Love Shack, Baby
Historical Brazos House is a little old place where UT Arlington students get together to study, relax, debate, hang out—and often begin courtships that lead to marriage.
Like all old buildings, Brazos House has tales. There’s the one about ROTC cadets in the 1930s or ’40s smuggling a cow on laxatives to the top floor when the place was a barracks called Davis Hall. Another, about 50 years later, purports that someone sneaked in a keg. No doubt UT Arlington’s oldest residence hall has witnessed untold pranks.
But it’s a rare building that works such a spell on its inhabitants that they want to come back year after year, stay in touch decades after graduation, and—remarkably often—marry someone they met there. It’s also a safe bet that few structures built in 1936 are nicknamed the “Love Shack.”
The reasons for the fanatical affection former residents still shower on Brazos House are not glaringly obvious to an outsider, although the building does have character. Through the years students have carved their names and dates into the stone entrances, a kind of graffiti history that dates to the ’30s.
The four-story building is laid out in ramps rather than floors, so you climb stairs to reach groups of rooms. In the downstairs common area/lobby, six students gather around a table with their laptops. Laura De La Paz of Dallas says she chose Brazos for its low cost and location in the center of campus, then she acknowledges the Love Shack nickname, giggling. Glances go around the table, and she finally admits she might be interested in someone there.
But today’s students and those who came before them talk about another feeling that holds them close. Over and over, they mention the family atmosphere, the camaraderie.
Sometimes a shy student finds a social life here without intending to. Freshman Emily Fitzgerald says fellow Brazonians pressured her to get out of her room and socialize. Now she is and she’s enjoying it. She might have stayed anonymous in a larger hall. With 96 students, Brazos is the smallest residence hall on campus, and it became the second coed hall in Texas in 1975.
The bonds beginning around this table might be the start of lifelong friendships grown the old-fashioned way—in an old-school building on a modern campus. The proof it’s possible: Numerous couples who met at Brazos have married and still stay in touch with fellow Brazonians (they tell you the correct spelling is Brazooonians, dragging out the o’s to mimic their cheer during intramural competitions).
Even back in the military barracks days when UT Arlington was North Texas Agricultural College, romance swirled about the building.
“It just has a special something, a kind of spell about it.”
One former cadet, Amp Miller, would lean out his window to see “the prettiest girl on campus,” Ruth Boutwell, walk by. He declared he would marry her, and he did, in 1946. Last August the couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.
Decades later, in 1997, Crystal Okasha ’01, ’05 moved to Brazos and became a resident assistant at the same time as her husband-to-be, Sam (they had to hide the fact that they were dating). Later she was hall director. So strong was Sam’s connection to Brazos that he traveled from Canada in 2005 and proposed to Crystal in her room.
“There’s no other place like it,” says Crystal, now the immigrant services manager for YMCA Calgary in Alberta. “It’s like a big family. Everybody gets to know everybody. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes it’s bad. But we were really close-knit.”
Sam ’01, ’03, now corporate manager of information services for Sanjel Corp., agrees. “Your business was everybody’s business. One year we had a T-shirt, and on the back it said, ‘What did you do last night? I slept with 95 people.’ ”
The family atmosphere was so prevalent that residents left their doors unlocked and didn’t want to go home for the holidays, preferring 24-hour movie marathons instead.
“We’d go to Boston Market, get a couple of turkeys, move all the furniture, bring blankets and pillows and throw them on the floor, and watch movie after movie after movie,” Sam recalls. “It was a lot of fun.”
Bryan Sullins ’03, ’05 and his wife, Kerri Montagnino ’03, worked under the Okashas as office assistants and also were resident assistants. Bryan and Kerri live in Sherwood, Ark., where she is a representative for a doctor’s office specializing in gastroenterology and he is a technician for LM Wind Power.
Kerri remembers the teams that Brazos fielded in the annual Oozeball mud volleyball tournament. If you didn’t show up for an event, fellow Brazonians worried.
“People actually cared about you,” husband Bryan says. “If you weren’t there, they wondered where you were, just like a family would.”
