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Roommate Reflections: The Wild

Badger Insider readers reflect on their wild roommate experiences.

Will Farrell move in day picture


So I lived with same four guys in on a house on Jefferson Street for three years. One roommate brought four lawn chairs when we moved in on August 1975. When we graduated and all went our ways, the same roommate returned the same lawn chairs to our neighbor’s house from where he "borrowed" (stole) from three years earlier!
Franklin La Dien ’77
Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin

For several years, my roommate and I worked as waiters for a sorority house on Langdon Street. Things progressed well until we became assigned to the "bat patrol."The house became infected with bats during the winter of 1963–1964. We were able to kill enough bats just with brooms. Eventually, my roommate and I increased our kill rate by using tennis racquets. One night, we cornered bats in an enclosed, lighted window porch area. After we went about our bat duties for some 20 minutes, we heard a rousing sound of applause from nearly 30 people who were watching our every move from the darkened sidewalk. We weren't aware of the entertainment show we had provided this sidewalk audience!
Glen Volkman ’64
Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Arriving at the UW and my room in Tripp Hall for the first time was a great experience for me. The residents in Botkin House were great pranksters. Several of the more memorable practical jokes included flushing cherry bombs down upper-level toilets and hooking up a Model T coil to urinal plumbing to shock unsuspecting users. Another shocker was placing a small amount of nitrogen trilodide (made in chemistry class) in door locks to make a loud crack when key holders attempted to unlock their doors.
William Tishler ’60
Fitchburg, Wisconsin

My freshman year I had planned on rooming with a friend from my hometown. After our first exciting week in Chadbourne Hall, she decided that college was not for her. Shortly thereafter, the dormitory assigned me a new roommate — a senior animal behavior major from South Carolina. She was studying the behavior of cockroaches and proceeded to line up on her bed bolster area about size large restaurant-size jars filled with cockroaches. Every so often she would have to transfer cockroaches from one jar to another. In doing that, one time, she dropped a handful and they scurried quickly around the room. The two of us put towels under the door so none would escape and then rounded all the little critters up … I think … and returned them to their glass houses. She did play a beautiful acoustic guitar, too, and many a night took my mind off of the roaches we shared our room with as she strummed tunes that sounded a bit like Peter, Paul and Mary. What better way to fall asleep?
Suzanne Sullivan VanGalder ’71
Janesville, Wisconsin

All my friends and I were always broke. No surprise. To save money, four guys rented a single room at a former frat house on Johnson Street. Normally it worked out okay, as two of the four rarely showed up, so it was usually a two guys in one small(ish) room. The two other guys lived in Milwaukee and basically commuted, with an infrequent need to stay overnight in Madison. Occasionally, a third guy would stay over for a night or two. The room was tight, but workable. Then, on really rare occasions, a fourth guy would need to stay in Madison. We used two roll-away beds to handle the two extra guys. But, when the fourth person's roll away was set up, we literally had to close the door to the room and then set up the bed. So we all were locked in to the room until morning when the door was opened. I am quite certain that the fire marshal would not have been impressed.
Bill Rauwerdink ’72
West Bloomfield, Michigan

My freshman year roommate and I were both engineering students and we lived in Rust House, a dorm on North Orchard Street. One of the guys in the room directly above us hung a wastebasket from the frame of his window to use as a refrigerator during the winter. My roommate, as a joke, liked to prop his banana peels on the tip of his slide rule, stand on our window ledge, and dump the banana peel into the waste basket above him. One night, as I was studying, my roommate did his usual stunt. As he stood on the ledge, I heard a window open above me and then watched a huge gush of water come down all over my roommate. I fell off my chair laughing after witnessing such poetic justice.
Bob Lawrence ’69, MBA’71
Waukesha, Wisconsin

Back in the late sixties, I had a roommate who had a very unusual breakfast menu, which was called “TNT for breakfast!” TNT consisted of Thunderbird wine and toast, and really got him started for the day of classes and the afternoon repast at the pub on State Street! Boy, those were the days!
Thomas Duban ’70
Noblesville, Indiana

