College Years – # 9
There I stood on the curb of Highway 66 watching my folks drive away, crying. Yeah, it affected me a little bit, but I was a grownup now – free as a bird! I was enrolled in college, had a roommate in F Hall, things were exciting. I had become a Christian so this was like heaven to me without crossing over Jordan.
It was heaven until I found out that I am me and people are people. Geological solid rock is not solid in its absolute. Nothing on this earth is. Changes in temperature, expansion and contraction, movements deep in the earth all present a non-perfect picture. It may be solid in comparison to something else, but nothing, absolutely nothing on this earth is perfect in its essence. There are elliptical flaws or cracks in all rocks. Even El Capitan of Yosemite National Park expands and contracts leaving slight cracks that some say could cause it to break away a gillion years from now if the creek don’t rise and the Lord don’t come. I was on The Solid Rock, more particularly, Christ the Solid Rock. There are no flaws in this Rock. There are no changes in this Christ. But where was that childlike joy and happiness I knew as a little guy growing up? Where were those days of purity, hope, innocence, and acceptance? I thought I would be as a solid rock like my daddy and my mama.
I soon found out that there were kids, people from all walks of life, all backgrounds who were at college. There were kids who had come from pastors’ homes, bigshots’ homes, blue collar homes, some who had been to another college, some were older having had adult experiences, some who were from alcoholics’ homes, the innocents, the savvy, former military guys, the mature and immature, big, little, great and small. Everyone brought with them their flaws. Some had been Christians for a long time and some weren’t Christians at all. I learned that people are always going to act like people. For the most part, other than the arrogant and snooty ones, everyone was nice.
Here I was all saddled up and religioned ready, ready to enjoy church college camp or college church camp, whatever. I was a dry sponge wanting to be liked, wanting to participate, wanting to achieve, wanting to be a part of something. What I didn’t realize in my 12 year old mind at eighteen was: (a) this was a college, not church camp; (b) this was root hog or die; (c) no one is going to bow down and call me blessed; (d) I was still me with all my flaws, problems, disappointments and stupidities; (e) I was a new Christian, like a newborn baby in everything trying to ambulate through my first few years of life, crying, falling and pooping my communal and spiritual pants. Mama was clean, washed and ironed my clothes teaching me to do the same. F Hall was a piece of you know what, like living in the ghetto. Two weeks was enough for me. I needed a job, I thought. [Did I have ADHD? I don’t know. Did people even have ADHD back then?]
Yep, I needed a job. When my big brother went to this same college he worked at a funeral home down the street. He was out of the military, on to embalming college in Dallas, married, and enrolled in this Christian college. Since he had experience with dead people he got a job immediately. Guess what I did? I marched right down the street in my 4 foot 11 ½ inch frame, eighteen years old, housed in a 12 year old mind & body and told them they needed me to work there. Bill, the owner, promptly got rid of me, but referred me to a brand new funeral home on Capitol Hill. This was a good way of pawning me off. I got the job and lived in the basement below the embalming room. If you have never had to walk upstairs at 2 o’clock in the morning, black as pitch, open the door to the embalming room, feel along the wall for the light, smell embalming fluid and suddenly be jerked awake by a couple of dead people on slabs, walk on through, down a few more steps to the bathroom, then I would recommend trying it. Real life abruptly spoke to me!
Since funeral homes usually had the ambulance services in OKC, the owner of this one made a bid for the county contract so that all emergencies and welfare cases came to us. I wasn’t allowed to drive the ambulance, and besides, I don’t think my legs were long enough to reach the accelerator or brake. The owner drove until things got so busy he hired another guy. The other guy was about 25 years old. My experiences were so numerous I couldn’t detail them all. If I did, you certainly wouldn’t play dead. Yes, I along with the other guy, carried a 300 pound beat-up drunk man down three flights of stairs, picked up a man’s head off the road, and cried when we conducted funerals. I had to get over that crying stuff. The most interesting was that of being called out late at night to the bottom of the city ghetto where a lady was going to have a baby. We went to a one room shack built with old Coca Cola signs, dirt floor and 4 or 5 wide-eyed little kids standing around. One light was hanging from the ceiling. The diseased mother was lying on rags with the baby’s head showing. My helper-guy saw it and ran outside vomiting. I was scared to death. I thought I would get a disease, but a sense of compassion came over me so I dove right in and got that little sucker out holding him in my arms just as a county doctor showed up. We didn’t know what rubber gloves were back then.
