LUFKIN, TEXAS (News Release) - Doris Gage requested many meetings with student employees during her 16-year tenure as a dormitory director at Baylor University, and now she's calling for one last assembly - this time as a gift for her 90th birthday. The reunion event is scheduled for July 9, at PineCrest Retirement Community where Mrs. Gage resides.
During her work as a dormitory director, Mrs. Gage estimates she supervised nearly 200 student employees. Some have stayed in touch over the years since her retirement in 1995, even sending letters and photos of their husbands and children.
Others have scattered across Texas, the country and even the globe, but Mrs. Gage hopes to convince many of them, who are now in their 40s and 50s, to return to Texas for a milestone meeting with her. It would be a joyful and momentous finale to a career born out of personal loss.
Mrs. Gage began her work as an assistant dormitory director in 1979 after the unexpected death of her husband a year earlier.
"I fell apart," she recalled.
However, in the midst of her despair, a quirky idea took hold. She knew three women who had worked as "dorm moms" at different points in their lives, and although it presented an uncommon way to redirect her life, she decided to pursue it.
The quest for that new direction began in her hometown of Waco where she graduated from Baylor many years before.
"Having lived at home during college, I always felt I missed something by not living on campus," she said. "I was 55 years old when I interviewed for the assistant dorm director position. Even though they expressed doubts during the interview about hiring a former elementary school music teacher, I had barely returned home before they called to tell me I had the job."
Mrs. Gage moved from a four-bedroom home in the Houston area into a two-room apartment in Collins Dormitory on the Baylor campus. All three of her children had left home within the past few years to marry or attend college. Still, the shock of learning about her plan reverberated through the family.
"'Mom, you don't even know what goes on in dormitories," Mrs. Gage recalls her daughter, Carol, telling her. At the time, Carol was living in a college dorm.
Undeterred, Mrs. Gage launched her second career in the largest women's dormitory on the campus. She oversaw the well being of 600 first-year women. After one year, she was promoted to the director position where she remained for 15 years.
"One of the biggest things a dorm director does is work out the conflicts, especially freshman girls who were not getting along with roommates," Mrs. Gage said. "You do anything a mom would do - including water the plants, console the girls, talk about the boys and the facts of life. It's exactly where I felt I should have been at that point. There was so much going on, I didn't have time to think about my own life."
Fall move-in day always posed the greatest challenges. Tearful mothers and daughters who couldn't bear to part with each other, the plethora of furniture rearrangement requests, and wailing over clothes that refused to fit into closets all combined with the August heat to create a stew of finely seasoned drama.
At 10 o'clock in the evening of move-in day, when all the parents had finally let go and departed, Mrs. Gage would call a meeting to go over the rules.
No painting the walls of your rooms. No nails. No drinking. No smoking. No pets. No boyfriends in rooms. She would explain she knew there would be pranks, and she had rules to cover those as well. No endangering others. No damaging property. And each prank had to be something both sides could laugh about. To this day, she still chuckles over the number of mustaches and variety of costumes worn by the lobby portrait of Ruth Collins, the dorm's namesake.
Mrs. Gage also fondly remembers her resident assistants. She supervised 12 of them each year and relied heavily on each to help her monitor the students who lived among six floors of rooms that make up the dormitory building.
"I chose them personally, and I always had a good staff of junior and senior young women," she said. Now, as her 90th birthday approaches, Mrs. Gage is calling one last meeting to see those women.