By: Anastasia Dula, Class of '58 researcher and UM-Flint student
Phyllis Cmejrek always knew that she would go to college, like both of her parents before her. They had attended a junior college in Iowa, but she was excited by the idea of going to school a little longer and obtaining a four-year degree, preferably from the University of Michigan. However, given that she graduated from high school in a class of fewer than seventy students, she shied away from the idea of attending a campus as large as Ann Arbor’s—she did not want to feel like a small fish in a big sea.
She began her college career with three semesters at Central Michigan University before she returned to Flint and enrolled in the Junior College for her second semester of sophomore-level work. It was at this point that the Flint Senior College was established, and it suited her needs perfectly: she could now obtain her U of M degree while attending school on a very small campus and also save money by living at home.
Because she had always admired her high school English teacher, and she had a natural aptitude for the coursework of her English classes, Cmejrek elected to pursue an English degree in the Teaching Certificate Program with a psychology minor (to satisfy personal interest in the subject). She had a scholarship to fund these studies, in addition to working in the Registrar’s office. She would also work other jobs during the summer, including positions for AC Spark Plug and for a Fenton jewelry store.
Cmejrek was very involved around the campus of the Senior College while she was a student. She was a member of the Arrow Society, Student Government Council, the yearbook staff, and Secretary-Treasurer of the Senior Class. In these positions, she took part in community service projects and fundraising activities for school social events, such as the family fun nights and dances that would be held in the Ballenger Field House. She fondly remembers an example of the close personal attention that the small campus afforded between students and faculty when a professor who had gone to a fundraising bake sale and purchased cookies made by Cmejrek’s mother had afterward sought Cmejrek out to tell her how much she enjoyed them.
The small size of the student body on the new campus helped her get to know everyone by name, and also facilitated a knowledge among the students of what all the other students were doing. Cmejrek loved the family atmosphere of the small campus and the closeness that it made possible not only with the other students but also with the professors. She felt that the entire group was treated like VIPs by the rest of the city, as the Flint Journal seemed to cover nearly every event in the first years of the Flint College’s existence, treating each one with great celebration.
Even while she was a student, Cmejrek felt that being part of this new college right at the beginning was a special experience. This was the University of Michigan’s first off-campus college, an entirely new idea, and she vividly remembers her excitement on graduation day as the class president held up a sign that read, “Flint College.”
I never felt disappointed in the quality of education at Flint. I loved it. I didn’t feel like a pioneer, but a VIP. There was so much on attention on us from the town, from the faculty. It was wonderful.