After about six weeks of that, ADHD kicked in (or whatever pathology I had) and I quit my job at the funeral home. I got tired of going to the bathroom through the embalming room and I figured that if I didn’t get away from dead folks I was going to die myself. My folks had already spent $1,500 on tuition, board & room, clothes and other expenses. Do you know how much that was in today’s dollars? About $13,000+! It wasn’t that I didn’t care or wasn’t appreciative, it’s just that I was too goofy and immature to grasp the importance of building a life. So I moved my stuff back to the college, C Hall. This was about the third or fourth week of October, 1956. Can you believe that all this stuff happened the first 2 ½ months of my college career?
My first roommate at C Hall was a good ol’ boy from western Kansas, farm boy. Oh, so you think that was so low-class, so common, so blue collar? He flew his Beechcraft Bonanza down and parked it out with the Aero Commanders. Rich. Definitely out of my financial and intellectual league. He later went to graduate school for a law degree at an Ivy League school and became president of a large, international corporation associated with two billionaire guys out of Wichita, Kansas whose names you would recognize. He apparently made something of himself, but he wasn’t one of the elite on campus. Gotta remember, there is a pecking order in every organization.
There was the “in” bunch. Actually two “in” groups. I wasn’t a part of either group and neither was my roommate. I was just a kid attending “church” camp. The first “in” group was made up of the upper intelligencia (or I thought they thought of themselves as being above everybody else), those who were the “anointed.” Not all of the really smart or wealthy were accepted. One member of this group even ran for President of the United States, Gary whatshisname – he changed his name for some reason because it sounded like “hot pants.” Others of this first group thought the Nazes were below their caste so they joined up with a higher class of ecclesiastical clergy/theologians later attending east coast seminaries. The second group had a kind of religio-church connection whose dads were either bigshots or dating sons or daughters of bigshots. Many of these church connected kids already knew each other. Both of the above two groups were privileged. This is not a criticism. I admired them, but they were definitely out of my league, or more accurately, they were above my league.
It didn’t take me long to meet people because I thought I was at church camp and I was “saved” and I thought everyone else was, too. Soon after moving back to the campus I heard about boxing in the basement of F Hall. These guys were big guys. Everybody was big except me, but this was a way to be accepted. I wasn’t and never would be accepted into that illustrious collection of “in” groups, so I volunteered to box anybody and everybody. Most felt sorry for me and looked on me as a mascot. They soon got whupped. Some I even knocked out. The only thing, I finally realized, was that these were common, ordinary guys. They were not the intelligencia. I was put on the lower level of the social ladder with them.
As I look back on those early experiences, Satan was using my own flaws of insecurity, anger and feelings of inferiority as an attempt to destroy me. Oh, you don’t have a full understanding that Satan is real and tries to destroy? Better read Ephesians 6:11-17. Mama sent me to college with cuff links, tie tacks and ties, white shirts, fashionable clothes. Being innocent and immature I tagged on to an extremely strict group of hal-lee-loo-yer religious boys, or more particularly, they tagged onto me. To be accepted, I had to go to 10 o’clock prayer meetings every night in the basement of the campus church. If I didn’t Jesus wouldn’t love me because I had to behave myself first, then He would be right there by my side. Frequently I rode with this bunch to Reno Street ghetto while they preached and sang on the street corner to the bums and homeless; negativity, criticism, word-for-word Bible reading, but club-like. I was criticized if I wore a tie. Tie tacks were out. Cuff links were definitely a sin. This crazy stuff just about “rurned” me!
Kids in my college classes were unquestionably far above me in intellect and maturity. This wasn’t church camp. It seemed they all knew each other. I knew no one. These kids already knew how to study. They knew how to do homework. Anger built up. Why? I thought I loved Jesus. I thought He had already forgiven me for being stupid, too. Was I gonna go through some more sinking sand … again? I felt I was being bullied on a higher level; bullied by arrogance. Bullied by rejection. A person to be avoided. The intelligencia would not even acknowledge me walking down the hall of the dorm. The point is it wasn’t real. It was me!
