Southern Housepitality

Southern Housepitality

A century before high-rise apartments and Chick fil-A, boarding houses fed and housed Auburn’s hungry students

Half a century later, Clay Nordan ’71 remembers the look on their sweaty faces.

Walk-on football players were dragging themselves into Land’s Dining Hall, in back of H&A Dorm on West Magnolia. Late on a warm spring afternoon in 1968, the players had finished a bruising session on Coach “Shug” Jordan’s practice field. They were famished. Parched. Their expressions told of a singular purpose.

“They took seats at a table, and before even thinking about food, they each downed a pitcher of tea,” Nordan remembered. “Then, like everybody else, they got their single serving of meat, but they also hit the bowls of vegetables. They’d finish a bowl of beans or peas and potatoes, then have one refill after another of unlimited vegetable servings. I’d never seen anybody eat like that.”

Nordan probably learned from his API graduate father, Clay Nordan ’39, that boarding houses and dining halls represented an Auburn tradition that predated the institution, and lasted until abundant dormitories and apartment complexes rendered them obsolete. His lodging space, H&A, had no food hall built in but offered meal plans through Land’s next door.

“Good country cooking. My brothers and sisters and I worked in the dining room at mealtime, filling and refilling bowls of
vegetables and cleaning up.”

“Old Mr. Land and his wife opened this place after he got out of the Navy,” Nordan said. “It had the feel of a bingo hall. Mr. Land would sit by the front door, chomping on his cigar. His wife did a lot of the work. They had some local Black ladies—wonderful cooks— working the kitchen. They made sweet tea in garbage cans—the best tea you ever had. They had benches and chairs for you as you waited for a table. Only when eight people were ready would Mr. Land seat you. And only after the food was on the table.”

Nordan remembers the magic words: “Next eight!” Mr. Land would growl, leading hungry college boys to the promised land.

“I was a beanpole when I came to Auburn in summer 1967,” Nordan said. “Because of the quantity and quality of the food, I put on a few pounds. I had a lunch-and-supper meal plan that first year, and I don’t remember the cost, but it was reasonable.”

Leila Terrell

Auburn’s first institutions of higher education—the Masonic Female College and East Alabama Male College, at either end of the 1850s—each advised students to seek lodging with local families as neither school had boarding facilities. Within a generation, Auburn’s first boarding houses became the most common form of lodging for out-of-town students until API began building residence halls and private developers began opening apartment complexes. Dorms—beginning with O. D. Smith Hall in 1908 and continuing with the Quad Dorms’ arrival in two phases in the late 1930s and the early 1950s—and private apartments gradually spelled the end for boarding houses.

But for decades, many students counted on living in multiple-student dwellings and taking meals either in those locations or in purpose-run dining halls. Boarding houses were often run by widows, whose experience in managing a household fit with their need for staying home with young children while supporting themselves. These houses brought into close proximity student roommates and neighbors who often did not know each other before arriving. Living, studying and eating with other students meant people were not strangers for long. This cemented relationships and led to a close-knit student body. Is it any wonder an Auburn Spirit developed among early cadets?

While these establishments have, for the most part, vanished from town, the spirit of cooperation they fostered between landlords and college representatives has been preserved.

“The shared experience of caring for students established a bond between faculty and boarding house operators that served as a foundation for the cooperative town-campus relationship that continues to exist today,” suggested Carole Zugazaga, chair of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work in Auburn’s College of Liberal Arts.

Scott Yarbrough House

McAlister Boarding House

Green House

Masonic Female College Trustee Nathaniel J. Scott built his sizable home in 1847 on a rise a short walk east of where the Masonic campus would soon locate, at the northeast corner of today’s Gay Street and Magnolia Avenue. Early enrollees who came from outside Auburn likely lived at the Scotts’ home, which today serves as headquarters of the Carolyn Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities on DeBardeleben Street. In the twentieth century’s middle years, this house was owned by physician and several-times Auburn Mayor Dr. Cecil Yarbrough, who also rented rooms to API boarders over many years.

Early veterinary students, studying under Charles Allen Cary, lived in the Cary home at 360 North College. At least they did for the first decade of the 20th century, taking meals in the first-floor dining room and sleeping in bunk space Cary allotted in the attic. The Carys had children at home in those years, and when veterinary boys would raise a racket after bedtime, Dr. or Mrs. Cary would rattle the ceiling with a broom to quieten their lodgers.

By 1909, Mrs. Cary had suffered enough late-night chatter. At her request, Dean Cary built a house next door. “Cary Castle” became Auburn’s first private dormitory. It’s still owned by the family and still boards Auburn students today. The famous story about this place is that Dr. Cary stopped by during the final stages of construction one September day, climbed a ladder to the roof and found a worker off-task. Cary kicked at the man, lost his balance and fell, landing inches from the trough where mortar was being mixed. He broke his leg and suffered shoulder and facial injuries. His opinion on the quality of local physicians was not recorded, but he asked his chief veterinary lieutenant, Dr. I. S. McAdory, to set his leg. Dr. Cary walked with a limp for over his remaining quarter-century.

