Parents ponder empty nest

by Nichol Nelson

Ross Anderson remembers the day his parents dropped him off for college like it was yesterday.
“They took me up, threw my stuff on the curb, and drove away,” Anderson said. “I was the last of the kids to leave for school. They had done it before.”
That was in 1962 at Utah State University. The scene was a little different 26 years later, when Anderson dropped off his freshman son Christopher in front of Comstock Hall last Saturday. Dad helped his son move in, and then made his way to a reception for parents at Coffman Union that afternoon.
At the gathering, parents ate banana bread and fruit from maroon and gold plates while reflecting on the experience of letting go of a child.
“We’re aware that it’s a tense day for families,” said Marjorie Savage, Parent Involvement Coordinator. “Sometimes students want to start settling in without their parents. This way the parents can leave for a short time, then return; we’re encouraging the parents to go back.”
The parent hospitality suites were set up on both the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses and were sponsored by the Office of Student Development and Athletics.
Parents at the reception mingled with University administrators and other parents, asking questions and recalling similar times in their lives.
Philip Kiedrowski left his hometown of Muskego, Wis., at 3 a.m to get his son Adam to Comstock Hall before the rush. He said he knows his son’s transition to college is “part of the life cycle,” but admitted to a feeling of sadness.
“I think you can grow closer when they’re away,” he added.
Other parents talked about how their households would change without their children. Jane Panch was worried that her house would seem empty after the departure of her daughter Amanda.
“We used to do a lot of mother and daughter things together,” she said. “It will be hard, but I’m excited for her. I’ll have to call myself to hear the phone ring.”
Other parents reflected on how much has changed since they entered college. Many mothers talked about the strict rules that accompanied residence hall life when they attended school.
Moms recalled the frustration of a midnight curfew and strict check-out procedures in their residence halls.
“The dorms were very segregated. There were no boys allowed in the dorms at all,” said Sharon Regan of Orono, Minn., recalling her freshman dorm experience at Mankato State University in 1965. “Once a quarter, we were allowed to have male visitors, but all doors had to be open and all feet on the ground.”
The rules were enforced by dorm mothers, she said. Instead of the residence assistants the University has in place for its dorm residents, the students were supervised by unmarried women who resided in small apartments within the residence halls.
When Anderson entered Utah State, it was the first year that women were allowed to wear pants. “It was a big deal back then,” he said.
Moms also recalled the frustration of having to return to the dorms before midnight.
Many fathers present at the hospitality suites entered college in the political turmoil of the 1960s, when many men were eligible for the Vietnam War draft.
Tom Hilson of Brahim, Minn., went to the University until he was drafted in 1964. As a member of ROTC, he was a frequent target of war protesters when he wore his uniform as required every Tuesday.
“It was a little tense,” he said. “Some people took them off because of the pressure.”
Jack Peplinski remembers Vietnam during his freshman year in 1969. “Lots of kids were going to school to avoid the war, and there were also a lot of kids coming home from the war and going to school on the G.I. Bill,” he said. Demonstrations, strikes and rebellion against “the establishment” were a part of his everyday life at school.
Most parents were happy with the way things have changed since they went to school. The majority were grateful that they can take a more active role in their children’s transition to college.
Peplinski and his wife Marcee praised the University for its Parent Orientation program. They both felt that the University’s programs made them feel more a part of their son’s experience and increased their comfort with the transition.
“We’re just waiting for the e-mail asking for money,” said Marcee Peplinski, smiling.