The college administration scheduled a fall revival around October or November, a time when they had big-name preachers and singers visit. Mercy me, I had never seen this before in my whole life. I knew I had discovered Christ the Solid Rock, but college and the big church experience with a thousand kids was mind-blowing, almost hallucinatory. Great choirs, marvelous singing groups and anointed preaching placed me in a celestial world of spiritual understanding I had never known before. I was still stupid in some of my behavior and felt left out of things. Nope, this wasn’t church camp. How do I get over this? Why? Will I ever fit in? Will I ever be accepted by the spiritual and intellectual bourgeoisie?
During this purgatory of adjustment, an older guy who had been in the military suggested we go into Oklahoma City to a beatnik place. What? I had no idea what a beatnik place was. We went. Beatniks were in vogue before hippies. They sat around in a dark coffee house, wore French berets, played soft music, someone would stand up and quote poetry or something and say, “The world is round” and all the people would fall over into an intellectual trance. It was very interesting, but I felt like a sinner when we left. Maybe it was the coffee, I don’t know. I always felt like a sinner. Normal.
A few times I met with different guys who liked to sing. Hey, I could sing! I could read music, too, and I could play the piano to a respectable degree. I loved to hear them practice. A few times I joined in. My voice had become extremely low, a bass. It was funny having such a low voice in a little bitty body. They called me the little man with a big voice.
One of the official college quartets lost their bass and they needed one. This was perfect for me I thought. The only thing was I didn’t fit the mold. I wasn’t in the “in” crowd. Another guy who was in the “in” crowd deserved the spot more than I, could sing better, didn’t have a thing in his nose, tall, handsome and destined to be a prominent physician in the OKC area. He had even sung with the group a few times in public concerts. Now who do you think they would choose? Com’on. Be honest. I was heartbroken. I prayed … more like wishing or getting angry, crying like a two year old and throwing a tantrum to myself. It was all held inside as was my custom. I was called a loser, worthless by Belial himself. I knew I had discovered the only Solid Rock in the universe, but I, I was still stupid in some of my behavior.
A talented musician named Whitey contacted me because he heard I could sing bass and there weren’t that many around. Basses and tenors were in short supply. He had a group that sang Southern Gospel quartet music like the Blackwoods and Statesmen. Fantastic (although that word wasn’t in existence)! Whitey was an unbelievable pianist, arranger and singer. He wanted me to sing with them on a regular basis and if I had done so, I may have moved on up in the Southern Gospel music business, who knows? Later on, Whitey became the pianist for a bigtime, nationally known quartet, The Blackwood Brothers. My heart was set on becoming a member of the college quartet … maybe, just maybe, although I had no illusions of grandeur.
Late one evening the boy destined to be the bass member of the college quartet and one who deserved the place more than I asked me to meet him outside the basement door of the college church. I thought he simply wanted to express his sympathy, pat me on the head, and then I could go on living my undeserving and underdog life. He was a prince of a guy, gentle and courteous. To my surprise he stated his intention to become a physician and that his study load would not permit him to do outside work. My heart fell in humble shame for the unwarranted anger I placed on myself. He said he would recommend to the standing quartet and to the college administrators they choose me which they subsequently did. I was to receive board, a room, tuition, basic clothing and other miscellaneous spending money plus we could sell and keep the money from our recordings. All told, this was valued at something over $25,000 per year in today’s dollars. The first thing I did was to call my parents after I went to the chapel and prayed.
I distanced myself from those strict, negative, “spiritual” boys not because I was doing other things, but because that negativity came at an awful price. They thought I had backslid. Our group of Christians didn’t [and don’t] believe in eternal security making it a necessity to get saved over and over again, mostly on Sunday nights and revivals – I’m joking, of course. But living a judgmental life breeds a toxic attitude.
The college had never had a celebrity quartet before, that is, one that sang for all types of audiences, church and secular venues. The closest they came was when a guy named Hale sang in the group that represented the college. Later on he teamed up with a guy named Wilder so they became Wilder ‘n Hale. I think they had to change their public relations name to Hale ‘n Wilder because Wilde ’n Hale got too close to being “wilder than hell.”
