On Feb. 17, Belmont Ambassadors Lucy Walsh (senior) and DJ Needs (sophomore) sat down to host a discussion panel with alumni from some of Belmont College’s first graduating classes as part of the Homecoming 2021 celebration. They recounted memories of campus life and academics, laughing all the while about how much has changed.
In 1951, the Belmont property was purchased and converted into a degree-granting institution. The first graduating class, in 1955, had 26 graduates. Mary Lena Huber Price, an elementary education major with a minor in English, started at Belmont in 1954. She lived in North Front Hall, now known as Barbara Massey Hall.
Life in dorms has changed drastically since then as Huber Price recalled having to sign in and out each time she left the building. There were also very strict curfew hours in place for both weekdays and weekends. Huber Price remembered losing track of time after visiting a friend on the other side of campus, and when she returned to her dorm, she found the head of the “house council” (similar to residential life staff today) waiting for her outside. She had to appear before the house council to avoid punishment.
Janis Reynolds Mitchell, an English major with a minor in Latin, graduated from Belmont in 1969. After spending her first year in North Front Hall, Mitchell and her roommate moved to Heron to get a nicer bathroom. They waited in line for hours to get higher priority to select their room. Their waiting paid off when they got a corner room in Heron that had its own bathroom. Mitchell and her roommate loved the room so much, they lived there for two years. She recounted her experience in the dorms at Belmont as the best years of her life filled with memories and mischief, from exchanging secret Santa gifts to sneaking onto the roof to tan. “It felt like living in a small town,” she shared.
Betty Wiseman, who majored in physical education and health with a minor in English, became a dorm monitor after her first year living on campus. Wiseman speculates she was likely offered the position to keep her from being too mischievous. One of her duties was to do a hall check where the dating rooms were in the Belmont Mansion. When women were picked-up to go on a date, the lobby desk monitor would call up to their room to signal them to come down. Women were strictly forbidden from wearing pants or slacks, and they were not allowed to leave their dorm with their hair in curlers.
In addition to memories of campus life, alums remembered their time in the classroom. Dan Hatfield, who came to Belmont as a transfer from Trevecca in 1961, recalled his most memorable professor, Dr. James Helms, who taught history. Hounds was known for his unique teaching style sitting on a stool at the front of the classroom and doing his entire lecture with his eyes closed. Even with his eyes closed, Hatfield remembered him as a dynamic lecturer. So dynamic in fact, he once became so engrossed in discussing a historic battle that he fell off of his stool and hit his head on the chalkboard.
Hatfield also remembered the struggle of balancing coursework with his job at Kroger. He worked 35 hours per week all throughout college in order to pay for his entire education. “I didn’t make the best grades, but I made it. My life has been all the better for it.”
Other alums shared their appreciation for then University president, Dr. Herbert Gabhart. He was remembered for his kindness and his ability to remember every student’s name. Janis Reynolds Mitchell recounted the time she and her fellow cheerleaders went to his office to ask if they could slightly hem their skirts. He was receptive and understanding, and after discussion he did allow them to make the adjustment, which Mitchell chuckled and said, “Made all the difference!”
Gabhart once iconically said, “The best is yet to be for Belmont.” Alums echoed this statement, sharing that through the years, Belmont students and staff have remained very passionate and distinctive. As they expressed gratitude for their time and experiences at Belmont, they offered their prayers and well wishes for the future of the university.