An Enduring Relationship
Bob and Jonna Merritt stay connected with UCM.
By Matt Bird-Meyer
They were pinned outside Yeater Hall, surrounded by singing fraternity brothers and watched by girls hanging from open dormitory windows.
"It was so pretty. In the back of Yeater Hall there was a circle drive, and we had pinning ceremonies there from the fraternities and sororities," recalled Jonna McKendree Merritt. "Bob's fraternity, the Phi Sigs, came and they made a heart. We were standing in the middle of it, and they sang to us. It was a big deal. My mother even came down for it."
That was back in the day, the 1950s, when young men requested to see their dates at the front desk of Yeater Hall and then waited in the lobby as the attendant buzzed the young woman in her room. Women had to sign out and return to their rooms by 10 p.m. Men had until 9:30 p.m. during the week and midnight on the weekends.
Bob and Jonna Merritt met at Yeater Hall. But Bob wasn't there to see Jonna, at first.
"I buzzed his dates," Jonna said matter-of-factly, prompting chuckles from Bob.
"She knew who I was going out with," he replied.
They married in 1956, the same year she graduated from UCM with a bachelor's degree in elementary education. Bob graduated in 1957 with a bachelor's degree in accounting.
More than 55 years later, Bob and Jonna Merritt of Blue Springs, Mo., are eager to share stories about their time at the University of Central Missouri. They also have been generous in donating their time and finances for more than 30 years to help advance programs they cherish, such as athletics, and to simply stay in touch with good friends.
The Merritts are two of many alumni and friends who comprise a new gift recognition club of the UCM Foundation. The Old Elm Society, which recognizes donors who give for 10 or more years, is named for a tree that was planted on campus in 1887 and that survived the 1915 campus fire.
The tree became a favorite student gathering spot and beloved landmark and in 1961 was named Old Elm for its perceived sturdiness. The 77-year-old tree came down in 1964 to make way for a new entrance to the Ward Edwards Library.
Today, Old Elm still is part of campus with a cross-section on display in the east stairwell of what is now the Ward Edwards Building.
Memories such as Old Elm and Yeater Hall, as well as all the friendships, are among the items that the Merritts value most about UCM.
"You make a lot of good friends in college," Bob said. "You need to keep in touch, I think, because those are generally your best times. You were working hard, but you were also playing hard and you can enjoy it. I think that's the thing that we've enjoyed most about the university because people do keep in touch and it's really great."
The Merritts stay connected in a number of ways. They are Mule Train members and enjoy the annual athletic auction. They're also members of the Presidents Society and in 2006 and 2007, respectively, were inducted into the 50-Year Society, the group recognizing graduates at their 50-year class anniversary.
Jonna still has a soft spot in her heart for her former home in Yeater Hall. She said those were lean times, and she remembered writing a note to her mother on a Yeater Hall placemat that ended with "and mom, could you send me a couple dollars? I only have a dime left."
Jonna said she recently visited the hall to talk to the students about some of its history.
"I left my letter on the Yeater Hall stationary to be put in their scrapbook because I thought the kids really needed to know how broke most of us (were)," she said. "It always made me say to anybody, you can always find a way to go to school. You just have to work hard."