There’s no place like Parks Tower

September 1st, 2018 Posted in From Our Alumni
Alumni who lived in UT’s first coed dorm share memories after renovation

By Laurie B. Davis

Valerie Walston, associate vice president for student services and director of residence life, joins Jason Toth, associate vice president for facilities and construction, in cutting the ribbon to officially reopen Parks Tower after its renovation. The building originally opened in 1971 as the first coed residence hall on UT’s campus. President Sharon L. Gaber was on hand for the official reopening as were Dr. Phillip “Flapp” Cockrell, vice president for student affairs; Drew Williams, president of student government; alumnus David Bishop, retired president and CEO of Matrix Technology; and University trustee Patrick J. Kenney, and Steven M. Cavanaugh, chair of the University Board of Trustees.

They were teenagers on the cusp of adulthood. They were still getting their kicks from mischief, pranks and stunts and yet were on the path to hard work, careers and responsibility.

As freshman college students, away from home for the first time for many of them, the first residents of Parks Tower on The University of Toledo campus made the new, 1971, coed dormitory a place to remember.

“Moving into Parks Tower was intimidating initially. I was leaving home from Norwalk [Ohio] for the first time and beginning the first semester of college — lots of unknowns,” says Mark Bellamy, one of the inaugural residents. “The comforts of home quickly turned into ‘figure it out,’ and get used to making your own decisions.”

Parks Tower opened the same year Donald Parks retired as Dean of Students. The University named the residence hall for Parks, who had served UT for 40 years in multiple teaching and administrative roles. Last year and earlier this year, Parks Tower underwent a $12 million renovation to upgrade the facility for 21st-century students. At an Aug. 9 ribbon-cutting ceremony with President Sharon L. Gaber and leaders from facilities and student housing, new and prospective students, faculty and staff, and alumni arrived for tours of the 16-story building.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the reopening of Parks Tower, following its $12 million renovation, drew many alumni, faculty and staff members, and current and prospective students.

“I hadn’t been back there in 45 years,” said Diane Saccone (Pharm ’77), who lived in Parks Tower from 1972 to 1973. “It was nice going back.”

Upgrades to the residence hall include new elevators, bathrooms and plumbing fixtures, as well as a new entry vestibule and reinvented main lobby with multiple social spaces. The University also added a new fitness center, program space, quiet zones and kitchenettes. Lounges on each floor were overhauled and redesigned, and new furniture was added to all rooms.

Football, Bean Bags and Vietnam

Dave Bishop, who made remarks at the ribbon-cutting, moved into Parks Tower as a freshman in the fall of 1971. He remembers the physical spaces within Parks Tower. What was common were lounges on every floor, each offering a big CRT television. “There were no flat-screens then,” he says, “and there was no furniture. There were just bean bags,” those amorphous chairs that once adorned many 1970s teenage bedrooms.

Visitors tour one of the upgraded resident rooms in Parks Tower.

Bishop says Parks had top-notch food that was the best of all the dorms, and the residence hall’s location was beautiful, picturesque and most importantly, right by the Glass Bowl. “Chuck Ealey went undefeated for three seasons, and had UT ranked in the top 20 in the AP polls for three years, so football was big for us. We were right there. We went to the games, and we’d walk across the grassy area, and boom, we were there.”

Sharing good times at the Glass Bowl created opportunities to build friendships, which Bishop says, “are still valid today.” A group of about 20 friends he met at Parks Tower still gathers together for dinner, reminiscing, pregame and the football game.

Alumnus David Bishop (Eng ’73, ’79) speaks to the attendees at the Parks Tower event on Aug. 9. Bishop is a former resident of Parks Tower, who moved into the student residence hall when it first opened in 1971. He shared some of his memories of living in the dormitory.

Residents of Parks Tower in the early ’70s also had their share of concern and anxiety that bonded them together. On Feb. 2, 1972, the young men of the new freshman class learned if their number was up for fighting in Vietnam. “All the guys were coming back from class and finding out what their draft number was because they [the U.S. military] announced it,” says Bishop. “Anybody with 75 or lower, they were going to draft. So, there were a lot of parties of both celebrating and crying in their beer,” says Bishop.

