Memorial Union celebrates 84-year anniversary

Nathaniel Bucsko

The Memorial Union is becoming a historical landmark with each passing year. The building, which initially opened in 1928 as a memorial to those who lost their lives in World War I, will be celebrating its 84th birthday Friday, Sept. 21, in the Great Hall.

The idea for a memorial at Iowa State came about in 1919, and through much planning and discussion, the project to begin fundraising was launched in 1920.

By 1925, donations had reached more than $1 million, and a location was chosen right next to Lake LaVerne. Construction began April 26, 1927, and the Memorial Union officially became a part of the ISU campus on Sept. 23, 1928.

Since that day, when enrollment at the university was only 4,000, the building itself has seen many changes in physical appearance, but its purpose remains the same.

While the Memorial Union was initially intended to be a memorial for war veterans and included just the original five story structure and the Great Hall, it has developed over the years to become a place for students to gather for events, grab a meal and hold meetings.

Jon Fleming, alumnus of 1975, remembers the building fondly from his days as an undergraduate.

“The memorial section of the building has always been beautiful, and it was also a place for students to hang out and meet new people,” Fleming said. “Every Friday, my friends and I would meet in the Maintenance Shop and listen to the live music. It was a wonderful place to release the tension of a long academic week.”

Fleming also has a special memory that took place in the Memorial Union during his senior year he says he will never forget. Fleming, who retired in June after 36 years as a medical professional, had just received the scores of his MCAT exam when he walked in to the Memorial Union seeking a private place to open his letter.

“I was the most nervous I ever remember feeling, and I didn’t want anyone else around when I looked. After I found out how well I had done, I ran home to tell my friends,” Fleming said. He said he would love to see even more work done on the building in future years.

While the Memorial Union has been a social outlet for students over the years, it also is the site of numerous events each year. Many of them take place in the Great Hall, including Dance Marathon and Varieties, among others.

Kurt Tjaden, graduate of Iowa State in 1985, said many of his favorite Memorial Union memories took place in the Great Hall.

“The [Memorial Union] was one of my central focus points on campus for me when I was in school as most of the campus leadership activities I was involved with had offices there… Homecoming, Greek Week and the Alumni Association,” Tjaden said. “I did most of my evening studying in those offices as well.”

Tjaden added that the university can continue to add the legacy of the Memorial Union by continuing to retain the history and culture of the building but to update where appropriate.

The Memorial Union will be hosting an 84th birthday party from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21, in the Great Hall. There will be free chili, cake and drinks.