1050 – But What’s in a Number?
Roughly 35 years ago I visited Davidson and Davidson College for the first time. And truth be told, while I was impressed with the academic reputation of Davidson – Lula Bell Houston and the staff of the laundry influenced my decision of where to go to college.
Yes – in addition to a 13: 1 faculty to student ratio – I decided to apply early decision to Davidson based on the fact I could drop off a bag of dirty clothes at the laundry and pick up clean, folded or pressed clothes several days later. And when I arrived on campus, I quickly made sure that all my clothing bore the digits 1-0-5-0 to ensure that all the items in my bag would be in the pile of folded clothes wrapped in brown paper.
This summer, I attended my 30th reunion and proudly added a ribbon to my nametag that said: “I Remember My Laundry Number.” While I remember “1050,” I also remember the women & men who labored among the huge washing machines, dryers, and clothes presses. They did not have easy jobs.
On winter mornings, I typically managed to spend a little more time inside the warm laundry – talking with the people who worked there – all while avoiding the chilly gusts that seemed to funnel into a vortex between the laundry and Belk Dorm. As temperatures rose, I admit to wanting to sneak out more quickly – because of the heat that all those machines generated.
Nearly two dozen people made those machines hum. People like Lula Bell Houston, Harry Lee and Walter Johnson, Denise Sloan, Cecilia and Diane Forney, and Alice Brandon worked for manager – Mrs. Frances Beaver.
Early this afternoon, I stood at the intersection of Main Street and Griffith. A small crowd of Davidson staff, faculty, and friends stood beside the college sign. With the assistance of Davidson Police officers – the traffic at this main intersection in our town came to a halt. In the distance, the flashing lights of a police cruiser led a silent procession. Then the unmistakable sound of horse’s hooves on pavement broke the silence. Following the cruiser and a limo, a horse drawn funeral carriage carried the casket of Mrs. Lula Bell Houston. Those who gathered wanted to pay last respects to woman who dedicated more than 60 years of her life to the college.
The legacy of Mrs. Lula Bell Houston will live on at Davidson with the creation of Lula Bell’s – a resource center for students. A story written about the opening of Lula Bell’s described it in the following way, “Lula Bell’s provides students with professional and winter clothing, textbooks, food, and kitchen supplies. Along with resources for all students, the space will host innovative and informative programming around systemic social issues and life skills, such as financial literacy.”
I smiled the other day when I saw a response to a student’s plea for an “emergency dress belt” for an interview – the response simple said “Lula Bell’s!!!!!”
In 1987, as the editor of the Davidson College yearbook “Quips & Cranks” I wrote the following dedication:
“The 1986-87 – Davidson’s Sesquicentennial Year – edition of the Quips & Cranks is dedicated to all the men and women who work for Davidson College. Their loyalty and dedication make Davidson a truly special place.”
Rest in Peace Mrs. Houston, and thank you for all that you did for me and for thousands of other Davidson students over the years – and for what Lula Bell’s will do for students in the years to come.