The place was called Vetville—and it housed the influx of married World War II veterans attending Notre Dame. My parents, Redmond and Donnis Allman, lived in Unit 35 A for four-and-a-half years. During the l946-47 school year, 106 children were born to Vetville residents. I was one of them.
Father Theodore Hesburgh baptized me in the summer of 1947 and was invited back to our apartment afterward for a small christening celebration. My mother relates to me that dinner was chicken a la king from a canned chicken. Father H. was seated in a chair with no back and drank his coffee out of the measuring cup. For dessert my mother made her famous peanut butter cake. Little did the Vetville residents know that Father H. would go on to become president of the University.
Vetville, which was located near what is now Hesburgh Library, was a cohesive little community. Everyone watched out for one another. Upon arrival, my parents slept on Army cots for several months until they purchased furniture. Groceries were available from a little store down Bulla Road and were pulled home on a sled in winter weather. This was supplemented by weekly visits from our friendly milkman of the Suabedissen-Wittner Dairy. Families took turns giving dinners while social occasions such as Halloween and Christmas parties were celebrated in the Navy Drill Hall. Many of the women planted gardens behind the units, with clotheslines strung in between. Children often played in this area, as there was only a rough dirt and gravel road in the front. Laundry was done and children were bathed in the kitchen sink, as there were no bathtubs. There was one telephone to every three apartments. Only one couple had a television set—its screen was the size of an index card. It was no palace, but the price was right— $27 per month for an unfurnished two-bedroom apartment.
When my father became the proud owner of a green 1947 Plymouth Deluxe, I would frequently run to greet him when I saw his car coming. He would wince as I often fell and skinned my knees in my excitement. Little girls always wore dresses then, and my mother had me dressed in the latest McCall’s patterns.
My favorite day was Sunday. I got to wear my Mary Jane patent leather shoes, and I got to have my Daddy all to myself. Make no mistake; from the beginning I was Daddy’s girl. We would go to Mass at Sacred Heart Church together while my mother stayed behind with my baby brother. I remember walking out of church onto a blanket of magnolia petals. I thought we must have lived in heaven. One of my most enduring memories was the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, where I was allowed to choose a candle to light after Mass. To this day, whenever I see candles I think of the grotto with its wonderful scent of wax and glittering flames. How many children could boast having a college campus for their playground?
My father completed his master’s degree and Ph.D at Notre Dame. We moved from Vetville to a house in the nearby village of Roseland, where I became a big sister to a second baby brother. We lived there until my father accepted a position to teach at Boston College. Originally from Boston, he saw this as an opportunity for us to become acquainted with the Boston side of the family.
In March 1960 I was a student at Sacred Heart School in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. For our religion assignment, Sister Dorothy required us to “adopt a priest to pray for.” My father suggested that I adopt Father Hesburgh. We were expected to write to the priest of our choice and inform him of this adoption. Father Hesburgh wrote back to me. The letter read:
“Dear Susan: May I just say that you can adopt me anytime you want as long as there are prayers coming this way, because I need them badly. I’m glad you enclosed a picture, because you are quite a young lady compared to what you were the day I baptized you. I am sending you a small picture, too. I hope we get a chance to meet each other before too many years pass. Please say hello to your mother and dad whom I remember very well from our Vetville days together. With many thanks again, and all best wishes, I am devotedly yours in Notre Dame. Father Ted H.”
The day after I took the letter to school, I became aware that I now held a position of privilege. The nuns were so impressed that I was not given detention for the next year. I could do no wrong.
Dedicated to my father, Dr. Redmond J. Allman