Boarding houses could be found along practically every street near campus by the early years of the 20th century. Pebble Hill on DeBardeleben, Cary House, Cary Castle, and long ago math professor Bolling Crenshaw’s 1890 home—now the Crenshaw Guest House across North College Street from the Carys—served as boarding houses and are still standing. Another former boarding house still standing—at 140 Toomer Street—is the former home of Farmhouse Fraternity. Before Farmhouse moved in, it was the McAlister Boarding House. Henry and Frances McAlister purchased this existing boarding house in 1957. Henry died in 1978, and Frances continued running the boarding house until she made arrangements with Farmhouse. She stayed on as house mother for a time.

“Mom and Dad and us six kids moved in when we bought the house,” remembered Bill McAlister ’71. “We boarded downstairs, and the college guys lived upstairs and in three or four smaller dormitories Dad had built in back of the house.” McAlister remembered his mother—with assistance from three or four local ladies—cooking for 150 boys most days at lunch and dinner.

“Good country cooking,” he recalled. “My brothers and sisters and I worked in the dining room at mealtime, filling and refilling bowls of vegetables and cleaning up.”

A spiral staircase at the Halliday Cary Pick House.

Many old Auburn boarding houses, of course, are gone. Bessie Bailey’s—where Nichols ROTC Building now sits—was one. Mrs. Bailey was widowed when she came from her 40-acre farm in Hartselle, Ala. in 1938. She brought her children, belongings and enough canned vegetables from the family garden to open a boarding house. Lodgers’ fees helped Mrs. Bailey’s children, including son Wilford, get an API education. Mrs. Bailey’s boarding house operated swimmingly, at least until lightning during a ferocious thunderstorm struck and killed the cow. That event led to a big barbecue, but it’s not clear whether boarders partook. Mrs. Bailey later worked for years as the university’s chief phone operator from the basement of Samford Hall. Wilford, meanwhile, went on to graduate veterinary medicine in 1942 and to hold every office in the Veterinary College except that of dean. He served as the university’s 13th president between the administrations of Hanley Funderburk and James E. Martin as well as a term as president of the NCAA.

The Green House is also gone. It sat at the corner of Thach and South College and was, for years, home of legendary college and city physician John Hodges Drake III. In the years after Drake’s death, this house served as a boarding house, and Auburn native John Williams ’74, who taught English at LaGrange College, remembered the Green House as the first stop on his midday newspaper route in the mid-1960s.

“I can still smell that noontime cooking aroma,” he said. Jack’s Hamburgers, Auburn’s first chain fast-food restaurant, came to this location in fall 1965, but the aroma was never the same.

Perhaps no Auburn boarding house received a more widespread sendoff than the house at 112 East Magnolia Avenue. That house sat on the approximate location of one constructed by famous old Auburn widow Gatsy Rice, who was born a slave and—through her ingenuity, work ethic and sense of business— became one of the more prosperous women in 19th-century Auburn. Gatsy Rice gained freedom after the Civil War, earned a living by mending torn cadet uniforms, and then got involved in real estate.

She built a house at 112 East Magnolia and ran it as a boarding house before she died in 1895. Either that house—immediately east of the later-founded First National Bank—or a successor structure at the same location had a string of owners before “Miss Cora” Hardy bought it in 1920 and began a run of 32 years as a popular boarding house owner. Miss Cora fed varsity API football players for years, and after she sold the place to J. M. Tant in the early 1950s, it served one more round of students before First National Bank needed the space for parking. When the building was torn down, state and regional newspapers told the sad story of this landmark’s demise. While Miss Cora’s earned a solid reputation, no Auburn boarding house was more beloved than the one owned and operated for more than 40 years by Leila Terrell, who came to Auburn in 1902 as a widow with three young children. Mrs. Terrell’s Boarding House stood at 311 North Gay, at the intersection with Mitcham Avenue across from the train depot.

Leila Terrell had to consult a neighbor on the fine art of making rice, but once she got that and other recipes down, she fed entire fraternity chapters at a sitting, as many as 60 boys each meal. Local historians have estimated that more than 1,000 Auburn boys lived under “Ma” Terrell’s roof over her years of boarding. Many returned to see her time and again after their Auburn days had ended. They’d bring candy, bath powder or other gifts at Christmas and on her birthday. One year, on Valentine’s Day, an admiring boarder solidified his place at the table with a card which read, “If you were seven, and I were nine, I’d ask you to be My Valentine.”

Auburn University trustees acknowledged Mrs. Terrell’s contributions to boarding and feeding students when, in 1970, they named the Hill Dorms’ dining hall for her. She died that fall at 104, and her old boarding house was demolished in 1973 to make way for a succession of banks. None of Mrs. Terrell’s boys ever renamed her house, but Gail Langley ’69 remembered some of her family’s boarders adopting a new name for what they had called the Rutland House. This stood at the southeast corner of Thach and Payne and had earlier been the home of API English professor and librarian James Rutland.

