An unclear future: Evolution of Veishea from peaceful to unpredictable

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Veishea has evolved throughout the years. Learn how it has changed, as well as about the 2013 Veishea events.

Katelynn Mccollough

It could be said that 1988 was the year that started it all for Veishea.

That is, it started the writing of Veishea history that the Ames Tribune’s editorial board described as the “tale of two Veisheas” in the April 28, 2012 editorial.

Approximately 93 percent of students believe that there are “two kinds of Veishea”: the official and the unofficial.

“The first time that we got this wake-up call that Veishea was not the Veishea we had known since 1922 came in 1988,” said Mayor Ann Campbell, who was a city council member in 1988. “We saw the first Veishea riot, and it was a very major one.”

The 1988 Veishea celebration was marked with a full riot that included a bonfire in the middle of the street that resulted in a hole “several feet deep in the asphalt” according to ISU special collections records on the history of Veishea.

The riot was put to a stop with the help of then-head basketball coach Johnny Orr and football coach Jim Walden.

The 66 years between Veishea’s first riot and the creation of Veishea in 1922 were historically peaceful, with a brief reduction in events during World War II.

However, the years following have resulted in riots in 1992, 1994 and 2004, the cancellation of Veishea in 2005 and the murder of Harold “Uri” Sellers in 1997 on the front lawn of Adelante Fraternity, the only student death that has been linked to the ISU tradition.

Following the 2012 Veishea celebrations, the Ames Tribune stated in an editorial titled “Is it time for ISU to end Veishea?” that the time had arrived to say goodbye to the 90-year-old tradition.

Yet this year’s Veishea celebrations begin on April 15 and look strong as a continued tradition.

“If the events continue to stay of quality and the participation is there, then I think that there is value in keeping the official Veishea,” said George Micalone, the general adviser for Veishea.

Micalone explained that the Veishea organization acknowledges the existence of both the official and unofficial Veisheas.

“We have conversations about how we can take the official Veishea and have it influence the unofficial,” Micalone said.

New events have been added since 1988 in an effort to encourage students to stick to campus when celebrating the week-long event. This includes the start of Taste of Veishea in 1993 and the [email protected] concerts beginning in 2006.

“Traditions are important around here,” said Tom Hill, vice president of student affairs. “[The cancellation of Veishea] would be a significant loss in my opinion.”

Hill said the loss of Veishea would also mean the loss of student leadership opportunities and a way for students to show off their accomplishments to the community.

The official Veishea brings these opportunities, but the unofficial brings an extensive police blotter and an extra cost on the community with the police force for that weekend.

Last year, Mitchell Odell, a 21-year-old visitor to Ames from Cedar Rapids, fell to his death from a fourth-floor balcony on Chamberlain Street. Though this death occurred during the week of Veishea, there has been no direct link to the event.

“We could say we are disconnected from the unofficial, but when you lose a life, you sit and wonder if there’s anything we could have done to save a life,” Hill said.

“When you’re talking about the safety of people, I don’t think the institution will play games with that.”

Hill said that every incident affecting Veishea requires its own careful consideration as to how the administration should respond.

“Let’s focus on what we can all do to ensure a safe, fun Veishea,” said President Steven Leath in an email. “Look out for one another. If you see something that doesn’t seem right, say something. We don’t want the irresponsible actions of a few to put our community or a cherished tradition at risk.”

This will mark Leath’s second Veishea at Iowa State, and it is so far unclear how he would respond to a riot or death linked with the tradition.

“You can take some big football weekends when the weather is nice and it’s not a town you can be happy about,” Campbell said about how other community events can also get out of control.

Campbell describes herself as a “child of Veishea” since she grew up visiting Iowa State during its annual celebration.

“To say we won’t do this for fear of something else happening, we’ll have to stop a lot of things,” Hill said. “You’ve got folks who do stuff on a football weekend, but we haven’t talked about canceling football.”

Thirty-eight percent of students said that they would continue to celebrate their own unofficial Veishea even if the official event was cancelled, while 34 percent said that they would not and 28 percent were unsure.

“If we lost Veishea, there would be a period of mourning, without a doubt,” Hill said, “but I don’t think we would stop there.”

In 2005 when Veishea was canceled by President Gregory Geoffroy, the administration and students came up with a new event called “This is your April” to fill in for the loss of the Veishea tradition.

The new event was a month long with different activities being spread throughout all of April.

“If there was no Veishea, I would clearly put something on the table like that,” Hill said, who was involved in the planning of “This is your April.”

The event continued on during 2006 and was paired with the return of Veishea that year, but ceased to exist after those two years.

Micalone, Campbell and Hill all said they hope to see Veishea continue, but they don’t support the activities that take place outside of the university.

Campbell explained that even though the “complexion” of Veishea has changed from an event that drew in families and was a recruiting tool for the university, she is still is excited for Veishea each year.

“I’d like to think it’s an exciting and totally unique experience that we can capitalize on without having the negatives,” Campbell said. “Nobody plans for the two Veisheas.”