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Alumni Profile: The Argus-eyed Zarf

Alumni Profile: The Argus-eyed Zarf

By Lauren Piercey ’11

The walls in Burt basement have a lot to say. Down from her home in Anchorage, Alaska, Wendy Withrow ’69 recently visited the old hangout and coffee house she founded in the late 1960s.

Withrow grew up on the west coast in the San Francisco Bay area. As a college student, she missed the folk music and coffee house culture of her childhood.

“There was nothing to do on campus. There was no student center. If you didn’t have a date, there was no place to go unless you wanted to go to the gym,” she said.

As a sophomore, Withrow met some locals who played guitar. They began dreaming of a venue where folk musicians could gather to play music.

Withrow took the issue up with then-president Leonard L. Holloway. She told him her idea of opening an on-campus coffee house.

Holloway said he would think about it, and Withrow took his response as a no. A couple of weeks later, he told her to look at a room in the basement of Burt with an outside entrance by the trash chute.

Despite the cluttered interior and dirt floor, Withrow thought the space was perfect.

After Christmas break, Withrow returned to a new room.

“Maintenance spray painted the whole room white. It was nice because it played down all the duct work in the ceiling, but it also made it look like a hospital, which was not exactly the ambience I wanted for a coffee shop.”

To spice up the walls and provide character Withrow got creative.

“I bought poster paint and paintbrushes so people could paint on the walls so it wouldn’t be so white and pristine,” she said.

Withrow said the name for the hangout took some research.

“I decided I had to give the coffee house a really cool name, so I looked through the A’s in the dictionary and found the words argus-eyed. Then I went to Z and I found the word zarf.”

Withrow thought the words were appropriate because Argus was a giant from Greek mythology with many eyes; therefore, argus-eyed means observant and a zarf is a metal cup-shaped holder for a hot coffee cup.

The hangout was open from 7 to 11 p.m. every Friday and Saturday night. Patrons could buy instant coffee, apple cider, or hot cocoa for a dime and listen to performers.

“It was open mic. Anyone who wanted to could bring a guitar and have a turn on stage.”

The Argus-Eyed Zarf remained in operation only a couple of years after Withrow graduated. This spring, Withrow returned to the spot for the first time since leaving campus in 1969. She shared the story of this little-known piece of campus history with museum curator Betty Sue Beebe.

“I was pleased to get the full story about the coffeehouse,” Beebe said. “I knew there had been one established at some point, but did not know the details or who was responsible for it. This is a great story of student activities for our campus history.”

Do you have a story about an event, prank, building, or professor that you would share? The museum is collecting stories about student life throughout different eras of UMHB history. These stories may be printed in UMHB Life, used in a museum exhibit, or recorded for the university archives.

Submit your stories to museum curator Betty Sue Beebe:
bbeebe@umhb.edu
UMHB Box 8427, 900 College St., Belton, Texas 76513