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A low-budget legacy, with love from one class to the next

Gifted From Above

When a demolition crew marched into Bergstrom Hall this past summer, they had no idea what lay in store. But as they began dismantling the res-hall ceilings as part of a major renovation, they discovered nearly every single one contained an assortment of gifts.

The gifts were items that former Bergies, as residents are called, had placed there for future residents, and they came in the form of handwritten letters and a collection of random objects.

“In this industry, we find stuff hidden above the ceilings all the time,” says Chris Dahlke (Facilities). “But you just don’t normally find this much stuff.”

Realizing the “time capsule” significance of the find, the college had the items carefully removed for preservation in the school archives.

Sifting through the letters, you’ll find information on school history and campus traditions, amusing tales of campus life, and lots of words of encouragement. “Sometimes things don’t go perfect – I promise you’ll get through it,” reads one. Another says, “Have fun, embrace the year. School is hard work, but isn’t everything in life?”

They also contain surprisingly sage advice, considering the authors had just completed their first year on campus. “It’s okay to cry!” reads one. “Happy tears, sad tears, I don’t know why tears – all are welcome. Be comfortable with it.” Another, referring to roommate conflicts, says, “Take a deep breath and remember that at the end of the day, you’re sharing a room with another person with their own set of emotions. But nonetheless, still worthy of your respect.”

Helpful recommendations are also dispensed. “The walk to Zesty’s is worth it.” “Actually read the news emails [SNC News, the campus’ internal newsletter] sent out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. They’re a great way to find a fun activity to do or sporting event to attend.” “The trail across the bridge, I think it’s called the Fox River Trail, is SO NICE. You can run, jog, hike, walk, bike or even rollerblade on the miles of paved trail. It’s very safe and a great way to become part of the local community. Also it’s plowed in the winter up to two miles away from campus, so don’t be afraid to use it!”

And, of course, many are filled with humor. “Note to self – lock the door when changing.” “Are there SparkNotes for the Bible?” “Some of the med students are REALLY hot.”

The gifted objects are a mélange of potentially useful items, silly things and personal memorabilia: stuffed animals, a can of refried beans, photos, a tiny rubber chicken, a yellow tutu, a program from the musical Kinky Boots, etc.

Collection of mementos found in the ceiling of Bergstrom

Former Bergies say they were never directly told about this fun tradition. But hints were freely dispensed shortly after move-in day. Bonnie Raechal Beres ’23 arrived in Bergstrom Hall’s room 303 in the fall of 2019. “When former Bergstrom residents found out I lived in Bergstrom, they would say something along the lines of, ‘The ceiling tiles pop out,’ or, ‘Check your ceiling,’” she says. When she quizzed them about why she should check her ceiling – not a normal activity – they told her to just do it.

“I remember being unsure of what I would find up there,” Beres says. “Spider webs? Mold? I had no idea it would be funny gifts and notes.”

Tamika Wiesner ’20 arrived in Bergstrom in 2017. Within the first day or so of her arrival, the RAs told the residents to see what was up with the rooms’ removable ceiling tiles. Almost immediately, chaos ensued.

“As soon as one person went up into their ceiling, dozens of people were running out of their rooms showing people the crazy stuff they had found,” she says. Wiesner recalls students pulling down room décor, office supplies and even fully stamped coffee-club cards for Ed’s Coffee Shop & Café. “I don’t think I heard of a room that didn’t have anything in the ceiling.”

Kyra Kronberg ’20, newly on staff as an admission counselor at SNC, first heard about the practice from friends. They considered the collective stash a time capsule of sorts. Indeed, one of the items uncovered is a copy of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Dated March 22, 2020, the main front-page story carries the headline, “Coronavirus Pandemic: How We’re Coping.” The student who placed the paper in the ceiling circled the date and wrote, “The day we moved out and Corona took over the world, LOL.”

When Kelsey Motto ’18 was getting ready to leave Bergstrom after the 2014-15 academic year, she joined a group who decided to donate their Bert piggybanks for placement in one friend’s ceiling. (Every incoming student receives a philanthropically oriented piggybank named Bert.) “I think there were close to 40 piggybanks up there,” she says. “It was a fun tradition we were happy to be part of.”

In an interesting twist on this tradition, Wiesner says her ceiling actually contained notes for both her room and the residents of the neighboring one. Apparently, the neighboring room’s previous inhabitants somehow hadn’t learned of the tradition until after they’d turned in their room keys at the end of the school year. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, nor shortchange their room’s future residents, they’d penned a note and handed it to their neighbors to tuck into their ceiling, with instructions for its subsequent delivery.

While no one knows for sure when this tradition started, the cache includes a computer punch card used in the college’s registration process in the 1980s. And Dahlke says he remembers some photos that carried dates from the 1980s and 1990s.

This novel discovery begs the question: Is this a campus-wide tradition? Sort of. Kronberg says people living in Sensenbrenner have discovered items in their ceilings, and she’s heard rumors Burke residents have as well. But Dahlke says not every residence hall features rooms with removable ceiling tiles, so it can’t be occurring everywhere.

And unfortunately for current Bergstrom residents, this tradition may have come to an end. The new ceiling tiles installed during the hall’s renovation are much lighter than the tiles from the past, Dahlke says, and won’t be able to support any objects residents try to tuck away.

But Bergstrom is the hall reserved for those cerebral students admitted to the college’s honors program. If anyone can figure out a way to continue the tradition, it will be them.

Oct. 31, 2022