Forever and Our Two Days

“The South Pacific was pretty rough, even for the Navy,” M. Baxter Sowell Jr. ’83 said. He took some time on a Friday morning in early February to reflect on his parents — their love story, which really began with his father’s service in World War II.
It was through the G.I. Bill that Morgan B. Sowell Sr. ’51, a native of Orangeburg, South Carolina, was able enroll at Clemson University and major in agricultural education. He became the first person in his family to go to college.
“I remember him saying how revered the war veterans were by the cadets on campus,” Baxter said. “It was almost like when they walked down the hall, the other students would come to attention for them and turn their backs to the wall. Just kind of paid deference to what they had done because people his age, their senior trip was the South Pacific. It wasn’t much of a senior cruise.”
Clemson was still an all-male, military college in the late ’40s and ’50s, and it was common for the cadets to pile on buses on the weekends and head over to Winthrop for dances and other social events with the college girls. It was one such dance where Morgan Sowell met his future wife, a business management student by the name of Jean DuBose.
They fell in love.

“My parents spent their honeymoon in the presidential suite of the Clemson House,” Baxter said, a smile in his voice. “I just thought that was a great love story.”

Both Jean and Morgan graduated from college in the spring of 1951. In June, they were married in Orangeburg and spent their wedding night driving back up to Clemson. Their honeymoon destination was the newly constructed Clemson House, the hotel on the hill that overlooked campus, lit up by its neon orange sign.
“My dad, being young and just back from the war and a recent graduate, wasn’t wealthy by any standard,” Baxter continued. “So, he ordered up a standard room from the guy behind the counter, who was also a war vet.”
The fellow veteran slipped the newlyweds the key to the presidential suite with a wink.
“My parents spent their honeymoon in the presidential suite of the Clemson House,” Baxter said, a smile in his voice. “I just thought that was a great love story.”
The Sowells returned to Orangeburg County, where Morgan spent the rest of his life as a farmer. Morgan and Jean had been married for more than 30 years when Morgan passed away in the late ’80s. Jean passed away about 5 years ago.
“My mom never remarried because she had one love, and that was him.”

Baxter recently found some old pictures of his parents’ wedding and their memorable honeymoon trip to Clemson House. He also stumbled upon some vintage valentines, where Morgan penned “his little motto with my mom about loving her forever and ‘our two days’ because forever and a day wasn’t long enough.”
The card reads, “Love always, forever and our two days. Your Husband.”

Clemson House

Landmarks-Postcard ClemsonHousePerched on a hill overlooking Bowman Field, Clemson House has been home to faculty, staff, students and the families of more than one president over the past 65 years. Constructed in 1950 by Daniel Construction Company of Greenville, it was known as “Carolina’s smartest hotel.”
When it first opened, Clemson House featured a large dining room on the first floor, a club (non-alcoholic) on the lower level, seven stories of rooms and apartments, and a penthouse with the best view in town.
Originally intended to house faculty, staff and retired faculty, the apartment-style hotel was first pressed into limited service for student housing in the early 1970s.

The barbershop on the first level has weathered six decades of changing hair styles, offering both haircuts and conversation. Clemson House was also home to a radio station and broadcasting facility from the 1950s until the early ’80s.
In 1973, President Robert Edwards recommended changes to transition Clemson House into a dorm, but said that full-time residents could remain as long as they wished. None had the staying power of architecture professor Joe Young, who had been the first full-time resident in 1950. After five decades, Young said his goodbyes in 2000. The penthouse is named for him, as well as “Joe’s Place,” the bar located at the Madren Conference Center.
* Note: Corrected on 5/28/15 to reflect that the radio station housed at Clemson House from the 1950s until the early ’80s was not a student station. Thanks to Van Fair (the “F” in WSBF) for that correction.


