Editor’s note: Of the 1,249 men in the Notre Dame Class of 1958, who are now at or approaching the age of 80, almost two-thirds are alive. Jack Barthel ’58 solicited reflections from the surviving members and received contributions from 90 of them. On each of the five Fridays in July, this magazine is presenting excerpts from the book he put together: Echoes of ’58: Recollections of the Notre Dame class of 1958.
Two weeks before I was to leave for orientation at Notre Dame, my father came into the kitchen and poured a bag of coins (nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars) on the table, which covered the full cost of my first year of college.
Due to insufficient rooms to accommodate all undergraduate students on campus, a few seniors were allowed to live on the economy off campus. Gaining permission summoned a certain amount of courage as a face-to-face meeting with the Prefect of Discipline (lovingly referred to as Black Mac) was required. The only reason he would accept was financial necessity, so I laid out my plan as how I was going to survive on my monthly midshipman (from NROTC) stipend of $50 per month. After telling the good Father that I had secured a room near Pottawatomie Park for $30 a month, he signed my permission slip while posing the question, “What are you going to live on — crackers and cheese?”
Father Mac’s comment did give cause for concern. Just how was one to live on $50 a month in 1957-58? … I was left with six bits a day for food, gas and beer.
Off campus people quickly learned where meals or, at least, food could be found at a cost that would ensure some cash would be left over to fuel the car and provide spirits for the body. By far the greatest carbohydrate load for the money was the ten-cent bowl of lentil soup and five-cent bran muffin available in the cafeteria located between the wings of the old dining hall. For fifteen cents I could fill the void in my stomach while contemplating the mural depicting Father Nieuwland creating synthetic rubber on the wall over the exit doors.
Another gastronomic salvation was an investment of ten dollars for a membership card in the Saint Joe Valley Boat Club. For the price of a draft beer I had free access to their soup and sandwich bar from 4 to 6 PM Monday through Friday.
Somehow the need for an occasional beer, gas for the car, and social necessities would result in the last few days of the month before the Navy’s $50 check came in becoming a lean period. The hunger pangs were often appeased by pimping out the ’50 Chevy in exchange for a good meal on the weekend. The last resort was a bowl of oatmeal — no milk — no sugar — prepared on my roommate’s hot plate.
This entire fiscal responsibility exercise served me well upon graduation. As a 2d Lieutenant of Marines, I was earning the princely sum of $222.30 per month. There was no room for excess —particularly after the Chevy died three months after leaving South Bend and I experienced car payments— $100 monthly. I did make it through the nine month Officers Basic School at Quantico, VA, and to my first duty assignment, the 2d Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, NC, with a full tank of gas and $4 in my pocket.
Echoes of ’58, edited by Jack Barthel’58, is available as a paperback or ebook through lulu.com. It also can be found at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Net proceeds from sales of the book are being donated to Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns, founded by Father Don McNeill, CSC, ’58.