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When Adrian Draney stepped into Frees Hall as a first-year student, he took a long look around his room and felt goosebumps.
"It was one of those surreal moments," he said.
Frees looked just as it did in the photos his father showed him over the years and moving in was a little like stepping inside them.
Frees wasn't just some dorm to him.
This was where his grandmother had lived, in the days of sugar rationing and "dressing for dinner."
This was where, in one of those photos, his father posed with his Alpha Pi Epsilon pledge class in front of the 1931 Collegiate-Gothic building. His uncle, Chris, and older brother, Jefferson, had moved into this building fresh out of high school, just like him.
It's families like the Draneys who made the renovation of Frees Hall a challenge.
The renovation would fix something imperfect, yet sacred.
Doane administration knew they needed to bring Frees into the 21st century, but bring all that was special about it along, too.
Frees is the kind of residence hall they don't make anymore, like something you'd find in the historic district of an Ivy League school.
Wide halls. High ceilings. Roomy lounges with fireplaces and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows.
At one time, it had its own hospital wing.
It's rumored one fraternity was founded there. It was the site of countless other sorority and fraternity meetings.
The rooms had sinks and plaster walls so artwork hung from the molding.
Frees had quirky rooms that evolved through renovations, rooms known by their nicknames; the baby-blue space on the third-floor called The Moon; the basement Jungle, and the rooms in The Horseshoe, built in the basement space that had once been a dining hall that served 450.
If you looked hard enough, you could still picture the days when students played bridge and rolled up the rugs for Tuesday night dances.
You could almost picture who danced here, who got engaged here, who traded this hall for war.
For everyone who looked forward to the post-renovation air conditioning and theater room, there were others who liked Frees, quirks and all.
That's why the design process included student input meetings and a student vote on furniture choices. In the end, Doane would complete a $4.5 million renovation, updating essentials such as heating and cooling, and adding flashier items like new interiors, a theater, pub-style lounge, Wii station, business and study centers and a new barbecue patio.
Construction began in May.
Adrian wondered what Frees would look like when he returned.
Few families have as strong of ties to Frees as the Draneys.
Frees Hall 1945
Adrian's grandmother, Gerry Drew Draney '49, entered Doane after VJ-Day in September of 1945 and lived at Frees Hall three of four years. The Navy still had some officer training units attending classes at Doane when she arrived.
The basement dining hall is vivid in her memories. She remembers the "general exodus" to off-campus food sites on the days when students caught a hint of liver and onions in the air.
It was a women's dorm, then, and a man in the dorm hallways would cause people to yell "Man in the Hall!"
Like other students, she mailed laundry home in cardboard suitcase containers and crossed her fingers her mother would send cookies back with it.
Her house mother at Doane kept close watch of the girls.
"Our house mother for most of my college time was a crabby lady. She continually spied on us and would come into our rooms without knocking."
The house mother watched the curfew times, too: 8 p.m. weekdays (until the last six weeks of school), 11 p.m. Fridays and midnight Saturdays.
Frees was a special place to Gerry, filled with people who would become special to her life.
Eight of her friends from Frees kept a round-robin letter going for 60 years past commencement.
"All in all, the friends I made there were lifetime friends."
Frees Hall 1970
Dr. Dan "Abe" Draney '74 came to Frees at a time of transition. There was no coed visitation in the rooms his first year.
"The Frees doors were locked at night and first-year students could not have keys...If they came back late they were penalized, unless of course, they climbed in a window."
Men and women could mingle in ‘satellite lounges' in Frees, but the doors had to remain open, he recalled.
The next year Frees and Colonial became coed and Dan and his friends moved to Frees.
"No coed visitation in rooms to coed dorms in just a year and a half," he said.
It was the same year Doane briefly allowed pets in the dorms, a trial policy rescinded shortly.
He lived in Rooms 123 and 01, great "party rooms" with their own bathrooms and lots of space for gatherings. He also lived in a corner room in The Horseshoe for one year. There's more he could say about his time in Frees, but he jokes, he's not sure it's fit for print.
When he moved Adrian into the dorms in August, he liked the changes.
"I was sorry to see some of the specialness of the rooms reduced (123,The Jungle, The Library). However, the changes are very positive all together, particularly the air conditioning, new windows, electrical and plumbing."
Frees Hall 2009
Adrian didn't know what to expect when he crossed Frees' threshold in August. His old room, The Moon, was pretty hard to beat.
It had its own bathroom, kitchen space and hallway.
And it had space.
"We had whole cupboards devoted to food."
He wondered if it would still be the old Frees, the home of Frees Hall Olympics and events like the couch long jump and (frozen) turkey bowling.
"I'll be honest, it was a little heart wrenching to walk in the first time. Some things looked so different. But once you get used to it, you make it home again. You can see the old Frees past the new paint."
On move-in day, like every year, Frees was a place of new beginnings. Mini-fridges navigated up three flights of stairs. Dads squinting at furniture directions and piles of boards that were supposed to become dressers. Strangers becoming roommates.
That's what Frees is about, Adrian said.
"No matter what happens, the atmosphere stays. Who is on campus changes each year, but it's always a wonderful experience."
Frees is as much about people as architecture, according to Dan.
"Frees was and is a special place, but in the end it's the people you meet there who make it special."
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The Doane and Crete communities are invited to come tour this newly renovated campus landmark at an open house Sunday, Oct. 25, from 1-2:30 p.m. Enjoy hot cider and cookies. Kids' movies will be showing in the new theatre. For more information, please call 402.826.8258.