Valley Forge Memories
Those Were The Days
Ronnie and Mary Lou Porter 1960-64
Army family housing, compressed paper walls, concrete floors, $40 a month and utilities paid - "We'll take it!" Thus began our four years at Missouri Valley College, living at Valley Forge, our first home and the place of unforgettable memories.
Valley Forge was located on the southern portion of the Missouri Valley campus (currently, the soccer field) and close to Gregg Mitchell Field. The Forge opened in 1946 for the purpose of providing housing for married soldiers returning from W.W. II who wanted to begin or continue their college education. The United States government built housing of this type on college campuses throughout the country. Eventually, the Forge would house all married students who wanted to live on campus.
When my husband, Ronnie, and I first drove around the campus in 1960 to capture our first view of Valley Forge, we saw, on the street level, two army housing units facing E. Morrow Street and two facing west on S. Redman Street, each with four apartments and four small front porches, concrete sidewalks connecting all of the apartments. The upper tier of three units faced toward the campus, two faced north and one east. Our apartment, 7D, was the singleton unit facing east with Gregg Mitchell Field in our vision.
Large shade trees and many green areas surrounded all of the units with concrete steps leading to the street level apartments. Most residents planted flowers during their time at Valley Forge. I remember many purple and white irises blooming in the spring. The green areas were kept nicely groomed by Ollie, the friendly grounds keeper whom all children knew. Our son, George, who was born during our Valley years, often visited with Ollie, usually asking Ollie if he had seen one of George's lost toys.
When we came to Valley Forge, we had no idea that we would be living in army housing with its dingy brown/orange shingle like siding, but that fact made no difference because we were on a great adventure (long before "Indiana Jones") - newly married, new college students, new friends, and now our new home.
The apartments were rather spacious for the time period and featured one bedroom, one small closet, a bathroom (shower), living room, and kitchen. I fell in love with our apartment the minute I saw it and envisioned its transformation, a transformation made possible by our work force (family) and the donation of paint by the college. My sister, Suzann, also donated her skills by painting the concrete floor with gray paint. Unfortunately, sprinkles and splashes of gray also decorated the light green walls of the bedroom, but her hourly wage was minimal! Much laughter accompanied the efforts of all of us in creating a fresh clean look to our apartment. Each summer during our time at Valley, I would redecorate by painting the walls different colors to brighten the look and cover the scratches and holes mended with masking tape.
Mom made drapes out of some of her old ones for the living room and bedroom, drapes whose print showcased ancient castle scenes, how appropriate for army housing. She also made kitchen curtains and a matching curtain that fit below the large sink to hide the cleaning supplies. A variety of colored spice bottles in yellows, greens and browns created a colorful print for those curtains. Once I hung my copper salad molds (a wedding present), and tied my apron on, I knew this room was truly my niche. The apartment size gas stove and Mom and Dad's 1940's Frigidaire comprised our appliances, and a brown and beige kitchenette set (also a wedding present) made for an attractive setting.
Our living room contained an ancient black and white Motorola television with rabbit ears, inherited from Ronnie's grandmother, a new brown plaid studio couch which would give our parents a place to sleep when they visited, particularly on football weekends (Ronnie was on a football scholarship), and a rocking chair located in the "hot spot" by our main heating source, a big gas stove which continually puffed out great quantities of heat. You roasted sitting too close to it and shivered sitting too far from it. Sometimes, we would light the oven in the kitchen and open its door to create more heat for the kitchen area, particularly if we were giving our son, George, a bath in the cavernous sink. The living room also sported my grandmother's old green and blue floral rug - thus, wall to wall carpeting. We squeezed two chests, a double bed, and eventually, a crib and chivarobe into the one bedroom and still had some space. Most of the furniture and rugs came from our families' homes - something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
The basic structure of the Forge apartments was solid, but the walls were quite thin, sounds travelling easily, making privacy somewhat questionable. We were luckier than most since our apartment was a corner one, and the apartment next to us was vacant until our senior year. Since the maintenance staff didn't want pipes freezing in the empty apartment, they let me turn on the heat and hang a clothes line - automatic dryer - while my neighbors had to trek to the nearest Laundromat two blocks away. The outdoor clothesline behind each apartment became a social area for the women as they were hanging out clothes, each individual often eyeing the lines of the other apartments to see whether these residents knew the "proper" method of hanging laundry, grouping each category together. Thanks to Mom, I had a master's degree in hanging out laundry.
Our air conditioning was truly "air". Some friends gave us a window fan that they weren't using, so by installing it in our kitchen window and reversing the flow, the air poured into our bedroom enabling us to sleep of a night. Since the west sun hit both of these rooms, the fan was precious metal.
Memories of the sounds and smells of evening in the barracks often drift into my consciousness even after 54 years, sounds of children laughing or crying, parents soothing them, typewriters clicking along, some TV or radio, "discussions" going on between husbands and wives, and the crunching of gravel as friends from the other campus strolled down to the Forge to study with their classmates. Few of us had the time or desire to watch much television, but our friends remember one such occasion when they crowded into our apartment in a state of shock and grief to watch the coverage of President Kennedy's assassination and funeral.
The smells emanating forth from the kitchens of an evening were both familiar and exotic. Fried chicken and hamburgers, both inexpensive choices, were often recognized, but the exotic ones were quite a treat for Ronnie and me. We were introduced to the delights of pizza and tacos from our "city" neighbors. Macon, Missouri, our home town hadn't "arrived" in serving these wonderful gourmet entrees. We both learned how to create Chef Boyardee pizza and to fry the greasy taco shells and fill them with the sizzling, spicy hamburger mixture, quenching the fire in our mouths with gallons of Pepsi. Fresh fried mushrooms (a new delicacy), fried rabbit, dove, frog legs, geese, and ground hog (the latter two always doused with O.C. Bruner's wonderful barbeque sauce) were all a delightful part of our culinary experience during these formative years.
The women also exchanged recipes for pastries - my favorite Swedish brownie recipe came from the Forge. One of our neighbors could make homemade cinnamon rolls, and I asked her to teach me how. I was quite confident as to my skills and immediately demonstrated my talents for both sets of parents who were visiting that weekend (both mothers made wonderful cinnamon rolls). I was amazed and devastated when my rolls didn't rise and looked and tasted like hockey pucks. I cried and determined that I would never fight the yeast battle again.
Throughout the four years at the Forge, we "forged" numerous lifetime friendships. Many football players (Volney Ashford's boys) lived at the Forge for at least a year, often their senior year. Since Ronnie played football all four years, these boys were our group and our babysitters, as were their girlfriends at McDonald Hall. Our unit, number 7, housed several of our friends and created memories that we all reflect on whenever we're together.
The Forge was a defining experience for all of us - it gave us a sense of oneness, community, and place. Our Valley Forge wasn't a battle site (most of the time), but our first home and our beginnings.