Haircuts and History

The Clemson House Barber Shop is a nondescript one-room establishment nestled firmly in the heart of Clemson University. It is a hub of social activity – maybe the hub of social activity – and like all Clemson institutions it has roots that dig back not for years, or decades, but generations.
Tucked away in one of the school’s iconic student dormitories, the school’s rich heritage mixes with its promising future daily in the well-used space, as a steady ebb and flow of bright-eyed underclassmen and long-loyal alumni circulate through, filling the modest emporium with a steady buzz of humor and wisdom.
“Only people that enjoy you will come to you, so all my memories are pretty darn good,” said Dennis Laye, the spry southern gentleman who took over the shop in 1966 from his father, “Shorty” Laye, after the elder Laye lost his hand in a shotgun accident. It was an abrupt turn of events, but Dennis went on to be Clemson’s barber of choice for 48 years.
Now, his era is coming to an end at the shop and another one is beginning – but not before some proper reflection.
“Dennis cut my hair for 44 years, and I never had a bad haircut,” said Van Hilderbrand, Clemson’s associate athletic director and event coordinator. “He was the best. Dennis gave the softest, smoothest haircut. After a long day at work, he would put you to sleep. I would always go late in the day just for this experience.”

A bout with cancer has weakened his normally agile frame in recent years, but Dennis’s eyes light up whimsically as he speaks from one of the chairs he stood behind for nearly half a century, caring for legions of Clemson hairstyles.
“The doors opened at 7:30, and I was always very consistent: Five minutes late,” he grinned. “Let me tell you, 48 years went by like a snap.”
It’s easy to see why after settling into one of the three chrome and leather chairs. The rush of the outside world seems to drift away with the hair to the floor. Barbers chat and kid with their customers. School, football, family and hunting are big topics. Everyone is in a good mood. Everyone cares about everyone else in the room. Some of the customers have been coming to this place for 30, 40, 50 years and more, some for only a year or two. It’s not uncommon to find World War II veterans chatting with twenty-something students as they take their turns.
The experience is one of being on a movie set, because it seems implausible that places like this exist in the real world – but here at Clemson, they do.
Three years ago, Dennis’s son, Mike, became the third generation of Layes to cut hair in the shop.
“When I found out my dad had cancer I decided to come back and do my apprenticeship under him,” said Mike. “I was a body piercer in Myrtle Beach for ten years so I never thought I’d enjoy this as much as I do. It’s the people that make it great. Our customers range in age from the 90’s all the way down to three or four. You learn their life stories.”
“This is a special shop,” agreed Joe Tankersley, the current owner who bought the business from Dennis in 2012. “Special kids come in here, no kidding. Bright kids. It’s a pleasure to work with them. We also get a lot of professors, retired professors and alumni. I’m particularly proud of our customers.”
The back-and-forth between the barbers and their customers is some pretty entertaining Americana. Take for example this exchange between Dennis and one of his regulars as he was sitting for this interview:
“Dennis, tell them about the time you killed two pigs with one shot.” “
Say again?”
“You said you killed two pigs with one shot!”
“No I didn’t! I said I killed three pigs with three shots.”
“Joking around is pretty much a mainstay in the barber shop,” laughed Dennis. “We told jokes to everybody. Of course, me being one person, I had to repeat that joke quite a few times.”
That good humor is part of what’s kept people coming back again and again, making the business self-sufficient in the process.
Incredibly, the shop has never advertised.
“That’s one thing I’ve always taken pride in,” said Dennis. “I’ve had people call up and want to set us up a website or advertise and I’d tell them, we don’t need customers – we need barbers! We had more customers than we could handle.”
A register in the waiting area contains a perfect sample of the Clemson Family, with pages of testimonies from students, professors, alumni, donors, and war heroes. Some of the writers tell of being brought for their first haircuts and, years later, bringing their children too.
It’s hard to determine the impact a place like this has on a community but, judging from the exuberant standing ovation Dennis received as he entered his little shop for the first time in several months to be interviewed for this story, it’s significant.
Later, his eyes mist over as he tries to sum up his life’s work.
“I never worried about the money. It was always there because I did my job,” he said, smiling. “What did I enjoy the most? The people. I would hope they all have good memories of this shop, and they appreciate the effort. We’ve had a lot of fun.”