Building Community through Shared History - A KU Memorial Union Program

Four For Moore

If nothing else, the brief history of the John Moore Co-op certainly qualifies as a moving experience.

During the little more than three years of its existence in the early-to-mid 1940s, this housing cooperative for men students at the University of Kansas was based at four different addresses in the Mount Oread environs. It spent 11 months at 1121 Ohio Street, 13 months at 1537½ Tennessee Street, nine at 1409 Rhode Island and its final days at 1614 Kentucky.

Adding to the migratory nature of its physical location was the transitory character of its residents. The early years of World War II saw numerous KU men enter the armed forces on an induction timetable that had no regard for the semester schedule. Those who lived in the John Moore Co-op were hardly exempt from this regimen, and following American entry into the Second World War, the residence’s membership roster changed on an almost monthly basis. On top of this, there even was a high degree of turnover among the co-op’s house parents.

Indeed, just about the only thing that stayed the same for this housing co-op – which formally opened on September 19, 1941, when 28 men moved into rented quarters at 1121 Ohio Street – was its name in honor of John J.O. Moore, a “friendly, dedicated and well-liked” confidant and counselor to innumerable Jayhawk undergraduates. For several years previously, Moore had been executive secretary of the University’s chapter of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). He also was considered “one of the fathers of the co-op movement at KU.”

Cooperative student housing at the University of Kansas was still an embryonic phenomenon when John James Oliver Moore arrived in Lawrence in September 1938 to accept the YMCA position. A 29-year-old Missouri native, Moore held an AB in sociology from the University of Missouri and an MA in social work from the University of Denver. He’d also spent eight years working for the YMCA – five in Kansas City and three in Denver – directing and organizing a number of ambitious projects ranging from summer camps for children from low-income families to a venture for troubled young men modeled after Father Edward J. Flanagan’s renowned Boys Town.

Once settled in at KU, Moore set about pursuing the University YMCA chapter’s stated mission “to instruct the student in the application of certain basic principles of religion to the workaday problems that he faces as a citizen in the college community.” As Moore himself told the September 1938 edition of the Graduate Magazine, by helping people “develop and mature to the limits of [their] capacity,” the “Y” could be a “helpful anchorage for the drifting college student.”

In the estimation of the 1940 Jayhawker yearbook at least, Moore was soon enjoying considerable success. “Because of his ability and sincerity,” the publication noted, “he has the support of both student members and faculty administrators as no previous secretary has had for a long time. This is one reason,” it continued, “why the YMCA is looking forward to brighter days and larger service [ahead].”

Brighter days were certainly on the wish list for the University’s chapter of the YMCA at this time. Under suspicion by conservatives for its purported left-wing orientation and communist sympathies, the organization had come in for even more criticism during the 1937-38 school year when it was revealed that Don Henry – an impressionable young undergraduate from Dodge City who went off to fight and die for the Loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War – had been a member of the KU chapter. Charges that the YMCA had helped to influence Henry’s decision to volunteer for the anti-fascist cause had led to the resignation of Moore’s predecessor amidst a minor “Red Scare” that had descended on Mount Oread.

Under these circumstances, Moore may well have been a much-needed “moderating influence” on the University’s YMCA chapter, as Fred McElhenie, KU’s associate director of student housing, has suggested. “It is possible,” wrote McElhenie, that Moore “helped deflect attention” away from the association’s purported leftist bent. “Moore may have presented a new image as head of the local organization. While this is very speculative,” McElhenie acknowledged, Moore’s “presence did parallel a period of less attention to the ‘communist’ influences at KU.”
However close to the mark these assumptions may be, it is certainly the case that John Moore’s influence during his three-year tenure on Mount Oread extended far beyond his YMCA duties. A longtime believer in the cooperative movement, Moore soon became instrumental in spreading the co-op housing gospel at KU.

Most prominently, he was a key advisor to the founding members of the Jayhawk Co-op, a group of some 20 men who, in September 1939, established KU’s first formal student housing cooperative at 1614 Kentucky Street. Moore and his wife Clytice also volunteered to live in the residence and became the co-op’s first house-parents.

Two years later, Moore and Gibson joined forces again. This time, they helped Jayhawk Co-op members set up an independent, non-profit entity called the University of Kansas Student Housing Association (UKSHA), a corporation that purchased the Kentucky Street house and later became the vehicle by which several other Oread neighborhood dwellings were acquired and turned into housing co-ops.

The year 1941, however, was also Moore’s last as YMCA executive secretary at KU. Eager to pursue new opportunities and return to his old Rocky Mountain haunts, he submitted his resignation in mid May and, by late summer, was back in the Mile High City serving in his new job as director of the Grace Community Center Church.

John J.O. Moore may have left Mount Oread, but apparently his presence was still keenly felt by the time the fall 1941 semester began. This was especially true for Edwin Price, a KU senior who had worked under Moore at the YMCA.

