Skip to main content

University of Michigan Memories 1966-1967

Paul was a University of Michigan chemistry graduate school student 1966-67. He lived in a professional chemistry fraternity near campus.

Attending the University of Michigan Graduate School


From the end of August 1966 until the middle of February 1967, I was a chemistry graduate school student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I took chemistry graduate courses and preliminary Master's Degree exams for a little over one semester until I dropped out of school. Socially, I lived in a professional chemistry fraternity and made lifelong friendships with two roommates.

In this article, after analyzing why I attended the University of Michigan, I first recall getting accustomed to going to a new school, living in a different chapter of a chemistry fraternity, and meeting two roommates. I then recollect attending classes, social activities, and receiving my draft notice in November 1966. Finally, I remember almost joining the Army and hanging on in school with a deferment that was good until the end of the school year in 1967. During this time in January and February 1967, I didn't attend classes most of the time and was in school only until I could enlist in the Navy.

Why I Attended the University of Michigan

After over five decades of recollection, I now finally understand that I attended the University of Michigan Graduate School because I was naive and did not want to face the real world.

In February 1966, I received my last medical school application rejection. At last, I realized that I was not going to medical school to become a doctor. At the same time, I had no plan B for after graduation in August later that year.

I did know, however, that I would be drafted into the Army if I left school. The Vietnam War was raging and infantry troops were needed for the jungles of South Vietnam. Shuddering at this horrible alternative, I decided to apply for admission to the University of Michigan Graduate School to work toward a Master's Degree in chemistry. I had majored in chemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin but had only earned a "B" average. This is probably why Michigan did not offer me financial aid with a teaching assistantship. U. of M., however, did accept me for admission and I thought I could stay in school until I received a Master's of Science in chemistry.

Preparing for Michigan Graduate School — February–August 1966

I was thrilled to receive my acceptance into the University of Michigan Graduate School. Now it was necessary to complete two chemistry courses to get my Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. They were two physical chemistry laboratory classes. I took the first during the spring semester of 1966 and the second during an eight-week summer session.

During the spring semester, I joined a professional chemistry fraternity that would benefit me greatly when I studied at Michigan. Alpha Chi Sigma had about 50 members who were both graduate and undergraduate students. Many of them lived in a big fraternity house that was one block off of campus. All fraternity brothers were sworn to aid each other in the attainment of chemistry endeavors. Socially, the fraternity sometimes had beer suppers with sororities on late Friday afternoons and a few dance parties. I knew that Alpha Chi Sigma could benefit me in two immediate ways. The first was giving me lodging during the summer session. The second was being able to live in the Alpha Beta chapter of Alpha Chi Sigma when I attended the University of Michigan.

Before starting a summer session in June 1966 to complete my degree, I was summoned to a pre-induction draft physical back home. This should have been a wake-up call, but I naively thought the draft couldn't touch me as long as I was a graduate student.

I finished my last physical chemistry lab course during the summer session and received my degree in August. It was time to head to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan but I hated to leave my fraternity brothers at Madison.

Alpha Chi Sigma Fraternity House in Madison, Wisconsin

Taken in 2019

Taken in 2019

Alpha Chi Sigma Fraternity Brothers on Madison, Wisconsin Campus

Picture Taken in Fall 1965

Picture Taken in Fall 1965

Traveling to Ann Arbor and Arriving at Alpha Chi Sigma — August 1966

After finishing summer school and getting my degree on August 13, I immediately made preparations to travel to the University of Michigan. Since all new chemistry graduate students had to take course placement tests during the last week of August, I only had about a week at home before having to leave for Ann Arbor and the University.

On or about the late morning of August 23, dad drove me to the Greyhound Bus Terminal in Milwaukee. The night before, I had packed my clothes and undergraduate chemistry books in an old footlocker/trunk that had been gathering dust in my bedroom closet. The trunk accompanied me on the bus.

