A woman’s place

When I started my career at WSU in the fall of 1969, I knew I wanted to be a biologist. My all-girl high school had an excellent science program. I spent the summer of ’69 working at the WSU Extension Center in Puyallup raising house flies and counting bark beetles in entomology.

My assigned advisor was in the zoology department. Apparently, he was pretty famous. His first question to me was, “Are you going into this professionally, or do you plan to get married?” Although I was a pretty timid 18-year-old, I stared at him and found the presence of mind to say, “I didn’t think they were mutually exclusive.”

He did steer me into good classes on what I look back now as an insanely difficult schedule. Midway through the semester, I found a new advisor, Dr. Elizabeth Hall. She was one of the few female professors in the sciences and, for some reason, microbiology was the only science where almost 50 percent of the students were women. I graduated in 1973 in microbiology, went on to work for Weyerhaeuser in R&D, was recruited to Nalco Chemical R&D (12 patents), and then started my consulting company controlling complex industrial microbial issues in paper mills all over the globe.

Yes, I did get married and have two daughters, two grandsons, and I continue to slay slime (biofilms).

Thank you, Dr. Hall.

Linda (Blau) Robertson, ’69 Bacterio. and Public Health


More Neill Hall memories

Reading Cathy Higgins’ letter in the Spring 2020 Talkback brought back a flood of memories from my time living in Neill Hall. Mine was a much earlier period than hers; in fact, we opened up a brand new Neill in February 1957. When I arrived at WSC(!) in the fall of 1955, I was placed in Esquire Hall, one of the “cardboard castles” (actually plywood) built to accommodate the surge of returning WWII vets. These old dorms had a high turnover rate; half the freshmen had flunked out by the end of my first semester. Many of the survivors had our own room, which we could connect with others by knocking out the closet panels. Esquire even had its own radio station (KRAP, the little brown spot on your dial) using the fire warning wiring as an antenna. Things were pretty loose in Esquire. At the start of the second semester in ’57, Esquire (North) Hall moved into Neill, while Pioneer (West) Hall moved into Kruegel and McAllister.

One of my first memories from Neill happened just after we moved in. One night, there was a brilliant display of Aurora, reds and greens covering the entire sky. Somehow we got ahold of a key to the roof trap door (forbidden!), and many of us watched it from up there. We had to trudge up to Stadium Commons (southeast corner of Stadium Way and Wilson Road) for meals, but Ferdinand’s then was conveniently close in the bottom of Troy Hall.

Neill Hallers had a strong sense of pride in their dorm, and there was even considerable competition between the respective floors. I remember Neill’s choir coming in second campus-wide, as did one of our homecoming floats. Although we were (GD) Independents, for the more active members, it was kind of like being in a fraternity. The only difference was that you didn’t have to participate, and we also had our share of less active types.

Of course, there were plenty of diversions from study. We explored the whole campus through the steam tunnels, even arriving at the underground entrance of Duncan Dunn before wisely deciding to get away from there. Collecting four juvenile magpies to try to raise on fourth floor turned out to be a really bad idea. Senior rides were then in vogue (kidnapping graduating seniors to be dropped off miles from Pullman with only a case of beer). As far as I know, us being dumped off outside of Missoula must have been a record. Filling rooms with crumpled newspapers was fun, except for the time someone shoved a new 21-year old returning from Moscow into his room. He had had a cigar in his mouth, and we got the fire extinguishers out (again, forbidden) just in case. There were endless card games (hearts, pinochle, cribbage), sometimes inconveniently conflicting with classes. Stealing the Lambda Chi firetruck, and leaving it in the mud off the Palouse highway was a highlight.

The volleyball court on the south side was a very popular (if noisy) gathering point on spring evenings. Guys that had been pinned (do they still do that?) were tied to the posts to be rescued by their girlfriends amid buckets of water. The Neill Hall pin had a top hat (for Esquire) and a star (for North). The TV room in the basement was well attended on Sunday nights for showings of Gunsmoke and I Spy.

There have been many changes to Neill, the campus, and society in general. One big issue of our day was the fact that the women’s dorms were so far separated from the newer men’s dorms. One of our Neill Hall guys was running for Student Body President on the platform of allowing women from Regents Hill to eat with the men at Stadium Commons. The Deans of Men and Women were aghast at such an idea. Yet, within ten years or so, men and women were on alternate floors at Neill. If only we had known (or waited)!

Both times my buddies and I have come back to revisit our fourth floor digs, the current occupants (math department) were friendly and understanding, and let us wander around unmolested.

Being at Washington State those four and a half years was an important and formative portion of my life. I have always said that one of the most important people in my life was the unknown lady in the Student Housing office who took my application, and said, “let’s put him in Esquire Hall”. In so doing, she determined the lifelong association of my closest friends, and many wonderful memories. I am forever grateful to her.

Bill Buchan, ’60 Chem. Eng.