We checked in with some former ICO roomies to see if they stayed in touch. Jennifer Durst, OD ’10, Amanda Keller, OD ‘10, and Ruhee Kurji, OD ’10, met while living in the RC their first year. Paul Schroeder, OD ’82, and Steve Sloan, OD ’82, knew each other before ICO, but grew much closer during their time in Brady Hall.
In 2016, living in the Residential Complex is encouraged, but optional. 75-77% of first years choose to live there. Dr. Schroeder explains that, in 1978, there was no choice. Non-married students were required to spend a year in Brady. “I would’ve lived there anyway,” he says, “because I wasn’t familiar with the city and had no idea how to go about finding a place to live.” Originally from Mason City, Iowa, he reflects, “It was nice that it was there.” His undergraduate dorm had not been air conditioned, so even though he considers Brady Hall “nothing fancy,” it was a big upgrade in the summertime!
Drs. Schroeder and Sloan had both attended Loras College in Dubuque. So, when they reached Brady Hall, they were already acquaintances. Dr. Schroeder believes student housing made friendships like this one much deeper than they otherwise would have been. “You interacted with everybody every day. There was one dining hall at Brady, so everybody ate their meals there. You’d see people in class, and then you’d see them back in the dorm… Our class was a lot tighter for that.” Dr. Schroeder also became close to his Brady neighbors- Tom Lutz, OD ’82, Ron Vandenberg, OD ’82, and Mark Welter, OD ’82.
Dr. Keller agrees about the benefits of student housing. She moved to “the big city” from Middleton, Wisconsin, and the RC “just seemed to be the kind of environment I wanted to be in to get acclimated.” It didn’t take long for her to make friends in her new home. Dr. Keller did not contact her suitemates prior to moving in. When she finally met them, there was an immediate connection. “They seemed so nice- just super-friendly,” she recalls. “I had no idea Ruhee was Canadian. That was a surprise to me- pretty cool! Our other roommate ended up being from Wisconsin, as well. Ruhee and I just hit it off right away.”
Dr. Durst vividly remembers Move-in Day. She came to ICO alone- no parental accompaniment. Her new roommate, Kristin Moseman, OD ’10, brought her mother and aunt. “It was nice to meet her family,” Dr. Durst reminisces. “I got a really good impression of her; I just felt like it was going to work out okay.”
Indeed, RC living worked out very well for this group. Explains Dr. Kurji, “We all did study group together before our tests, usually in Jennifer and Kristin’s room. We would talk through all the notes and make sure we all understood what was going on.”
The RC was such a nice place to study, in fact, that these women returned there even after moving out. Dr. Keller had a friend working as an RA who would let them in. “We’d still go, sometimes for five hours at a time,” she says. “Whatever was needed to get through.”
Obviously, even the most dedicated optometry students take study breaks. “I still remember going to the common room and playing Clue,” says Dr. Keller. “That was kind of our go-to game.”
Dr. Sloan had a long-lasting tradition with Dr. Schroeder. “This sounds kind of silly,” he says. “At 10 o’clock you finished studying. All books were put away.” The roommates would fetch beer and sardines to accompany their favorite nightly TV shows- The ‘Three Stooges’ and ‘Benny Hill’.
To this day, the RC sponsors trips and events that residents can opt into. There’s Boo Bash, the 12 Bars of Christmas, and ICOlympics. Dr. Keller remembers going to the Shedd Aquarium. Dr. Kurji’s favorite outings included Blue Man Group, Second City, and Chicago White Sox games. “We went to ‘Wicked: The Musical’,” Dr. Durst reminisces. “That was awesome.”
This abundance of organized outings didn’t always exist. In terms of RC-sponsored outings, Dr. Schroeder laughs, “No, there was nothing. We all just started trying to figure out how to get around. People had different interests. Some were sports people. Others, like myself, were really into music. There were endless choices of live music and concerts.” In his day, upperclassmen introduced the newer students to a bar called Streeter’s. “That was a huge ICO hangout,” Dr. Schroeder says, remembering the tradition. The beloved tavern is still open today.
There is one annual Chicago event that Dr. Durst just can’t recommend. A group of ICO students always takes the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics. While Dr. Durst feels donating was completely worth it, the cold water of Lake Michigan was not. “That was painful. I think I still have neuropathy in my feet, but it was for a good cause. Don’t do it,” she laughs. “Just donate money.”
Speaking of cold, Brady Hall was an amazing place to be in January of 1979. “There was a 21-inch snowstorm,” explains Dr. Sloan.
Dr. Schroeder remembers this blizzard as “epic,” but in a way that brought people together. Everyone in student housing found a common mission: closing ICO. “People from Brady Hall shoveled a lot of snow around the doors of the school- that was part of the reason that class was canceled that day.” Their goal achieved, the students turned their attention to having fun. “People took the windows out and were jumping out.”
Indeed, sometimes the best memories in Chicago were made at home. Unlike Brady Hall, the RC was built to include outdoor social spaces- the roof, sundeck, and lawn. Dr. Durst says, “I remember watching lightning hit the Sears Tower. We would just go on the balcony and watch it. I just liked hanging out on those warmer days.”
The common experience of optometry school naturally encourages friendships, but bonds built in student housing can be some of the strongest. “Those relationships remain intact for life,” says Dr. Sloan. Many doctors who lived together now have professional connections. Drs. Schroeder and Sloan are active in their state association, take CE together, and attend industry events across the U.S.
Such long-standing partnerships can quantifiably benefit a practice. “If I have a patient who needs a referral,” explains Dr. Sloan, “I always try to find my classmates and make the referral to them.” This not only brings business to a colleague, but also allows friends to catch up. “It’s always fun to speak with them.”
Technology also plays a big role in keeping former roomies connected. Many alumni use Facebook to reach each other. Drs. Keller, Durst, and Kurji use WhatsApp to stay in touch with friends like Dr. Moseman and Katherine Stola-Halgrimson, OD ’10. The group uses this tool not only to ask colleagues about difficult optometric cases, but also to share successes and life updates.
Of course, nothing beats meeting in-person. “We try to get together,” Dr. Keller says. “It has been a little hard with new babies and all that stuff, but we try!”
Dr. Sloan prefers face-to-face reunions, as well. He says of Dr. Schroeder, “We still are best of friends. We were in each other’s weddings. We attend each other’s key family events. We go on at least one, if not two, annual fishing trips.” In a fun twist of fate, Dr. Sloan’s daughter, Stephanie Sloan, OD ‘14, is currently pictured on the side of the modern RC.
All of these alumni would recommend on-campus housing to new students- particularly after the renovations. “It’s a great way to get to know your classmates and make friends,” says Dr. Kurji.
“If you’re not from Chicago,” agrees Dr. Schroeder, “it’s a good way to know that you’ll have a safe, good environment while you learn. I loved living in Chicago. I still like to come back and visit.”
Each of these alumni began professional education in student housing. That common root brought like-minded individuals together. Strangers become friends. Friends become colleagues. Then, before they knew it, they’d become just like family.
“I’m just glad they all picked Chicago and the RC,” Dr. Durst says.
“I hope everybody is doing well and has enjoyed the profession as much as I have,” says Dr. Schroeder. “34 years ago, now, we graduated. That’s a long time!”
ICO prepares students to practice optometry, but to many alumni, the most valuable assets they gained were each other. Dr. Keller sums it up best: “I’m just thankful for their friendship.”