When our group first started out in November, 1956 we chose the name The Collegiates. An English professor chided me and said the correct usage should be The Collegians. I never knew the difference. I didn’t care anyway. The name The Collegiate Quartet stuck, or maybe The Collegiates, so what?
Day after day we practiced and practiced and practiced. My life was built around the quartet, not academics. I had only been at the college since about the middle of August, 1956, so I was still attending church camp in my extremely immature mind. I was all consumed with the quartet. Nothing else mattered. Maybe this all-consuming passion is what helped me hide the wounds of my heart; immaturities, insecurities, childhood guilt. Maybe it was all about me. Me.Me.Me.
The question is: Should I be laying this out for the world to see? To get across my point, is it really important to expose myself? Who knows? As Warren Rogers wrote: “If I can help somebody along the way ….”
These were the days of regional divisions in church life. Some sections of the college territory was known as liberal (their lady members wore lipstick, wedding bands and had bobbed hair) and others were known to be the true “spurtchual” ones. It was always the women who took the harshest criticism. If they didn’t wear their hair in a bun, mercy me! This was somewhat like the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints of Waco without the sex stuff (there might have been a little of that, too). Therefore, when our Collegiate Quartet, or Collegians, or whatever was acceptable for a name, started singing songs like “Standing On the Corner Watching All the Girls Go By,” and singing to service clubs, conventions and hotels some of the “spurtchual” (meaning spiritual ) groups lit up the sky with apocalyptic rumblings. Shortly thereafter one of the DBS’s (District Big Shots) left the Church and started his own group. I rather doubt it was because of us standing on the corner watching the girls or singing “On the Street Where You Live” (from Camelot).
There really isn’t a lot to write about that would identify me as a lover of education. My first term paper – typed on my Smith-Corona using onionskin paper with a thousand corrections – was given back to me with a large, red C- written by the professor. Not to worry. I was an achiever by hook or crook. I can tell you this, no one but no one cheated at this college and few were ever kicked out. I came about as close as anyone could come. Just as in high school, my grades were horrible, terrible, a disgrace. Maybe they kept me in college because of the quartet. It was costing them a lot of money to keep me there. Maybe the Lord had something to do with it.
After singing around the OKC area, our first big gig was to travel to Lawton, Oklahoma to sing for a Kiwanis Club banquet at the Lawtonian Hotel. We did OK, but nothing to write home about. We continued to practice and practice and travel, getting better and better. Our second tenor left and another guy took his place. We got better with the new guy – he looked and sang like Eddie Fisher – and expanded our portfolio of songs. After the summer of 1957 was over the two middle guys, second tenor and baritone, graduated requiring us to search for two new members.
As I look back on this process of choosing, it was somewhat humorous. Leaders of the church community to which this college was beholden tried their best to force-feed a member on us, actually a relative-to-be of a “supreme” leader. When we declined because he just couldn’t sing, the college president wrung his hands in frightful anxiety and said, “What will Dr. So‘nSo think?” Amusing and amazing! As it all came together, the two guys chosen were talented beyond measure and easy to get along with. [I’m not using names because I don’t want to muddy their names and reputations with this monumental document.]
As mentioned earlier, college was not a priority for me. Confused as always, I stopped by the dormitory chapel. No one was there. It didn’t matter how much acclaim, how many times I had seen the crowds clap or shout amen, or how many bigshots I had met, those childhood hurts and hates were still dogging me. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My grades were shockingly horrendous. I was still small – about five foot three by now – and I still had that thing in my nose. It wouldn’t have mattered if I was suddenly elevated to be the King of Siam. It just didn’t matter. I knelt at the altar of the chapel, opened my Bible and read II Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”
Did things change? Much to my surprise, my college grades went up and my stupidities were fewer, fewer but not all. It didn’t improve my standing with the “in” crowd, but I didn’t care. I was too busy singing and studying. Over a twelve month period we probably averaged four or five hundred miles of travel per week, or more! Still, I was able to stay in college academically and actually did quite well in most of my classes excelling in New Testament Greek. I struggled, but I had a purpose for living due to the grace of God and the friendship of guys in the quartet.
