Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — “The Rock” at Kilcawley

kilcawley rock

Yes, that’s a picture of me as a somewhat shaggy first year student by The Rock at Kilcawley. Kind of a weird paint job. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Trube.

We used to joke that it was really a pebble, grown into rock with all those layers of paint. Sitting outside of Kilcawley Center on the Youngstown State campus, “The Rock” was in a central location, and hardly a week went by, sometimes not even a day, when we would pass by a new paint job–a fraternity, a sorority, a club, a cause, or just a group rallying us to support the team for the next football game. One of my favorites was a picture I saw of The Rock being painted to look like the Great Pumpkin! Sometimes, when there was a protest, the rock would be painted by the group protesting and it would serve as a gathering point. After the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. there was a message of loss on The Rock.

According to Penguin Community, the rock was dug up during the construction of Kilcawley Center in 1966. It just sat there for about a year until March 18, 1967 when it was first painted by a group of students, after a Jambar article naming it “Tradition Rock.” Apparently it was known as Tradition Rock during the early years of YSU as a state university. This apparently did not last very long because by the time we arrived on campus in 1972, we just called it “The Rock” or “Kilcawley Rock.”

The Rock has grown over the years, not from a pebble perhaps. A study in 1988 found that the coating of paint was at least two inches thick on the rock. It is estimated that students add about an eighth of an inch to The Rock each year, which would mean about another four inches of paint since that 1988 study!

To accommodate changing landscaping and traffic patterns, The Rock was moved to a different location within about 100 yards of where it was when we were students. It is still at the center of campus, and part of a cherished student tradition.

In November of 2015, that tradition was violated when some party painted messages supporting ISIS. There was an outcry in the community and even the FBI was called in. But this was the students’ rock and students quickly addressed the situation, repainting the rock in red, white, and blue with an American flag, patriotic messages, and an incredible show of campus unity. President Tressel later gave a video interview describing that response, that students came together and basically said, “you don’t mess with our Rock.”

That’s Youngstown–the city and the campus. You don’t mess with Youngstown.

I’d love to hear your stories of painting The Rock, or other Youngstown State memories!

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