It was a seven or eight-hour bus ride from Milwaukee to Ann Arbor 43 miles west of Detroit. The Alpha Beta chapter of Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity was located at 1319 Cambridge Road just off the university campus. After getting out of a taxi early in the evening, I rang the front doorbell of the fraternity house and had to wait a long time for someone to answer the door. Through a window, I could see scenes from Gunsmoke on television but no viewers.

When a fraternity brother finally came to the door, I introduced myself as the new fraternity brother from the University of Wisconsin. I was then shown to my study room located on the second floor. It had a desk and chair and the room was shared with two other chemistry graduate students. Later, I learned that I would be sleeping in a big bedroom dorm on the third floor with ten other students.

My First Day at the University of Michigan

I spent my first day in the Alpha Beta chapter touring the fraternity house, getting to know my two roommates, and reviewing for chemistry course placement tests.

As the chapter house manager, brother Carl led me on a tour throughout the fraternity house, I quickly found out that Alpha Beta was smaller than the Alpha house in Madison. The public rooms downstairs were smaller. Evening meals were served in the basement on two tables that could accommodate 10 brothers. Including non-fraternity boarders and brothers, about 15 people lived in the house.

I shared a big room on the second floor with two non-fraternity boarders. They were both chemical engineering graduate students. One of my roommates was Jeff who was a second-year student working toward a Master's Degree. Although introverted like myself, he turned out to be a life-long friend. Marv was the other boarder. He was also a second-year student working toward a Doctorate Degree. As an extrovert and former undergraduate social fraternity member, Marv liked to talk and always had a smile on his face. His only bad habit was smoking.

After taking my books out of the trunk and getting settled into my desk, I started to review all of the chemistry I had learned as an undergraduate. On the following day, I was scheduled for day-long testing.

Getting Settled with Classes in the Chemistry Department

Two days after arriving at the University of Michigan, I sat one day in the lecture hall of the Chemistry Building for chemistry course placement tests. Altogether, I recall taking four exams. Two were given in the morning and two in the afternoon. The exams tested knowledge of inorganic, organic, physical, and analytical chemistry.

One or two days later, I met with an advisor and was assigned chemistry course classes for the fall semester. I remember being assigned to organic, inorganic, and analytical chemistry classes. Also, I was advised to enroll in a French class for reading knowledge.

The following week, I began all of my classes except French in the Chemistry Building. My biggest class was organic which had about 40-50 students. We met in the lecture hall where I took the placement tests. The inorganic and analytical chemistry classes were smaller having 15-20 students. My French class was held in a building not far from the Chemistry Building. I am guessing that most of my classes met three or four times per week.

To be honest, after the first week of classes, I knew that I had gotten into an advanced field that I couldn't handle. Making matters worse, I found all of my classes except French to be uninteresting.

The highlight of my first two months in graduate chemistry was amazingly passing one of the preliminary exams needed to qualify to begin my Masters's work.

I also interviewed for a chemist position with Eastman Kodak in New York. When the interviewer was ready to offer me a job, I declined it because I feared being drafted into the Army.

Adjusting to University of Michigan Campus Life

During my first two or three weeks at the University of Michigan, I found campus life outside of the classroom just as boring as my chemistry courses. My fraternity brothers weren't nearly as friendly as the ones I had left at the University of Wisconsin. Although my two roommates were friendly, they were always too busy with studies to socialize with me on campus.

As a result, I stayed in my room trying to study on weekdays and lived for football weekends. After buying student football season tickets, I saw my first Michigan game on campus during the first or second weekend in September. The game was held at Michigan stadium which can seat a little over 100,000. It was disappointing to watch Michigan lose to North Carolina 21-7. After the game, I followed students to the Pretzel Bell just off of campus. It was and still is a popular place to eat and drink beer on football weekends.

Other than going to Saturday football games on campus, monthly fraternity meetings were the next interesting. After one of the monthly meetings, a brother brought skinflicks from Dearborn which we watched with a projector flashing the film on a wall in the fraternity.

I missed my fraternity brothers at the University of Wisconsin so much that I made two-weekend trips to Madison between September and November.

