Building Community through Shared History - A KU Memorial Union Program

The Pines Of Mount Oread

After one semester at 1244 Ohio, Twin Pines moved to more spacious UKSHA-owned digs at 1537½ Tennessee Street in time for the start of the spring 1951 semester. This home had been the Harman House women’s cooperative residence, which had disbanded in late 1950. Twin Pines would stay at 1537½ Tennessee for the remainder of the co-op’s existence.

During the middle of Twin Pines’ second year in December 1951, several members of the co-op formed a quasi-secret social fraternity known as the “Bogii.” Although they remained residents of Twin Pines, their longer-term objective was to leave the co-op and affiliate with a national Greek letter organization.

Remembrances indicate this planned secession and the way in which it was handled caused a fair share of ill feeling, but the affair seemed well on its way to resolution by the spring 1952 semester when the Bogii men successfully petitioned the Theta Chi national fraternity for a KU charter. In due course, they established themselves at 745 Ohio Street as Theta Chi’s 24-member Delta Psi chapter.

As KU’s associate director of student housing, Fred McElhenie, has explained, this kind of dual-loyalty arrangement was quite “unusual” among the wider student co-op movement of the early 1950s. In time, however, it “came to be accepted at other universities throughout the country when fraternal organizations did not have a chapter house or were in the process of building a base of members for later colonization.”

For most members of Twin Pines, life went on. Reflecting on his time at the co-op, former resident Richard Bradley admitted that what “initially attracted” him to the cooperative system was that it“ offered the very cheapest housing on the campus.” Yet “I soon found out,” he declared in a retrospective written 50 years after the fact, “that [the co-ops] were absolutely the finest places to live, offering social life, intellectual stimulation, convenience to campus, good food, bias-free living and cultural diversity.”

Similarly charmed was Ted Ayllon. A citizen of Bolivia, Ayllon wrote that he “learned a lot from having to share space, meals, work and study with a diverse set of students” that included “people from Korea, Japan and perhaps China.” As a “foreign student myself,” he added, “it was all a wonderful way to meet people I would have never met in Bolivia. I remember the general spirit of cooperation and camaraderie among the students. I really enjoyed those two years.”

So, too, with Harley D. Oberhelman, who described his time at the Twin Pines Co-op as a “pivotal experience” in his life. Especially important, in fact, was the members’ faithful adherence to the Rochdale principle of non-discrimination. While living at 1537½ Tennessee, Oberhelman said, “I became acutely aware of some of the civil rights issues that were just beginning to take shape in our country.”

Describing how, in one noteworthy instance, the young men put this principle into practice, fellow resident Phil Hahn wrote that his “proudest memory of my year [at Twin Pines] concerned the local movie theatre, which was then segregated. One night, many of the white members joined the black members of our co-op and ‘integrated’ the theatre by all sitting in the ‘colored’ section. It was no huge deal, I guess,” he added, modestly, in 2002, “but the memory gives me a certain satisfaction even to this day.”

(Hahn, it should be added, would go on to become a prolific and Emmy Award-winning writer of more than 600 individual television programs, including episodes of such classic sitcoms as “Get Smart,” “M*A*S*H” and “Three’s Company,” as well as the seminal “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and the popular early 70s variety show “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.”)

Twin Pines residents undoubtedly derived another sort of satisfaction from their reputation for academic excellence. This achievement was noted within the first full year of the co-op’s existence when the May 1951 edition of the North American Student Cooperative League’s newsletter hailed the men’s “outstanding record in scholarship and in ability to get things done.”

The January 1951 issue of this same newsletter offered a further glimpse of what life was like at Twin Pines. Around this time, a heated debate at Twin Pines had recently broken out on the question of whether or not to buy and serve horse meat at the evening meal. “The majority,” the newsletter observed, “voted for the use of horse meat,” having successfully argued that its ultra-low cost was ideally suited to the co-op’s mission of offering the most economical of existences. In the end, though – in apparent violation, it must be said, of the sacrosanct Rochdale requirement for strictly democratic rule – the Twin Pines purchasing agent rendered the question moot by adamantly refusing to place the horse meat order.

Another apparent contravention, not of the Rochdale Principles but rather of common University co-op practices, involved former Twin Pines resident Willard R. Brown. A newly married man in the spring of 1951, Brown and his bride Mary – who, interestingly enough, had been joined in matrimony by KU grad student Stan Kelly, then a member of the nearby Hill Co-op who had recently been elected Douglas County Justice of the Peace – actually lived as man and wife, albeit briefly, in the basement at Twin Pines. “She was the first woman,” Brown noted, “to be a member of a boy’s co-op.”

Anticipating the obvious question, Brown revealed that, “Yes, we had several interesting encounters with other boys in Twin Pines, including visits at night when we were in bed. I guess the fact that we slept together in our bottom bunk caused some comment.” It all seems, however, to have worked out for the best. Later that year, Willard and Mary (Campbell) Brown went on to help found KU’s first co-op for married students, appropriately dubbed the Couples Co-op. And as Brown himself proudly reported in 2001, he and Mary had just celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.

Such a happy ending was not unfortunately in the cards for the Twin Pines Co-op. As KU cooperative movement historian John Eberhardt has explained, “Twin Pines was among the last organized in an expansion of the co-op system” and as it happened, was among “the first victim[s] of the subsequent attrition when it closed” at the end of the spring 1954 semester. Twin Pines thus became, he added, “a symbol of both the co-op’s expansion following the Second World War and the gradual decline that followed.”

To most observers, the primary catalyst of the collective demise of student co-ops – at KU and elsewhere – was the construction of high-rise dormitories, which began in earnest in the mid-1950s. In Eberhardt’s estimation, other contributing factors include the co-ops’ own “inattention to effective recruitment policies,” a falling off of “education and training, especially for house leaders,” and an overall paucity of “long-range planning.”

For Willard Brown, though, the passing of Twin Pines Co-op and its numerous brother and sister houses on Mount Oread, is, ironically enough, directly attributable to the University’s eventual and long overdue decision to implement racial integration in its residence halls. Once this happened, Brown noted, “we lost an important reason for our existence.”

Yet while Brown and other former Twin Pines residents like Richard Bradley have admitted to feeling a “great loss” when so many student housing cooperatives began to disappear, they doubtless contented themselves with the knowledge that one of the most important principles of their small co-ops had finally penetrated the entire University of Kansas community. Call it a case of seeing the forest for the trees.

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 Twin Pines Co-op Retrospectives project (2001). Also helpful was the research done by KU co-op movement historian John Eberhardt. Other sources consulted are as follows: “Co-ops on Campus,” newsletter of the North American Student Cooperative League, (November 1950), p. 3, Elmer Rusco Papers, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas; “Co-ops on Campus” (January 1951), p. 6; “Co-ops on Campus” (May 1951), pp. 4-5.]