Outside Looking In
In the almost-two decades it has marched along College Avenue, Bev Weiss has never missed a Homecoming parade. The fact that the bands and festive floats move right past her front door, makes attendance at the yearly event downright easy.
Weiss and her late husband, Martin, moved to 573 College Ave., just down the hill from Alpha Hall, in 1963. At that time, Vera Hackman, the College’s Dean of Women, lived next door, and “the old, boys’ dormitory was that building right across the street,” said Weiss, pointing to the Christian Wenger Center for the Humanities, which was then named Fairview Hall. The building is now home to the College’s honors program and humanities departments.
Weiss, the sprightly 87-year-old, along with other longtime Elizabethtown residents who live along the ‘ribbon’—College Avenue, Campus Road, Cedar and Mount Joy streets—has watched the College mature, so to speak. They’ve witnessed growth spurts, mild temper tantrums and changes on campus and in the students. They have been party to memories in the making; were invited to special events; and have strolled through campus for relaxation and exercise.
Though occasionally dealing with the challenges associated with parking overflow and weekend rabble rousing, the ribbon neighbors remain steadfast, feeling fortunate, they said, to have a “beautiful, well-kept campus” next door neighbor.
When Weiss moved to Elizabethtown, the only College building immediately visible out her front window was the aforementioned Wenger. The southern landscape seen from her home began to transform, however, 10 years later when Nicarry Hall was built. Before that, “there was nothing the whole way down to Baugher Avenue,” Weiss said of the area between Wenger and Lake Placida. Over the years, she also witnessed the building and remodeling of Hoover, Esbenshade and Musser and, farther down College Avenue, past Lake Placida, Weiss watched as Leffler Chapel and Performance Center and the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies were erected.
The College was a “suitcase school,” Weiss remembered from her early years as a neighbor. “Not a lot was going on. Everyone went home on the weekends.” When Morley Mays became president—1966 to 1977 —College neighbors got a little closer and, said Weiss, they were invited to events on campus, attended concerts and got to participate in panel discussions. “The College has been even more inclusive in the past 15 or 20 years,” she noted.
Caroline Lalvani, director of Elizabethtown Community Affairs and College Special Events, who counts community liaison among her duties, said an effort of outreach is purposeful. “A healthy community makes a healthier school,” Lalvani said.
Elizabethtown—the College—enriches the community through interaction with student groups, the Student Directed Learning Centers and Into the Streets. Residents, she said, also are notified of larger events—to invite them and let them know traffic and parking might be heavier during those times. They attend the Presidential Community Enrichment Series, concerts and performances, Bowers Writers House events and notable lectures.
Elizabethtown—the borough—offers a place for students to go when they need a break from classes. “There are shops and the theater and places like Folklore café,” said Lalvani. It’s an economic boost for the community; jobs are available for students and there also is intergenerational sharing. The students bring energy to the community, which, said Lalvani, has a higher than average elderly population. “It’s a good blend for a small town.”
Weiss has been part of that intergenerational sharing on several levels. “I get interviewed a lot for student papers,” she said, “and when the leaves start to fall, (the students) come to my yard to rake leaves.”
Retired for 11 years from her own business and widowed for five, Weiss maintains another unique connection. When her sons Bradley and Brien were little, she said, a few students lived the family. One, from the class of 1967, “got into a little trouble at the College,” Weiss said with a knowing grin. “He liked to stir things up. … I had him here about a year.”
Some E-town professors also have made the Weiss home theirs. Peggy McFarland, a social work professor, stays in Elizabethtown a couple nights week rather than commute home. She saw Weiss working in her yard and asked if she had a room. “She even makes breakfast for us,” McFarland said. “She is like my adopted mother. It’s a wonderful relationship, serving both our needs.”
McFarland also tapped into the neighbor relationship as a learning tool while teaching about the elderly during a first-year seminar. Her class helped Weiss haul items out of a flooded basement after a heavy rainfall. “The students could experience the concepts (of aging) firsthand,” McFarland noted.
Down the street from Weiss are neighbors Jane Lenox, 78, and her 93-year-old husband, William, at 611 College Ave. The view from their front window also has been a source of ongoing entertainment since the early 1960s. “We’ve seen lots of changes,” Lenox said, adding that they like having the College as a neighbor. “(William) and I have always been pleased with how campus looks and how the buildings are always kept up,” she said.
The couple bridges the town-gown gap by taking classes through the Institute for Learning in Retirement. The program, established in 1990 for adults ages 55 and up, offers courses, programs and educational trips as a community service through the College’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. “We like to keep up with things,” Lenox said of the across-the-street learning opportunity.
Lenox perfectly describes the attitude of the ribbon residents who, noted Lalvani, are given an opportunity from time to time to meet each other and College personnel at community picnics and dinners. The last one, held in 2011, introduced President Carl Strikwerda.
Lalvani serves on the Chamber of Commerce and the board of the Elizabethtown Area School District to stay visible in the community. She admitted that there have been some issues with residents on the ribbon, but “it is a testament to the community that they are tolerant,” she said. Most notable, she said, are seasonal complaints about noise and parking, which is understandable considering that the College population doubled since she started as liason in 1999. “It’s to be expected with that many kids and that many cars,” Lalvani said.
Down the block from Weiss and Lenox, catty-corner from the College’s admissions office, is a sprawling Victorian house that, for 40 years has been home to neighbor Bill Yovanovich and wife Ruth. The house, purchased in the 1970s, he said, was just the right size for a family with a dozen children. Two still live at home.
Yovanovich, 79, admitted to frustration over heavy foot traffic late on a Friday or Saturday, but the weekend social activities, noise on the street and past parking problems are the only gripes he has about being a College neighbor. “Caroline (Lalvani) has been a really big help over the past few years,” Yovanovich said about any issues he and his neighbors have brought to light.
To balance those challenges, Yovanovich said he is happy to have a park-like neighbor where he can walk a few laps on the track early every morning. “Having the College across the street is far better than a (housing development),” Yovanovich said. “The College keeps it looking nice.”