During the recent razing of several sorority houses at Brenau University in Gainesville, students and alumni gathered in groups at times to snap photos and hopefully get a brick or other piece of memorabilia from the rubble.
There was some sadness in seeing those buildings go as they provided a home away from home for so many young women for so many years. Sorority rushes and rituals, parties, “spade hunts” and other activities that bonded sisters in a way that has persisted through the years.
Memories from those places, however, aren’t limited to the female side. They were where many a young man met his life’s future partner. They were where dates were made, girlfriends “pinned” and breakups consummated.
In stricter times, sorority houses at Brenau held “open houses,” usually about one Saturday night every month. They were looked forward to by young men, mostly from Hall County, but also from neighboring counties and especially close-by schools such as Georgia or Georgia Tech.
Open houses were one of the few times the campus was truly open, when men could freely consort with sorority women. The highlight was a dance, more often with music from a record player rather than a juke box, band or disc jockey.
They were like a buffet for the men, who would bounce from one sorority house to the other to look over the prospects. Women could not leave their houses.
Open houses were over by midnight, maybe earlier in bygone days, and men were supposed to be off the campus. That didn’t always happen, of course, and the women would devise creative ways to circumvent any curfew. At one time, students had to be in their sorority house or dormitory room by 10 p.m. weekdays.
The school’s chapel bell would mournfully toll the time for students to be in their rooms and men to vacate the campus.
House mothers seemed to have eyes like hawks, were super-sensitive to the goings and comings of the girls under their wings and could smell a male blocks away.
The late Ed Dunlap Jr. once recalled that when he came home from World War II, he shed his military uniform, bought a plaid double-breasted suit, dressed up and right away headed to Brenau College.
His first stop was the Tri-Delt house, where he found Jack McKibbon and Jim Rudolph, still in their military uniforms, playing bridge with the sorority sisters. Dunlap said he didn’t know how to play bridge, but every chance he got he would date different girls from Brenau.
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Seeing the picture of mules and a wagon in front of Jake Sacks clothing store on the Gainesville square in 1942 brought back a treasured memory for T.J. Kemp, 12 years old at the time.
He had made $14 plowing cotton off Clark’s Bridge Road and came to Gainesville to shop for school clothes. Kemp picked out a pair of shoes at Jake Sacks, some overalls and a suit. When he carried the clothes to Mr. Sacks, they added up to $18.
T.J. told him he had only $14 and would have to take the suit or something else back. Sacks said “Wait a minute, let me recheck that.” Upon rechecking, T.J.’s bill was exactly $14.
T.J. guesses Sacks treated a lot of people like that. He remembers the day well and holds Sacks appreciatively in his memory.
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Joe Dabney, former managing editor of The Times in Gainesville and editor of The Poultry Times, is well known for chronicling the history of moonshining in the hills of Appalachia.
His books, “Mountain Spirits, A Chronicle of Corn Whiskey and the Southern Appalachian Moonshine Tradition,” and “More Mountain Spirits” are being re-published in 40th anniversary editions.
Dabney interviewed moonshiners and revenue agents who pursued them in putting together perhaps the most comprehensive accounting of illegal whisky-making in the mountains. “Joseph Dabney offers a glimpse of a time when crops were measured in gallons, and families carried the secrets of their stills to their graves,” The History Press publishers wrote in a press release announcing a schedule of book signings.
Dabney has appearances scheduled at Decatur Book Festival, Eagle Eye Bookstore, Aug. 30, Atlanta History Center Sept. 27 and Dogwood Books in Rome Oct. 18.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.