May 29, 2024

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Memorial Day Ceremony is now available in ARC Event Library

Roommates

By Tom Watson

There was an editorial in the New York Times, of April 18, 2024, entitled What Is Lost When Freshmen Choose Their Roommates, by Pamela Paul. Her story stated that colleges, both Public and Private, had differing views on the subject. Some encourage choice of roommates, and some do not allow it.

The article stimulated many memories for me. The University of Florida allowed choice of roommates. In 1951 eleven boys from Bay High were going to UF. As I filled in my application, my mother advised me not to select one of the others. She said it was better to get to know someone from a different town and school and get to know their friends. Some of the other Bay High boys chose roommates.

Her other advice came as I took one suitcase on the bus to Gainesville. She said, “Don’t come home until Thanksgiving. I want you to feel that the University would shut down if you left.”

My first roommate in South Hall was Tommy Adams from Lee HS in Jacksonville. He was nice enough, but he had left a steady girlfriend in Jax, and he went home every Friday to see her. I did meet some of his Jacksonville friends. Tommy was put on probation our second semester, flunked out and left me to new roommates my sophomore year.

For my sophomore year I was re-assigned to 464 Murphree Hall. My roommates were Bill Ruhlin, electrical engineering, from St. Petersburg and Jim Robbins, chemical engineering, from Tampa, both seniors. The relationships were great; played handball on Saturday mornings and went out for ice cream. One night we drove to Jacksonville for ice cream! Sadly, they both graduated in June.

I stayed in 464 Murphree, but was assigned two new roommates, Ollie Messer, from Fort Myers, and Buster Agliano, from Tampa. I don’t remember their majors, but Ollie rode a motorcycle. One day he put a motorcycle battery on my desk and it leaked acid onto my physics book. The cover was badly burned. I still have that book for the convenience of formulas, and I think of Ollie whenever I use it.

Buster was a slob. He was about six foot three and weighed around 250 pounds. His father owned a fish market in the Ybor City section of Tampa, and Buster had plenty of money. He never sent a shirt to the laundry. When he was through wearing one, it simply went to the floor of his closet. When he ran out of shirts, he bought more. About once a month he would pack all his dirty clothes into his Buick and drive home so that his mother could wash the lot.

Buster had played tackle for Tampa’s Jefferson HS and his best friends were Gator football players: Rick Casares (later a Chicago Bears fullback) and Mike Carafilis. Both were big men.

Our Murphree Hall “apartment” consisted of a study room with three desks, and a sleeping room with three single beds. There was a closeable door between them. Rick and Mike and some other friends would come over to play poker with Buster. As Buster told me, “Rick likes music when he plays.” So, they played my battery radio until the batteries died. I would return to the room at around 11:00 pm to find the room filled with smoke, and the tile floor littered with cigarette butts that they had thrown down and stepped on. There was nothing Ollie or I could do. I’d just close the door and go to bed, while they played until after midnight. At least I had incentive to go to the library. When at last the semester ended, Buster, Ollie, and I went our own ways.

Many years later I learned that Buster had met a girl who civilized him, and that he had become a civic leader in Tampa.

Thus ended my dormitory and roommate experience, but it taught me to live with people of quite different personalities. I learned to win a few and lose a few, and not to predict what someone else might do!

Ellen and I sent five kids off to college to meet their roommates, and we told them not to come home until Thanksgiving. They all had both good and bad experiences with roommates, but none of them regretted taking the chance.

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