85th anniversary of the Memorial Union


Photo: Brian Achenbach/Iowa State Daily

Built in the late 1920’s and designed by William T. Proudfoot, the Memorial Union has seen eleven additions with the most recent being added in 2008.

Charles O'Brien

“To nurture common ground, enrich and sustain individual lives and remember.”

For years the Memorial Union has been following that mission, and Monday, Sept. 23 marks its 85th anniversary.

“The MU is a place where everyone can converse as equals,” said Director of the MU Richard Reynolds. “We want people to understand the sense of community we offer here.”

The idea of having a student center began circulating amongst the student body in 1914, with the fund drive beginning in 1919 following the First World War.

With the entire project being student driven, from the fundraising to the architectural design, the students had wanted to have a memorial to honor those who had given their lives during the war.

To lead such a monumental project, the student body turned to Col. Harold Pride. Pride, who served on the alumni association board and who would later become the first director of the MU, held the dual role as project organizer and fundraiser.

In 1922, the students pledged $50,000 towards the project and then sought alumni to raise further funds. The goal was to raise $1 million in order to acquire a loan. Students were asking alumni for $100 to be paid over five years. This equates to $2,000 in today’s terms.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held April 26, 1927, with construction of Gold Star Hall and the Great Hall finished on Sept. 23, 1928.

Since then, the MU has gone through 11 renovations and expansions, but the MU has more to it than just bricks and mortar.

The Memorial Union is home to many ISU traditions, myths, legends and stories. It is a place where students study and converse. It is also a place where students have met, and even wed, their significant other.

“The MU gave people a social center they never had before. The union created this whole campus experience that had nothing to do with going to class,” said Kathy Svec, former marketing coordinator for the MU. “It changed the campus by giving it a focal point. It serves as the front door of the university.”

When Svec thinks of the MU, she said she sees it as home to a plethora of stories and legends. Svec stated how former alumni are always coming back and sharing their memories of the MU.

One of Svec’s favorite MU legends is that of Hortense Elizabeth Wind. Wind, who is said to haunt the MU, was a dietician during World War I who died during the flu epidemic of 1918. She is the only woman listed on the walls of Gold Star Hall.

“The late night staff from time to time hears footsteps when nobody is there or feels a draft of cold air. Other weird phenomenons like slamming doors when nobody is there also happen,” Svec said. “One time we were cleaning and we found a folded up letter high up in Gold Star Hall. Students had tried to communicate with her in that fashion … we think she is just lonesome for some girl time.”

Besides the legends of the MU, there are the stories of current and past students. Each generation of students has had their share of experiences, from the dime dances in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, to the early days of the Maintenance Shop in the 1970s to the piranhas who called the Fountain of the Four Seasons home.

There was the time during a summer late-night show at the M-Shop which featured a live horse being brought up on stage as part of a comedy gag.

“The MU is more than a building; it’s a place where people have an emotional connection to. Alum always talk about the looks, smell and they always feel safe here … it’s an experience, a home they are always comfortable at,” Reynolds said.

To commemorate the anniversary, the Memorial Union will hold its annual chili supper from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the Sun Room.