Price seems to have been inspired by Moore’s commitment to cooperation. He was not alone. On September 16, 1941, Price and 27 other KU undergraduate men came together for the inaugural meeting of a new housing cooperative, then known simply as the “1121 Ohio Street Co-op.” The first order of business resulted in Price’s election as house president.

For whatever reason, the 28 founding members ensconced in this Ohio Street rental property chose to set aside the issue of formally naming the new co-op until the second house meeting, scheduled to occur three days later. According to the minutes of that September 19, 1941, gathering, as recorded by Secretary Thomas Freeman, “After a too early arousal from slumbers and partaking of a hearty breakfast,” the naming question was placed on the table. One person suggested the “KU Co-op” and that garnered one vote, presumably from the nominator himself. Another chimed in with “Varsity Co-op” and that earned four ayes. Far and away, though, the favorite, with 14 votes, was the “John Moore Co-op.”

With that settled, wrote Freeman, “The president therefore announced that the house would from now and henceforth, to all and sundry, be known, designated, referred to, specified as, and [exist] under the name and style of the John Moore Co-op.” While the minutes provide no further details, one can probably assume that President Edwin Price played an influential role in the new co-op’s appellation.

In the ensuing months, the members went about all the ordinary rudiments of organizing their cooperative. They divvied up the household chores, secured the services of a housemother – referred to in the documents only as “Mother Cary” – and designated a committee to draft the co-op’s constitution. Read and unanimously approved on December 1, 1941, the governing compact declared the group’s purpose as being to provide members with “an economical, co-operative and fraternal residence … at a minimum cost” (which eventually came to between $20 and $30 a month all told.)

In addition, the constitution formalized procedures concerning the election of officers and the acceptance of new members. It also laid down a number of house rules that aimed to encourage the completion of daily tasks and the observation of quiet hours, as well as to strongly discourage the possession and consumption of alcohol.

Interestingly, the framers of this document also went out of their way to warn co-op residents against thinking of the housemother as a cook or personal maid. She was there “to provide a homelike atmosphere, to act as hostess at house social functions, and to counsel with boys in the house…. She is not expected to work in the kitchen [or] perform general housework.” She may, however, if she is so inclined, “give occasional instructions as to the preparation of foods.”

Among the chores the members had to accomplish themselves was, of course, KP duty. And while this was a task the men were normally anxious to get over with and quick to forget, there was at least one time when it was an experience that remained memorable for a lifetime. Such was the case for John F. Hoffmann on an infamous Sunday in December 1941 that has since come to be remembered as Pearl Harbor Day. “My main memory of John Moore,” he wrote in a 2002 retrospective, “is hearing the announcement of the Pearl Harbor attack while cleaning the kitchen after lunch on that fateful day.”

Donald R. Germann, another John Moore resident at the time, had been at church on the morning of December 7, 1941. “As we arrived [back at the co-op] in groups from our various church services,” he recalled in a reminiscence written more than 60 years later, “we were greeted by a solemn gathering of our house colleagues [who were] clustered around one of our few radios.” The nation would never be the same again. Nor, for that matter, would many members of the John Moore Co-op.

Fortunately for Germann and others, a few “wiser senior heads” offered some on-the-spot advice. “You are far more valuable as an educated specialist than a single foot soldier,” Germann remembered Price, the co-op’s president, counseling them. “Don’t enlist tomorrow morning; let’s see what develops.” Some John Moore members heeded Price’s advice while others chose to enlist soon thereafter. But whatever the decision, from that day forward life at the co-op, recalled Germann, proceeded “in a very different manner.”

The existence of the residence itself became uncertain as well, subject to “the anxieties of an unknown future,” as KU co-op historian John Eberhardt later characterized the period. The most obvious change over the next roughly three years was the co-op’s annually shifting addresses, a process begun in August 1942 when the John Moore men moved from 1121 Ohio into a house at 1537½ Tennessee Street. The reason for the relocation seemed to revolve around the University of Kansas Student Housing Association’s decision to sign a one-year lease for this particular property. And as a member of UKSHA, the John Moore Co-op may well have received more favorable terms than if it had remained at the Ohio Street rental.

For the next 13 months, 1537½ Tennessee – which had recently housed the Theta Tau professional engineering fraternity – would be home base for the John Moore Co-op. During this period, its membership entered a disruptive state of nearly constant flux that would hamper the house for the rest of its existence. Residents departed, often in mid-semester, as they enlisted or were drafted. New occupants would replace them as bunks opened and bodies were needed to help cover next month’s rent. At one point in March 1943, the Jayhawk Co-op – which had recently shut down because so many of its members had gone off to war – sent some of its few remaining men to live in John Moore. Around this time, too, the co-op welcomed its second housemother, Mrs. H.J. Cleary.

