Mike attended Coe College, a small liberal arts college located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He chose Coe because they offered him a small athletic scholarship to play tennis, his sport in high school. It was a measly sum ($250), but money was tight with the Copeland family (Maureen would soon graduate from high school and wanted to go to college, too). Any help was important. Mike's father had a long-time friend who connected Mike with a possible job in Cedar Rapids, at a Gulf Oil gas station within walking distance of Coe's campus. (Here was a connection to his life in Wilmette, where he had "gained experience" in that Sinclair gas station.)
He also earned some money working in the theater of the college, because throughout his early life he'd been around lighting, sound and stage equipment. He knew enough to help Coe put on their shows and other auditorium productions. However, the job at the Gulf station was better, and Mike reached the point where he ran the station by himself on Sundays, and some evenings.
Coe College in Cedar Rapids, IA
He joined one of the fraternities there, Lambda Chi Alpha, and moved from the "Independents" floor (where all Freshmen are initially housed until they pledge a fraternity) to the Lambda Chi floor. (Coe is a very small school, with single male and female dormitories on the campus.) Fraternity life was important at Coe, but the additional cost was the undoing of Mike's college experience: there were dues and social fees.
Mike didn't date much most of his Freshman year, because his jobs, fraternity life and studies prevented much of a social life. However, a traditional Coe event changed his life there: "Flunk Day". This oddly-named event was a day in the Spring when the Student Council president "decrees" that all students skip their classes and go somewhere off campus to party (play games, eat, drink, whatever). Everyone, students, faculty, school administration, knew of this tradition...but the date was kept secret. It was an occasion where fraternities and their "sister sororities" would plan the food and activities, and everyone pretty much had to have a date.
Mike waan't dating yet, but some friends set him up with a girl who would quickly become his first "love interest": Janet White, from one of the sororities.
He was an English major (planning to teach high school and coach tennis), but he learned from his frat brothers that Coe's English Department Head was an avowed feminist who dispised "jocks", invariably failing them in her classes. Mike was cautioned to avoid her classes if possible, and hide the fact he was an "athlete" when he couldn't. He successfully did so until 2nd semester of Sophomore year, when he couldn't avoid a class in his major that only she taught. He hid the "athlete tag" and got good interim grades until the tennis coach called him out of class for an "away match". His personal secret was out, and Mike got failing grades thereafter.
Another contributing factor to his leaving school was his finances: he didn't have money for the fraternity's social activities - particularily a Spring Formal dance. That event required formal attire that Mike didn't have, as well as his part of the event's expenses. Not going wasn't an option, as the fraternity imposed a $300 fine for not attending.
Mike's only recourse was to quit school (with 5 weeks to go in the semester), go home to earn money, and return. That plan didn't work, of course, as his life went far from that plan.
When he got home from Coe, Mike sought out Karen Swanson, who was attending University of Michigan, working on a medical tyechnician degree. He wrote her letters and drove to see her in Ann Arbor several times. She had developed a new life, with a sorority and friends, and their "relationship" withered. [more...]