I shared a room in Mack House (Lakeshore dorms) with Larry (David?) Sperling from White Plains, New York. We were lottery pick roommates, and at least from my perspective I really lucked out! We got along very well despite very different goals at the UW, and in spite of the fact that I mooched off him and raided his cookie and snack stash on more than one occasion. During my four years at UW–Madison, I was a member of the cross country and track teams while pursuing a BA degree in journalism and mass communications. My schedule precluded a lot of fun times on Friday nights in order to get enough rest for a Saturday meet. Not so for Mr. Sperling! On one occasion, Larry and other dorm mates had enjoyed a very festive evening at a few campus area bars and returned to the dorm in fine form and ready for some additional fun! In the meantime, I was sound asleep enjoying some excellent REM cycles. My roomie came in to our room laughing and decided that the moment was right for me to learn how to do a mid-sleep handstand. He was a big guy and had no problem hoisting the footboard of my bunk and pushing it vertically toward the wall! Luckily, I averted doing a forced (and painful) headstand and scrambled to my feet madder than a wet hen! I said some rather unpleasant things to Larry and company as I headed to the hallway, grabbed a trash barrel full of pop cans and dumped it over the railing and down the stairwell one floor below. It made a little noise . . . enough to catch the attention of the RA who wasn't at all happy with me. But by the time he arrived on the 2nd floor I was headed back to bed, and Larry took care of our RA's angst and all the soda cans! One of many interesting and memorable experiences with Larry Sperling!
Dan Kowal ’75
Janesville, Wisconsin

Two stories. I came to the UW, and would not turn 18 until second semester. My much more worldly roommate, Greg Sagemiller from Wauwatosa, was shocked at my age, but said I needed to give him $3. Two days later, he returned with a blank birth certificate, which we together filled in, photocopied and took down to the county courthouse to procure my "legitimate" ID. Anti-social yes, but also wonderful.

My first experience with alcohol was a mixed blessing. I drank too much, and upon returning to Sellery Hall and lying down, I realized that I was going to be ill. I grabbed the wastebasket, dumped everything on the floor, vomited and fell asleep, realizing only then that there were holes on both sides of the waste basket near the bottom. To my shock, there was no mess to clean the next morning. My neighbor across the hall, Bill Knobloch, had cleaned it up. What a life-saver!
Mark Goldstein ’70
Northbrook, Illinois

My first year, I had a randomly selected roommate who shall remain unnamed. I arrived first and took the top bunk. My roommate turned out to being a bit of a lush. He often came in drunk, called his girlfriend long-distance on our shared landline (there were no cell phones in the early seventies), and proceeded to pass out in the closet from which he talked, semi-privately. However, his most ridiculous stunt was when he came in drunk and went to bed, in his top bunk, one winter night. He soon became aware of how cold he was and pulled the covers off of me, in my top bunk. I quickly recovered them.
Bill Piernot ’77
New Berlin, Wisconsin

This mercifully will be a shorter story, which quickly educated me about campus life in Madison in the 1960s. After finishing my freshman and sophomore years at the two-year university extension campus in Green Bay, I arrived in fall of 1965 at Winslow House in Adams Hall for my junior year. I was fortunate enough to get a single room on the third floor overlooking the street and Carson Gulley Commons, so I never had roommate problems. I had traveled a long way from far northeast Wisconsin that day, which left me exhausted after unloading and unpacking, so I turned in early for the night. As I lay in bed waiting to nod off, I suddenly heard lots of unsteady footsteps arriving in the hallway, then I heard room doors opening, people staggering into rooms, doors closing, then silence throughout the floor. However, that silence lasted only a short time as next I heard students frantically opening doors again, scrambling to the bathroom and opening doors to toilet stalls with a bang. Next, I heard classic retching sounds of students barfing loads of beer into toilets, and that solely auditory experience gave me a complete mental picture of party life on the Madison campus. And this was before the first day of classes!
James Andrus ’68
Cortez, Colorado

This isn't a story about me as much as it is about my daughter, Chris, who attended UW Madison for her undergrad and graduate degrees before heading on to North Carolina State for her doctorate. So, my daughter and I attended orientation about 25 years ago when Donna Shalala was the chancellor. Donna gave this inspirational speech about what to expect as a freshman, the dangers of walking alone on campus, the UW system’s tolerance for alternate life styles, etc. All the while I'm getting more nervous, as Chris was my oldest child — and although I was excited about her starting college, I was still worried about her being away from home and on her own for the first time. So when Donna gets done speaking and asks if there are any questions, I raised my hand and said, "After all you've just said about the dangers on campus, do you still expect me to leave my 17 year old daughter here?" She and everyone else laughed and said my daughter would survive. Fast forward to today: my daughter did survive and thrive. She has her PhD in genetics, is now married and working for WARF. And I am so proud of her. And glad she attended UW–Madison.
Madison, WI

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