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What St. Andrews Means To Me

Written by Wendy A Varisco

By Jeff Stonestreet ’68

It seems like only yesterday since my graduating class at St. Andrews crossed the causeway over a big beautiful lake proceeded by a fully-bedecked Scotsman playing his bagpipes. That momentous day was over 50 years ago. The statute of limitations has run out so a few things can finally be told. As I glanced around the campus on a recent visit, I can still see “ghosts” from the past on the movie screen of my memory from my St. Andrews days. The memories of joys and sorrows are just as fresh today as they were in the mid-1960s.

Originally my minister interested me in St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina, since he arranged for my entire church senior high group to undergo a battery of aptitude tests at the campus guidance center. I liked the campus right away, especially that big lake. Getting a good education was high on my list of priorities since I wanted to make something of myself. The fact that St. Andrews was in a non-scholarship athletic conference influenced me too since I wanted to compete at that level.

No one may believe it, but I only applied to one school, and that was St. Andrews. The college sent me loads of information regarding the massive financial aid that was available to prospective students. My mother had always told us that, “even if your dad and I have to eat soup and crackers, you and your brother are going to go to college!” She must have said that line to us a dozen or more times over the years. Since my family “did not have the money” to send me to college, with the St. Andrews financial aid package, I could go to college.

There was never any doubt in my mind about my getting an education. Too often in later years I have run into smart people all over the country who did not attend college. Why not, I asked? They’d say, “We could not afford it.” Well, my family could not afford it either, but we did it anyway. It just comes down to not giving up, and then doing loads of searching for financial aid. With the price of a college education what it was then, and what it is now, I know firsthand that it can be tough to handle.

As for me, I received a small grant, a loan that I would repay after I finished school, and a work-ship at $.75 per hour. The low-interest loan was important since I could delay repayments until after college, graduate school, or the military. Add this together with what I was able to earn working in a local textile mill during summers and mom’s credit union loan, and it was enough to get me in the door. The major details remain firm in my mind because it took me seven years to repay all my financial aid.

At first the academics at St. Andrews were a struggle. Though I received good grades in high school I had to work for them. During my first college semester I took calculus after talking my advisor into letting me enter the class as a freshman. My advisor told me taking this class as a freshman would put me ahead of others in my major. The college catalog recommended that French or German would be a good language for graduate study. Since I had Spanish in high school my taking French now would be a new challenge.

Did I mention that I was a math major? My moment of reckoning came when first semester grades came out. I had studied hard, but my studying was ineffective, and the changes from high school to college were massive. I had flunked the calculus tests during the year, but passed the quizzes and even passed the final exam. My professor gave me an incomplete in calculus which meant I had to take a calculus re-exam to get out of this purgatory.

My grades on other courses had barely registered on the Richter scale. But looking at the bright side I got a C+ in physical education. I hung on by a thread. Unfortunately my instructor gave me no partial credit as he had during the year and on the final exam. I took the calculus re-exam and failed by two points.

So after one semester I had low grades and just failed the first course in my major. In most schools I would be “toast,” but somehow I was able to stay on another semester with a reduced academic load at St. Andrews. I made another dumb mistake and went out for track in mid-season though my poor grades ended that athletic venture.

The next year I raised my grades a little higher, but the core curriculum, Christianity & Culture (C&C), which combined history, bible, literature, philosophy, and art, continued to cause me trouble. Several guys in my dormitory left school because they could not pass C&C. However, I hung in and did not fail any C&C courses.

Along the way with low freshman grades, I lost most of my financial aid. I did not have the grades to transfer, and I did not have the grades to get financial aid. I was truly in a kind of academic no-man’s land. Vietnam and the draft were a constant threat over all college-age young men. The specter of the draft peered over my shoulder often. Luckily my family received a small inheritance. That money coupled with my working in the local mill paid for my second year.

To catch up academically before my junior and senior years at St. Andrews I attended summer school at UNC-Charlotte as well as worked full time in a local textile mill. How well I remember those 20-minute dinner breaks with a sandwich in one hand and a textbook in the other hand. Boy was I glad to get back to St. Andrews so I could rest.

