Past tenants reflect on Pine Haven memories
Caption: Pine Haven, The University of Southern Mississippi’s only on-campus, graduate and family housing option, will close Jan. 1, 2015. Married or single parents, graduate students and international students have lived in the apartments since 1959. The buildings must be vacated by Dec. 31. Turn to page four and five for a look into the lives of past Pine Haven tenants. – Brittny Roberts/Printz
USM employee recalls his youth on campus
David Loving, composites manufacturer at Southern Miss, recalled what it was like to live on a college campus when he was a teenager.
His family of six moved into a three-bedroom apartment in M building at Pine Haven while his father attended USM during the summers of 1977 through 1979 and the 1980-1981 school year. Loving was 13, the oldest of the four children.
“Going back and looking at it, it is tiny, but to us kids, it was a lot,” Loving said. “We grew up very poor, so going into that environment was a step up in life.”
He said that while living in Pine Haven he had some of the most enjoyable times of his life playing sports and attending events with the other kids – people he said became lifelong friends.
“The university was ours,” Loving said.
Many days were spent playing baseball with a tennis ball on the field behind L building, riding bikes around campus with flashlights, swimming in the natatorium and playing Atari with friends. He recalled gathering a group of kids from Pine Haven to sell Cokes and popcorn at the games until halftime when they could go in and watch the game.
Loving’s father received bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in business administration and education during his time at USM.
“Without Pine Haven or the ability to go into Pine Haven my father would not have been able to get his degrees,” Loving said. “He just spent the last 18 months living at school. That’s why we stayed here and moved into the Hattiesburg school system.”
Loving said his father thoroughly enjoyed having them there on campus because it allowed him to have his family close instead of only on the weekends.
“For the first three or four years I just had a weekend father, and that was hard,” Loving said. “Then on the summers when he would go to summer school, we would live there at Pine Haven and that was really nice to have everybody there. Pine Haven has a special place in my heart.”
His father’s education was important to the family as it brought in extra money, as he previously worked at Ingalls Shipbuilding. A friend of his had a family of eight living in a three-bedroom apartment. He said the apartments were full of single mothers relying on Pine Haven to finish their degrees.
“(The closing of Pine Haven) will mean a lot of lost opportunities for a lot of families,” he said. “Not getting the opportunities that (my family) had.”
His father went on to work for the Marine Corps, Upper Brass as a systems evaluator, the Department of Education and the state of Mississippi, where he revamped the entire welfare system along with his team. He later traveled to China to teach English.
Loving said this was all due to the education his father was able to receive at the university and because of Pine Haven.
“Without the education and opportunity that Pine Haven provided, that would not have been possible,” Loving said. “I think not having family housing at Southern (Miss) will impact – maybe not financially – but it’s definitely going to steer men and women with families away. They are going to look to further their education at other universities. We are going to lose that.”
He said the university is banking on packing the university full of youth.
“This is not a need ever at USM, that’s what you’re telling the state,” Loving said. “You can’t rebuild one? That’s a huge area back there.”
Loving believed the decision was based on finances, but does not think the university has fully looked at the consequences of removing family housing from campus.
“What are you going to do 20 years from now?” Loving said. “From what I can tell, they’re banking on fresh recruits coming through. With the cost of tuition going up, baby boomers retiring and what I know about student loan debt, I think this is a mistake.”
Loving returned to his family’s former apartment to visit before the buildings are demolished. He said Pine Haven holds a very special place in his heart and always will.
Single mother inconvenienced by relocation
Jalisia Wells, a social work major and former Pine Haven resident, found that balancing a part-time job, school and taking care of her family was harder with the added pressure of monthly bills.
After weeks of driving around in search of a new apartment, she finally found something. Although she managed to make ends meet, she struggled as every apartment she found cost more than Pine Haven.
“Pine Haven helped me because I didn’t have to stress about how bills were going to be paid,” Wells said. “Being a single mother, it was helpful, but now I’m to the point where I’m stressing trying to get bills paid.”
She started school at Southern Miss in August 2012. That autumn she drove back and forth on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Pike County to school, which was an hour-and-a-half drive. Driving back and forth, going to work and taking care of her kids took its toll, and she eventually dropped her classes – until she found out about Pine Haven.
She signed up with the hopes that on-campus living with fewer expenses could help her finish her degree. She moved in January 2013 after hearing the buildings would not be torn down until 2018, which she said was perfect for her since she plans to graduate in May 2016.
She said being a single mother of three, working part time at Hobby Lobby and attending classes while living off campus is rough.