With the closing of Jayhawk Co-op, only two cooperative men’s residences remained at KU, John Moore on Tennessee and the Rock Chalk Co-op at 1409 Rhode Island. By the fall of 1943, further dwindling memberships demanded that these two co-op housing holdouts be consolidated. For reasons unclear, the choice was made to move everyone – a mere 19 men – into the Rhode Island house. This did not, however, signal the end of the John Moore moniker because, apparently, its members occupied at least a slim majority at the new address and voted to retain the name. Thus, 1409 Rhode Island became the third building to be known as the John Moore Co-op. At this time, yet another set of new house parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Jirik, also took up residence at the co-op.

“Due to the war,” wrote the KU Student Housing Department’s Fred McElhenie with a tinge of understatement, “stability was not an outstanding feature” of the John Moore Co-op. Nor, it seems, was domestic tranquility, especially during the 1942-44 period. The impression John Eberhardt had was of “a few leaders struggling to maintain order, and sometimes losing, in a battle against chaos.” This assessment was seconded by John Moore resident William Stewart, who further recalled how “work assignments were sometimes neglected by the transitory members, which placed an added burden on the rest of us to keep the house operating.”

As such, the minutes of many house meetings are peppered with accounts of acrimonious “bitch sessions,” as the men termed them, where alleged “loafers” were roundly castigated. Amid this contentious atmosphere, it is perhaps a bit surprising that members succeeded in expelling only one of their own, his ill-defined offense being repeated violations of house regulations. Another offender – charged with breaking the no-booze rule – narrowly escaped expulsion by winning a razor-thin 8-7 vote. (While alcohol was technically forbidden in the John Moore Co-op, gambling, interestingly enough, was not. There’s “nothing objectionable,” a resolution approved 15-3 had once declared, “about playing poker for money.”)

Beyond the daily minor stresses and the ubiquitous major one that was World War II, the men of John Moore were saddled with what became their fourth and final move in the fall of 1944. This time, their destination was 1614 Kentucky Street, the original home of the Jayhawk Co-op. The house had been the residence of the Kaw Koette Co-op, a house for undergraduate women, since the Jayhawk Co-op was closed in March 1943.Once reclaimed by the men, however, the makeup of the group was such that the John Moore contingent no longer comprised a majority. Accordingly, on November 4, 1944, a motion was made to drop the John Moore designation and, instead, readopt the name Jayhawk Co-op. The motion carried and the 38-month-old John Moore Co-op passed into KU student housing history.

Looking back from the vantage point of some six decades, many alumni of the John Moore Co-op still do, however, retain vivid memories of their former abode.

It was “the best possible environment for a young country boy without a lot of money,” wrote John Meek, a onetime Ohio Street denizen. “It had all the advantages of a fraternity and none of the disadvantages.” Most importantly, he added, “all the co-opers were there to get an education.”

William Stewart fondly recalled how “working together with others to achieve a common objective was an important part of my total educational experience.” Also in this vein were the memories of P.T. “Ty” Schuerman, who noted that learning to live together and “manage our [own] house and food service” was a “valuable experience.”

And for James Earl Barney, his primary recollection was of the “truly wonderful people” he met while living at the John Moore Co-op, a place, he said, that “enlarged my experiences at KU.”

As for the co-op’s namesake, John J.O. Moore himself, he maintained his deep commitment to the fields of social welfare and education after leaving the University of Kansas YMCA chapter.

During the Second World War, as chief counselor at a “relocation center” in Colorado, Moore helped make the best out of a terrible situation for some 8,000 Japanese-Americans interned there on orders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Among Moore’s duties were to organize and see to the internees’ housing needs and perform a variety of “casework services.”

Moore’s next position – also during WWII – was with the US Army, as a psychiatric social worker at a Texas military hospital. Then, at war’s end, he joined the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, went to Germany, and helped care for and eventually repatriate thousands of “displaced persons.”

Following completion of his doctorate in education – which he earned in 1950 from Columbia University Teachers College – Moore began a 16-year stint heading the School of Social Work at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. In 1966, he returned to his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Missouri, and became a professor of social work. From 1970-72, he also headed MU’s School of Social Work. Other career highlights include a three-year, mid-1980s term as president of the Council on Aging in Ottawa, Canada, an agency dedicated to improving the quality of life of the city’s senior citizens. In 1988, John J.O. Moore died at the age of 78.

John H. McCool
Department of History
University of Kansas

Source Notes

[Source Notes: Much of the content of this article was made possible by the sizable and invaluable collection of reminiscences compiled by Fred McElhenie of the KU Department of Student Housing for his John Moore Co-op Retrospectives project (2002). The analysis and research of co-op movement historian John Eberhardt have also been especially helpful. Other sources consulted are: Jayhawker yearbook (1940), pp. 260-261, 319-320, and Graduate Magazine (September 1938), p. 30. For a wide variety of primary source materials – including the minutes of house meetings, members’ correspondence, a copy of the co-op constitution, etc. – pertaining to the John Moore Co-op (as well as several other co-ops of the World War II era), see the Jayhawk Co-op bound record volumes housed in University Archives, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas. The author wishes to thank Archivists Steven P. Fisher of the University of Denver and Gary Cox of the University of Missouri for helping track down additional biographical information on John J.O. Moore himself.]