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When I Was a Student


Admit it: you've been with a group before (whether it was with Ambrosians or other friends) and told a story from your time on campus that probably started with, "Well, when I was a student." We love those stories!

And when we have the chance, we want to share them with all alumni. So here's one story shared by Bill Jolly '57.

A Quest for Ice Cream

Bill Jolly '57 stepped on campus as a seminary student in 1953, and he recently shared one initiation rite that he remembers like it was yesterday.

The challenge: Steal enough ice cream from the campus kitchen for the entire floor of first-year seminarians. Bill tells us there were about 60 men in the seminarian program at the time, and about a third of those were first-year students.

The mission: "I was nominated to be a leader of one of the teams that went after the ice cream. You had to be pretty smart and strong to be chosen, so I felt good about myself.

"In order to get to [the ice cream] you had to avoid being caught by the night watchman. This gentleman was in charge of all of Ambrose Hall. He circulated inside and outside the building and made stops at various stations along the way, turning a key on a time clock. He was always on the move, so we had to make sure we timed our adventure to avoid crossing his path. We studied his path to know what time he would get to each station, but we never knew for sure when he might be there. I can't remember his name (it might have been Richard), but I can still picture him. He was a short, squat guy with all white hair, a beard and mustache; much like Santa Claus. He was a friendly guy, and we probably would have given him a heart attack if he ever saw us. I don't think he ever knew [about our adventures]."

Important Historical Note: During the 1950s, the vast majority of the college's operations occurred in Ambrose Hall. The seminarians were housed in the east end of Ambrose Hall on the second, third, and fourth floors. The kitchen and dining rooms were located where the current Finance Office, President's Office and Student Success Center are now, toward the center and west end of the building.

"Four or five of us were on a mission, and it took about an hour round trip. We used the steam pipe tunnel that went under Ambrose Hall to make our way from our rooms to the kitchen storage area. Luckily, the hole in the wall was much larger than the pipe itself. In order to get to the kitchen store room, we had to crawl through the tunnel and hang upside down on the steam pipe. There was probably a 15-foot drop into the store room. Once in the store room, we raided the freezer (which wasn't locked). We grabbed pint boxes of various flavors of ice cream (enough for everyone) and loaded them into a sack. Then we threw them up to a few of the guys who stayed in the tunnel.

"After we cleaned out the freezer, we had to get back up to the tunnel, so we climbed the shelves in the store room and stood on top of the equipment. Even after climbing up, we were barely able to reach the pipe and had to pull ourselves up. You had to be pretty strong to get up there and not fall. Then there was no time to waste because we didn't want the ice cream to melt.

"After we traveled back through the tunnels to get to our rooms, we would then go down the hallway and knock on doors [to let people know we had succeeded].

"This happened once a week and was passed down through generations. By the time I got there, it was a science and went smoothly. It was a tradition and one of those things you did growing up at college. There was a lot of camaraderie and part of the initiation process. The guy that ran the cafeteria (I think his name was Victor) never said a word about it, but he must have added a weekly supply of ice cream into the college's budget."

So what happened? "It ended years after I graduated. Another seminarian told me that one night a group didn't make the trip successfully and dumped all of the ice cream out a window on the east side of the building. The ice cream melted down the side [of the building], so the administration sealed up access to the cafeteria store room, putting an end to the tradition."

The irony: "At that time, we didn't realize the administration knew about this challenge, but they chose not to intervene, I assume, because it was pretty harmless. None the less, it was pretty crazy what we had to do to get [the ice cream]."

And what's Bill up to today? After his ordination in 1961, Bill returned to Tennessee and served a diocese there for nine years. He then chose to leave the priesthood and began a career in the secondary school system. He did a great deal of work developing teaching manuals and curriculum on career development. Those skills then transferred to a hospital setting where he created an education program for their needs. Since retiring, he has been heavily involved in his church and community, especially with Big Brothers Big Sisters where he was recently inducted into their Hall of Fame. In his spare time, he enjoys long distance swims.

And his thoughts on St. Ambrose: "It was one of the best educational experiences I ever went through...and not just the academics. The priests were really great teachers and well prepared in their subjects. We loved our classes and the campus routine. When I start talking about St. Ambrose, I'm just like a kid again. It is still very influential in my life."