President Sharon L. Gaber welcomes guests to the Parks Tower Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting. Dr. Gaber noted how the renovated spaces in Parks Tower, the largest, student residence hall on campus, are part of strategic efforts to increase student success both academically and socially.

“I can still visualize a black chalkboard in the middle of the front foyer; I can still see that draft board,” says Bishop, whose number was 53. “I said, ‘wait a minute, it says June 28, 1953, that’s when I was born.’ And the guy says, ‘No, that is your number, and I said, ‘Oh crap.’” About a week before I was supposed to report, Richard Nixon canceled the draft. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was the last ever military draft in the United States.”

The end of the draft provided relief to many young 19-year-old men, and the Parks Tower celebrations, especially on one floor in particular, continued. Friendships and even relationships that led to marriages came out of the bonds that Parks Tower residents made in their short, four-year stays.

Lasting Friendships and Memories

On the 10th floor of Parks Tower, a photo mural adorns the hallway wall as part of the new look of the student residence hall. University facilities reached out to the School of Visual and Performing Arts and its Department of Art to connect with alumni of the school to take the photos for the murals, which include some photo collages. Alumna Caitlyn Witt (Comm/Arts ’14) took the photo of The University of Toledo’s Center for the Visual Arts, a building designed by architect Frank Gehry that resides next to the Toledo Museum of Art.

“Parks Tower is where we formed relationships that would last a lifetime,” says Bellamy, who has been friends with Bishop since they met in their engineering classes. Both Bishop and Bellamy lived on the fifth floor, what Bellamy considers “the most enterprising floor of the entire building; let’s just say we became entrepreneurs at a young age. Events and holidays became a chargeable ritual gathering on our floor. We were not shy, and given this was a coed dorm, before you knew it, we were friends with the girls on 8, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. Music and dancing with our ‘dormies’ and some of the locals, or ‘townies,’ all became part of our lasting circle of friends.”

Bellamy and Bishop, along with Donald Murad, and Saccone and her husband, Garry, are part of a group of alumni who remain friends and make Homecoming tailgating a tradition. Although Saccone’s husband lived on the third floor of Parks Tower, she met him through courses they took in the third year of their Pharmacy major.

Ellen Benbow (A/S ’75), who lived on the 13th floor, met her husband, Cliff, at one of the regular student gatherings at Parks Tower. She remains in contact with many of the women she met on 13. She says that sometimes she and other students passed their leisure time watching soap operas or playing euchre in the student lounge.

Alumna Crystal Mae Hand (Comm/Arts ’16) photographed Tony Packo’s at the Park for a new mural inside the renovated Parks Tower. The photo murals are displayed throughout the residence hall and capture scenes from the University’s campuses and the city of Toledo.

Benbow also recalls a winter activity. “We used to take the cafeteria trays and use them in the winter to sled down a hill by the Glass Bowl.” That same hill also served as a place to sunbathe in the summer, says Saccone.

One former engineering student, Chuck Zelms (Eng ’73, ’75), remembers exploring the building from top to bottom. He and some friends, he says, went from “the pump rooms in the basement all the way to the rooftop.” They also made riding on an elevator car a completely different experience outside of the norm.

For many of the students at Parks Tower, life in the residence was more about eating, sleeping and socializing. “When I wanted to study, I went and hid myself in some attic room in U-Hall,” Zelms says. Parks Tower’s new quiet zones should make it easier for today’s students to study where they also live.

Residents of the fifth floor of Parks Tower gathered for a photo in the early ’70s. Mark Bellamy is standing in the back row wearing the purple shirt with black stripes. Many of Bellamy’s friends from the fifth floor still get together for dinner and tailgating at the Rockets Homecoming football games.

Zelms, who came to Toledo from Port Clinton, says living at Parks Tower in the 1970s was fun, even though the world around them could make it “such an unnerving time,” he says.

The newest residents of Parks Tower will soon form new bonds with fellow UT Rockets. They will create their own rituals and traditions and handle the challenges that the world throws their way.

While former residents and their extended circle of friends continue to reminisce about life in Parks Tower, some of the mischief they once got into while living in their new dorm will go quietly down in history with its bean bag chairs.

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