A Unique Moment in Time
The Rev. Michael Schulenberg ’63
In 1959, everything was new for me. High school was ending; close friends were leaving the only home I knew (Red Wing, Minnesota) and heading elsewhere for jobs, college, the military. My moorings were shifting badly, and the future was a blank slate. As far as I could see, the hand I was dealt left me only one card to play, and that was heading to Connecticut to attend an all-male liberal arts college called Trinity. I was about to discover a life that afforded me one adventure after another, taking me out of all of my comfort zones and teaching me the power and the joy of drinking from a glass that was always half full. My education, I discovered, was to be found not only in Trinity’s classrooms but literally in everything that happened in the building of relationships that would describe a Trinity life, even the strangest of encounters.
I pledged Alpha Chi Rho fraternity my sophomore year and thereafter ate all my meals at Crow House. Pete Sherin, Tom Fraser, and Bob Kraut were roommates, and we stayed close-knit in friendships throughout our Trinity years. Bob and I also became junior advisers and shared a two- room suite in New Dorm in our junior year. There were several other members of Crow House who lived on that same floor of New Dorm, and we all made the trip back and forth to AXP for meals.
The cook at Crow House in those years was a unique personality by the name of Bob Roach, known widely around the campus simply as “the Roach.” In most any weather, good or bad, the Roach would arrive early each morning driving his customized Harley Davidson, truly a “hog” adorned with as many lights as an 18-wheeler. In every conceivable way, Bob was a rough-cut character, a personality known in places in Hartford where you would not find Trinity students, ever! But to us at Crow House, he was a loyal employee, a cook with some better-than-average skills, and the source of endless stories that provide one-of-a-kind memories on into these autumn years. To wit, the following:
One spring morning in 1962, my junior year, Roach arrived in a pickup, parked in front of the house, and carried into the dining room a fairly good-sized box. Several of us gathered around as he explained his out-of-character entrance. He opened the lid on the box and pulled out a baby fox; in the box all cuddled together were six more! They were small, about filling one’s two hands held together, their eyes open, but just barely. And then, “the rest of the story.” It seems that Roach had spent the prior night with a friend running their coon-dogs (yes, he owned a pack of coon dogs!) and that after several hours in the woods outside of Hartford trying in vain to hunt up some raccoons, the dogs came upon the scent of a fox and chased her to her den. Frustrated in not finding any raccoons, Bob and his buddy decided to dig up the den, the results being the seven little kits in the box. It was then his plan to take the box of fox to a pet store to see if they could sell the lot and make a few bucks in the sale.
As the morning wore on, everyone of course wanted to see and hold the little creatures, and the box and the contents were taken to the TV room in the house and put on the floor to watch them explore and start to play with each other and with the gathered brothers. The Roach’s story got told and retold, and in the course of the morning, the question came up as to what he expected to get for them at the pet store. He wasn’t sure, but that could be negotiated. Without much thought to the idea, I offered Roach $10 for one. He said, “Yes!” I pointed to the one I thought I’d like, and Bob lifted the little creature from the box and handed what he said was a little female to me. A few moments later, Rick Ashworth also bought one, again for $10. Before the morning ended, Roach and the five remaining kits were off to find a pet store, and Rick and I had to come to terms with what to do with baby foxes.
I named my new female companion Ralph (the name felt good to me). I carried her back to New Dorm, introducing her to her new home, with Bob Kraut and me making a nest of sorts in the bedroom closet from a couple of towels. Then I had to come to terms with what to feed her, making sure there was water to drink, how to take her outside regularly in the hope of “house training” her, caring for her in the remaining weeks of the school term (it was early April when she came into my life). Somehow, it all worked! She thrived! And, she imprinted on me and followed me when we went outside, came when I called her, and was tenderly gentle with me in all her character. I remember walking from New Dorm, past the library, down the path past the cannons, and on to what was the soccer and lacrosse field. She would run over to the pine trees that lined the football field, sniffing at all the smells of birds or animals that hid in those trees and bushes, then coming back to me when I called, and we would head on for Crow House. She was a joy to have; never any trouble to my life at Trinity.
As May came and the end of the semester drew closer, I had to make a decision as to how to get Ralph and myself back to Minnesota for the summer. Rick by now had parted with his fox; memory seems to be that Roach must have taken that kit to the pet store where he took the other original five. But my dilemma had a perfect resolve. A classmate and friend, also a teammate on the track team (a javelin thrower), David Brackett, had purchased a 1935 Buick that spring from someone in Hartford and was going to drive it to his home in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He was delighted to let me travel home with him, along with Ralph the fox! When the class term and exams were over, we loaded the old Buick with suitcases and boxes of whatever, made a spot for Ralph and the crude cage I had made for her, strapped a javelin to the front left fender of the Buick (David wanted to practice throwing it over the summer break), and took off for the turnpikes and freeways heading west for Chicago and then north for Minnesota. We looked like a mutant narwhal heading down the highways for home! We made the necessary stops along the way, stopping for stretching our legs, getting gas, and where possible, getting some burgers and fries for us and a raw beef patty for Ralph (yes, they sold me a burger raw when they heard the short version of my story with a pet fox). It was quite a trip. I think David tells this story as often as I do.
I kept Ralph well into the summer. I built a caged area for Ralph in the backyard of our home in that Mom and Dad both worked, and I, too, had a summer job. Coming home each day, I would sing out greetings to Ralph, and she would squeal at my voice. I would let her out, and we played so she could get her exercise and each of us could continue this special bond. As the end of July drew near, however, I had a hard decision to make. I could not take Ralph back to Trinity for my senior year, and Mom and Dad did not want a fox to take care of. Dad came up with the perfect solution, however. He had a friend who had a hobby farm, along with young children, several barn cats, and a couple dogs, and when Dad told him the story of Ralph the fox, he agreed to take her to join the cadre of playmates that lived at the farm. Ralph lived in the barn with the cats and played with the children and the other animals. Dad wrote me one day in the fall after I had returned to Trinity that the mix on the hobby farm was perfect; Ralph was happy and well! My last note on news of Ralph came in the spring of 1963. Dad’s friend said that he came out one day, called for Ralph, and got no response; she was gone and never came back. The thought was that she maybe had found a male, mated, and started her own den and family.
This project of 200 Stories about a Trinity education, a liberal and inclusive environment, a unique moment in time for a very special group of young men (for me, this great Trinity Class of 1963), word and pictures that describe and maybe define the final worth of this most blessed of places . . . maybe Ralph, a gentle vixen fox (and maybe “The Roach”?), has a small niche in the final description of who we all have become in the end.