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Alone on campus for the holidays

MONMOUTH -- Hannah Hodges figured winter break would be bliss compared to the beginning of fall term at Western Oregon University.

WOU freshman Hannah Hodges reads in a floor lounge at Ackerman Hall Friday. Hodges is one of 66 students spending their winter break in campus residence halls.

Photo by Pete Strong

WOU freshman Hannah Hodges reads in a floor lounge at Ackerman Hall Friday. Hodges is one of 66 students spending their winter break in campus residence halls.

December 26, 2012

MONMOUTH -- Hannah Hodges figured winter break would be bliss compared to the beginning of fall term at Western Oregon University.

Hodges is a nontraditional freshman living in Ackerman Hall. At 21, she's older than most of her neighbors.

"Everyone was soooo loud!" Hodges said. "People are up late, slamming doors, running up and down the halls."

Hodges wanted some peace. As one of a handful of students still residing in campus housing this month, she's got it.

It's not that great.

"It's ... super creepy," said Hodges, the only tenant on her floor in Ackerman, a four-story, 300-bed complex. She knows there are at least two others here because she's seen lights through windows in the evening.

"I don't even like going to the (shared) bathroom on the floor," she said. "It's too quiet."

The last day of fall classes at Western, and most public universities in Oregon, was Dec. 7; most of the 1,120 students in WOU's residence halls skipped town for a month-long holiday before the dust even settled on finals week. Again, most.

Hodges is one of 66 living in dorm rooms for a portion -- or all -- of the break. Including school-owned apartments, there's 121 students still here in all.

"It's so weird," said Malcom Bruhl one day last week, walking through an empty courtyard and darkened balconies to his dorm room in Landers Hall. "Western's such a ghost town right now."

Bruhl, who's from the Hawaiian island of Oahu, said custodians and the occasional international student are the only people he sees some days.

Malcolm Bruhl describes how he uses a rice cooker and microwave in his dorm room to cook during the break.

Photo by Pete Strong

Malcolm Bruhl describes how he uses a rice cooker and microwave in his dorm room to cook during the break.

"It's boring," Bruhl said, noting his routine has been sleeping in, running, talking on the phone and skating down to Bi-Mart. Carless, Bruhl's friends in Salem pick him up when they can.

"I actually cleaned the (Landers) laundry room and took out the trash there the other day," he said. "I ... had nothing else to do."

Western, like most public universities in Oregon, closes its residence halls for winter break. Those who want -- or have -- to stay must pay a $200 fee.

Reasons vary. It's not easy for some studying here from abroad to return home, for example. Some students are involved in athletic programs.

This will be Nils Wendland's second year on campus during the break. A sophomore and assistant coach for the WOU men's basketball team, Wendland's from Karlsruhe, Germany.

"Last year, I got hooked up for Christmas with a local family and it was nice to be around people," he said. "At the same time, it was weird ... I didn't really know how they celebrated their traditions."

Wendland hasn't been completely isolated, as the team was still playing games during the first half of December. Work fills part of his day. Still, he spends two hours a day at the gym in the New Physical Education Building shooting hoops. Alone.

"It can be lonely," he said. "When we're not practicing, I have to find ways to entertain myself."

WOU shuts its student dining facility down during the break; school meal plans can still be used at a campus convenience store. Otherwise, you fend for yourself, said Sarah Joyce, a junior and residence hall adviser at Ackerman.

"They allow us access to the kitchen on our floor," said Joyce, here for part of the break. "I can just buy my food and cook it."

She stayed because of a part-time job. It was also better than living on her parents' couch in Salem for a month, she said.

Not all winter breakers will spend Christmas by themselves. Wendland's girlfriend will be here from Germany for her first trip to Oregon.

A legal issue kept Bruhl from returning to Hawaii, though at press time he was hoping he might be able to visit his aunt in Montana for Christmas.

Hodges remained because of a job in Salem, but was to return to her hometown of Coos Bay on Christmas Eve.

"I do find the campus more beautiful right now, if that makes any sense ... I didn't notice it before," she said. "But I'm excited to go home."