Nearly 40 years ago, 11 friends moved into a U District boarding house. The bonds they made are as strong as ever.
In autumn quarter 1981, I was a sophomore living in a cluster on the fifth floor of McMahon Hall. It was my second year there. Late that quarter, two friends in a cluster down the hall – Sheila Harvey and Deb Alford – wanted to room together. But when they couldn’t convince their cluster mates to trade rooms, they decided to move out of McMahon.
Looking for a place to live, Sheila spotted a nearby 11-bedroom house available for a reasonable rent. She asked several of us in McMahon if we would join her in moving there. And we did. In late December 1981, the three-story house at 5030 17th Avenue N.E. became home to six women and five men. Joining me were Chuck Sheaffer, my high school friend and McMahon roommate; cluster mates Jordan Kleber and Paul Olliges (both swimmers on the UW team); and Tom Verhulp, who lived in another McMahon cluster. The women in the house were Deb and Sheila plus their cluster mates Karla Tofte, Cathy Blackburn, Laurie Thompson and Monica Jolley. “I was a bit surprised that we were able to get everyone to agree so quickly,” Sheila says. “Cathy and Laurie were freshmen, too. I imagine their parents weren’t amused.”
We loved 5030 and all of its charm: three bathrooms, two kitchens, a large dining room with a big table and a living room. And the location couldn’t be beat. “I just loved walking to campus,” Deb says. “I loved walking down 17th. It felt really grown up. We had our own place. We weren’t in dorms anymore. And we loved being all together.”
My small room on the third floor was sandwiched between the ones Sheila and Monica took. Debbie, Laurie, Cathy and Karla – we nicknamed her Snarla – moved into four rooms on the second floor (Cathy’s was the best room in the house). Meanwhile, Tom lived on the first floor while Jordan, Paul and Chuck inhabited the three rooms in the basement (which was also home to a filthy bathroom. But we didn’t care).
For rent, we each paid about $125 a month, including electricity and water. Also, back then tuition was less than $1,000 a year. Still, several of us needed to work to pay our bills. Karla, Cathy and Laurie worked evenings at the Design-a-Burger in McMahon while Jordan was the pool manager at the Seattle Tennis Club. He got me a job there that summer as a janitor.
We ranged in age from 18 to 21, the tail end of the baby boomer generation. “Back then,” Deb says, “we would have thought people who were 57, 58 or 60 were over the hill and life was boring.” Guess what age we are now. (Speaking of older people, one night back then, a woman in her 70s or 80s stopped at our house and wanted to come inside. Though the woman was suffering from memory issues, it was quite memorable for us to invite her in and meet with her.)
Since it was the early ’80s, none of us had computers in the house. Or cellphones, which did not exist. Streaming didn’t either. But we had a TV in the living room and we would gather on the old couch to watch shows like “Hill Street Blues” and “Late Night with David Letterman.” Fond memories. “My favorite times were late at night when everyone would be in the living room and Cathy would bring burgers from her job,” Monica recalls. “We would all sit around watching Letterman and talk about our day or just BS in general. I felt really comfortable with everyone in the house. It was just so cool to know that there would be a bunch of people at your house at the end of the day that you could eat and laugh with. It was sort of really a ‘Friends’ moment!”
We also would walk to movies in nearby theaters. “Jim and I, in particular, watched a lot of movies together, but other housemates often came along, and there was always lots of intense discussion afterward,” Chuck says. “People now watch more film and television than ever – but they carry the screens in their back pockets. This isn’t all bad, by any means. But I miss the collective space around the 5030 TV set, and the shared experience of eating popcorn and watching movies with friends at the old Neptune.”
Music was also big with us – on our radios instead of a smartphone. Among the 1982 hit songs I recall chatting about with housemates were “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band and “Leather and Lace” by Stevie Nicks. These were the notable lyrics, first from “Centerfold”:
“The years go by, I’m looking through
A girlie magazine
And there’s my homeroom Angel
On the pages in between.”
And from “Leather and Lace”:
“I need you to love me, I need you to stay,
Give to me your leather,
Take from me my lace.”
Like those lyrics, many of us in the house were attracted to each other. Not that the women I was interested in wanted to date me. But three of those women hooked up with three other guys. And that resulted in three marriages!
The first were Deb and Jordan, who married that summer. They had two kids – daughter Austin was born in 1983 and son Drexel came a few years later. They were married more than three decades before divorcing. Deb then married Dieter Struzyna, father of Hans Struzyna, who rowed on the Husky crew team and for the U.S. at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
One night while we were having a party at 5030, Laurie and Paul were chatting at the bottom of the stairway, which started their relationship. They married in 1985 and have two kids – Ryan, CEO of Elevated Materials, a carbon fiber product manufacturer, and daughter Hannah, a UW graduate who works as a software engineer for Microsoft. Finally, Sheila and Tom married in 1986. Not long after that, they moved to the Bay Area, where Tom worked for Nordstrom and Sheila worked for Equifax before they moved back to Seattle in 2005.