“One year, one of the boys decided he’d rename the Rutland House, and he chose a Greek letter scheme. He put the letters for Sigma Epsilon Chi up on the front of the house. Mother didn’t think anything about it, but when our friend Ralph Draughon called us and told us to think about what those Greek letters spelled out, then she drew the line.” Sigma Epsilon Chi would appear thus: ΣΕΧ.

Southern Tea Cakes Recipe

by Ann Cipperly


1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. baking powder
3 cups (about) all-purpose flour


Beat butter and sugar in a
mixing bowl until light and
fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla
and beat well. Stir in baking
powder and enough flour to
form a stiff dough. The dough
will be sticky.


Roll into a circle on waxed
paper. Cut into circles with
a round cookie cutter. Lift
each circle with a spatula and
arrange on a greased cookie
sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for
10 minutes. Remove to a wire
rack to cool. Makes 3 dozen.

A New Tune For Auburn

A New Tune For Auburn

Christopher B. Roberts started his new role as Auburn president on May 16, 2022, after 29 years as an engineering professor, department chair and dean at Auburn. He recently sat down with Auburn Magazine and revealed his love of ’80s music, his perfect day away from work and why the university “has earned the right to dream the biggest dreams.”

Auburn Magazine: Apple or Android?

CHRISTOPHER B. ROBERTS: Apple. Remarkable products. Great designs.

The Beatles or The Stones?

Beatles. My dad ran a music store when I was a kid, so music was a big part of our life. He was a huge Beatles fan. I inherited that, honestly. I was always fascinated with how the Beatles could take on different musical genres while creating unique Beatles songs that were clearly their own. The mark of genius in my opinion.

Most used emoji?

I don’t know that I’ve used emojis.

Favorite food?

Pretty straightforward for me. St. Louis-style pizza at Rich and Charlie’s restaurant in South County, St. Louis. My grandparents took us there as kids and we loved it.

Watching a movie or reading a book?

Both. I tend to do both at the same time. My attention span’s not long enough for a movie.

Favorite book?

“Introduction to Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics” by Smith and Van Ness, 4th Edition. A classic!

Favorite saying or slogan?

“People don’t do what they don’t want to do, and they do amazing things when they’re motivated.”

Favorite decade and why?

The ’80s. It was the decade where I was coming into adulthood, experiencing college life and figuring out that I had aspirations of my own. During this time, I learned to appreciate the development of real friendships and the importance of quality working relationships (both personal and professional). Also, while some people didn’t care for it, I also really dug the music. I’m feeling nostalgic just thinking about it.

Favorite ’80s band?

Either Tears for Fears or The Cars. Or maybe The Police. Or Van Halen. Or U2. Or ZZ Top. Or Dio. Or The Psychedelic Furs. Or Rush. Or Triumph. Or Pink Floyd…and countless others. Frankly, I couldn’t decide if I had to. So, please don’t ask me.

“The Auburn Family, the spirit that we have on this campus, is the differentiator for Auburn.”

How does being a chemical engineer help you with being a dean and now as president?

As chemical engineers, we’re taught to take very complex systems, decouple those into individual elements or units, and apply a series of engineering and science fundamentals to optimize that particular unit. At the same time, we look at how those units integrate and we then optimize against that broader objective. I think it’s a wonderful training ground for whatever operation you find yourself in. Whatever the system is. In this case, it’s a university. The university is made up of multiple units, all of which want to be locally optimized with an eye toward global optimization as well. I think engineering’s a wonderful training for roles like this.

Did you worry when you became dean that your engineering training would serve you? Or did you always suspect it would help? 

I don’t know that I really thought about it in that way. I think that when I was asked to serve as department chair, before I was dean, I found that my skill set matched what we were trying to accomplish in the department. I was deriving joy and living vicariously through the successes of my colleagues more than my own. That was a pretty good indicator that I like serving people that way. I like using my organizational skills and my background and training in what turned out to be not necessarily the solution of engineering problems, but the application of that training to advance our academic, research and outreach programs through systems-oriented thinking. Then as dean, I think it was just a natural evolution of this process.  

My point is that having served as a department chair for 10 years and then taking what I learned there to a larger scale in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, I learned to appreciate that every department has its individual character and opportunities for continuous advancement. Now, to be able do this at the university level, recognizing that Auburn is made up of an amazing collection of programs that all have strengths and weaknesses, is a real honor and pleasure. Brought together, our colleges and programs create the lovely tapestry that we call Auburn University.  The strength of the university comes from its breadth and depth. Overall, I think this was a natural progression in my career here at Auburn and I feel fortunate to be along for the ride. 