Working at the textile mill had a positive effect on me and other students too. By working so hard at physical labor, it made each of us want to do something better so we would not have to spend our lives working in a mill for low wages. I was ready to hit the books, and finish my education.

Finally during my junior and senior years I began doing very good work in my new major, economics. With improved grades I received some financial aid, and my family found a college loan fund through the local Rotary Club. My self-confidence came back, and I even went out for the track team again. This time I had a better study plan and stayed on the team all year. In May 1967, I broke the St. Andrews Discus throw record after three years of trying. The record was mine for five years.

During my senior year I thought I was sitting pretty until I ran out of money with only one semester to go. My family had borrowed all that was available from every source. I looked like my local draft board might draft me in sight of the finish line for my education. At the last minute my church pitched in and helped me finish my education by providing a “scholarship.” Without their help I would have missed graduation.

Can it really be over 40 years since my freshman class sat on the grassy island in front of the student center? There were 330 new faces in my class wearing a silly blue beanie not sure how to act in our new surroundings.

I remember the first meeting of the freshman class as we gathered in the cafeteria. There was a pall of blue cigarette smoke hovering over the group as a number of my classmates tried to be cool even though they did not smoke.

All upper classmen in the kingdom of St. Andrews were knights and ladies in the scheme of things while our new class were all considered serfs in this kingdom. After all our school mascot was the knight so what would someone expect?

As freshmen we had to endure an inquisition held by upper classmen. The student center was where a classmate sat on a block of ice during the inquisition held by the sophomores. Another girl had to sit on some eggs to try to hatch them. The inquisition tried each serf (freshman) for crimes against the sophomores.

Behind the “stude” (student center) was where my suite mates and I tossed my old roommate Greg Meissner into the lake on his birthday. Over on Chapel Island was where the freshman class threw me into the lake after our own sophomore inquisition. Over a little bit was where the annual boat races were held in the spring. I still remember the crew from Winston Salem dorm that set up a girl as coxswain in their boat and demolished the competition. Everyone else zigzagged while their boat went straight as an arrow to a buoy and back to the finish line. Across the way was where a classmate lost his term paper to the wind and it blew into the lake. He was last seen wading in for his papers. This was a real paper chase.

Under the overhang at Concord dorm was where the girls threw out trash cans full of cold water on the guys including me who the letterman’s club was initiating into the club. We had to soak up the water with our sweatshirts and fill barrels with the moisture. In the gym I pinned my opponent in an intramural wrestling match during my senior year. My opponent was ahead by seven points, but I won in a thriller.

Across the campus by an old Quonset hut was where we used to take the annual physical fitness test that determined if a student were fit or needed remedial physical education. My roommate did 100 pushups as a freshman and broke the school record.

In the liberal arts building was the room where I had my economics class. It was memorable because I had stayed up all night writing a term paper for another class. About half way through my 10 a.m. economics class, I drifted off to sleep and slumped down with my hands under my chin. Ken Jones, my professor, stopped his lecture, turned and asked me suddenly, “Mr. Stonestreet, are you praying?” I jolted awake. The class erupted in laughter. I’ll never forget that day!

Regardless of what happens to St. Andrews I’ll never forget my student days there. They are part of me. You could knock down the buildings and fill in the lake and convert it into condominiums. But I’d still remember it. St. Andrews is not just a place that alumni visit occasionally and remember days gone by. It’s really a spirit. We all carry a part of St. Andrews with us in our hearts wherever we go. It is as bright a torch as the Olympic flame in Atlanta a few years ago. No one can ever put it out. That’s the spirit of St. Andrews. I shall never forget my days there.

Some may think that there is only one location for St. Andrews. I disagree. There are as many locations for St. Andrews as there are alumni who have attended this fine institution. Each of the thousands of alumni carries a piece of St. Andrews in his or her heart. It has that kind of an impact.