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Coming Clean

By France Griggs Sloat

John Young saw the writing on the wall. It hung before him, white letters on a Xavier blue sign: “Please Help Keep South Hall Clean.”

The words graced the interior of South Hall, the ubiquitous military-barracks-turned-student-center that the University erected immediately after WWII and became the center of the collective memory of thousands of Xavier students over the course of the next 20 years. Knowing the end was near for the wooden outpost, Young whisked the framed plaque off its hook and spirited it out the door.

For the next 45 years, the sign kept company with the lawnmowers, toolboxes and other implements of home maintenance in his garage, serving as a reminder of the best place on earth for him. Young, now CEO of the FreeStore/FoodBank in Cincinnati, still loves to talk about South Hall. By the time he got to campus in 1963, it was the place where students came between classes to sit at picnic tables, talk, play cards, eat snacks and, oh yes, to study.

About a year before he graduated in 1967, the University shuttered South Hall and moved the student union to the new University Center. Figuring South Hall was bound for the wrecking ball, Young simply wanted to preserve a piece of history.

“I just walked out with it,” he says. “I basically stole it. I figured if they’re tearing down the building, it was either my garage or the trash. I always thought I’d give it back some day.”

In February, he did just that, giving the sign to University archivist Tom Kennealy, S.J., who plans on displaying it for events involving alumni who would remember South Hall.

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