What is the biggest difference so far from being a dean at Auburn to being the president?

The sheer breadth of the university is different. It’s something that I’m working very hard to make sure that I understand and appreciate and, as such I am taking the time to learn more about the university and the areas that I haven’t been as familiar with previously. What’s been reassuring to me through this, is that having been here for 29 years, I’m realizing I have developed rich relationships across campus. I think this initial familiarity is making the learning process more seamless.

Maybe on the more humorous side, I used to be able to walk away from the engineering side of campus and enjoy a little stroll on the other side of campus, a little bit incognito. That’s been a little more challenging here lately. That’s an adjustment, though it’s awesome. It’s been great to see the response that people have provided to what our future holds and represents. I’m in a really interesting position to be able to experience this with a level of Auburn knowledge while engaging with people that I haven’t worked with as much. I think we share the same hopes and dreams for Auburn. I’m enjoying being their cheerleader for that.  

If you had a perfect personal day away from work, what would you be doing?

Truth be told, I don’t take a lot of them. My wife tells me all the time that I’m not very good at down-time. It would probably involve a round of golf, a nice musical concert, an Auburn sporting event and time with my family. Those would be included in the things that I would want to do.

We hear a lot about the term “Auburn Family.” What does that term mean to you?

Sitting here in this seat, this new role I find myself in as president, and being asked the question about “Auburn Family,” what does it mean to me? It means everything. It means everything. The Auburn Family, the spirit that we have on this campus, is the differentiator for Auburn. I’ve said this before, it’s not about the content—the academic content that we provide to our students—it’s about the academic content coupled with the extraordinary experiences that we provide to our students inside and outside of the classroom. The fact that we have a sense of community, that’s unparalleled by other universities, is really what differentiates Auburn from other institutions. People who aren’t familiar with Auburn just can’t grip the concept of the Auburn Family. You almost have to live it and experience it. What’s the Auburn family mean to me? Everything.

President Roberts marvels at how Auburn has “retained a community culture and shared a vision for excellence for Auburn that we refer to as the ‘Auburn Family.’”

Your wife, Tracy, is very accomplished in her own right. How would you describe what she brings to your family and to your work?

Tracy’s a remarkable person who brings a sense of calm and peace that I, or my other family members, don’t always have. She’s remarkable that way. Tracy’s inner calm gives me and our family a great deal of confidence. To know that we support each other in every way. I think it all stems from her.

How does she hope to use her current role to help support veterans? 

As a veteran of the Air Force, she’s very proud of her service and very proud of what the Air Force provided to her in her life and her path forward. As a result, she wants to make sure that she uses her new role as Auburn’s first lady, if you will, to help other veterans or students who are pursuing military service. She’s going to make sure that Auburn is able to provide the right environments for those students to succeed and feel supported. I know that’s something she really cares about.

You have a piece of paper with your wife’s phone number on it from the day you met. What does that mean to you that you’re still carrying it all these years later?

It’s a reminder to me as to just how lucky I am. It’s a reminder of that happenstance meeting that occurred between us and how it changed my life. That’s a very personal thing and I don’t show it to a whole lot of people. Now I guess the whole Auburn Family is going to know that [President] Roberts carries around a piece of paper that signifies that life-changing moment.

Do you take that lesson with you when you’re meeting somebody new? To never take for granted when you’re meeting somebody what that association might lead to?

While folks might not think that an engineer would be so reflective on personal relationships, I am wired that way. When I would travel as dean and would be returning from meeting alumni, I would begin to reflect on who we just met and the amazing trajectory that we heard about from these people’s lives and what the Auburn experience meant to them. In some cases, those alumni were students who were involved in leadership positions. Sometimes those alumni were students that struggled academically and needed tutoring along the way. Sometimes those alumni were students that benefitted from a particular major that Auburn offered that provided a unique experience.  

Whatever I was told by those alumni on those trips, allowed me to learn about the vast array of experiences that our students and alumni experience. This would then allow me to turn my thinking to the concept that the next generation of that person is on our campus right now. Do we have in place the experiences necessary for the next generation of those amazing alumni to thrive on this campus? Frankly, the relationships that I get to develop with members of the Auburn Family are wonderful interpersonal relationships that I cherish deeply. They’re also a great vehicle for us to reflect on. Are we providing what we need on campus for our students to become those amazing alumni in the future?  

“Having seen those profound effects and our successes, I think that we have earned the right to dream the biggest dreams.”

What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed at Auburn from when you started in 1994 until now?

I’m going to give you an answer to a slightly different question. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Auburn advance academically with its amazing facilities, and the campus has never been more beautiful than it is today. All the wonderful experiences that we’ve had through our athletics programs through the years that I’ve been here. It’s all wonderful. It’s an amazing university with, I like to say, tremendous potential for greatness. 

