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Cali Owings, Published September 13 2013

'A major coincidence': Daughter assigned same MSUM dorm room her mother had 34 years ago

MOORHEAD — Nelson Hall wasn’t Julia Kensok’s first choice of residence halls on the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus. In fact, the 12-floor cylindrical hall wasn’t even on her list of preferred buildings.

But by pure coincidence, the room on the 10th floor of the building she now calls home is the same one her mother, Mary Kensok, lived in when she started college there 34 years ago.

“It’s really a strange feeling coming in because it was like a life away,” said Mary, now a teacher in Casselton, N.D. “Just a world away, because it’s been so long.”

The situation is also a little strange for her daughter.

“It’s just weird to think that she was my age living in this room, you know. I’ve always seen her as my mom,” Julia said. “I just can’t even picture her living here.”

Then and now

By looking at Mary’s old photos from her Nelson Hall days, it’s easy to see her as a fun-loving young coed with a Tab soda can collection.

Few things about the room have changed since she lived there starting in 1981. The built-ins and floor tiles are the same, and there’s still no air conditioning.

The spot in front of the window where Mary and her roommate kept a record player now holds a flat-screen TV.

Mary said they didn’t pay a lot attention to decorating their dorm rooms the way young people do now.

“I just look at how they decorate the dorm rooms now. It’s like a Pottery Barn,” she said. “We didn’t have the resources.”

She said she didn’t even use a typewriter her freshman year and had to write her assignments by hand.

Julia’s dorm is well-equipped with a printer, microwave and mini fridge. Mary said she relied on an air-pop popcorn maker and a hot plate – now banned from most residence halls – during her college years.

While technology is a glaring indicator, there are other signs the times have changed. While the dorm was coed in Mary’s day, the women lived in the top three floors and men weren’t allowed upstairs late at night.

There’s no longer a curfew for mixed-gender mingling at Nelson Hall and Julia said they’re allowed to have overnight guests of either gender for up to three days with roommate approval.

‘A major coincidence’

Heather Phillips, director of housing and residential life at MSUM, said she was amazed when she heard the Kensoks’ story.

Of all the 1,625 beds available in the school’s residence halls, Julia ended up in the room that once housed her mother.

“I’ve never heard of that happening before,” Phillips said.

Sometimes students request to live in the same room as a family member and the halls work to fulfill it, but in this case Julia was randomly matched to her mother’s old room.

“It was just totally a major coincidence,” Phillips said.

Lessons learned

As Julia Kensok adjusts to life on campus, she said she misses home. The transition into college is much harder than she thought it would be.

Mary hopes the lessons she learned in college will help pave a smoother path in college for her children.

“My parents did not go to college. They couldn’t prepare me for things that I can prepare my kids for,” she said, referring to social, emotional and academic challenges.

Mary took longer to complete her elementary education degree than her peers, finishing in six years. She said her struggles helped make her a better teacher in the end.

“Hopefully, my stories can help my girls [her older daughter also goes to MSUM.] What I’ve learned, I can share with them so they avoid the same situations or … mistakes that I had.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599