Memories of Homecomings Past
Appalachian State University's 2010 Homecoming brought a weekend of black and gold to the High Country, as thousands poured into Boone, full of Yosef pride. As fireworks rippled over Duck Pond Field Friday, college students weren't the only ones cheering.
Perhaps loudest of all were George and Patsy Ernst. "I think we're the only old people here," George Ernst laughed.
For the Ernst family, who drive from their Winston Salem home each October for Homecoming, it's not about the football game. It's about the memories.
Forty-nine years ago, George Ernst met his wife, less than a mile away in the old ASU bookstore.
"It's where everyone would walk in off the street, out of the snow and get a cup of coffee," he said.
The memory still makes him smile.
"We were just in there having coffee, and I saw her and went over, and we had coffee together," he said. "Then, in the old girl's gym a week later or so, we had a dance in there. It was on a snowy night. My roommate danced with my wife first, and had a drink or two, I think. He forced me, almost, to dance with her, says, 'She wants to dance with you,' and that's how I met her."
Ernst, who lived in Justice Hall during his stint at Appalachian State University as a business education major, has more memories than a single conversation can dictate. He and his roommate (an Appalachian cheerleader) were in charge of dorm room concessions. That meant he got the coveted key to all five girls' dorm rooms.
"We had access 24 hours a day," Ernst laughed. "We just had to say, 'Man on the hall.'"
A lot has changed over 40 years, notably the mascot. Ernst should know. One of his roommates played Yosef.
"He didn't have the big head and all the stuff he had today," he said. "He carried the big stone gun and the whiskey jug with the real stuff in it. Everything was real. No artificial stuff, you know."
Watauga used to be completely dry, but Ernst knew where to get the alcohol.
"You wanted a beer, you drove down to a place halfway down the mountain called 'Joe's Place'... toward Wilkesboro," he said.
Some things haven't changed, he said, notably, where college guys take girls on dates.
"Over on the Parkway to see the Brown Mountain Lights," he chuckled.
And it was easy to get dates. According to Ernst, there were five girls to every boy on campus.
College pranks, also, are not a new invention. Ask Ernst, and he'll tell you about the time Justice dorm raided a girls' dorm on the other side of campus.
"We had to go across the rocks and Kraut Creek to get from Justice... to the other side of campus," he said.
After the raid, everyone had to run across the creek to escape the police.
"My roommate (Dale Holland) got caught," he said, chuckling.
Another thing that hasn't changed? The winter chill.
"I took swimming at 8 in the morning," he said. "At the winter time, I'd get out of my class... go up to another building... by the time you got there your hair would be frozen from getting out of the gym."
Accessibility was worse. They didn't have the snowplows and salt spreaders during his tenure.
"I used to walk down the road and couldn't find my car because we were walking on top of it, that's how deep the snow was," he said. "That is absolutely the truth."
Some changes are sadder than others to Ernst.
"I hated to see Boone Hotel torn down up town," he said, referring to a structure that stood beside the Jones House.
He finds the growth of the university and student housing particularly disturbing, appalled that apartments have to stretch into Blowing Rock to accommodate the students, many more than the 3,000 in his day.
"The traffic," he said. "It didn't used to be like that.
So what brings the Ernsts back year after year battling the traffic?
"Anybody who has ever gone to Appalachian that I've known has fallen in love with the place," he said. "I never wanted to come home. I always wanted to, I always wanted to really live there."
Now the father of three and grandparent to four comes back to Boone every chance he gets.
"It still feels like home," he said.
Ernst is a retired teacher, having spent more than 30 years in the classroom. His wife currently teaches (and has for nearly 50 years) in Winston-Salem.