When I first came home from Japan, one of the things that struck me as odd was the fact that nothing had changed about Entwistle. Everything was right where it was supposed to be, looking as old and dilapidated as ever. There’s just something unusual about revisiting a place that you haven’t been to in ages. Seeing what’s the same; what’s different. I already have a rough plan to go back to Kumagaya in 20 or 30 years, just so I can walk around in a shell-shocked state murmuring, “I had a life here.” I’m sure it would feel similar to my recent return to my original university, Augustana University College.
Now, when I returned from Japan, Augustana was making headlines. The school was originally funded by the Lutheran Church, and as the school’s debts increased, the church was starting to see little point in running a post-secondary institution. So, after months of negotiation, and agreement was made with the University of Alberta. Come April 1, Augustana will become a satellite campus of the U of A. Here, my very own alma matter, in throws of great changes. I just had to see it.
Since I was in the Camrose area returning Mr. Anderson to his home, I had the opportunity. I drove up to the old brick gates of the school, still standing as proud as they ever did. The winter semester was in full swing, so finding a parking spot was difficult. I must have arrived between classes, as people were hustling and bustling towards their educational experience. I circled the visitor’s parking lot, finding it full to overflowing. I finally did find a spot, and a brief flashback to the last time I visited the campus 3 years ago. The parking officer thought I was still a student and gave me a parking ticket. I was certain no mistakes would happen this time.
I entered the building that dominated most of the Augustana campus: the Faith and Life Center. Very little had changed. Students were looking over the used book listing, trying to save a few bucks on the new tomes needed for the semester. I thought about taking a look around in the bookstore, but it was already crammed with students who couldn’t get the book they needed at used prices.
I turned to my right and headed towards the large, open lobby of the Faith and Life Center. I always remembered this vast gathering place. There were a few changes I noticed right away: fresh coats of paints on the doors, pictures of past university presidents now hung above the trophy case, the center island of benches had been removed. But, on the north wall, right next to the doors to the chapel, was a long poster. This was a message board. If any students had a question about the U of A merger, they were to write it on this board and, within a few days, a representative would write the answer. There were only about three questions on the poster, and the answers directed students to the FAQ on the far end. I was tempted to write, “It was a long time coming. Scarecrow was here,” but opted not to.
I decided to test my old knowledge of the back entrances and underground hallways as I took the stairs down to the cafeteria. When I arrived, I couldn’t help but notice that the ceiling was lower. I remembered an issue of the alumni magazine from a few years back saying that a former (now wealthy) graduate had donated a ton of money for cafeteria renovations. Truly, this was the end result. A quick look at the cafeteria menu verified that it hadn’t changed at all. I left the cafeteria, hearing the familiar crinkling sound of the floor mats as I started to head towards the dorms.
There wasn’t much to see at the dorms. To my surprise, the Dish, the common building in the center of the dorms, was all locked up in the middle of the day. I shrugged this off, attributing it to some policy change that occurred in the four years since I’d graduated. Other than that, it all appeared as dull and uninteresting as I’d left it.
I was heading off towards the Classroom Building and Library, curious to know if the stacks in the Library had grown any closer together. And it was on the steps of Old Main that I stopped by a friendly maintenance man. Well, this turned out to be none other than an old friend a colleague! He was a freshman as I was graduating, and AIR station manager for the year 1999 – 2000. That’s when he uttered the words that broke my heart: AIR no longer existed. Augustana’s radio station had ceased to be.
Lucky for me, though, he was now the maintenance man, and had the inside skinny on what the U of A was planning the way of renovations. The classic wooden bridge over the ravine is slated to be replaced with a new one. North Hall is slated to be replaced with a new one. The senior dorms are slated to be gutted and refurbished. And, at long last, a new library will be built. We reminisced for a while about the good old days, and then I went on my way. Wow. In two years, it’s going to be a whole new school.
I headed into the Classroom Building and started making my way to the Library. I just had to see if the shelves had been pushed closer together. As I was about to enter, I heard a voice behind me. “Scarecrow!” it yelled. I turned around to see yet another former classmate who had now been hired on by the school. He was now in the computer department, making sure all the computers run seamlessly. I sat down for another chat about how things had changed and the U of A is planning.
He verified just about everything that was told to me by my friendly neighbourhood maintenance man, with another fact: also planned is the construction of a second freshman dorm, because the U of A wants to bring attendance up to 2000 students. He also leaked word on the new design for the school’s logo. It will be kept the same, with just one change. The words “University College” are to be replaced with “University of Alberta.” Other than that, that’s it. Most of Augustana’s policies will remain in tact, as were the terms of the merger.
He then told me some of the sadder aspects. If we thought student apathy was bad in our time, apparently things had just gotten worse. The radio station was shut down not just because of lack of listeners, but because no one wanted to run it. There is to be no formal this year, as no student volunteers want to organize it. There was no public outcry about the merger because no one really cared. He also told me that he and some other like-minded graduates thought about keeping the memory of AIR alive. They were thinking about claiming the acronym and changing it from “Augustana Interactive Radio” to “Augustana INTERNET Radio.” They would have a constantly rotating line-up of MP3s broadcasting live on the world wide web, and if any students wanted to come in and do a show, they would be more than welcome to. The idea was scrapped, though, when bandwidth became an issue.
When I was done chatting with him, he asked me if I had any plans to visit any of my old professors. “Nah,” I replied. “I doubt any of them would remember me.” He shrugged and said, “Ehh, you’d be surprised.” I simply hummed in mild surprise and wished him well.
Now, it was time to verify this for myself. I went back to the convocation center and climbed the stairs to what was once Augustana Interactive Radio, or CLCR back in my day. I saw the familiar door labelled “Augustana Interactive Radio.” It all looked the same, but then I noticed that the familiar combination lock had been long removed. There was a hole where the doorknob should have been. And the only thing keeping students out was a simple deadbolt. It was true. It was gone.
Here, the one thing that had made me fall in love with radio and decide to pursue a career in broadcasting was now gone. I guess things do change. Back when I first started at Augustana, the debate was already raging as to whether the radio station should be kept. Obviously, the naysayers finally won. In the 3.5 years I was there, I lived for that station.
Before I left, I went back to the Faith & Life Center and wandered down the upstairs hallway. The Student’s Union office, the newspaper office, and every other office was closed because it was Friday afternoon. As always, I came out the end of the hallway and onto the balcony that overlooks the large, open lobby. As I always used to do, I held up my arms in the “don’t cry for me, Argentina” pose for my adoring throngs. But the throngs were gone.
I can’t believe that it’s gone now. CLCR, the one thing that inspired me to embark on a broadcasting career is now a forgotten relic of an apathetic generation. I guess that’s the problem with feeling such devotion to a school. They are constantly in a state of flux. In just 5 years, a new generation and a new mentality will sweep in. The station is gone, because video truly has killed the radio star. In another two years the campus itself will be transformed. There’s change upon the wind. Who knows what changes it will have made in 30 years, when I return to Kumagaya?