Nostalgic dance marks Great Hall reopening

Kyle Miller

It was a time trip spanning the Roaring ’20s, the formal dances of the ’50s and all years of dancing into the present. Time came alive once more as the newly renovated and renamed Durham Great Hall in the Memorial Union was rededicated Friday night.

The renovation to the former Great Hall is just a part of the overall renovations to the Memorial Union that include a new wing on the University Book Store, a revamped parking lot system, an improved MU Cafe and improved access from the south.

Renovations to the hall included a new coat of paint, new curtains, a new donated projector and refinished floors. The Great Hall portion of the renovations came from Charles W. Durham, an ISU alumnus, who donated $1 million for the renovations.

To celebrate the hall’s reopening, there was a dance held with music by the Al Welsh Orchestra, spanning many musical genres from years past. There was a costume contest and prizes for those dressed in past decades’ clothing. The theme of the reopening was dedicated to recreating the night Durham met his bride to be, Margre Henningson, in 1939.

Durham met Henningson at a dance known as “Twisters,” where a man would pay a dime to dance with a woman. To commemorate this, there were fake dimes splattered on all tables and cookies that had 10 cents written on them.

“I think that it is fitting that the reopening of the Great Hall [is special] because ISU is celebrating its 150th year anniversary this year,” said Brian Phillips, president of the Government of the Student Body.

The Great Hall held its first dance in 1928, and many patrons of the night’s festivities, who ranged from alumni to current students, fondly recalled formal dances held every Friday.

“I grew up in this hall. I danced in this hall. My parents danced in this hall. I’m just glad that they kept all the fixtures,” said Elaine Vifquain Bath, ISU alumna and Ames resident.

Bath’s parents were in attendance as well and were pleased to find that the renovations have not changed the original charm and flavor of the hall.

“I went to this school and graduated back in ’48, and back then, there was an all-college dance every week. They were formal, and it was very special,” said Mary Lou Dahl Fritsch-Wheeler, ISU alumna and resident of Marshalltown. “I always feel sorry for my kids, because a generation later, they didn’t have those dances, and they never got to do it.”

Others came out of sheer curiosity or to dance the night away.

“I came for the music and to see what the renovations looked like. We’ve been peeking in through the windows all summer long,” said Jean Eells, of Webster City.

Some current students attended the old-time dance simply to experience an almost-forgotten piece of Iowa State’s history.

“It just seemed like fun. Its 1920s music, which is a nice change from the hip-hop you usually hear,” said Elif Miskioglu, junior in chemical engineering.