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Short Stories: 1976-78 — Fun Times at the Midwestern Baptist College Dorm

gary keen bruce mike fox greg wilson midwestern baptist college 1978
Gary Keen, Bruce Gerencser, Mike Fox, Greg Wilson, Midwestern Baptist College, 1978

I have been accused of not having anything good to say about my alma mater, Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. It is certainly true that I have been a harsh critic of Midwestern’s doctrinal beliefs and practices; and of their cult-like control of student behavior. I make no apology for saying that Midwestern’s founder, professors, and administrators caused psychological harm with their Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) extremism. That said, I had a lot of fun times at Midwestern, as a nineteen- to twenty-one-year-old dormitory student.

Midwestern had four dormitory wings: the pit (basement), the spiritual wing, the party wing, and the women’s wing (the whole second story). I spent two years living in a shared room on the party wing. Every room had two to four students, including one room monitor. I lived in two rooms as a freshman and sophomore student. My first room assignment was not a good fit; Toby (strict and spiritual), Greg, and an older man named Dale. I wanted the “party” in party wing, so I asked to be moved to a different room. My new roommates were Wendell, Fred (a Black man), and Jack. Sadly, only Wendell had the party spirit I was looking for. Boy, did we have fun! Well as far as IFB fun goes, anyway.

I really enjoyed Sunday night devotions that were held in the dorm common room. After attending church three times, working in the bus ministry, teaching Sunday school, or some other ministry, and going out on a double date after evening church, most students were filled with energy by the time they gathered for devotions.

The program was simple: prayer, singing, and a sermonette. The sermonette was often given by the dorm supervisor, Ralph Bitner. He and his wife, Sophie, lived on the same floor, adjacent to the common room, and across the hall from the snack room. Ralph was a dreadful speaker, as were many of the students asked to give a devotion. I sat there hoping the pain would soon subside, knowing that my favorite part of devotions, singing, was next.

Students lustily sang modern choruses and hymns — all a cappella. I loved to sing, using my tenor voice to praise and glorify God. One of my favorite songs was the HASH chorus — a mash-up of different songs.

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After devotions, dating students would say their non-physical contact good night to their boyfriend or girlfriend. For me, devotions were the perfect end to a busy, stressful week.

I was quite temperamental. Quick to rise, quick to recede, people knew to steer clear of me when I was angry. One day, as I came into my dorm room, Greg was lying in wait for me with an oversized plastic bat. He planned on pummeling me with the bat. Fun times, to be sure, but when Greg swung the bat he hit me in the kidneys, knocking me to the floor, breathless and in pain. I quickly became enraged, planning to do harm to Greg when I got up off the floor. Greg sensed my anger, dropped the bat, and ran for the hills. He didn’t return until the next night. By then, I was cooled down, and all was right with the world. Greg loved to horse around, as did I, but he wisely retired from his career as a baseball player.

One evening, Wendell and I were horsing around in our room. Wendell was quite the jokester. You had to be on your toes when Wendell was around lest you fell prey to his wily devices. On this night, we were going back and forth when I decided to pick up a work boot and chuck it at Wendell. Unfortunately, I missed my target, and the boot hit the wall, going through the drywall. We briefly laughed, but knew we had to immediately fix the wall lest we end up in line for DC (disciplinary committee) on Monday. Fortunately, Wendell knew how to repair and paint drywall. We repaired the wall, and the dorm supervisor was none the wiser. Crisis averted.

One early morning, several of my friends and I came home from working at a factory that made bolts. We decided to play a joke on our sleeping roommates. We bumped up the alarm time on their clocks, changing 6 am wake times to 3 am. And then we waited. As the alarms went off, our roommates arose, stumbled to the bathroom, dressed, gathered their books, and headed off to classes, none the wiser that they were three hours early. One by one, as they walked up the drive between the dorm and the school, they realized that they had been punked and made their way back to the dorm. We, of course, met them with hilarity and laughter.

Jack was one of my roommates. He was a Pharisee, writing people up for minor infractions of Midwestern’s code of conduct. Once written up, you had to appear before the discipline committee to answer for your heinous crimes. One day, Jack wrote Polly and me up for breaking the “no borrowing rule.” Polly had loaned me her unisex parka. This crime against humanity landed us in hot water. I believe we got ten demerits.

Afterward, I decided to get even with Jack. No turning the other cheek. I knew he had been going to a local restaurant to visit with a waitress he was sweet on. This was a violation of Midwestern’s rules. One night, I had a friend of mine, Peggie, call Jack on the pay phone in the party wing hallway, pretending to be the waitress. I made sure Peggie called after curfew. Sure enough, Jack fell for the ruse, telling the “waitress” he would come to see her right away. Hormones raging, Jack didn’t have a car, so he had to borrow someone else’s automobile, breaking the no-borrowing rule. Off Jack went in a borrowed car after curfew to see the waitress. Of course, she was not working that night. Perplexed, Jack returned to the dorm, only to find the dorm supervisor waiting for him. Mission accomplished, another Baptist Pharisee humbled and chastised. Jack never wrote me up again after this experience.

I have many other fun times I could share: playing Rook and UNO in the snack room; bowling in the dorm hallway, playing basketball with Dr. Malone, hanging bras on Ralph and Sophie’s door, and spending several days stranded in the dorm without electricity during the Blizzard of ’78. While I cannot absolve Midwestern for the harm it caused, I must not forget all the good times I had while living at 825 Golf Drive in Pontiac, Michigan. While I eventually matured into a man better suited for the spiritual wing, I never lost my love for playing practical jokes and having fun times.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I have never been to a reunion of any school I attended. But I suspect that this is the sort of thing people recall.

  2. Avatar

    Those are some fun stories! As much as some religions try, they still aren’t able to fully squelch the human spirit! It makes me happy to hear about you and the other students having some fun in an otherwise serious and restrictive environment.

    One of my friends from fundamentalist Christian school started a Facebook group for those of us processing the harmful parts of our school. This was in response to a sincere former student posting about a bad and formative interaction she had with the founder (who then and now has been deified by a number of students – and vilified by others). Poop hit the fan and was flung afar, hence the new private group for those of us who need space to discuss what was problematic at the school. One friend recounted a story of a prank they tried to play on a classmate who fell asleep in class. The teacher and students quietly tried to exit the room without waking Mr Sleepyhead, hoping he would awake to thinking the Rapture had happened. Fortunately or unfortunately, he awoke during the departure process. Christian school prank…..

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