stay. I first resided in Ann Emory hall. My first roommate, a girl from Wauwatosa, dropped out shortly after the beginning of term. My second roommate was Mahitable McCay, who I first saw in ripped riding joggers and riding boots. I offered her a pair of slacks. She thanked me and declined. I took her for a poor student. At Christmas, she showed me a picture from her local newspaper, back east — I think Virginia. In the picture was her father with Winston Churchill, at their home. Towards the end of my first year, there was a fire in Ann Emory and we were forced to move. I went to live in my sorority house, Pi Phi. The second year, I roomed with Carol Heiss in the Pi Phi house, whose father was the announcer for U of W football games. We remained the closest of friends throughout our college years and on until her recent death. She once visited us at our summer home in the south of France. My husband periodically tells me, since at 85 I repeat these stories so often, that my years at the U of W were the most moving and influential years of my life. I met such wonderful people, and their parents, whose warmth and hospitality I have never forgotten. I later dated and married a football star at the university, Roy Burks. Many years later I met again old U of W friends, Dick Shilfarth and his wife Marlene of Elk Grove, who reminded me once more of the quality of the U of W world. The U of W taught me a great deal, most about the importance of real friendship and of enduring relationships. It is hard for me to look back on those days and not tear up. I remember the motto of the U of W, 'the best is yet to be'. Well, for me, the best has been my years at the U of W.
Norma Cross Bisignano ’53
Basel, Switzerland

Fifty-seven years after being joined by chance, the farm girl and the party girl are still fast friends, having survived various and sundry differences (my smoky clothes hung out on the dusting porch, her fetal pig chilling between the storm windows awaiting dissection). We found that we were more alike than we were different though … the campus blood drive came around, and cross-typing revealed that both of us have AB negative blood, common to only 2 percent of the world's population! Go figure.
Lynn Jindra Gadzinksi ’63
Jefferson, Wisconsin

Last May, I had the privilege of addressing the 2016 graduating class of the School of Pharmacy. Near the end of my remarks, I shared the following anecdote. Of course you may not be able to provide this context if you publish this, but it does add to the story. It was especially meaningful to the students, as they all know Professor Sorkness.
“I want to share one final story which goes back to my second year at the UW. The university said I had to declare a major — and I had no idea what that should be. One evening, I was sharing my plight with another student in my house in old Ogg Hall who I knew only casually. He mentioned he was in pharmacy school and asked if I had thought about that field. I had not, but what he took the time to describe appealed to my interest and training in the sciences along with its potential for a lot of people interaction. I explored further the possibilities in pharmacy and was admitted to the school after making a convincing argument that my less-than-stellar performance in organic chemistry would not compromise my ability to be a good pharmacist.
My life was changed forever by that conversation with then pharmacy student, now UW pharmacy professor Ron Sorkness. Without his taking the initiative to tell me his career plans, I would never have become a pharmacist and experienced all the exciting things my career has brought me. Professor Sorkness was an ambassador for pharmacy and the school just by doing what came naturally.

How you decide to expand your life beyond your career is a very personal thing, guided by individual style and life circumstances, among other factors. The good news, as this anecdote shows, is that you don’t have to do earth-shattering things to produce life-changing results.”
Duane Kirking ’74
Ann Arbor, Michigan

My first roommate was not a good match. She did not seem to like me very well, often had a sour look on her face, and we rarely spoke a full, kind sentence to one another. In some ways, I felt very intimated by her … and we lived in a very small room, so there was no choice but to be thrown together. The fact that I was terribly homesick those first months did not do anything to make the situation better for me. As soon as I could, which was the start of the second semester of my freshman year, I moved to another room with a much more compatible young woman. Then I met my wonderful Mimi, who became my roommate for the next two years. We bonded immediately and after graduation in 1954, remained friends until she died of dementia several years ago. I visited with her and her husband Sy in Saratoga, California as often as I could during her difficult days and we had many wonderful times together … playing games, doing art work, and just being in each others company. The thing we enjoyed, no matter what else had slipped her mind, was singing our beloved Badger songs: Varsity, If You Want to Be a Badger, and of course, On, Wisconsin! Mimi is never to far from my thoughts, and occasionally Wendy pops into my memory and I wonder how her life was after our Wisconsin days.
Barbara Bass Grubman ’54
Woodland Hills, California

My freshman-year roommate was active at the Lutheran Campus Center and quickly made a new friend with whom she spent many of those foundational "roomie-bonding" hours instead of me. I took all of my insecurity out on this girl that I hadn't even met, and told people I hated her for taking my roommate away. Sophomore year came along and my former roommate and "the girl," Danielle Herbrand Dieckman ’03, moved in together down the hall from me and my new roommate. That year, both of our roommates ditched us for their boyfriends. Brought together by a shared feeling of abandonment, Danielle and I became fast, close friends and we still are, despite living half a world apart with her teaching in Burkina Faso and me returning to my hometown in upstate New York. We still laugh about how I hated her before I even knew her — and look at us now!
Lindsay Hinkle ’02
Johnstown, New York

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