Carolyn Mallon Fair, Personal Narrative and Commentary
Submitted via email, May 3, 2000
I have watched and listened with interest over the years of what has been "remembered" about the events surrounding the infamous May 4. Although I have never returned to campus after leaving Dining Services, I have kept up with the events through the Alumni Association and friends who are still affiliated with Kent State. I began my matriculation at Kent State as a Senior transferring from Virginia Tech after marrying my high school sweetheart and student trainer, Jeff Fair. I graduated in May 1969 with a BS in Human Nutrition and Foods. Following graduation I worked at Akron City Hospital, and the following fall began my tenure as Assistant Manager of Lake-Olson Dining Hall.
When the demonstrations came to the university campus, Residential Life and Dining Services provided a safe haven for the students who were at Kent for an education. On Sunday evening when the ROTC building was set ablaze, I was in the cafeteria hemming a red dress, waiting on students who wanted to come down for hot chocolate, punch and cookies. Few students had come into the dining room closest to the ROTC building. Another assistant manager was on the opposite side of the kitchen in another dining room.
All was quiet, when about 20 Black Panthers walked into the dining room. They walked toward me and said, "Don't be alarmed. We just want to be inside with a witness because they are going to set fire to the ROTC building." They got cookies and sat all around me at the surrounding tables. I looked outside, to see a red-orange reflection in the glass grow and engulf the night. At this point, dozens of students flooded the dining hall and we sat in silence. It had begun.
They declared martial law. I worried how my husband who worked as a Burns Security Guard (in his spare time!) would get home. There was a dawn to dusk curfew. He got off work at eleven. It took him 2 hours to transverse the city to the apartments on the edge of campus. He made it home safely with many admonitions and directions around road blocks.
On May 4, my husband was to finish class in the Fine Arts Building and then walk to Lake-Olson to meet me. All the staff was looking out the windows and up "blanket hill" as my husband walked down the steps into the dining hall. We watched as the Guard and students vied for position, moving first one way and then another. We heard multiple gun shots ring through the crisp air. Mass hysteria broke loose and students began running into any open building. Looking at each other in amazement, we rushed to open the closed doors. Someone turned on the soda machines. Streams of hysterical students pushed their way into the dining hall. Shocked and in disbelief, we listened, we hugged, and we consoled.
What you do in a crisis tells a lot about an individual, more about a university. The Kent State campus showed "We Care". And we did. Other campuses felt pain. Our campus felt pain and bled, both figuratively and in reality. The students had to leave campus by that evening. The staff had to report home. The campus was closed. Classes were canceled or held off campus. Martial law was tightened. At close that day, my husband and I left for home exhausted and drained of any emotion. Rest came. But, I had been warned that Lake-Olson was the dining hall for the National Guard to use, and that the manager and two assistant managers would be required to come into work to make sure things went well while they used our facilities.
Home was an apartment on the base of the hill just off the road which circled campus. We opened our curtains that evening because we wanted to open our windows for fresh air. That was the last time during the crisis we did this because, as we opened the curtains to the sliding glass doors, a National Guardsman turned abruptly and pointed a rather large, I am sure loaded, gun at us. We closed the curtains and fitfully went to sleep.
The next morning, I was in front of my apartment to meet my escorted ride to work- a jeep with a driver, and two well armed Guardsmen. Upon getting into the jeep, the driver greeted me, introduced my escort, and said to look up at the building across from mine. When I did, I saw a large bullet hole in the brick, from the day before. It was then I realized, that no matter how bad it was, it could have been a lot worse.
Lake-Olson dining hall was abuzz with activity, Guard cooks, and young men on KP, actually peeling potatoes. Except for the BDU's you would think it was any normal day in the life of the kitchen. But, that was short lived as the young men, many under 21, and some college students, started coming through for their meals. Those accounts which said no rocks or broken construction debris were thrown were inaccurate. I witnessed cuts, bruises over the face, arms and neck of many Guardsmen. They were as physically and mentally beat up as were some civilians. Many had friends going to school at Kent. They had a job to do and they did it. And, what happened was not planned or accepted. Many cried; many bled. And, all will be forever changed.
I learned that one of the students injured was a part-time employee of mine who worked in the dishroom. He was not the sort to get involved in activism. He was, like many, a spectator of the events unfolding. I had even gone to watch the activities earlier that week by the bell. It was like a carnival, a release of tensions for most students not intimately involved with the movement. But, all of us were warned that gathering for a demonstration was illegal under martial law. Those who did not listen, placed themselves in harms way. Group think ruled the day. And, all will be forever changed. At the very least, we lost our innocence as a nation.
I found a job back at Akron City Hospital, and my husband found a job as a dispatch clerk with the campus police. He worked 6 PM to 6 AM seven days a week, and I left for work at 6 AM and got home around 6 PM. Summer went fast. The town began to heal; the campus began it's rebirth. We were to be whole once again.
I have worked at two other universities in the Midwest where, even in the late seventies, I was classified as somewhat of an outsider to be watched because of where I got my degree. I have seen activitism come, go and come again. The recent riots in Seattle and the demonstrations in Washington, DC. have brought back vivid memories of a time best placed in perspective. Some who took part in the demonstrations at Kent were not innocent; the Guard was not evil; ideas and ideals do not destroy or kill. Terrorists come in all sizes, ages and nationalities. It takes just one terrorist to make a peaceful demonstration a disaster. I have seen the enemy, and it is within.
Two years ago, my husband returned the American Flag which flew over the campus on May 4 to the university. Last year he returned to Kent to visit and watch Navy play his alma mater. It was closure. Kent remains on its journey toward excellence, learning from its past and visioning its future.
Today, after 25 years at Oklahoma State University, I am the Director of Dining at Collington Life Care Community in Mitchellville, Maryland, and my husband is the Director of Athletic Training Services at the U.S. Naval Academy. And, no, we did not watch the ABC 70's mini series.
Carolyn Mallon Fair: Arnold, Maryland
BS Kent State University 1969
MS Oklahoma State University 1991
Director of Dining Services, Collington Continuing Care Community