The part that is the most astounding to me over the 29 years is the fact that we have retained a community culture and shared a vision for excellence for Auburn that we refer to as the Auburn Family. I believe that a lot of that is rooted in the fact that we have a stated set of values that we reflect on periodically through the Auburn Creed, that I believe sets Auburn apart from so many other institutions. Particularly public land-grant institutions. It helps us to identify our expectations. 

To me, that’s been the most remarkable part of my journey here for 29 years. To see that while we’ve changed, while we’ve advanced in so many areas, while we’ve brought in leading scholars from around the world that are doing some of the most amazing research that’s improving people’s lives every day, that we’ve done it in a uniquely Auburn way. That’s allowed us to keep an environment that we all love to be a part of.  

Favorite sport to watch?

I would say all the Auburn sports. You can’t win with any other answer.

Did you play any sports growing up? 

I was on our high school football team, basketball team and I played in a baseball league as a kid. I played a lot of sports as a kid. While I was not particularly good at any of these sports, I always enjoyed being involved and I loved the teamwork.   

Do you believe that being on sports teams helped you in your professional life?

I think being involved in sports teams definitely helped me in my professional life. I also think that being involved in other activities that I was probably even more involved in helped as well. The rock band that I had in college and in high school, particularly in high school, represented a very influential experience. Where a small group of friends would all go off and learn our individual parts, come back together, learn how to work together, put together enough songs that we could go out and play for some people and be proud of what we did together. I think we learned a lot about responsibility that way. We learned a lot about accountability to each other. We learned how working hard to achieve something can also be very rewarding and a lot of fun. I think that sports did the same thing for me. For me personally, I probably found my involvement with my friends with music was even more formative.

What were the years you were in a band?

We started when we were early teenagers. I was involved with different friends and bands all through high school, college and through graduate school. I just had a great time with that. It will remain a very important part of my life. When I do need a little stress relief, I still like to pick up one of my guitars. You were asking before about what’s a perfect day? What do I like to do to clear my head a little bit? I love picking up my guitar and immersing myself in a little bit of music for a few minutes. That’s about all the escape I really need.

What was the name of your first band?

The Allies.

What type of music did you play?

Eighties pop music. Eighties rock music. We played everything from the Cars to Loverboy, to the Romantics. You name it.

 If you were not in academia, what do you think you would’ve done for a career?

What would I like to have done or what was realistic? Can we go with what I would’ve liked to have done? Guitar player for Steely Dan.

Beautiful. You’d have to put up with [Steely Dan founder] Donald Fagan though.

I could learn a lot from that guy. 

What’s your favorite spot on campus? 

In the early years that I was here at Auburn, when I was trying to establish my career, I did a lot of laps out here in Ross Square. Given that my first office was in Ross Hall, when I think about campus, I often think of that space out there. 

You were walking and thinking?

My graduate students and I would take a little stroll when we were struggling with something. We just had to get up and get out of the office for a minute. We’d just take a little stroll around Ross Square and talk for a minute. All of a sudden something would come to us. My colleagues and I spent a lot of time standing out there in Ross Square, brainstorming on something. Then we’d go back into Ross Hall and roll our sleeves up. Somehow or another it seemed to be clearer to us after that. I think there’s a magical spot there in Ross Square.

Do you have a hidden or useless talent? 

I’m a less than average musician. I guess that’s useless at this point. 

If you could pick a song to describe your life, what would it be? 

I don’t really have a song that describes my life, but I have always considered “A Song for You” by Leon Russell as one of my favorites. 

Favorite instrument?  


When you travel around the country representing Auburn, what’s the one thing you want them to know about the university?

The one thing I want someone to know is how impactful Auburn is in affecting people’s lives. The research and outreach and extension that we perform, and all that we undertake on campus, has a significant effect in improving people’s lives and advancing our society. Having seen those profound effects and our successes, I think that we have earned the right to dream the biggest dreams. 

That’s what I’d really like to get across to our alumni—that their alma mater is an amazing institution that can have tremendous impact going forward. That we’ve earned the right to dream the biggest dreams and that we need all of Auburn’s constituents, our students, our faculty, our staff and our alumni and friends to support and help us maximize our impact.

Read More Auburn Alumni Stories

The Big Question

The Big Question

What was your favorite bar, restaurant or hangout when you were a student?

“Prevail Union! Prevail was where I spent most of my time in college. I loved the community aspect there and how close it was to campus. It was also where I spent the majority of my money buying coffee during latenight study sessions!”

Addie Roberds ’17

“The Silver Spur. We would take line dancing classes on Tuesday night.”

Landra Cooper ’98

“The Casino! I learned to shoot pool there. As a local gal, my parents were NOT happy about it.”

Elizabeth Farrar ’76

“My boyfriend and I met at Quixotes in 2016! We were regulars every week until graduation. We graduated in 2019 and now live in Cincinnati. This bar has always meant so much to us. We wish we could go back for one more burger night!”

Sara Brillanti ’19

“Greeley’s or my friend’s trailer on Wire Road.”

