The ride to Mount Vernon may be short, but it can be absurdly difficult to secure.
Students without cars, or perhaps more regularly those who find they lack friends with cars, or who haven’t yet memorized the shuttle schedule, have a difficult time leaving Gambier.
This is a problem that generations of Kenyon students have faced, and a problem that once had a solution.
From the 1940s through the 1970s, both Mount Vernon and Gambier had a bench, together known as the “ride benches.”
The ride benches were used by students, faculty and locals alike and were used for getting from one town to the other.
Any passersby who noticed someone sitting around the Gambier or Mount Vernon bench would pick them up and drop them off at the other bench.
“We would sit on the bench,” remembers Thomas Stamp ’73, Kenyon’s College Historian and Keeper of Kenyoniana, “which was right in front of the Alumni House. It always seemed like a smart thing back then.” Alumni House was located where the Kenyon Inn is today, and the sister bench in Mount Vernon was located “at the first crossing when you get out to town, the one-way street,” Stamp said, referring to the crossroads of Gambier and Gay Streets.
Interestingly enough, Stamp remembers the wait being longer on the Gambier side. “If there was a wait, it was more on the Gambier end than the Mount Vernon end,” Stamp said.
The bench had been around for some years before women were admitted to Kenyon. With their arrival in 1969 when the Coordinate College was established, Kenyon became much more aware of student safety, so much so that a curfew and a sign-out system to leave dorms became a college policy.
When the College was still single gender, the administration did not feel that hitchhiking was much of a security issue; with women, however, they quickly changed their minds, getting rid of the benches in the 1970s.
Yet funny stories of the benches are still remembered by both male and female alumni. An alumna of the first women’s class, Liz Forman ’73, said, “My favorite [bench] story [is] with [John Crowe] Ransom ﾅ he was a gardener, had gone in to the local store to get some gardening tools, he had on his gardening clothes, picked up a student, who, assuming that this was a local farmer, because that’s what he looked like, chatted away. I think Ransom said something like ﾑWhat are you, are you a student at Kenyon?’ And they started talking about who were the good professors at Kenyon, and then, they went on about how good it was to have an education, and Ransom agreed ﾑOh yes ﾅ that’s true.’ When the student got out, his friend asked him, ﾑDo you know who you were riding with? You were riding with the editor of the [Kenyon] Review!'”
As Forman’s anecdote illustrates, farmers gave students lifts as well. Stamp remembers some stories from times he travelled to Mount Vernon.
“I was picked up by a farmer at least once. I think he was just going home. As I remember, he wasn’t going out of his way, so he probably had a farm east of Gambier. What I do remember is that he’d been hauling manure, so he still smelled,” Stamp said.
The ride bench allowed students to go shopping, go out to eat and enjoy all that Mount Vernon has to offer.
When the benches were removed, both locals and students were disappointed ﾗ it offered a nice way to get into town and it was one of the only opportunities for the two communities to mix.
Since its removal, students have quickly forgotten about the ride benches, partly due to the availability of the shuttle that goes between Mount Vernon and Gambier.
Still, the benches will remain a lasting memory for past Kenyon students. An anonymous post from the Class of ’74 said on www.classprojects.kenyon.edu that the drivers “trusted the people on the bench, and you trusted the people picking you up, because it was a local custom. I gather, it was really a local college custom ﾅ it was a really wonderful thing.”
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