Beginnings of Colby Halloween still a mystery

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    For 40 years, the women of Colby Hall have given back to the community, grown closer in friendship and celebrated the spirit of Halloween with an annual event known as Colby Halloween.

    Each year in October, residents cover Colby Hall from the floor to the ceiling in elaborate decorations, ranging in themes from “Scary Swamp” to “The Land of Oz” in order to serve the campus community. Carnival games are added to the lobby and run by residents, while a haunted attraction is built in the basement to appeal to older children.

    Children of faculty members and staff, along with members of the Starpoint and Kinderfrogs schools, come to enjoy the festivities, trick-or-treating down the halls of Colby Hall as residents pass out hundreds of pieces of candy during the night.

    The tradition has grown to be one of the most-widely known and most celebrated traditions in university residential life.

    Craig Allen, the director of Housing and Residential Life, said the event not only stands as a mark of good will to the community, but also stands as an established tradition with which members of the community identify and recognize.

    “It’s a great community service event,” Allen said. “Students give back to the TCU community and faculty and staff appreciate it. It’s always very well-done, well-decorated and you can’t find a better place to go trick-or-treat with your little ones.”

    Since joining the university’s staff in 2005, Allen said he’s seen major changes to Colby Halloween. One of the biggest changes and challenges is that the event becomes more and more popular each year, Allen said.

    “It’s to the point that it’s challenging to get that many people through the building safely and efficiently,” Allen said. “It requires a whole new level of logistics and planning.”

    In 2011, more than 1,900 children and parents went through Colby Halloween, Bianca Newton, the hall director at Colby Hall, said. For the 40th incarnation of Colby Halloween, Newton said Colby Hall was prepared to take up to 2,000 individuals. 

    Allen said lines for the event form long before the event opens in the evening, and the line normally extends down the street. He said he credited the popularity of Colby Halloween to the well-executed preparation the residents do, along with the community that builds in Colby Hall itself.

    Former residents reflect on Colby Halloween

    This annual tradition, known as a landmark event for residents, has left a lifelong memory, former residents said. Judith Schomp, a 2011 alumna and former Colby Hall residential assistant, said the most rewarding part of Colby Halloween was seeing the continual building of university tradition.

    “When I think back on Colby Halloween, I think about all the hard work that my residents, fellow RAs, and myself put into it,” Schomp said. “There were many nights spent bonding in the lobby while making decorations for the event. There was a sense of unity we all had.”

    This sense of bonding and unity is not lost on former Colby residents. Ruth Tusi, a junior movement science major, was a freshman in Colby Hall in 2010 when she had her first experience with Colby Halloween.

    Tusi said it was a time out of the school year when everyone could plan, decorate and work together to see a common goal be reached. On the night of the event, Tusi said the reactions of the kids participating in the event made that bonding experience solidify, as the residents of Colby Hall got to see their work come into fruition.

    Michelle Nguyen, a sophomore business major, agreed, and said her fondest memories of Colby Halloween came from working together with her fellow hallmates and making connections with other Colby women.

    It helped the girls converse with each other more,” Nguyen said. “We welcomed everyone's creativity, and the final result was really worth it. It was a great way to bond with my roommate and my neighbors.”

    Brittney Luby, a 2006 alumna and former Colby Hall RA, said those bonding moments turn into lifetime friendships. Luby, who nows works in the university's office of religious and spiritual life, said the event brought her together with her fellow residential assistants, who she called “some of her closest friends to this day.”

    Although friendship is a direct result of Colby Halloween, the event does more for the residential community than that, said Melissa Bettis, a 2003 alumna. The event helped to bridge a major social gap between women in Colby Hall.

    “Colby Hall is always notoriously divided into Greeks and non-Greeks,” Bettis said. “Once the divide is made, something has to be done to bring everyone together. For us, it was Colby Halloween. We were able to go door-to-door and meet neighbors because we had to work together.”

    A co-chair of Colby Halloween in her freshman year, Bettis said she was always impressed to see involvement from all groups, not just Colby residents. One connection that took her by surprise was the positive relation with the local business community, she said.

    During fundraising efforts, local branches of Target, Walmart, and other national brand stores would donate candy and other goods based on recognition of the event, Bettis said. Other stores, such as local bakeries, were glad to donate as well.

    “The community of Fort Worth showed up,” Bettis said. “But it’s because they knew us. They knew this event was a safe place for kids, they knew it’s a positive event for TCU and there’s something to be said for the recognition this event gets every year.”

    History and Growth

    After 40 years of outreach to the community, Colby Halloween is widely recognized by the university community. However, the exact origins of Colby Halloween appear to be unknown.

    The earliest documented recognition of Colby Halloween in documents comes from a 1978 yearbook, six years after the first Colby Halloween was held. In the yearbook, there is only one sentence about the event, which states “Colby continued its tradition of having a Halloween party for faculty children.”

    No other articles from the Daily Skiff or other university publications could be found with a story of the first incarnation of Colby Halloween.

    Out of the dozens of sources interviewed for this article, including current and former residents, hall directors and staff, only Bettis claimed to know about the beginning of Colby Halloween. 

    Bettis said she was told about the first Colby Halloween as a freshman by a former hall worker, who is now deceased. Bettis said she was told the event was started as a way of bringing the children of faculty and staff in to engage in a safe part of the community. She said it was originally designed as an outreach to both older and younger children to introduce them to the university.

    Because schools such as KinderFrogs and StarPoint came to the university, the annual event expanded to include them, Bettis said.

    A Legacy of Tradition

    Regardless of the historical narrative of Colby Halloween, the event is the best-known and most successful residential tradition on campus, Allen said. The event has inspired a number of other traditions, such as Samuelson and Carter Hall’s Frog Fest, Foster Hall’s “Fosterotica” sex-education week and Brachman Hall’s “Family Dinners.”

    With a tradition that creates such nostalgia and participation, Allen said, Colby Halloween has become the standard-bearer to all incoming traditions. He said he was blown away by the amount of love the community gives back to Colby Halloween.

    “I’ve seen seniors who live off-campus return to help volunteer,” Allen said. “It’s incredible to see what a community this event forms.”

    This community expands every year, and women involved will relate to one another, despite what year they participated in it, Bettis said. The event is something that helps define the university experience for Colby residents, she said.

    “It’s an identifier,” Bettis said. “We move away, but we always come back to it. No other hall has an common unifier like Colby does. It was our thing. It made us attached to that hall.”

    The hall itself will host only one more Colby Halloween. Colby Hall will be torn down in 2014, in order to build a new version of the building, Allen said. Due to the construction, Colby Halloween will need to get creative, he said.

    “I don’t think Colby Halloween can afford to have a year off,” Allen said. “Nobody here will say ‘Let’s just not do it’. It may be in another another building, it may be outside Colby Hall, but that will be our challenge. We’ll find something to make it happen.”