Carol Coffey ’83

“The Casey House on the corner of Casey Avenue and Armstrong served as our favorite bar, restaurant and hangout spot. There’s something special about a house that never needed to be locked. There was always a group of friends over. No one needed an invitation.”

Hillary Rupert ’12

“My favorite bar was Bodega’s, which was on the corner of College and Magnolia. With two floors and a back patio area with lots of seating, my friends and I enjoyed hanging out there when we would go downtown. The back patio was especially fun for people watching! Bodega’s was where I spent my graduation night celebrating with friends, so it holds some great memories for me!” 

Tressa Richards ’10

“Momma G’s 99 cent chicken Italian sandwiches every Tuesday night, great on a student budget- they don’t have them anymore, or the keg corner for a jug of beer to go—good times for sure!”

Bret Mehlhouse ’89

“War Eagle Supper Club. Great music. That was a long time ago. Thankfully, we didn’t have cell phones or social media.”

Maribeth Word ’88

“Amsterdam Cafe was a great place for lunch or an early dinner date. It would get rowdy later and on the weekends. Best memories include the cold beers, playing table shuffleboard, listening to bands (the Quadrajets!) and spilling out on the sidewalk to a neighboring house where the party would continue.”

Angela Hudson ’96

“During my time in grad school the old Harry’s bar was my favorite go-to spot. Me and a friend of mine would go there to shoot pool at least 2-3 times a week. While the overall aesthetics of the place left much to be desired with the decades of graffiti on the walls, the essentially nonfunctioning toilets and the odor of 30 years’ worth of cigarette smoke gave the place a certain charm.”

Christopher Murray ’98

“My friends’ favorite hangout spot was Skybar!”

Alisa Lamar ’18

“Pasquale’s pizza downtown and Sani-Freeze. They were about the only spots in walking distance of campus.”

Kay Keeshan ’69

“Momma Goldbergs right across the street from lowder. We even would have classes there at times.”

Jonathan Krueger ’20

“The Supper Club, Wings to go, Bottchers, Highlands, Bourbon Street and The Blue Room.”

Britni Miltner ‘04

“Finks. A chill place during down times, and the coolest spot for a band or Halloween gig when crowded. (It didn’t hurt that my roommate was a server!) War Eagle!”

Katie Parker ’02

“War Eagle Supper Club—especially on Sunday nights when Bob Richardson and Jane Drake brought the jazz!”

Paul McCracken ’91

“Byron’s for breakfast no doubt!!! Favorite memory there is f irst day of school breakfast our senior year. The six of us were in basically every class together all four years at Auburn! War damn COSAM!!!

Katelyn Riant ’19

“Quixotes! Probably spent too much time there, especially during freshman/sophomore year!”

Brian Moyer ’10

“I loved Price’s BBQ House. My friends and I started going there when they first opened and continued to go every time I was in town. I also took my kids there before every home game and made sure I went by the last week they were open. You never knew who you might meet there as well.”

Harry Abrams ’81

“Definitely the War Eagle Supper Club! I once met Zac Brown Band there when they were nobodies performing on a random Thursday night. We had a few drinks together and then they played til the cows came home!”

Kate Cole ’07

“Bodega, located at the NW corner of Toomer’s Corner. Lots of laughs and good times had with life long friends.”

Nicole Brown ’10

“Behind the Glass when it was a cafe, art gallery and boutique.”

Wendy Blaszyk ’89

“Denaro’s on Wednesday nights. Coach Bowden would usually show up for the karaoke.”

Jamie Cragg ’96

David Markey ’74 and June Copeland ’71 celebrated their 50th anniversary by spending a weekend in Auburn. “We enjoyed visiting where we met at the ‘Haley Wall’ and a great dinner at Hamilton’s on Magnolia … formerly Pasqually’s!”

David Markey ’74

June Copeland ’71

“The strutting duck”

Ella Bitto ’99

“Harry’s where the ‘ambiance will seduce you’!”

Beth Stephens ’93

“The Flush. Ice Cream after a long day of studying was always a treat.”

Steve Ramey ’80

Read More Auburn Alumni Stories

80 Years of Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Auburn’s Turning Point

80 Years of Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Auburn’s Turning Point

An alumnus’ life mirrors the changes that Auburn—and the nation—underwent because of WWII

Pearl Harbor at Langdon Hall

Students gathered outside on the steps of Langdon Hall to hear the emergency
news broadcast of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

ALABAMA POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE (API) on Dec. 6, 1941 was much the same as it had been for decades—season after season of football games, dances and generations-old student traditions—but on the following morning, the Plains’ rural tranquility would change forever.

Just weeks before Christmas break, students crowded the steps of Langdon Hall, listening to the newsflash that rocked the nation: the Empire of Japan had launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. After resisting involvement in the conflict that was slowly engulfing the rest of the world, the U.S. was now unquestionably at war.

