With great sadness, I saw the picture in the WNJ recently of the Randall building on Nelson Avenue that had just been torn down. It had sat empty for some time and is going to be the site of a new wastewater treatment plant that is needed.
That is great, and that is progress — but many of us who attended Wilmington College in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s owe that building and that company our college education.
No, we did not attend classes there. No, we did not live there; it was not a dormitory. No, we did not play sports there.
But we spent many hours there working several days a week so that we could pay the college our tuition, room and board and enjoy college life, that got us where we wanted to be in life.
When I graduated from high school, I was told that I should try college; I had a hard time spelling “college.” My dad worked 10 hours a day and a half-day on Saturday just to keep my mother and three younger sisters in our home and food. So when I told my dad I wanted to go to college, his comment was, “Good luck!”
My parents both had to drop out of school in the eighth grade during the Great Depression in order to help support their families. They were both very intelligent, but hard work is all they knew. College was a word not in their vocabulary.
With no money and no financial support from family, I worked a year after high school in a local paper factory. One of my fellow employees was attending Wilmington College, and that was all he could talk about. I had a burning desire to play college football and he assured me that I could play at Wilmington.
So I drove to Wilmington, after turning into several streets including Peterson Place (it sure looked like a college) and I finally found the college. I met the coach, who assured me I would get a scholarship — which turned out to be a job at Randall — and I enrolled in this Quaker Institution.
I had saved enough money to get started, made it halfway through the first semester and found out that I needed my scholarship money. I was introduced to the Randall Company. For the next three years, for three days a week I attended classes, and three days a week I worked eight or more hours a day at Randall, a company that made mostly auto parts at the Wilmington plant.
It was hard, dirty, dangerous, monotonous work. Wilmington College and Randall had an agreement to employ college students, and the students were given priorities. For example, when there was a slowdown in work, the college students were the last to be laid off. It was a great program.
Some of the work was dangerous. Two of my teammates lost fingers in the big presses used to stamp out auto parts. I would go in the day after a rough game and would limp more than I needed to. My boss would give me an easy job counting nuts or bolts. Most of the bosses were great people.
Each day we rode a green school bus to and from Randall: We called it “The Limemazine.” At Christmas time they would give all employees a product from one of their other plants. We still have a skillet and small pan in our kitchen closet that is used often. I don’t think it will ever wear out and I will never throw it out.
It is a trophy of those days and is a reminder of my time at Randall — tough but rewarding!
I owe my college education to the Randall company. Do I feel cheated because my parents could not pay for my college education?
Just the opposite. I paid for my education with sweat, grease, dirt and some blood. Even today, and even though the Randall building is down, when I drive by I tip my hat and bow my head to the place that paid for my college.
Thanks Randall! I owe you a great deal!
As do many of my friends who are still with us.
Tony Lamke of Wilmington writes a periodic column for the News Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.