The first trip was during the second or third weekend of September. After a noon class on Friday, I rode a Greyhound bus from Ann Arbor to Madison. About one or two in the morning, I arrived at the Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity house. I stayed there Friday and Saturday night and was very happy to see my old brothers again. On Saturday afternoon, I got a ticket to see the Wisconsin football game and then partied with my brothers after the game.

My second trip was during the second weekend of November. The occasion was the Wisconsin-Michigan football game. This time, I carpooled with three or four Michigan students and the trip was much faster. We arrived in Madison early in the evening and I had time to party both Friday and Saturday evenings. I also looked up old friends who were still living in the dormitory.

Receiving my Draft Notice and Subsequent Damage Control

Approximately one week before Thanksgiving, I received my U.S. Army induction (draft) notice. Mom forwarded it to me in a letter and apologized for sending me the bad news. After opening the letter and reading the draft notice, reality hit home. I was notified to report to duty for basic training one week before Christmas.

Two emotions went through me. At first, I was shocked and then afraid that I would die after being sent to Vietnam. I wanted to cry but then realized that I needed some advice in dealing with my big problem. After calling a student information service, a young woman advised me to flee to Canada to avoid the draft. A more sensible piece of advice was to report to the Graduate School office and request a student deferment. I chose the latter advice after getting drunk that night. The next morning, I presented my draft notice to the University and they immediately notified my draft board that I was a full-time graduate student. I was, however, only able to get a student deferment or 1SC until the end of the school year in May 1967.

The clock was now ticking and I had to do something between November 1966 and May 1967. My first thought was to join the Army as an OCS officer and get a commission as a second lieutenant in the Chemical Corps. I saw an Army recruiter in Ann Arbor and he took me to an Army base in Detroit for processing. On the night before I was scheduled to sign enlistment papers, I backed out and realized that I would be endangering my life. Hearing jokes that night about the life expectancy of a second lieutenant in Vietnam being 20 seconds frightened me greatly.

After getting back to Ann Arbor, one of my roommates suggested that I enlist in the Navy. Marv's friend had been in the Navy and had good things to say about his experience. I thought about it and realized that the Navy basic training was most probably much easier than Army or Air Force basic. Having decided to join the Navy, I stayed in Ann Arbor over Thanksgiving and finished the semester by taking final exams a week before Christmas.

After I returned home, I immediately visited a Navy recruiter in Racine. Unfortunately, he couldn't enlist me in the Navy at that time. The best the Navy chief could do is put me on a waiting list so that I could enlist in the Navy Reserve with a 120-day wait before entering active duty. I agreed to this wait and was ordered to report to Racine on February 15, 1967, to be sworn into the U.S. Navy Reserve.

My Last Six Weeks at the University of Michigan — January–February 1967

After the holidays, I went back to Ann Arbor to register for second-semester classes. First, I met with my academic advisor who was disappointed with my first-semester scholastic performance. I had made only Cs in all of my chemistry courses. This was bad for a graduate student who was expected to get at least Bs. I was given a second chance, however, and remember being assigned to a class that had laboratory work. There were other classes which I can not remember.

During that first week of classes, I realized that my heart and soul were not into chemistry and going to classes. I was now just biding my time until I could leave the University on February 14 and enlist in the Navy.

Therefore, from around the middle of January until the middle of February, I stopped going to class and took part-time jobs in Ann Arbor. My first job was delivering pizzas that only lasted about a week until I had two accidents one evening. I then worked for Manpower for two or three weeks. My temporary jobs with Manpower included riding shotgun on a garbage truck, shoveling snow, and delivering furniture. I became the laughing stock of my fraternity when a brother saw me riding on the back of a garbage truck.

I withdrew from the University of Michigan on the morning of February 14. My roommate Marv was kind enough to drive me along with my packed trunk to the Ann Arbor Greyhound station early in the afternoon. My chemistry study at the University of Michigan was now history.

University of Michigan Campus Tour

The Pretzel Bell

1966 University of Michigan vs University of North Carolina Football

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Paul Richard Kuehn

Related Articles