The five years that immediately followed that day would be a watershed moment in the history of Auburn University, profoundly altering everything from the size of the student body to the curriculum and athletic program. David Gardiner ’41 was one of many Auburn alumni who fought in the war, and whose life would be profoundly changed by it.

Gardiner was born into poverty in Farley, Ala., the second of six children. He was 11 when the Great Depression began, and 15 when his father died. As the eldest son, he helped raise his younger brothers and sisters and kept his family afloat.

“You go through things like that, you learn hard work,” said Cliff Gardiner, associate dean for the college of science and mathematics at Augusta University and David’s second son. “You learn lessons of durability and resilience, and not complaining—my father was never a complainer.”

David Gardiner entered API as an agriculture major, intending to graduate and return to his family farm. In his spare time, he played baseball but, conspicuously, also participated in API’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at a time when enlistment was not compulsory. News of Nazi Germany’s invasion of Europe had undoubtedly reached Auburn by then, but Gardiner signed up anyway.

“He knew the world was at war, and he chose to enroll in ROTC,” said Cliff. “Given the patriotism of the time, he may have done it because he believed that was his duty. He understood duty extremely well.”

Gardiner was deployed to Hawaii as a member of an antiaircraft barrage balloon unit, a relatively easy assignment. That changed in 1944. As a second lieutenant in the Army, Gardiner was appointed commander of an anti-aircraft battery and sent across the Pacific to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese. The Filipino people suffered horrific atrocities after falling under enemy occupation in 1942, and welcomed the allied Filipino-U.S. forces as liberators.

“I know that his unit got credit for at least one kill of a Japanese bomber,” recalled Cliff. “But I’m sure that his men were probably under attack multiple times. He never talked about that, except for the triumph of getting credit for a kill shot.”

Cliff still has the 40-millimeter shell casing his father brought back, the same kind used to shoot down enemy aircraft.

After the Philippines, Gardiner went ashore at the Battle of Okinawa and remained there until Japan formally surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945. For his service he was awarded two Bronze Stars and a Philippines Liberation Ribbon. But none of that mattered to him. In fact, said his son, he never heard his father mention any service medals. “I got to come home,” he told his son. “That’s what [victory] meant to me.”

 At the time, President Luther Duncan estimated that around 800 veterans would enroll at Auburn through the G.I. Bill. Instead, 1,575 registered in the winter quarter of 1946 alone. At its peak in 1948-49, more than 9,000 veterans were attending Auburn. Because Auburn was segregated at the time, the GI Bill did not fix diversity issues, but the veterans’ arrival would transform everything from student housing and class schedules to campus dining and dress codes. The influx of battle-tested adult men would reshape collegiate athletics across the country.

For alumni like Clarence “Pappy” Boynton ’48, who came to Auburn as a veteran, the war had created a new generation of students. “It gave me added responsibility and a new sense of purpose,” said Boynton, now 101. “The military regimen instilled me with discipline, the value of depending on your fellow servicemen, family and friends and an ever-greater commitment to my country while at war.”

In the years that followed the war, Gardiner became a cotton marketing specialist for the USDA and eventually retired in 1983 as superintendent of the Cotton Division for Georgia. Though he lived to the ripe age of 102, he never spoke out for armed conflict. And to Cliff ’s surprise, he never judged the young people who protested against serving.

Seventy-four years after the war ended, on his 100th birthday, Gardiner was interviewed by television reporters at the Georgia War Veterans Home in Augusta, Ga. where he lived. They asked him what he thought of the conflict all these years later.

 “War is a waste of time,” Gardiner sighed.
“People should learn to get along.”

Defying the Klan: Janie Forsyth McKinney ’70 and the Civil Rights Movement on her Doorstep

Defying the Klan: Janie Forsyth McKinney ’70 and the Civil Rights Movement on her Doorstep

They endured beatings, bombings, harassment and imprisonment—but they changed the Civil Rights Movement and demonstrated the power of individual actions to transform the nation.

Moments after escaping an attack by white supremacists on a Greyhound Bus, Anniston 1961

In 1961, Civil Rights activists organized by the Congress of Racial Equality rode interstate buses deep into the heart of segregated America to challenge local laws and customs that denied ordinary citizens basic freedoms because of the color of their skin. The 1960 Supreme Court Decision Boynton v. Virginia granted them the legal right to buy tickets for buses and sit where they’d like, but all were aware they would face violence and vitriol in the fight to end white supremacy.

One Sunday afternoon May 21, 1961, 13 ‘Freedom Riders’ boarded a Greyhound Bus in Washington D.C. for their inaugural mission to protest segregated busing practices in Southern states. On the way to Birmingham they were stopped just outside Anniston by a mob of angry white men.

Enraged by the Freedom Riders’ mission, they proceeded to attack the bus with pipes and boards, breaking windows and slashing tires. The driver managed to steer them free, but the bus was chased by a convoy of cars; driving on rims, he bailed in front of Forsyth & Son Grocery to flee on foot.

