The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Serendipity ‘72: Welcome to a new era

The story of the first Serendipity in 1972 involves listening: a mentor listening to his mentees, a college listening to its students and a campus listening to its country.

Our story begins with Cliff Lowery, a campus mentor who empowered his students. In 1967, Lowery left a job at North Carolina State and moved with his wife into an on-campus home. Lowery served as the Guilford College Director of Student Activities for the next six years.

“When I showed up, the idea was that the students were supposed to be seen and not heard,” said Lowery in a phone interview.

Campus rules cemented this attitude.

Every weeknight at 11:00 p.m., hall mothers locked the doors in Mary Hobbs, enforcing a strict curfew for female students.

“They were loving women, but they were checking you in and checking you out like books at the library,” said Karen Reehling-Blum ‘72, who later became Loyalty Fund director in the Office of Alumni.

Add to these restrictions the fact that Guilford was a completely dry campus.

“When I first started at Guilford in ‘67, … you couldn’t buy alcohol within a mile of campus,” said Hank Hackett ‘73. “We used to buy beer and go across to the burial ground (at New Garden Friends) and drink.”

Lowery, Dean of Students Bill Lanier, Dean of College Jerry Goddard and others developed a strong College Union, an equivalent of today’s Campus Activities Board.

“Cliff was a wonderful man,” said Valerie Johnson ’72, the College Union President from 1971-1972. “He was a leader in terms of helping us … to become leaders.”

“I think it was just a matter of supporting them and getting them to speak up,” said Lowery.

Lowery, along with Kelly Dempster ’73, Esther Hall ‘74, Jon Greene ‘74 and other students invigorated the campus with new events. Legend has it that Greene came up with the name Serendipity after hearing about a Serendipity festival at Appalachian State University.

Meanwhile, the campus had changed, opening the college up to the possibility of a large-scale campus event.

In 1968, what is now Bryan Hall became Guilford’s first co-ed dorm.

“That shot everything to hell,” said Ann Martorelli Burton ‘74.

Rules began to relax, reflecting the changing times.

“Women could not wear pants to class, and that was in 1968,” said Johnson. “By the time I was a senior, it was blue jeans.”

“We had a lot more self-determination,” said Burton.

“Even the country was paying more attention to youth,” said Lowery. “I think it began to open people’s eyes that if you didn’t listen, you would make matters worse.”

This changing attitude filtered back to campus.

“We were listening to students in general, rather than just the student body president,” said Lowery. “As more of the (campus) got involved in supporting the anti-war protests, I think that helped.”

“There was a new wave of thinking and fresh air in the cosmos,” said Reehling-Blum. “We just caught the wave.”

At the time, students expressed a desire for a more vibrant social scene.

“Things had just gotten a little stale,” said Reehling-Blum.

The Office of Alumni was also looking for a way to bring back young alumni to campus.

“As I recall, we were great with 25th anniversaries and 50th anniversaries,” said

Reehling-Blum. “After the 10th, it dropped like a brick.”

By then College Union was operating at peak capacity.

“Year in, year out, we became a stronger unit on the campus and gained more respect,” said Lowery. “We could challenge the campus to maybe have a different speaker… or to do a Serendipity weekend.”

Attendees of that first Serendipity primarily recalled the music, the weather and a dunking booth.

“For the students, it was all about the music,” said Hackett.

From 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday, students enjoyed music by famed folk singer Josh White Jr. and by student performers.

“It was a beautiful, beautiful weekend,” said Burton.

Some cooled off in the dunking tank. Even then-President Grimsley Hobbs, an imposing figure, queued up to get wet.

“He wasn’t a jokester,” said Reehling-Blum. “For him to have said ‘yes’ to the dunking, it was a real gift.”

Put all these events together, and you have a new creature: Serendipity.

“It was the one event that brought everyone together,” said Mike Frost ‘72.

These students were probably not thinking about history as Serendipity unfolded in 1972, but we can thank them for an essential campus tradition.

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

The Guilfordian intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks, or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. Comments are reviewed and must be approved by a moderator to ensure that they meet these standards. The Guilfordian does not allow anonymous comments, and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All The Guilfordian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • M

    Mike FrostApr 7, 2016 at 9:32 am

    Nice piece, Gabe! In truth, I’m class of ’75 (who needs the extra years at this stage of life!). Learned some things about Serendipity’s origins……fondest Serendipity memory— Orleans, ’73, just as John Hall and the gang were touring behind the first album– an absolute classic to this day.