by Carol White
Remember a time when, on a summer day, children could roam the neighborhood like free-range chickens…leaving the house for a neighbor’s back yard or the nearby playground, or sometimes even as far away as crayfish pond? And not coming home until your Mother rang the dinner bell or the street lights flickered on. That’s what life was like on East Foster Avenue in the late 50s through the 60s when we lived there.
I am Carol, the oldest sister. My brother Randy was a year younger, and our sister, Linda, was truly the baby of the family, some seven years younger. The backyard of our house at 508 abutted the alley. Across the alley was the large and, by the standards of the day, grand house of Mr. Charlie Schlow, who gave State College the gift of our library in memory of his wife. His house featured a well-manicured lawn complete with ornate white wrought iron furniture. Since one of my best friends was his granddaughter, we were welcome to play in the yard and invented games where we were elegant women having a tea party on this furniture. In a neighborly gesture, Daddy would often push his lawnmower across the alley and mow Charlie’s lawn. I remember that our Grandmother was dismayed to discover that he was mowing up all the delicious morel mushrooms that grew under one of his apple trees.
This is the story of an adventure my sister embarked on one summer day, around the age of five. She was playing by herself in the backyard when she decided she would explore a little bit further. Crossing Mr. Schlow’s property, she arrived at Fairmount Ave. and headed one block west to the Delta Chi fraternity house. Linda was familiar with the house, as our grandfather (more about him in a bit) had helped create the chapter at Penn State, and we held family Christmas parties there during the holiday break. As it turns, out the brothers were holding a hot dog fest that day, along with their dates, all under the careful eye of the iconic housemother. Linda marched up to the front door and announced that “her grandfather owned the house” and she would like to come in.
The group found her quite charming and invited her in, fed her a hot dog, and enjoyed her company, until it dawned on them that perhaps her family might have found her missing and asked here where she lived so that they could see her home. Indeed, by that time our parents were scouring the neighborhood looking for her and were quite relieved to see a group of young men and women coming down the block with little Linda in tow.
I like to tell this story because it reminds me that fraternity men can be fairly well-behaved and blend nicely in with the neighborhood.
So how did my family get to State College? Our grandfather, Marsh White, and his bride Stella came to Penn State from Park College in Missouri in 1920 when he was hired to teach in the physics department. They originally moved to Gill Street, where our father was born. After a few years, they moved to 511 East Prospect, where they bought a Sears house—a Colonial Revival, the Winthrop, which Grandfather once described this way: “A fine group of houses was developed in the 1930s in the eastern section of the town. Construction was less expensive and financing was facilitated by using materials from Sears. My house was built by John Henszey, and it was purchased in 1934 from Professor Hufford who had it built several years earlier.” Stella and Marsh lived there the rest of their lives.
Marsh received the first Ph.D. awarded by Penn State in 1926, and Stella received her Master’s Degree in History—a somewhat special achievement at the time. Grandfather often joked that, in his doctoral thesis, he attempted to prove that Einstein’s theory of relativity was wrong. He did not succeed in that, but it did earn him his degree.
Marsh and Stella raised three sons—Laurence (our father), his twin Kenneth, and their younger brother Malcolm. All three graduated from Penn State, where all three were members of Delta Chi. Only Daddy remained in State College and raised his family a few short blocks away. Also in a Sears house (this one The Princeton). Also in the Highlands.
I moved back to State College after retiring, and I live in Toftrees with my sister. We often drive up Foster Avenue, past the house, and share our fond memories of the time we lived there.
Carol White was born and raised in State College. She earned her BA and MA from Penn State. She focused her career as a Marketing Communications Executive in the professional services industry in Los Angeles and Chicago. Since retiring and returning to State College, she has served as Immediate Past President of the Collegian Board of Directors; President of the Board of Central PA Creative Professionals ([CP]2); and Chair of the Advisory Council for the Penn’s Woods Music Festival.