Surrounding the bus, the mob held the doors closed and threw an incendiary device through a broken window, filling the bus full of smoke. An explosion inside forced them to back off, giving the passengers inside a chance to escape, but they were met with slurs and fists as soon as they fled.

Watching it all from her front doorstep was 12-year-old Janie Forsyth McKinney ’70.

“It was a Sunday afternoon, Mother’s Day, and everybody was home from church,” said McKinney, now 68. “I was just watching, horrified, just wondering what in the heck was going on. I was just gonna watch, I didn’t intend to go out into it!”

But McKinney, in what she describes now as an out-of-body experience, reacted. Grabbing a bucket from inside her house, she took water and cups to badly burned Freedom Riders caught in the middle of the fray, still choking on smoke. Her trance-like state was a blessing in disguise–the bucket was too heavy to carry completely full and she needed to make a lot of trips to the faucet.

Though she considered her actions small and insignificant at the time, in the decades since McKinney’s story has become legend, a ray of hope in the middle of one of the darkest moments in American history.

“I knew it would get me in trouble. You couldn’t drink out of the same water fountain, much less get on the ground with people and touch them and give them water. I knew it was dangerous–I was scared to death–but I knew I couldn’t let it get in the way.”

McKinney, a 1970 Auburn graduate in secondary education, vividly recalls a fellow teacher at Phenix City Central High School bragging that he didn’t need to grade his African-American students’ papers. “He said, ‘Miss, I wouldn’t waste my time grading those papers, you ought to know by now what they’re capable of doing. I know what my students are capable of, so I’m not going to waste my time grading those papers.”

In Anniston, where the Ku Klux Klan was a constant presence, McKinney’s actions did not go unnoticed. Klan members of the community met in secret to discuss how or if she should be punished. Sticking up for McKinney, a neighbor supposedly said “I don’t see where she did anything so wrong; hell, you’d give a dog water,” which she believes ultimately spared her.

“But they had to do something, they couldn’t just let it pass,” McKinney said. “So the Klansmen would come by the store and ask Daddy if he was keeping an eye on me. ‘Oh, yes sir, right under my thumb, never let her out of my sight’.”

Life was never the same for Janie McKinney in Anniston after that. Though people seldom discussed what happened that day, hostility was still a constant factor, particularly in high school where the children of community Klansmen often confronted her in the hallway.

“People didn’t like me very much. I was smart, I made better grades than everyone else and that pissed people off. They called me ‘n****r-lover,’ they would get right in my face and hiss; you know how kids are.”

Later, in her homeroom class, McKinney noticed that students were crying over toxic grades in English class that would derail their dreams of attending college. “I said, ‘Class, if you got a lower grade from Mr. J____ than you think you deserve, please raise your hand.’ A whole bunch of hands went up. I said, ‘You have a legal right to make Mr. J____ tell you how he arrived at your grade. He has to show you, it’s his legal obligation. And I want all of you to go down there together so there will be plenty of witnesses if he tries anything,’ and they did. It was glorious,” she says now, laughing.

Currently a communications specialist in external affairs at UCLA, McKinney has been in and out of the spotlight the more her story spreads. In 1981, Charles Kurault of CBS News Sunday Morning reunited McKinney with Hank Thomas, the youngest Freedom Rider aboard the bus that day, on live TV. “It was surreal because it was so dim in my memory that I had almost forgotten about it and certainly we didn’t talk it to death because nobody talked about it.”

These days, McKinney gives class talks with junior high students about the Freedom Riders and her experience, but scoffs at people who think the era was not that bad, or not that dangerous. “They were that bad. And it was dangerous. I tell students that if they see something dangerous like that, if it’s something that’s scaring you, you don’t have to get involved. But if you get a chance to do something that you know is right, and you feel like God is putting you out there to make a difference, do it, because you’re going to have to live with your decision for the rest of your life.”

On Wednesday, Feb. 22 (4-6 p.m.) at the Dixon Conference Center of the Auburn Hotel, Bill Harbour and Charles Person, two surviving Freedom Riders, will be sharing their memories and the lessons they learned over a lifetime of fighting injustice.

Read More Auburn Alumni Stories

Council wins the 2023 BAC Rising Star Award

Council wins the 2023 BAC Rising Star Award

Auburn Black Alumni Council wins Rising Star Award for their remarkable achievements.The Auburn Alumni Association's Black Alumni Council has made history once again by winning the 2023 Rising Star Award at the Black Alumni Collective in Charleston, South Carolina....

Women of Auburn: Tiffany Welch ’94

Women of Auburn: Tiffany Welch ’94

Tiffany Welch '94, exemplifies Women's History Month with her dedication to community and successful business ventures.As Women's History Month draws to a close, we are proud to celebrate the remarkable achievements of Tiffany Welch, a highly accomplished Auburn...