The rest of us did not marry each other but became close friends. One day, we decided to meet for lunch at a restaurant on Lake Union, and we dressed up and posed for a picture (this was decades before the word “selfie” existed). But our life in the U District wasn’t always wonderful. One night, someone from a frat party next door sneaked in and stole a chunk of our rent money from Sheila’s room. Fortunately, Deb and Tom convinced the fraternity to pay us back.
Come the summer of 1982, things started to change. A few housemates moved out and they were replaced by other friends. Among them were Monica’s sister, Elizabeth Jolley, plus Husky football players Dave Whitenight and Dennis Maher. Meanwhile, summer living offered other challenges. It occasionally was so hot in the house, especially on the top two floors, that a couple of us slept on the flat rooftop above the second-floor kitchen. Fortunately, we did not roll off the roof while asleep. After August, the rest of us moved out as well. Several of the 5030 women moved into a house while I shared an apartment with Cathy’s brother, Mick, another UW student who now teaches.
After finishing at the UW, we all went onto great and unexpected careers. Especially the women, which does not surprise me at all.
Deb, who majored in mechanical engineering, went to work in IT for IBM and then for Microsoft, where she is director of Business Programs. She and Jordan also moved to Portugal from 2001 to 2014, and started a lodging business for tourists called VisitingPortugal.com that their daughter Austin still runs.
Sheila is vice president for Global Client Solutions at Randstad, an employment & recruiting agency. Laurie is a vice president and West region ATM manager for Chase Bank. Cathy is the Post-Award Grant Manager at the UW School of Nursing. Her oldest daughter graduated from UW Tacoma while her youngest daughter just started at the UW this year. Monica, who has a degree in art, is a tree pruner while her sister Elizabeth works in IT for Coinstar.
In the mid ’80s, Snarla moved to Los Angeles to try the entertainment business and spent a year working for Julie Andrews – yes, the Oscar-winning actress! She moved back here and now is assistant to the chair of the UW English Department. That’s when she isn’t doing standup comedy (she is really funny, trust me). Jordan recently became a math teacher in San Antonio, Texas, while Paul helped develop boats for Bayliner and now is general manager at the local Sea-Dog Co. Chuck, once a smokejumper for the U.S. Forest Service, has a Ph.D. and teaches film history at Seattle’s Cornish College of Art. He is married to Autumn Moser, a physician.
As for me, I went into sportswriting, starting at The Daily. After I graduated, I moved to Minneapolis in 1989 and covered the Twins. Minnesota is where I met my wonderful wife Vicki, who worked in IT. In 2000, we returned to Seattle and I worked many years for ESPN, covering sports on six continents.
Nearly four decades after moving into 5030, we remain good friends and get together occasionally. But there were long stretches when many of us could not connect with each other. “If we had social media in the ’80s, we never would have lost touch,” Sheila says. “In those days, your phone number changed every time you moved and no one had an email account. But Facebook and LinkedIn provided us the means to come together again.”
Sadly, Tom died in 2017 from cancer and blood loss. Sheila emailed this to us: “He loved you all and it was the greatest pleasure that we all had a chance to spend some time together after such time apart. We have always looked at our 5030 friends as the most special of friendships.” As Karla replied: “I just can’t stop crying.”
Sheila held a memorial service for Tom near their home, and most of us housemates attended. She also holds a community blood drive in his memory. We miss Tom so very much. As sad as his passing is, the rest of us still fondly recall our time together at 5030, which is still there and still being rented to college students, albeit for far more money than we paid. A friendly young woman living there now kindly showed me around the house this summer.
This past September, we got together at 5030 for a photo shoot. It was the first time we had all been back at the house since moving out so long ago. Two weeks later, most of us went to see Snarla perform at the Laughs Comedy Club in the U District. Unfortunately, Jordan was unable to join us at the photo shoot or the comedy club. But he was in Seattle the previous September to meet his son at a cafe in University Village.
“As I sat facing west, treasuring every moment in my heart, the dorms and the 5030 neighborhood loomed before me in the predawn light, the pool not far to the south, the Seattle Tennis Club only a bit farther,” he recalled. “The moments of my story there seemed compressed and arrayed like the petals of a flower or like the layered elements of a 3D View-Master image, or like voices in a tiered choir. It made me feel rich.”
The 5030 house may now be 110 years old but it looks virtually the same as in 1982, inside and out. It remains one of the highlights of my life. And perhaps some of us former housemates might live there again. During a lunch this year at the Northlake Tavern, Deb, Sheila, Cathy, Karla and I joked about moving back together after we got older and retired. But Snarla said, “With our age, we have to move into the 5070.”
Cathy Blackburn, ’87
Jim Caple, ’86
Sheila Harvey-Verhulp, ’96 (formerly Sheila Harvey)
Monica Jolley, ’05
B.A., Interdisciplinary Visual Arts
Deb Alford Kleber Struzyna, ’85
B.S., Industrial Engineering
Jordan Kleber, ’85
Laurie G. Olliges, ’86 (formerly Laurie Thompson)
Paul Olliges, ’84, ’01
B.A., Art (Fibers), MBA
Charles (Chuck) Sheaffer, ’86
Karla Tofte, ’05
Tom Verhulp (deceased)