LOVE IS IN THE AIR
Corrie and Jake Wells met at Brazos in 1999. One afternoon, while she was doing laundry in the lobby, he asked her out to dinner and a movie. Only one problem: Jake wanted to leave in an hour. Panicked, Corrie grabbed her clothes and ran to her room to get ready without realizing she’d left a pair of underwear in the dryer. When they returned from their date, the underwear was hanging from the ceiling.
“That was probably my most embarrassing moment,” Corrie says. “But it also got the most laughs a year later when the truth was revealed during a game of Truth or Dare.”
The couple now live in McKinney with their three children and a fourth on the way. Corrie ’04 is an oncology nurse; Jake ’01 is a systems administrator.
“Our Brazos friends are our closest friends to this day,” Corrie says. “Jake’s old roommate lives in McKinney, too, and works one cubicle over from him.” Another couple who met at Brazos and married, Emily and Dean Peterson of Grand Prairie, are the godparents of the Wellses’ oldest daughter.
Corrie says the Brazos experience immersed her in campus life, which had lasting benefits. “Everybody helps everybody else out. My nursing school friends, the ones who stayed on campus, all studied together. Even now, we compare notes of how our hospitals do things differently and come up with new ideas.”
The Wellses remember an elaborate funeral for a resident’s pet frog and a crazy game of football in the snow. Later, Jake was best man at the Petersons’ wedding.
No one is quite sure when Brazos got its Love Shack moniker. Wendy Holdsworth ’92, ’95, a former hall director, believes the name originated in the late 1980s when she lived there. Dean Peterson ’03, a patrol sergeant with the UT Arlington Police Department, says the residents of his years were the “pioneers of the Love Shack era.”
He and Emily met in the lobby where a group of residents were hanging out. Dean and a few other guys were playing guitars, which caught Emily’s attention.
“Dean would say that’s when I became smitten with him, but he would have had to play a lot better for me to be smitten,” Emily says with a laugh. They soon began dating, and they wed four years later.
Dean remembers Brazonians rallying over causes, like a picnic table for smokers, and someone smuggling a full keg of beer all the way to the fourth floor.
“People actually cared about you. If you weren’t there, they wondered where you were, just like a family would.”
“My experience is a little more tame than Dean’s,” says Emily, a corporate security investigator at an area bank. “We would stay up late. We would have a lot of 3 a.m. walks to the 7-Eleven down the street.”
Britney Johnson ’06 also has fond memories of late nights.
“My freshman year you could go downstairs at any time of the night and there would be people to talk to,” she says. “People I met in Brazos are the same people I keep in contact with to this day.”
That includes her husband, Marcus ’07, who had perhaps the only groom’s cake ever made in the shape of his dorm. They lived in Brazos from 2002 to 2006 and now reside in Fort Worth. Britney is a reporter for the Denton Record Chronicle, and Marcus is pursuing a career in graphic design.
He treasured the diversity among residents and the long conversations in the common area.
“The rooms were so small, you would be forced to go downstairs and mingle. We’d go down there and have world debates. There would be a student from another country, student entrepreneurs, another really poor student. We had these intense political debates. Or sometimes it would be something stupid like what was the best movie or who was the best musician. It would go on for hours.”
Rathi Rajasingam ’05 says her mother spotted Rathi’s future husband, Sebastian, in that same common area in 2000. “My mom actually turned around and said, ‘That looks like a nice Indian guy, why don’t you go talk to him?’ He said, ‘I’m not Indian, I’m Sri Lankan.’ ”
Sebastian ’05, an engineer for United Airlines in the Houston area, says the family atmosphere prevailed “probably because it was a very small place. Everybody got really involved in the dorm.”
More UT Arlington students than ever will get to share the experience of living on campus in the coming years. Two residence halls and several apartment complexes have been built since 2000, and a new residence hall and apartment community will open in fall 2012 in the College Park District.
But the Brazonians are pretty sure their experience is unique.
“It just has a special something, a kind of spell about it,” Crystal Okasha says. “It’s definitely not the building itself; it’s not the most glamorous place. But if I had my pick and I could stay anyplace on campus, I’d stay at Brazos.”