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March 01, 2006

ULM's changing faces

Emmett Christman graduated from Northeast Junior College in 1941 when the campus was basically just the Brown Auditorium and Gym.

After serving in World War II, Christman moved back to Monroe and near the college, on what later became University Avenue. From there, the city and campus expanded around him to form what is now the University of Louisiana at Monroe — currently celebrating its 75th anniversary.

"I just watched it grow and enjoyed living here and watching it all — the football games and the whole bit," Christman said. "I'm very impressed with (ULM) now. It seems to be growing by leaps and bounds." The institution has lived through six different names and multiple phases in its history full of unique memories for each graduate.

Patsy Rials, a 1974 alumna, who also earned her master's from Northeast Louisiana University, said she is proud to have experienced NLU life in the 1970s, which she defines as the university's golden years. She entered NLU as a freshman just as it broke away from Louisiana State University.

"It's just so different now," said Rials, who was head cheerleader at NLU and later worked on campus for 22 years in enrollment services. "Things were so carefree and you didn't have to work three jobs for the costs.

"I didn't have much, but I didn't know any better."

Rials described a time of tough studies mixed in with streaking, panty raids, building Homecoming floats and socializing around jukeboxes. It was a time with more school pride than exists today.

"I wouldn't trade any of those days," she said. "I just had the best time."

But if those memories seem outdated today, Danzel Cobb, 88, graduated from Northeast Center of Louisiana State University in 1938, shortly after the college changed its name for the first time from Ouachita Parish Junior College.

Cobb, a Holly Ridge native, drove in with a group of students every day from Delhi, since so few people owned cars. At the time, tuition was just about $12, she said.

"After the '30s — that was the end of the Depression — it began to build up fast," said Cobb, now a retired teacher. "I guess I was young and didn't think about the future, but I didn't expect it to grow like it has."

Cobb recalls two benches on each side of Brown Hall, where students would hang out and hold hands — "courting."

Of course, there was not much else to do at the time, she said.

There was Brown, tennis courts and not much else on campus. Now, she said ULM is large enough where a person could get lost.

Bill Rambin, 67, took a somewhat different path to graduating in 1991 with a bachelor's degree in French.

Rambin is actually a 1960 Northwestern State University graduate. He was hired at Northeast Louisiana State College in 1967 and ended up organizing the college's first foreign exchange program — in theater. Students put on play productions in France and Rambin decided to go ahead and learn the language, eventually making himself an NLU alumnus.

He ran the university's international student services department before retiring from ULM in 2002, learning that international students can have some of the most school pride.

Along the way he survived many of the university's ups and downs.

Budget problems and fund shortages have been issues since the day he was hired, Rambin said.

"The more things change, the more they stay the same," he said. "Change is just part of a university — some are good and some aren't.

"But the university's appearance has definitely changed and become very impressive."

Rials admits much has changed at ULM even since she retired in 1998, besides the name.

She said driving through campus with her son — a recent ULM graduate — showed the generational differences while discussing the new student housing on campus in place of demolished Olin Hall.

"He thought Olin was the biggest eyesore, and I thought it was just the neatest thing," Rials said. "But the campus really does look great now."

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