Mark and Laura Phillips live in an ACU residence hall for the first time since 1986, when Mark lived in Mabee Hall and Laura in Gardner. Since then, they have married, earned doctoral degrees and acquired a lot of things.
Now, they live in Nelson Hall. Most of their belongings are in storage.
“We’re living on minimal stuff right now,” Mark said. “I even packed some stuff in storage we shouldn’t have packed.”
Mark and Laura, associate professors of management sciences, had grown accustomed to living in their 2,700 square-foot house for eight years. Their new residence, the apartment in Nelson usually reserved for the dorm’s resident director, is less than half the size of their old home.
“It’s hard to find places to put stuff here, and even then it’s hard to remember where we were able to put it away,” Laura said. “Like the first day it rained, we had no idea where we put the umbrellas.”
Shannon Kaczmarek, area coordinator of Nelson and McDonald Halls, married this summer and lives off campus. Otherwise, she would live in the apartment.
More than a half dozen green, potted plants, all different sizes and species, dominate the decoration in the tiny living room.
“They didn’t seem this plentiful in the house,” Laura said. “But when you put them in this small of a space, it seems they’re everywhere.”
Mark emailed Dr. Robert Rhodes, new ACU provost, this summer to say his family was looking to move from their south-Abilene home. Their home had a garage apartment, something Rhodes wanted for his father.
“They came and took a look, came back the next day and looked again and decided it worked well for them,” Mark said. “So we had about six weeks to get packed up.”
Mark and Laura’s plan at the time was to begin construction of a new house closer to campus. But they needed an immediate if temporary place to live until that plan could be completed.
“We wanted to live on this side of town but hadn’t expected to sell our house until next summer,” Mark said. “After selling the house to the Rhodes family, we started looking at short-term options and thought we’d go with a University Park apartment because it’s convenient. We’d live there while we built a house.”
UP bedrooms measure 8′ by 10′, half the size of the smallest freshman dorm rooms.
“You could put a queen-size bed in a bedroom, but that’s about all that could fit,” Laura said. “We weren’t sure how that would work. It would have been challenging.”
Then, through a new Residence Life initiative called Faculty-in-Residence program, the opportunity arose for them to live in a dorm apartment.
“John Delony asked me in a meeting if I’d ever thought about living in a dorm,” Mark said. “My first reaction was no. But the more we talked about it, it made sense.”
Dr. John Delony, assistant dean for Residence Life Education and Housing, restructured hall management to a permanent area coordinator model instead of each hall having its own director. Six directors now coordinate the 10 dorms (four directors manage two halls), opening up some of the hall apartments for the Faculty-in-Residence program.
“The restructuring gave us a great opportunity to start this program,” Delony said. “We want the faculty and students to have a seamless educational experience in the classroom. Many prestigious universities like Oxford, Princeton and Yale have the same type of program.”
With the help of Res Life staff, the Phillipses moved into Nelson Hall three days before classes began.
The Nelson apartment has a small entry room, a kitchen with room for a table, two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It is laid out in a long rectangle the width of each room. Mark and Laura use the first bedroom as an office, but there’s also a twin bed for their daughter Allison to sleep in during the winter break. The washer and dryer are stacked in the master bedroom.
They said get one common question from almost everyone they tell about their new living arrangement. Is it loud?
“It’s really not,” Mark said. “These walls are concrete, so sound doesn’t carry very well.”
Except one time it did.
“One day there was a guy in the community bathroom in the lobby, which is on the other side of our wall,” Laura said. “He was in there singing really loud, and we could hear it right through the vent. That was really weird.”
“He was singing show tunes enthusiastically,” Mark added.
Mark and Laura have made several lifestyle changes now that they live on campus. They eat in the World Famous Bean every week. They walk to work, the gym, volleyball games and Nikki’s Swirl Shop, among other places.
“It reminds me of living in Oxford, when we were there for Study Abroad,” Mark said. “We didn’t have a car, so we just walked. That’s what we do now.”