I think all of the guys will say that the quartet was somewhat of an ego trip in that we were singing regularly to all sizes of churches, youth camps, campmeetings, banquets, clubs, TV, radio and conventions (and a few cocktail lounges) reaching crowds of 30,000 or more. It was uplifting to know that the Arthur Godfrey group and Ed Sullivan’s representatives wanted us to audition when we sang at the Miami Beach Convention Center. While in Miami Beach walking down South Beach, we were stars for a time with a following of groupies. It was heady and we had our 15 minutes of fame. Being invited to do a gig out on Star Island at an unbelievably huge mansion to select invitees was another thrilling event.
No, we never made it to the big-time, but we were a favorite at conventions. Maybe it was because they didn’t have to pay us as much as the big stars such as the Four Freshmen, The Four Lads, the HiLo’s, Platters and Ames Brothers. We sang for notorieties as the governor of Oklahoma, R. G. LeTourneau (inventor/engineer and father of large, modern earth-moving machines), and others as Dave Ward of Conway, Arkansas who manufactured yellow school buses sold nationwide and friend of Sam Walton. We stayed in his family home, then on to the Winston Rockefeller estate while looking at his Santa Gertrudis cattle. The cows enjoyed it. We were the backup artists for J.T. Adams when his Men of Texas choir was not available. Our first record was recorded in Adams’ studio, Towne Hall Records. Our other records were pressed by Capitol Records. We did a concert at the largest Southern Baptist Seminary in America as well as the Texas Baptist Laymen’s Association. We were the lead-on for Shirley Jones (Partridge Family, The Music Man) at the Dallas Convention Center, but the sixteen thousand attendees liked our concert so much they cheered for 30 minutes, tossing their programs in the air disrupting the schedule.
Concerts in Galveston, Houston and Miami Beach at the Fontainebleau Hotel, Eden Roc, Delano and Cadillac Hotels, and more than I can possibly remember including Our Lady of the Assumption Abbey, a Trappist Monastery, places from Dallas and New Orleans to the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City were thrilling to us. Singing in over 150 churches per year, TV and radio stations over a nine state area added to our checkmarks of accomplishment. The other 3 guys of the quartet were great guys with amazing talent. They helped me along. Nevertheless, to think that the top college music teacher would not accept me as a student because, as he said, I had ruined my voice gave me satisfaction.
“Memories Are Made of This” when we recorded a 45 RPM and two albums, one with secular music and the other sacred music. I was thrilled to read an article sent to me by an acquaintance in Carlsbad from the Carlsbad Current-Argus, right on the front page, lauding our performance at the Dallas Convention Center, entitled “Ex-Resident brings down House.” It went on and on stating that we were expected to get a big entertainment contract.
We had the great privilege to meet and were humbled to sing before the great songwriter Haldor Lillenas who wrote “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” and
“Coming to Jesus, my Saviour, I found
Wonderful Peace, wonderful peace.
Storms in their fury may rage all around;
I have peace, sweet peace.”
We had no way to fully comprehend what the future held, but we sang at the same youth camp with Bill, MaryAnn and Danny Gaither when Bill was about 20 years of age. Of course, Bill went on to make his mark in the gospel music business (He Touched Me, The King Is Coming, Until Then, TV program Precious Memories).
While my graduating class went on to bigger and better things, I had to remain in college and finish what I had neglected to do as an immature freshman and sophomore. I’m not sure anyone can teach a young person how to mature and finish college in four years. I was elected 2nd (of course) vice president of the student council and finished up school at the end of the first semester. I had not made the “in” crowd yet nor would I ever. It kinda bothered me, but it was my problem and no one else’s.
During those few short months at the end of my quartet days and before heading off to seminary, I rented an apartment from one of the “saints” of the area. With cold weather coming on I had to endure black, sweaty mold 2 feet up and all along every wall in the apartment. Her question to me after I politely asked for a resolution was: “Why, MarshallHall, I am so surprised at you. I didn’t think you were like that!” She just didn’t “have the money” to handle this problem. I presume things were different back then. Maybe that’s why I have one black lung and one green lung. Remember? Root hog or die. Hallelujah! Off I go to visit the wizard at seminary!