“It is rough and not easy at all,” Wells said. “Getting up, thinking about how this is going to get paid. Pine Haven was a step up for me. It was a stepping-stone that actually gave me a peace of mind where I could focus on school.”
She said the best thing about living in Pine Haven as a single mother was not just about the bills. She said that there were people who helped her make it through by helping babysit if she needed to run to the library to work on an assignment. Now she constantly stresses to fulfill all obligations.
“I didn’t have to stress about how the light bill was going to get paid, how the water bill was going to get paid; all that was included in rent,” she said. “I didn’t have to worry about my lights being turned out or when my kids were going to eat again. I could come home, my kids are well fed, we have lights and water and everything is done in a timely manner. I didn’t have to stress about it.”
Being apart from her three children is the hardest part for her. With school in the morning and work in the evening she does not have as much time to spend with her eight-year-old daughter and her four-and-five-year old sons.
“It’s killing me right now not being able to be home with them,” Wells said. “It was great raising children there because they were in a community where everyone plays together. The diversity was great. So many races and genders. It was good for them.”
Wells does not believe it was fair to close Pine Haven, which she said it was great for single mothers and their children, especially those who wanted to continue their careers and further their education.
“I’m coping with the move. It’s coming along, but it’s not like Pine Haven where I didn’t have to stress as much,” Wells said.
Jason Francis, director of athletics at Pearl River Community College, enrolled at Southern Miss in 1997 as a traditional college freshman. However, at the end of the school year, he was asked to withdraw and come back when he was more focused and grown-up. He said he was more rambunctious than the average college student.
“I bounced from job to job until I settled down a bit and got married,” Francis said. “Soon enough we had a child on the way and my attention once again turned to finishing up what I had started my first time around at USM.”
He enrolled in classes in 2001 to study political science. As a full-time student, spouse and father, his housing options were limited in the Hattiesburg area, so he was told to check into Pine Haven family housing.
“We were fortunate to get in, but the best we could get into at the time was a small, one-bedroom apartment,” Francis said. “We were moving from a five bedroom house in Bay St. Louis, to a tiny, dated, one bedroom apartment that gave a less-than-impressive first impression.”
During his second semester in Pine Haven, he was given the opportunity to work at Pine Haven as resident manager under Vicki Copeland, assistant director for family and special interest housing, and Renee Moye, office manager.
He worked in this capacity for a couple of years through many situations, including the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which he said taught him life skills he could not obtain anywhere else.
“The way the Pine Haven community bound together in the aftermath of Katrina is something that I will never forget,” Francis said. “There were many very trying moments during this time. There were several nights I sat outside the entire night guarding cars from being robbed of gas.”
He said they hosted many community cookouts to eat freezer food before it spoiled, and he unloaded, stored and secured large amounts of donations of baby items and other items from people around the country.
In addition to the chaos after the storm, he said they took on many problems within the Pine Haven community as well. Through this, Francis said he learned how to manage a wide variety of personalities and work through difficult situations in a positive and effective manner.
“The bottom line is that I gained skills from living in and helping manage Pine Haven that have proven to be far more valuable than anything that I learned in the classroom at USM,” he said.
Francis said he enjoyed his time living in Pine Haven as it provided a great family atmosphere that was conducive to raising their children and the residents were all living there for the same reasons and had the same goal.
Another important thing to Francis was the diversity of having neighbors from all over the world, such as India and China, who became lifelong family friends. There were regular activities for the children they were able to interact and socialize with kids in similar situations.
“We could not have gone back to school and finished up, if it were not for Pine Haven family housing,” Francis said. “Vicki Copeland has given her blood, tears, heart and soul to that place so that thousands of people like me could finish their schooling and go out and try to make a difference in the community. For this, I am forever grateful to her.”
Francis said Moye always paid great attention to the residents and knew them all – and their children – by name. He said she has devoted many years to making certain that each family had a positive experience in their time there.
“When we come to Hattiesburg, on occasion, we will still stop and visit with both of them and talk of the good times,” he said. “We love them like family.”
When Francis and his family visit USM they stop by their former apartment building where his now 13-year-old daughter planted a vine out front when she was two years old. He said she still looks for it each time they visit.
“I am saddened by the news of Pine Haven being shut down,” Francis said. “Living there was one of the best decisions that we have made for our family. It helped strengthen our family unit, brought my wife and I closer together, provided great memories and made great friends. I regret that future young families will miss out on the Pine Haven experience.”