Laura filled up her car with gas before school started. Five weeks into the semester, she had half a tank left.
“I drive to church and the grocery store,” she said. “That’s it.”
Their 11-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, Hallie, was always an indoor dog before they moved into Nelson and isn’t as active as she used to be. Mark and Laura walk her outside the res hall each day.
“She’s perfectly happy with this,” Laura said.
One morning during the first week of the semester, the desk manager in the Nelson lobby saw Mark leaving the dorm to take Hallie out for a walk. Men aren’t allowed in women’s residence halls, except during visitation hours on Thursday nights.
“The guy working the desk didn’t hear me come out, but he glanced up just in time to see a man leaving the hall early in the morning,” Mark said. “I was down at the end of the building with the dog and he came down the sidewalk to ask me why I came out of Nelson, if I lived there. I said yes, and he said, ‘OK, good.'”
Mark and Laura’s daughter, Allison, sophomore marketing major from Abilene, lives in Morris Hall, one of the farthest buildings from Nelson on campus. Allison sees her parents often during the week, but only because they spend a lot of time in the Mabee Business Building.
“Beyond that, we really don’t run into each other,” Allison said.
Mark and Laura host four Nelson residents for dinner each Monday to meet their new neighbors.
“We really got to know them better and had a great time,” said Nicole Schoolcraft, freshman early childhood education major from Midland. “One night I saw them in the Bean and they came over to say hello and see how we were doing.”
Delony, who also teaches graduate level English classes, is experiencing the first year of the program himself. John and his wife, Sheila, assistant professor of teacher education, also live in an ACU dorm apartment now after moving into Barret Hall this summer.
Angela Neal, the resident director of Barret and Smith-Adams Halls, lives in the Smith-Adams apartment, which made the Barret apartment available.
The Delonys’ old home was a traditional three-bedroom, two-bath brick home with a picket fence. They sold some of their belongings in garage sales, gave some of it away and have put much of it in storage.
“The biggest difference has been not having a fenced-in yard for our son and dogs,” Sheila said.
The Delonys had to give their two basset hounds, Maria and Baxter, to friends in Lubbock because they couldn’t have them in the dorm.
The move has affected their son, Hank, the most. Hank turned 2 years old this summer.
“He lost his pacifier and his dogs and his backyard all at the same time,” John said. “Some of it is normal two-year-old stuff, and some of it is the move, so it’s been a big adjustment for him.”
However, Hank does enjoy his new neighbors.
“He’s loved it because the students’ response has been great,” John said. “He loves to give hugs and he invites everyone over to play with him.”
The Barret apartment is larger than the Nelson one, laid out in more of a square-shape than the long, thin Nelson apartment.
It is, however, much less sound-proof than the one in Nelson. The bass beat in an upstairs resident’s stereo blasts overhead, thumping the ceiling and walls.
“We lived in a house and neighborhood for a decade, so we’re not used to that,” John said. “We can hear music and people walking all the time.”
But students are aware of their volume and check with the Delonys when planning loud events or exercises.
“We have students come talk to us to tell us they’re planning an exercise class above us and want to make sure it’s OK, and that’s great,” John said. “Sometimes I text them to tell them to crank it up because we’ll be gone for a few hours.”
Neither McMurry University or Hardin-Simmons University have any faculty living in the dorms during the school year. Jason Feltz, director of residence life at McMurry, said a few professors stayed in a dorm this summer for summer class, but that hadn’t happened before and they don’t plan on having faculty in the dorms during the school year.
The Phillipses and Delonys will stay in their apartment at least until May.
Mark and Laura are considering purchasing a lot in the Wildlife Trails neighborhood about a mile from campus. They have until the end of November if they want to buy that lot to build on.
“We anticipate being here through May,” Mark said. “Beyond that, we’ll see. We like living here.”
“The downsides to living here are small,” Laura added. “All the positives really outweigh them.”