Aug. 10, 2017
by Andrea Hahn
CARBONDALE, Ill. – For some, the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus is not only one of the best places in the world to see the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse, it is also the only place to relive a slice of personal history.
Ray Roth lived on the seventh floor of Schneider Hall during the 1970-71 academic year. He was a journalism student, and SIU was an exciting place. He anticipates it will be at least as exciting during “Eclipse Weekend,” when he sleeps – again – in his old room at Schneider Hall.
Roth said a friend told him about the eclipse and that Carbondale was “one of the better places to see it.” He also heard that Chicago, where he makes his home now, can expect about 85 percent totality. Initially that seemed good enough.
But the more he read about the eclipse, the more he heard what to expect, the more a trip to Carbondale seemed like a good idea. Once he heard Schneider Hall was open for guests, and that he could even perhaps reclaim his former room, his decision was easy. Consequently, Roth will be in his old room in Schneider Hall eclipse weekend, living and remembering history at the same time.
“It seems like a once-in-a-lifetime event,” he said. “A bucket list sort of thing.’”
Schneider Hall is one of the three “towers” on the far east side of campus. Students first moved into Schneider Hall in 1968. Roth was among the first few groups of students to live in the high-rise. As an eclipse guest, he’ll be one of the last. Schneider Hall is scheduled for demolition to make way for updated housing.
“I’m kind of sorry to see the old place go,” he said. “They are iconic. They are the first parts of Carbondale you see coming down Illinois 13 and you can see them from all over town. We used to go up to the lounge on the 17th floor for the view.”
Roth and his wife, Terry Ntovas-Roth, an SIU alumna, visit Carbondale from time to time. It’s like visiting an old friend, he says. They are nostalgic for the old downtown feel, different now after some road routing changes, but familiar landmarks remain.
“PK’s has always been here it seems,” Roth said. “And Italian Village is where it always was. I remember Paglia’s as the first place where we could get free refills on Coke. We’d go there once a week, it was a real treat. Dairy Queen is exactly the same.”
Roth didn’t have a car his freshman year. His friend, Mike, did — such as it was. It didn’t have a reverse gear, so to back up everyone piled out and pushed. And the brakes screeched, making trips to Giant City State Park memorable white-knuckle events. But he didn’t really need a car, Roth said.
That, in fact, is an added bonus to staying on campus for the eclipse. Roth has his old room, a meal package (just like old times!) and a parking space. It’s an easy walk to the stadium where all the eclipse-related action is. Roth said he admires the new Saluki Stadium and Saluki Way, and he’s happy to see Shryock Auditorium is still a central point of campus. It was always one of his favorite buildings.
“Campus was a little bit edgy when I was a freshman,” he said. “The Vietnam War was going on there was a real sense of youth culture and political involvement. The music that’s on all the classic rock stations now was playing everywhere. Jethro Tull played the SIU Arena on tour for their “Thick as a Brick” album, and REO Speedwagon played in one of the clubs before they got big.
“There used to be a restaurant, I think in Grand Tower,” Roth said. “Ma Hale’s. They served a family-style, all-you-can-eat chicken dinner, and everyone always wanted to go. The seventh floor of Schneider Hall took up a collection and we rented a bus to get us there. That was one of the best meals I ever had.”
Roth said black lights were the thing for dorm decoration in his day. He got a Jimi Hendrix poster after the guitarist died. It said, “See you in the next beyond.”
He no longer has the poster. Instead, Roth will bring his son, Alex, along for memory making and memory sharing. Alex has never been to Carbondale.
“I went through the whole thing with him, taking him to college open houses, dropping him off and picking him up,” Roth said. “I’m looking forward to showing SIU to him, and to staying in Schneider Hall.”
Oh yeah, and the eclipse, too.
For contacts about other alumni returning to Schneider Hall, contact Jon. L. Shaffer, firstname.lastname@example.org.