They tore down the duplex at 507 Russell Avenue during the construction of the new Wabash baseball stadium. I’m confident those responsible for completion of the stadium project consider that small, dingy brown structure to be nothing more than a minor impediment to the creation of a major campus upgrade. But to the Wabash men who called the place home from 1973 through 1982, 507 Russell Avenue was a historic landmark. It was certainly the setting for most of my memories of life at Wabash. The fondest of those memories revolve around the food we prepared for ourselves and our classmates in the kitchen of that little brown duplex.
After spending my freshman year –1974/1975 — at Martindale Hall and eating meals prepared and served in the Sparks Center, I moved to 507 Russell Avenue with three classmates, Tom “Moe” Modrowski, ’78, Randy Miller ’76 and Steve “Hog” VanMeter ‘76. The place was bequeathed to us from Dan Edquist ’75 and Tom Giesting 75’ who left Martindale in 1973 and became the first Wabash students to inhabit the duplex. For the first time in our lives we were forced to cook for ourselves or go hungry. Almost immediately, a plan for keeping an account of grocery purchases and all other house related expenditures was implemented. Our names were written on the top of a sheet of notebook paper. Beneath each name was a column. This ledger was then taped to the refrigerator door. Every time anyone paid for groceries, rent, utilities or any other household expense, an entry was made in their column. All expenditures were recorded and all groceries were communal property. No audit of the ledger was ever performed because none was necessary. We were “off campus” but the Gentlemen’s Rule remained in full force and effect. At the end of each semester all the entries were totaled and divided by four. At that point one either owed or received money depending on the variance between one fourth the total expenses and the total of one’s individual outlays.
The most frequent entries on the refrigerator door ledger accounted for purchases of cases of Stroh’s Beer bottles, likewise considered communal property. Those empty cases became tables, book cases and television/stereo stands, supplementing the few pieces of actual furniture we had accumulated. Our empty beer cases also became the household savings account. In early May those cases were hauled off to the liquor store and the deposit, $1.20 per case, was collected. The way we spent that money is another story for a different day. Aided by the refrigerator door ledger and strict compliance with the Gentlemen’s Rule, in all the years I lived in the duplex we never went hungry, or had an argument about money. The monthly rent of $100 ($25 per man) was certainly a factor in minimizing financial conflicts.
We were a frugal group and rarely ate fast food, believing that to be an extravagant and costly indulgence. Given different class schedules, breakfast and lunch were mostly individual affairs. But every night all four of us would gather around the dining room table for an evening meal. Not surprisingly, most of those meals were basic plates of meat, potatoes and vegetables. Uninformed about the virtues of fresh produce, our “food pyramid” included countless cans of green beans or corn, cooked in one of our two pans with a large dollop of butter. The main dish was typically ground beef or chicken prepared with the contents of cardboard boxes purchased at the grocery store. Chicken prepared with the “Shake and Bake” preparation mix was considered fine dining and we were especially excited when the barbeque flavor version was introduced. “Hamburger Helper” lasagna was served at our very first dinner party. Kevin Clifford ’78, Chick Clements and his wife Janet were among the honored guests. As I recall, following that meal Janet remarked, “you guys will be alright”. I was, and remain, very proud to receive that endorsement. I also recall the delight we shared upon removing a roast from the oven after it spent the day cooking at 225 degrees, covered with two cans of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup. On warm nights burgers or dogs were grilled on a small hibachi in the front yard. On occasion, our Russell Avenue neighbors Kevin Chavous ’78 and Jack Armstead ’78 joined us for those cookouts. I still remember the aroma which filled the neighborhood on those early fall and spring evenings.
Without a doubt the ultimate food experience at 507 Russell Avenue was an elaborate – at least for us – dinner of roast turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. A 15 pound turkey was procured for those events through our participation in a Kroger marketing promotion. Shoppers were given cards with ten dark spots. Every week we went to Kroger and, upon spending the requisite $10, one of the spots in our card was punched out by the cashier. After all the spots were punched we received our turkey. I diligently followed Betty Crocker’s recipe for roast turkey and dressing. Moe was surprisingly adept at preparing mashed potatoes. One of our turkey feasts was attended by a contingent of Chicago natives living in Martindale, including Robert “Fred” Kosola, Jack Ruddy and John Barry, who arrived with a bag full of corn on the cob. All agreed Stroh’s beer was the perfect libation to pair with these meals. Perhaps I have romanticized these events over the decades. Nevertheless, to this day the smell of roasting turkey and dressing inevitably transports me back in time to the brown duplex on Russell Avenue.
When Randy and Hog graduated in 76 their places were taken by two underclassmen refugees from Martindale, John Clough ’79 and Keith “Huck” Yegerlinger. Huck left school the following year and Rick Wheeler ’78, took his place. Later, after Moe and I graduated, Scott Boone ’81 and Chris Braun ’81 would join the roster of duplex residents. They, in turn, accepted Gary Fahnestock and Joe Boomhower into the most exclusive fraternity at Wabash, the residents of 507 Russell Avenue. Sadly, when Scott locked the door for the last time in 1982, the illustrious tradition of Wabash men experiencing both brotherhood and independence in a small, brown, two bedroom duplex came to a close. Over that entire time the sheet on the refrigerator door kept an accurate account of financial matters, camaraderie was fostered and the Gentlemen’s Rule exemplified by the residents of 507 Russell Avenue.