‘Animal House’ Demise At Hand

39-Year-Old EMU Dorm’s Residents Known For Hijinks

By Heather Bowser, Daily News-Record

For nearly four decades, the enclave for male pranksters living in EMU’s Oakwood dorm earned the nickname “the animal house.”

They stayed up late. They made noise. “They were a little harder on the furniture,” facilities personnel said.

EMU's Oakwood residence hall, scheduled for demolition in August 2008
EMU’s Oakwood residence hall (Photo by Marcy Gineris)

For example, last year, a few guys attempted to stash the school’s 250-pound stuffed American Bison on the roof. The prank failed, however, with one student rushed to the hospital after falling off the roof.

Although prone to wild and wacky tricks, gags and pranks, the Mennonite guys were not quite the misfits typified in the 1978 National Lampoon comedy of the same name, EMU officials and former residents said.

“Usually, we would soap up the first floor and go sliding down the hallway,” said Ken L. Nafziger, who lived in the dorm during the 1970s and is now EMU’s vice president for student life. “The problem usually started when the guys on the second floor did it too. Water seeps.”

But, those rowdy days of the Oakwood crew are about to end.

Next month, EMU will demolish the 109-room residence hall to make way for a new $6 million dormitory. The university’s board of trustees approved the building plans at its June meeting.

The new dorm, officials said, will be bigger, cleaner, brighter, better and it will even house girls, officially ending a 39-year streak as the rowdy boys-only club.

Once Upon A Dorm

Located on EMU’s quad, adjacent to the other two “woods” dorms – Maplewood and Elmwood – Oakwood was constructed in 1969 “in a hurry,” said Eldon Kurtz, director of physical plant who was a residence hall adviser in Oakwood during the 1970s.

According to EMU records, the contract documents were approved in February 1969, and the building was up by the end of that summer. The quick construction left much to be desired in Oakwood, officials said.

The hall has only one small lobby per floor and that one doesn’t have any windows. The ventilation isn’t great and the material in the floor tiles contains asbestos.

“The structure is sound but the design and layout does not promote good community interaction, Kurtz said. “It’s hot and stuffy.”

The new 35,000-square-foot building will be everything Oakwood isn’t, officials said. It will have 11 more bedrooms, several additional lobbies and better amenities all around. It will be equipped with wireless Internet, bike storage area, large flat-screen televisions and a homier feel.

New Plans ‘Green’

EMU plans call for using “green” technology, including high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, low-water-usage appliances and using local and recycled materials. The university plans to recycle as much of the old building as possible, likely cleaning up the old bricks and reusing them.

EMU will pay for the new building, which hasn’t yet been named, with a bond, Nafziger said. Later, there also are plans to renovate the other two woods dorms, and, possibly, if funding permits, construct a “link” between the three buildings. Final approval of those plans is expected a year from now. Give to green building at EMU…

The university’s annual budget is $28 million, said Ron Piper, vice president for finance. The school’s endowment is $21 million.

‘Sleepover’ Scheduled

Sometime before next month’s demolition – after local fire departments have a go at a few training exercises – a few Oakwood guys may have a chance to relive the glory days.

EMU is attempting to schedule an open house “sleepover” for alumni who want one last night in the hallowed halls, said Doug Nyce, director of alumni-parent relations. The next morning, the university will let the gang have the first swing with a sledgehammer. (Tentative date for sleepover is August 15.)

The hallways will be carpeted, by the way, thwarting any slip-‘n’-slide action by the new tenants.