By: Ashley (Kehoe) Blackburn & Mark Wydra
One of my proudest accomplishments is that I graduated from Loyola University Chicago – not (just) because of its sterling academic reputation and commitment to community engagement – but because that’s where my dad and many of his best friends went – and I wanted to be just like them when I grew up. Little did I know what that would actually involve…
Over the years, I picked up bits and pieces of stories about my dad’s time as a Loyola Rambler whenever we got together with my many “uncles” – who I later learned were actually his college buddies. One of my favorite childhood traditions was an annual backyard barbecue with this particular group of friends once they all had wives and/or kids, many around my same age. We played a game they called “running bases” – which I’ve since realized was really just a way to tucker the kids out by making us run laps around the yard while the guys all stood around drinking beer and reminiscing about their college days. I remember them laughing hysterically and cryptically referencing partial memories, but I never quite got what was so funny. What I did know for sure – even as a kid – is that these guys really cared about each other, and that whatever they did in college must have solidified bonds of friendship that lasted well beyond graduation.
Since much of my dad’s Loyola experience was told when the “grownups” thought the kids were out of earshot or as inside jokes between bursts of laughter, I connected with his college friends for this project, and finally heard the stories that I never fully understood growing up – for good reason, it turns out. We’ve kept the stories in this section intentionally anonymous, to protect the identities of the innocent, and in this case, the very, very guilty.
I’ve only ever known my dad’s Loyola buddies as highly successful, upstanding but fun-loving, father figure or wacky uncle types who still play a major role in my life – and who Loyola would be proud to count among its alumni. From all accounts, though, this bunch was once a real handful – even by adolescent boy standards, which is saying something.
Taken from an exchange with one of my dad’s best college friends who I’ve only ever known as “Wydra,” here are some of the highlights (or lowlights) of their Loyola experience, depending how you feel about juvenile delinquency, lewd behavior, and relatively innocuous twenty-something mischief that we like to think they eventually grew out of, for the most part:
John and I met at Loyola University our freshman year. We all lived in Campion Hall, a male dormitory on Loyola’s campus on Sheridan Road. We all lived in the same wing: 2 Center. My roommate was a guy I knew a little bit from high school. Our other friend was put with a guy we called “Killer,” because he looked like a mass murderer.
The CTA elevated train station at Loyola was right across the street from Campion Hall and a little to the south. On the platform, there was a metal sign that was 10 feet long by 4 feet wide. It was brown with yellow lettering saying “Loyola University,” and it was bolted to a wall on the platform.
One fall evening our freshman year, we were all at dinner together. Killer said how good that sign would look on his dorm room wall. We all agreed and set out a plan to take it. There was no security at the platform to worry about, but there was campus security to be on the lookout for. Because it was his idea, Killer had to supply the tools we would need. Finally, one night, we got a good buzz going and impulsively decided that was the night to take the sign.
Around 1 or 2 am, we made our way to the platform. There was no ticket-taker, just a machine that took money and had a rotating arm. We got on the platform and there were a few people waiting for the train to downtown. We tried to not look suspicious, which was not easy to do considering our condition.
Once the train came and went, we had about 15 minutes until the next train came. We were able to get all the bolts off; it was a group effort to have one of us stand on another’s shoulders in order to reach the bolts along the top of the sign. It took us a few train passings to get it done. Finally, it was unbolted. We lifted it off the frame and it was damn heavy. It was like moving a couch.
Someone was a lookout as we got the sign down the platform staircase, across the street, into the side door of the dorm, up the staircase to the second floor, and into the dorm room. We then celebrated heartily. It was quite remarkable that we did not get caught. That sign was put on the wall and stayed with us through graduation. One of the guys ended up with it post-graduation; I think he told me it was in his mom’s basement.
That winter it snowed a ton. John and I and others built a snow slide to the second floor window of 2 South and would jump out the window and slide down. Again, it was remarkable no one got hurt. There was a liquor store/tavern directly across the street from Campion Hall which had an awning. We made a game where after a snowfall, we would throw snowballs at the awning and try to knock the snow off onto people walking underneath; there were points if you were successful. We never hurt anyone, but I do remember being chased.
Sophomore year, our antics continued along with our studies. Two of the guys’ dorm room picture window faced a courtyard open to Sheridan Road. If a car passed or person walked by on the sidewalk, you could look up and see their picture window. Given this prime location, they hosted what we called “Good Times Theater” in their dorm room.
At that time, pornographic movies were only available on film. They had a projector and would get adult films and project the movies onto a white sheet placed across the picture window. They would charge admission, sell popcorn and beer; it was quite the moneymaker. The room was packed. Someone would usually narrate and that was hilarious. People would watch from the courtyard, as you could see through the sheet. One time, the dorm chaplain, a guy in his 70s/80s, knocked at the door and asked what was going on. I think someone opened the door and told him we were having a dorm floor meeting. Good Times!
We all still lived in Campion Hall our junior year. I had a 1967 Mustang beater. At that time, you could park on the street and usually find a spot. One evening in April of our junior year, John and I drove somewhere for something; I don’t remember what. On the way back to Campion Hall, I was on Pratt Avenue about a mile away from the dorm. I came up on a car that was double parked. John somehow knew that it was a pizza delivery driver making a delivery. He told me to pull up and stop behind the car. As I did so, John jumped out of my car, ran up to the passenger’s side door, opened it, and took 4 pizza boxes that were on the seat. He ran back to my car, threw the boxes into the back seat, and I hurried away. I thought I heard someone yelling in the distance as I drove away.
That night we were kings in the dorm. PIZZA FOR EVERYONE! (In our wing at least.)
A few days later, John and I were coming back from somewhere. As I was parking my car, a Chicago Police car pulled up behind me. There were 2 cops, not much older than us, one to each car door. I rolled down the window and the cop asked if I knew why I was being questioned, and I honestly did not. The cop said that John and I matched the description of a couple of pizza thieves in the area and that we were under arrest. The cops cuffed us and put us into the back of their squad car. They then brought us to the pizza place where the driver was going to identify us as the thieves, which he did as we remained in the squad car. We both acted innocent. The owner brought the cops a pizza as thanks, which they ate in front of us. Both cops said how good it was, but not worth going to jail for. They then tried to scare us by radioing in and getting a reply that the local jail was full and we were being taken to Cook County Jail. This is when we began shitting bricks.
We offered to pay for the pizzas, but were told it was too late. Eventually, we were taken to the local jailhouse. We spent the night there in different cells; try sleeping on a metal bed with no pillow. The next morning, we were released without bond, but were given paperwork regarding the court date. On the paperwork, it said that John was the assistant dean and I was a professor at Loyola. We both thought this was a joke. For the next few weeks until the court date, we debated about showing up to court. We decided to show up, but no one from the pizza place did. Our names were not called and we were not listed on the docket. We were estatic as there was no record.
Your dad was a great friend to me and I will never forget him. He had a great sense of humor and always made me laugh, except when we where in the back of that squad car.